2016 NBA Playoffs: What Makes Curry More Than A Great Shooter?

Seriously?  How much room does he need?  Despite dropping Game One to OKC in the Conference Finals last night, it’s impossible to ignore Stephen Curry’s amazing return from a sprained knee that cost him four games in the playoffs and the miraculous contribution he made to clinch the Warriors’ series-clinching win in Game 5 against Portland. One look at the play made by the back-to-back MVP in the final seconds of that game, similar to the amazing shot he hit at the end of last night’s game,  is all you need to understand what makes Curry so special:

It’s not simply that he is so skilled as a ball-handler to create his own shots, as a cutter to get open and get shots, or as a master technician to make shots, it’s that he does it under the most extreme forms of pressure. And whether we play basketball or not, staying true to who we are and being able to perform under stress and pressure is an attribute we should all desire to find.

BASKETBALL – Beyond Great

Photo: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

Photo: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

Even though he amazes night in and night out, Curry has his critics and doubters.  There are those who think he has set an unreachable standard for young players developing in the game, hampering the development of other fundamental skills.  There are others, like an acquaintance of mine, who think he’s arrogant and self-glorifying.  And others, who think he’s reckless.

I don’t buy into any of that and  I realize that critics will always lurk in every corner, but as I watch Curry – how he plays, how he prepares, and how he appears to handle fame off the court, I see important elements that are helpful to young players in not just becoming a great shooter, but in becoming a clutch shooter and an almost impossible shooter to defend. The internet is full of Curry highlights, but I encourage you to take the time to watch a compilation of all of his record-setting 402 three’s made in 2015-16 or at least these highlights.

By watching them in succession, I see three factors that have led to his ascension as the greatest shooter in the modern game:

  1.  He’s Fearless:  Like his teammate Klay Thompson, Curry will shoot at any time, against taller defenders, and with the game in the balance.  He has no fear of failing.
  2.  He’s Confident:  Curry expects shots to go in.  It’s not arrogance as some would suggest.  Its confidence through preparation – during the offseason, before games, and even in his footwork before he shoots.
  3.  He Optimizes:  Curry is constantly probing and cutting, looking for his shot and when he catches the ball, all he needs is a sliver of space to get his shot off.  When he doesn’t have space, he’ll dribble and fake to get just enough room, against any defender.

FAITH – Real Pressure

For the past few weeks, I’ve been drawn to learning more about the early church.  As the modern church recently celebrated Pentecost where we focus on the Spirit of God being displayed through the followers of Jesus (start with Acts 2, but take the time to read the entire book and when you can, dig more into the history books to learn from those early Christians), their example is so relevant to the growing uncertainty and pressure developing all around us in the modern world.

northpoint.org

northpoint.org

In a terrific sermon series called Tough As Nails, one of my favorite preachers, Andy Stanley, provides an in-depth look at Christians in the early church – you know, the ones who didn’t have a physical church to go to on Sundays, didn’t have high-tech worship services, and honestly, didn’t even have the New Testament because it hadn’t been written. And living in the middle of a pagan culture, they thrived in their faith despite constant persecution from the ruling government of Rome.  Yet, those early Christians thrived under pressure.  With a sermon here and act of kindness there, they multiplied and grew their numbers at a mind-boggling rate, despite a society and a multitude of cultures that wanted nothing to do with a God that.  To me those Christians set an example that is similar to Steph Curry.

The church grew and more people came to know Jesus in staggering numbers because those early Christians were more than just believers.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, they were fearless in the face of persecution, they were confident to preach the Gospel through their conversations with those who had actually been with Jesus, and they optimized every opportunity to spread God’s love.  And talk about pressure!  As the church grew, the persecution and torture rose to a fever pitch under the emperor Nero and continued throughout the Middle Ages into today.  I stand in amazement as I read and investigate the martyrs of our faith in the past and in our world today.

LIFE – Fearless

January 25, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30, left) shoots the basketball against San Antonio Spurs forward David West (30, right) during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, a record number of Christians throughout the world, over 7,000, were killed because of their Christian faith and over 2,400 churches were destroyed.  The persecution of Christians that began in the first century continues today. We grow numb to all of the news stories, but Christians are being horrifically murdered in the Middle East, terrorists are on the march in Europe and even within the U.S. the persecution of our faith is growing through powerful decisions being made in government and within our society.  You cannot and will not be able to escape it.  Are you prepared?  Are you willing to live your life with the same conviction as those Christians hunted down by Nero?

Thankfully, God is still at work and if you live as a Christian in today’s world, He doesn’t expect us to withdraw from society or sit comfortably in our secluded churches.  Like Curry as a pressure shooter, we can be fearless in sharing the Gospel and living by God’s standards, we can gain confidence through the preparation that comes from regular worship, fellowship, and Bible study, and we can optimize our witness by always looking for ways to serve and inspire others.  And for more examples of the growing persecution Christians will face, check out this newsletter from my good friend, Brad Alles.

