The NBA’s great underappreciated skill
BY DAVID THORPE
I don’t often yell at the TV, but one play had me screaming during the Nuggets’ big failed comeback. Nikola Jokić did amazing things to give Jeff Green the ball and a lane to the rim. But it ended up as a Dorian Finney-Smith block for the Nets for the simple reason that Green did what NBA players constantly fail to do: He didn’t fake.
Green could have hopped into two feet and used a violent shot fake. He would have gained a clearer angle to the bucket or two free throws. Instead, he made a bet that works at most levels of the game leading up to the NBA: He bet on his length and speed, jumped off one leg, and now the Nuggets are in a panicky three-game losing streak.
In the film “A Civil Action,” Robert Duvall plays a grizzled Harvard law professor representing a major multinational corporation. In one scene, he’s lecturing his students that the most important word is “objection.” He advises them to use it as often as possible: “If you should fall at the counsel table, the first thing you should say when you wake up is, ‘Objection!’”
In the key trial scene, his opposing lawyer (played by John Travolta) complains to the judge about the flood of objections: “Eighteen times yesterday, twenty times today. [...] He’s deliberately trying to destroy the rhythm of my case!”
Executed correctly, a fake tosses a wrench into the defender’s machine. That’s the core value of the fake: It slows down the offensive player while disrupting the timing of the defender. It’s important that Dorian Finney-Smith knows less than you about when and where you’ll shoot.
Faking is the easiest basketball skill to teach. Shot fakes, pass fakes, jab fakes … anyone who touches a basketball can do them all. Amazingly, the majority of players in the world’s best league lack the presence of mind to use them. These incredibly talented athletes work day after day honing their craft. Yet, most go into games and just about never fake—which makes them far less effective with the ball.
NBA players reading this will say that there’s a reason: Coaches don’t want them to fake.
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