Athleticism: Nash, DeRozan, Curry

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Athleticism: Nash, DeRozan, Curry

Postby rlee » Mon Nov 26, 2007 3:29 pm

MARCUS THOMPSON II: NBA
Atypical athlete Nash gets most out of body
Contra Costa Times


The Phoenix Suns come to Oracle Arena tonight sporting an 11-2 record and riding an eight-game winning streak, evidence they are still a serious contender.
The reasons for their success are the three exceptional athletes leading their team: center Amare Stoudemire, forward Shawn Marion and point guard Steve Nash.

Yup. Steve Nash.

Stoudemire and Marion are understood to be athletic freaks. But you're wondering how can Nash -- an aging, feeble and oft-injured Canadian -- be mentioned in the same breath, right? It requires looking beyond the usual scope of how we define athleticism -- speed, strength, leaping ability -- and giving this dude credit for his honed physical capabilities.

Perhaps it feels more natural to credit Nash's intelligence and the cerebral handle he has on the game (after all, Nash's athletic ability doesn't make you drool like Gilbert Arenas'). But that's more ingrained stereotype than actuality.

Nash is no John Stockton out there, compensating for lack of athleticism with fundamentals and execution. He is a physical specimen, a fine-tuned machine, who can do things on the court few can duplicate. His excellence is simply in different areas. If LeBron James were a Dodge Charger, Nash would be a Toyota Prius.

"I'm not very explosive," Nash said in an article about his workout regimen on the Phoenix Suns' Web site. "I'm not going to beat too many people in a race, jump over or out-muscle anyone. Instead, I try to use my coordination, balance and momentum to my advantage."

Nash's physical intangibles are balance, hand-eye coordination, reflex, quickness, flexibility and a relentless motor. These attributes don't sound as enticing as a 40-inch vertical. But they certainly are jaw-dropping when manifested in that off-balance fade-away he's mastered, or that running floater off one foot, or when he suddenly changes directions and leaves a defender tangled from the knees down.

You could argue Nash's greatest physical attribute is his endurance, a trait Warriors fans have learned to covet in a star point guard. He missed a total of 20 games the previous six seasons, and that's including seven consecutive trips to the postseason.

Watch tonight's game and look for signs of spondyolisthesis, Nash's congenital back condition. See if you can notice the effects from Nash's shoulder issues, brought on by a rib that occasionally slips out of place.

If not, if he thrives tonight against the physically imposing Baron Davis and the young-and-spry legs of Monta Ellis, would that be enough to give him props as a superior athlete?

Certainly, Nash does have to work twice as hard. Not to keep up with the Deron Williamses and Raymond Feltons, but to maximize his rare athleticism. He's had to design his style of play and workouts to flourish in a game built on explosiveness and power.

He hired old friend Rick Celebrini, a physiotherapist and former Canadian soccer player. Celebrini and Nash have been on some technical mission to recalibrate Nash's game, like Tiger Woods re-tooling his swing.

The way Nash runs is calculated, his cutting is designed. Those awkward angles from which he shoots, the way he contorts his body in the lane, that's all practiced. He takes short of a week of rest time following a season, then embarks on some ultra-scientific regimen which he describes with phrases such as "pure movement" and "firing the muscles."

"We had to break down those movements and slowly recreate them through repetition," Celebrini told Suns.com. "By correcting movement dysfunctions, we are able to prevent injury, optimize the bio-mechanical efficiency of the body and bring about performance enhancement."

Does it sound as if he's referring to some slow white guy, or a supreme athlete?

If that's not enough, just watch him play. Witness him run circles around defenses, find another gear in the fourth quarter and make a shot with ease most players couldn't do by accident. Then say he's not a great athlete.
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Postby 94by50 » Tue Nov 27, 2007 3:06 am

He's not an "ath-a-lete", not a tools guy. But he is talented (his skill with the left hand is amazing), and he is creative. I think some of it is a result of the system. The spread-out, "five-wide" offense (as I call it) gives him a lot of space, and he uses the resulting shooting space and passing lanes to maximum effect. He is a fantastic basketball player.
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Postby 94by50 » Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:11 am

