A few months back, Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell debated the lost art of pressing in the NBA.
Both writers wondered why no pro team is willing to take a chance with the press these days in an era in which many college teams still run it.
Sure, you can say NBA athletes are too good for the press to ever be effective, but what if the athletes they’re going up against are even better?
Simmons makes a compelling argument for the press, saying five or six guys on an athletic team could be schooled on it. They could then be utilized for the first five minutes of the second and fourth quarters against the opposition’s bench.
“Wouldn’t that be an ENORMOUS advantage? Wouldn’t that swing a few games? Wouldn’t opponents dread playing them? Wouldn’t opponents have to waste practice time preparing to break that press? Wouldn’t it be even better at home with the [players] flying around and their fans going bonkers? The key would be not putting ‘press miles’ on your top guys and your wealthiest guys.”
Simmons goes on to suggest having a team throw out one of its top five scorers with its last four guys on the bench.
I think this premise is genius, and here’s how I would make it work for the Suns:
First off, you don’t want to put “mileage” on your starters with the press, and I don’t see how effective Nash, J-Rich and Amare would be in such a system anyway. So they’re out.
I’d put Goran at the one so you can have a (semi)-ballhandler at the other end and Barbosa at the two. He’s got the length and explosiveness to be a perfect press player, plus he would be the guy who can carry this unheralded offense when he gets hot.
Having pressed at Louisville and with his length and athleticism, Earl Clark would have to figure in any pressing alignment. For his hustle and scrappiness, I feel like there also couldn’t be a pressing Suns lineup without Louuuuu Amundson.
The fifth player is where it gets tricky, and I’ve actually spent more time than I should have debating who my theoretical fifth guy would be.
You could go with Taylor Griffin for his athletic gifts. This would be great for team morale from the “everybody is contributing to this thing” standpoint, and he possesses the hunger to really give it absolutely everything during his limited court time.
At the same time, I’m not sure how much I’d like Griffin getting consistent minutes night in and night out.
Therefore, I’d rotate the final spot between Griffin, Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez. Dudley has the smarts to be an effective press player, and he’ll at least give you something on offense. I’d go with Robin against a bigger team because otherwise you’re pretty short with Lou at the five and a tweener forward next to him.
I’m also not sure if I would do this for five minutes a half. That’s almost a quarter of an entire game, which seems like just too much for me for that type of lineup.
Instead I would throw the press out for the first four minutes of every second quarter. Like Simmons points out, you’d be going against backups, which greatly increases your odds at success.
I’d love to see how opponents would react. This would become something they have to prepare for before playing the Suns, and it could cause fits in a playoff situation.
It would be the ultimate trump card to use when you’re down 15 in the middle of the third quarter and you want to inject some energy into your lifeless team, that extra wrinkle to make you just a little less predictable.
Obviously a press would work much better at home than on the road, so you wouldn’t even have to use it every game if you’re playing against a veteran team on the road that you don’t feel would be shaken much by a press.
Granted the press wouldn’t work every night. There would be nights in which it fails and you look like an idiot for running it.
But all in all, I think the Suns would be the perfect team to press four minutes at a time. They already used substitution line shifts at times last season, and with their propensity to play fast such a maneuver would play right into their hands.
The Suns have the perfect combination of athleticism and length along with a go-to scorer in their “pressing” lineup and a rookie who played this way in college who will feel right at home in the press.
It’s a style that can shift games and when you consider how close NBA games are, that four-minute stretch to start the second quarter with Nash on the bench anyway could make a huge difference for the Suns.
It won’t exactly be Nolan Richardon’s old “40 Minutes of Hell” system, but “Four Minutes of Hell” to start every second quarter could help the Suns revolutionize the NBA once again.