Humble Suggestions

Well, Toros fans, your team was officially 0-12 after Tuesday’s blowout loss at home to Los Angeles. It was their second loss in three days to the D-Fenders (perhaps the worst-named team in the D-League — seriously, it sounds like a low-grade comic book series). Then, two days later – like a lightning bolt out of a clear sky - the basketball gods looked down on our city with merciful hearts and granted the Toros their first win of the season, a convincing 94-86 victory over the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Great news.

Well, it’s great news for them. Less so for us. After the loss on Tuesday, we had decided that we were going to write a blog delineating exactly what was going wrong with the Toros and how it could be fixed so that they wouldn’t go their whole season without a victory. We split up and each came up with suggestions and were hoping to publish them as a potential antidote to a winless season.

Then, all of a sudden, the season wasn’t winless anymore, and our idea didn’t seem quite so brilliant. Apparently, coach Johnson and his team had stumbled upon something positive before Thursday night’s game, so for us to claim to have the answers to their problems (when they had clearly come up with answers of their own) seemed the height of presumptuousness and bad timing.

But, then we decided, “Dammit, what are we if not presumptuous men with bad timing? Why fight it?” Indeed: Why fight it? One victory does not a season make, and these suggestions of ours are still relevant – we hope, anyway.

Besides, in addition to being presumptuous and possessed of bad timing, we’re also lazy and didn’t feel like writing another blog.

So without further ado, here is our original 0-12 entry:

* * * * * *

The bright spots for the Toros this season have been few: The pretzels at the Convention Center food stand are mighty tasty; the Bull — sorry that’s “Da Bull” — mascot has some serious ups (the guy hangs from the rim during timeouts); and B.J. Elder, a former Georgia Tech star, has been a scoring machine. But, that’s about it.

And the negatives? Hmm … how much time do you have? We know you’re busy. So in the interests of expediency, we’ve compiled four things that are killing the Austin Toros.

Let’s start with defense:

The Toros don’t defend: If defense wins championships, then no defense wins … well, nothing. The Toros surrender an average of 101 points per game — by far the worst in the league. They simply can’t match up in man-to-man defense — either because of lack of quickness or lack of desire. Whatever it is, when the Toros play man, they allow opposing guards and forwards to penetrate the lane repeatedly for easy shots or dump offs for dunks and layups. On Tuesday, L.A. posted 65 first-half points on 56% shooting. Forty-six of those points came in the paint — mostly from dribble penetration. The Toros seem to play their best defense in a 2-3 zone. That leaves the wings open for three-point shots, and L.A. eventually took advantage of that. The Toros poor D also hurts them offensively. It’s hard to fast break and earn easy baskets when you don’t force turnovers and are constantly in-bounding the ball under your own basket after the opponent’s made a shot. Finally, even when the Toros stay close they’ve lost seven games by six points or fewer — they simply can’t get key defensive stops late in the fourth quarter. Unless you’re the Phoenix Suns, you can’t win if you don’t play some D.

Getting beaten on the boards: At the end of the Toros’ loss to the D-Fenders on Tuesday, one stat stuck out to me: The D-Fenders had won 17 offensive rebounds to the Toros’ eight, leading to a nine-point disparity in second-chance points. Seeing as how the Toros lost the game by 16, those nine points were devastating to their chances. The first thing a team has to do on defense is protect the glass. Teams need to be punished for missing their shots, not given multiple chances at redemption. Add to this a 12-point disparity in points in the paint (down from a 22-point disparity at halftime), and what you get is a team that isn’t playing tough interior defense. The D-Fenders were allowed far too many easy layups and dunks because the Toros’ big men weren’t playing hard-nosed defense: blocking out, throwing hard fouls, filling up the lane. Basketball is to a large degree a psychological game. If opposing players feel like they can own the paint and the offensive glass, they’re going to take advantage of you every time down the floor. Why wouldn’t they, if there’s no punishment? Put up a forceful front on the defensive end of the floor, on the other hand, and tiny guards are going to get the message that nothing will come easy to them, and that coming into enemy territory comes with consequences.

And now, on the offensive end:

Bad offensive execution: The Toros have scorers. Elder (third in the league at 22.3 ppg), Jamar Smith, James White (when he’s not with the Spurs), among others, can all create their own shots and score at will one-on-one. Yet the offense seems to have little rhythm to it. The ball movement isn’t fluid; no one makes the extra pass (save for Jay Williams). When players do look to set up teammates, they seem to be out of sync. The result is a ton of turnovers. The Toros have posted more assists than turnovers in only two of their 12 contests. They average 21 turnovers a game. For instance, during a second-half possession in Tuesday’s loss — with the Toros scurrying to close a 16-point gap — Jamar Smith beat his defender off the dribble. The defense collapsed to cut off Smith at the foul line, but that left guard Brock Gillespie wide open on the wing. The Toros were slow rotating the ball, though. By the time Smith recognized where his teammate was and passed the ball, the defense had recovered. An L.A. defender got a hand on the pass. Instead of an open three-pointer, the play ended in a turnover and fast-break the other way. Oodles of turnovers won’t win many games.

No dribble penetration: The Toros are bursting with offensive talent at the 1, 2, and 3 positions. Elder, Smith, Williams, and Gillespie are all quick guys with the ability to take their man off the dribble and get into the lane. Unfortunately, they almost never do because the Toros’ offense is built around passes around the perimeter and passes from the perimeter into the big men in the lane. Which means that most of the time the man with the ball in his hands is covered tightly by his defender, leaving him in a position where he either has to take that man one-on-one or pass off to an equally well-covered teammate. By driving the lane more, the guards would force the defense to collapse, thereby drawing double-teams leading to more open teammates, or easy layups, or fouls and resultant trips to the free-throw line. In professional basketball, where the level of play is so high, it’s important that a team score as many easy baskets as they can. If every play is designed to force either tough outside shots or full-coverage post-up moves, the number of easy buckets goes down … and with it the score. Against the D-Fenders this past week, the Toros had their most success when Jamar Smith was forcing double teams down low, which allowed him to kick the ball out to the outstretched and hungry hands of his teammates. The Toros have the talent; they just have to trust in one another more.

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