You're right, Nash isn't a great defensive player.
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more on Nash's athleticism

Postby rlee » Thu Nov 29, 2007 5:14 am

APBR member Brian McCormick wrote this in his "Hard 2 Guard" newsletter in September (Vol 1, # 37):

"Nash is often described as unathletic because he does not dunk. However, he is incredibly athletic. His hand-eye coordination is as good as it gets in the NBA; his reaction time is unbelievable; his lateral movement is excellent; his ability to switch from a broad or soft-centered focus to a narrow, fine-centered focus is the best in the NBA; his body awareness is exceptional; his dexterity with both hands is tops in the NBA; his first step quickness is far above average for the NBA; his core strength is unparalleled in the NBA and likely the only reason he is able to continue playing with his chronic back problems. In all these categories, he is in the top 1% of NBA players, but because he does not “look” athletic (sculpted muscles) or do obviously athletic things (dunk), the popular media characterizes him as unathletic."
[/quote]
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Postby rlee » Fri Jan 11, 2008 5:57 am

From APBR member Brian McCormick:

http://www.thecrossovermovement.com/com ... Itemid,61/

Last year, I dedicated two issues of the Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletters to athleticism. I argued that Roger Federer was the best athlete in sports right now, that Steve Nash was a phenomenal athlete and that too often, we limit our discussion of athleticism to how fast someone can run or how high they can jump, rather than taking a broader view and incorporating many different athletic skills.

On Vern Gambetta’s blog, he defines athleticism as:

"the ability to execute athletic movements (run, jump, throw) at optimum speed with precision, style and grace while demonstrating technical competency in the context of your sport."

Is there a more athletic movement in sports today than Federer returning a backhand down the line? Is there a more athletic movement in basketball than Nash sprinting down court with the dribble and throwing a left-handed bounce pass cross court to a streakng teammate and hitting him in perfect stride?
Last edited by rlee on Fri Jan 11, 2008 8:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Fri Jan 11, 2008 12:17 pm

That looks more like a definition of 'skill' above. Most of the time, 'athletic' refers to physical ability. When combined with the mental, we get 'skill'.
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Postby rlee » Fri Jan 11, 2008 1:12 pm

Good point, Mike. Yes, the popular lay perspectives and definitions really are too narrow & limiting.

Sorry, I negelected to include Gambetta's credentials to comment on athleticism:

International Exposure:
Lectured and consulted internationally in Australia, Europe, England, Japan and Canada.

Product Development:
Involved in biomechanical analysis and product development with Nike in 1978 – 82. Product development and testing with Converse in 1982 – 83. Product development of Lycra power garment with Dupont.

Track & Field:
Specializes in Coaching Multi-Events, Decathlon and Heptathlon. Consultant coach for Nike Oregon Project. Edited Track Technique, the technical journal of USA Track & Field. Associate editor of the IAAF technical journal, New Studies in Athletic. Co-founder of USA Track & Field coaching education program.

Baseball:
Director of Athletic Development, New York Mets 2004 -5. As Director of Conditioning pioneered conditioning for baseball with model program for Chicago White Sox 1987 – 96. Consultant to Cincinnati Reds 1996-97. University of Texas 2005.

Basketball:
Assistant conditioning coach for Chicago Bulls 1985 – 87. Conditioning coach for Canadian National men’s team 1989 – 94 and the Canadian women’s team from 1992 –94.

Soccer:
Conditioning coach for Tampa Bay Mutiny 1996, 97, 99. Conditioning Coach for 1998 US Men’s World Cup team.Conditioning coach for New England Revolution 1998. Consultant to Chicago Fire 2000. Consultant, University of Virginia Women’s Soccer. Consultant, University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer.

Hockey:
Consulted with San Jose Sharks 1994.

Tennis:
Conditioning coach for Monica Seles 1998 - 99. Consultant Billy Stearns Tennis Academy, Sarasota, FL.

Softball:
Consultant to Australian women’s softball, bronze medalists 2000 Olympics.

Swimming:
Consultant to University of Michigan women’s swimming 2003-- , Consultant, Kenyon College Swimming 2005. Consultant to Mission Viejo Natadores 1991.

Football:
Consultant to San Francisco Forty Niners 1979 – 82. Kansas City Chiefs 1990.

Teaching:
First Director of USA Track & Field coaching education program. Developed successful seminar series “Building and Rebuilding the Athlete” which is directed to physical therapists, athletic trainers, conditioning coaches, personal trainers and sport coaches. Served on Faculty of the National Coaching Institute in Canada.

Books:
Editor TAC Coaching Manual Authored of seven books "Hurdling and Steeplechasing", "How Women Runners Train", "The Complete Guide to Medicine Ball Training", "The Gambetta Method", "The 3S System – Soccer Speed", "Sport Specific Speed - The 3S System", and "Athletic Development".

Education & Certification:
Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Physical Education, Stanford University, 1974 Calif. Standard Secondary Teaching Credential, History and Physical Education, UC Santa Barbara, 1969. Coaching Minor, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1969 Bachelor of Arts, Fresno State University, Social Science major, Physical Education minor, 1968 USAT&F Level II Sprint & Hurdle Coach and Jumps Coach USA Weightlifting Club Coach.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Sat Jan 12, 2008 12:35 pm

I guess the definition of 'athleticism' is wide open, as it isn't a word recognized by dictionaries I can find. Kind of like 'orientated', it's a word used within sports, which has somewhat its own language.

For 'athletic' I find --
1. physically active and strong; good at athletics or sports: an athletic child.
2. of, like, or befitting an athlete.
3. of or pertaining to athletes; involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina: athletic sports; athletic training.


and these synonyms:
able-bodied, active, brawny, energetic, fit, lusty, muscular, powerful, robust, strapping, strong, sturdy, vigorous

It did seem funny that Mr. Gambetta's definition is stated --
"the ability to execute athletic movements (run, jump, throw) at optimum speed with precision, style and grace while demonstrating technical competency in the context of your sport."
-- So one is presumed to understand 'athletic' to arrive at 'athleticism'. I guess it's how an athlete behaves when he's being athletic.

We may suppose the more successful athlete, then, is the one who displays/possesses more athleticism. And the failures tend to fail due to lack of athleticism.

Then a sport-dominator like Federer doesn't have to be the most athletic person in the sports world, just to be the 'best' athlete. Yes, it's a thing of beauty to watch his play. I don't know how to compare to a Randy Moss one-handed reception in traffic, or a LeBron finish. Roger gets to wield a tool, and no one clobbers him in mid swing.
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Postby rlee » Sat Jan 12, 2008 3:36 pm

Mike,

This may get a little too technical, but this further reflects Gambetta's view:

"The foundations for athleticism are basic coordinative activities..(which are)
-Balance (Maintenance of the center of gravity over tha base of support, which is both static & dynamic)
-kinesthetic differentiation (ability to feel tension in movement to achieve the desired movement)
- Spatial orientation (The control of the body in space)
- Reaction to signals (The ability to respond quickly to auditory, visual and kinesthetic cues)
-Sense of rhythm (The ability to match rhythm to time)
-Synchronization of movements in time (unrelated limb movements done in a synchronized manner)
- Movement adequacy (Ability to choose movements appropriate to the task)

The coordinative never work in isolation, they are all closely related."


And, no, these aren't "after the fact" components made up to reflect Steve Nash's abilities; he is quoting form a 1996 book.


I think the point the training pros are trying to make is that the lay perspective sometimes tends to too narrowly focus on certain obvious manifestations of athleticism to the exclusion of other (perhaps more subtle?) ones.
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Postby rlee » Sat Jan 12, 2008 7:11 pm

Here is what David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout writes about this issue:

http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/200 ... n-nba.html
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The Myth of DeRozan's Athleticism

Postby rlee » Tue Oct 20, 2015 5:03 pm

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Steph Curry's Athleticism

Postby rlee » Sun May 15, 2016 2:17 am

More on pop culture ("athleticism = explosiveness") vs. trainers/kinesiologists definitions:


http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/sports ... ing-report
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Re: Athleticism

Postby rlee » Thu Feb 21, 2019 4:50 pm

Luka Doncic’s stepback isn’t just his signature shot, but a glimpse into his unique athleticism
Tim Cato Feb 20, 2019 28

The thing about Luka Doncic’s unguardable stepback shot is that it doesn’t look like it should be. You often see it coming: Doncic, dancing on the perimeter, emboldened by an overmatched defender switched onto him, with the clock often winding down to its very end. Only then does Doncic make his strategic retreat. It’s not lightning quick, not completely unpredictable, and that must infuriate opponents. Why can’t they step forward as quickly as Doncic steps back? They must wonder this as the shot sails over their head.

Doncic’s stepback has already become his signature shot; it’s almost as famous as he is. The shot has humbled defenders, beaten buzzers, bewildered coaches and won games. Against the Houston Rockets last December, Doncic twice stepped back against Clint Capela in the closing minutes. Dallas was down by eight points when Doncic went on a personal 11-0 run that he capped with this shot, the eventual game-winner.

When Doncic played Houston again earlier this month, he lost, but James Harden dapped him up after the game. “Respect,” he tweeted after the game, along with a photo of their embrace. That’s earned respect from the only player whose stepback shot is more prolific. Let’s not mince words: Harden’s stepback is on another level from Doncic’s, and is the most dangerous single weapon in the league right now. But just as there’s a large gap between Harden’s shot and Doncic’s, there’s another gap between Doncic’s and everyone else. Harden has taken a staggering 384 stepback shots behind the 3-point line this season, according to data provided to The Athletic by the NBA. But Doncic has the second most, 119. That’s more than double the next player, Mike Conley, who has attempted just 45 stepback 3s.

Doncic has only hit 35.3 percent of those stepback 3s, or 42-of-119. (Harden converts more than 41 percent of his.) Early this season, the Mavericks coaching staff discouraged Doncic from relying on that shot too heavily. “He’s such a good penetrator, I feel it’s important he strikes a balance,” Rick Carlisle said in early December. But as the season has progressed, Doncic has earned Carlisle’s trust – and total control over the Dallas offense. Since Jan. 1, Doncic’s usage rating has skyrocketed to seventh in the entire league. That includes plenty of stepbacks.

“I’m pretty liberal about that shot as long as it’s aggressive, decisive, and on-balance. That’s the thing. But look, it’s a weapon, it’s a weapon for sure,” Carlisle said earlier this month. “The important thing is the timing and the situation, and Luka, he understands that.”

While aggression and decisiveness are subjective measures, balance, thanks to increasingly detailed sports science, is not. “It shows the amount of thrust he creates and how quickly he can get his balance,” Carlisle said. He might not even know how right he is. Doncic’s stepback isn’t just an unstoppable weapon for the league’s most sensational rookie; it’s a fundamental measure of Doncic’s unique athleticism, which has paved the path towards his success.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Marcus Elliott first met Doncic three summers ago, he was struck by his demeanor. Elliott, a Harvard-trained physician, is the founder and director for P3 Applied Sports Science, a training institution headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, one that has partnered with the NBA and one that elite basketball athletes have sought out over the past decade. When Doncic flew across the world, he was a 16-year-old Slovenian already playing professionally for Real Madrid. But, Elliott thought, he could have arrived from down the street.

“He seemed like he was a Santa Barbara kid who probably played volleyball on the beach, maybe surfed,” Elliott said. “He was so at home here as a 16-year-old, wandering around with all the pro athletes, but acting like a Santa Barbara high school kid. He was adorable.”

Elliott also recognized Doncic’s potential. “He had really unusual focus for a 16-year-old kid,” he said. Doncic already had the underpinnings of an elite athlete: “An athlete who could be very good laterally, and could be (a) very good change-of-direction athlete, and could potentially be a very good braker,” Elliott said. The P3 staff worked with Doncic while he stayed with them, and then they sent him back to Real Madrid with a training program and an open invitation to return every summer.

Did you pause when reading “Doncic” and “elite athlete” in the same sentence? What does elite athleticism mean to you? Athleticism, or at least the American perception of it, involves running fast and jumping high. Our sports culture is obsessed with 40-yard dashes and maximum vertical leaps. Doncic’s measures in those two areas are subpar, and questions over his athleticism helped ensure two teams passed on him and another traded down in last year’s draft. But those physical traits – while impressive in an isolated setting, like a breakaway dunk – are less functional than we think.

“Luka’s one of these guys that his most glaring performance advantages, his superpowers, are not the things that have traditionally defined athleticism in a basketball player,” Elliott said. “(That fact) makes him the perfect athlete for teams to get confused with (and) make bad decisions about his athleticism.”

Elliott promotes a more nuanced and complex perception of athleticism at P3. For example, rather than overemphasizing max vertical, Elliott’s team tests how quickly athletes can jump to 10 feet, six inches – the average height that rebounds are secured in the NBA. Elliott uses phrases like “jump vocabulary,” or the number of different ways that an athlete can jump. If an athlete jumps incredibly high but incredibly slow, then that athleticism isn’t as functional. “It looks great in a perfect setting, but you don’t get the perfect setting that often,” Elliott said.

How many different ways can you jump? That’s the question that Elliott asks, not how high. And when you ask questions in that manner, whether for vertical jump or other physical measures, Doncic’s athleticism looks entirely different.

“When all these teams were asking, ‘Is he athletic enough to play on the perimeter in the NBA?’” Elliot said. “We already knew the answer to that.”

James Harden is P3’s “icon athlete,” Elliott says, but Doncic might be next. Harden and Doncic comparisons existed before Doncic was even drafted, but they accelerated because of the similarities in their stepback jumpers. Ironically, it’s the deceleration that makes them so similar. Harden tests in the 99th percentile when he puts on the brakes, while Doncic ranks only slightly below him, in the low 90th percentile.

The two players’ similar athleticism permeates throughout their entire basketball game, but it’s particularly observable when shooting the stepback 3. Doncic’s eccentric forces are high and quick, which is a technical term for the amount of force that Doncic can generate when his muscles are being lengthened. Think about a bicep curl: you contract the muscle when you raise a dumbbell to your shoulder, and you lengthen it again when you let it back down to your hip.

When Doncic steps back, his stance often resembles the splits. Consider the moment when he plants his front leg in these images, like this:

And this:

And this:

Doncic’s athleticism allows him more power, and more force, when launching himself from what should be a position of weakness, where his muscles have already been engaged in forward momentum. The amount of physical stress your body puts on your joints is volitional, Elliott said; Doncic’s body knows it can handle more than an average athlete, and it shows. Sometimes, Doncic just hops backwards, but more frequently, he feints towards the rim before hurdling backward on his patented move. That combination of acceleration, then deceleration, and then force, and the speed at which he transitions between those phases, is rare.

“He’s got a system that can stay in balance when he does that, when he’s accelerating really fast with big force. That means his trunk is stable enough, his hips are stable enough, his higher systems; it’s not enough (for) that to stop. You’ve got to be able to stop in control. He does have that,” Elliott said. “I don’t want to oversimplify it, but those are the biggest components.”

Watch it once more, and tell me Doncic wasn’t built to make these shots.

Doncic says he doesn’t remember when he started shooting the stepback; he was in his early teens, or maybe even younger. Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov told me Doncic couldn’t always step back in both directions, and remembers him developing the shot over the years he knew him. On the practice floor, Mavericks assistants also tease Doncic about the shot, guarding him one-on-one and baiting him into it. They might tell him they know it’s coming, or that he’s going to miss. No one can guard it, though.

Doncic’s stepback might be his signature shot, but it’s merely a function of his athleticism and a component of his incredible success through this rookie season. It works in conjunction with his drives to the rim, which he did more in February’s six games than any other player in the league. The 19-year-old has seen his shooting percentages dip even as his scoring peaks since 2019 began; coaches attribute that to tired legs and the NBA schedule’s grind.

Still, it’s the stepback that most successfully demonstrates Doncic’s uniqueness. He’s 6’8 and weighed nearly 220 pounds before the season, but his body generates forces in ways and quantities that most other athletes simply can’t handle; and then has the experience and skillset to apply those advantages onto the basketball court itself. Doncic isn’t athletic? Sure, keep telling yourself that.

As Elliott said: “(Drafting Doncic) may end up being the smartest thing Mark Cuban ever did.”
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