2016 NBA Playoffs: Plays Behind the Plays

bleacherreport.com

bleacherreport.com

Most coaches will tell you that statistics do not tell you the whole story.  Sure, stats like shooting percentages, points scored, rebounds, assists, and turnovers can tell you a great deal about player productivity, but far too often, the plays that truly matter and truly decide games often go unnoticed. While the NBA now utilizes advanced technology (see Basketball’s Eye in the Sky) to capture and analyze every movement on the court, the league is now giving fans and observers a better look at how players impact the game through plays that often go unnoticed in the box scores.  You may not have caught this as the playoffs began, but the NBA is now tracking five “hustle stats” during the playoffs. While teams typically track these types of plays during games, this information provides a new opportunity for all of us to appreciate the plays and players that often go unnoticed, but frequently have tremendous impact on team success and can remind all of us about how important a similar skills are just as important in our work and in our mission as Christians.

BASKETBALL – Hustle & Commitment

The NBA calls them “hustle stats,” but I look at them more as “commitment stats” because they really show you more about how willing a player is to do everything it takes to win. There’s sacrifice involved.  There’s energy involved.  And, they require unselfishness.  So, here are the five stats – four of them are defensive (I could make a case for a few more offensive stats I would like to see, but this is a start):

  1. Contested Shots: player raises a hand to contest a shot prior to its release.
  2. Charges Drawn: player successfully draws an offensive foul.
  3. Deflections: player gets his hand on the ball on a non-shot attempt.
  4. Loose Balls Recovered: gains sole possession of a live ball not in control by anyone
  5. Screen Assists: a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made basket.
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

These are made available at NBA.com where you’ll find some interesting leaders.  The best at contesting shots?  Al Horford and Draymond Green. The best team at getting deflections?  The San Antonio Spurs.  And DeAndre Jordan, known as a defender, leads the league’s best screening team, the Clippers, with 6.7 screen assists per game.  It’s a fascinating page that shows us so much about the little things that help teams win.  You’ll also find other enlightening stats on the site under Defensive Hub, and Clutch Stats that provide a closer look.

LIFE – Good Workers

www.mysanantonio.com

www.mysanantonio.com

As my off-season job heats up, we will be welcoming a staff of forty or so college interns who work in all facets of sports management.  It provides quite a study in the work ethic of young people and their potential to find professional employment.  In most years, a handful of our interns will rise to the top.  While most of them are looking for the “glamour jobs” and want them handed to them without putting in the time and effort to gain meaningful experience, these workers stand out by doing whatever it takes to help our organization thrive.  It’s similar to the “hustle stats.”  They may go unnoticed, but every company, school, or office needs committed workers who

Contest – they actively respond to negative attitudes from co-workers and fight the malaise and complaining that can infect a workplace.

Sacrifice – they step in when coworkers need help, even though it may sacrifice their time or energy and they do it in a helpful, instructional way.

Deflect – they are constantly focused at the task on hand and deflect distractions that so often derail effective work like an active defender getting their hand in the passing lane.

Recover – they get things done, especially when the pressure is on.  They don’t blame or complain or envy, they just get handle things.

Assist – they serve others around them however they can.  They do their assigned job and they look for ways to help others around them succeed, even when it may go unnoticed.

I regret that I didn’t learn all of these habits as a young person, but now see how vital they are in any line of work.  Are you someone who excels in the stats behind the stats?

FAITH – Christian Witness

As a Christian walking  through a difficult world desperately in need of God’s love, I am also reminded that we can show God’s love by doing the work that often goes unnoticed. God doesn’t need us all to be preachers and mission workers, but he does expect us to display his love in every aspect of our lives.  We can:

Contest – Actively identify and counter ideas in our culture and community that are contrary to God’s word (1 John 4:1).

Sacrifice – Look out for the needs of others and go out of our way to serve in any way we can (Phil. 2:3-4).

Deflect – Through faith, deflect the temptations and trials the devil sends our way and into the lives of those around us (Eph. 6:16).

Recover – Show kindness and forgiveness to others, even when they stumble or do us harm, is like recovering a loose ball.  You gain another possession! (Col. 3:13).

Assist – Step in for the sake of a friend and give up your own desires.  Jesus did it for us! (John 15:13).

Consider your life and the job you are doing.  Do you only do the things that will get you noticed?  Do you do that on the basketball court?  Do you do that on your job?  What about in your relationships with other?  Just as the commitment level of a player is seen through the hustle stats, we as representatives of Christ will show our commitment and have the greatest impact on our world by being aware of evil, displaying passion for what’s true, and unselfishly serving others.  Like a good coach, God sees it all!

2016 NBA Playoffs: We Just Gotta’ Trust Brad

1449967872133

www.ooyuz.com

After college basketball wraps up and the NBA Playoffs heat up, most basketball fans focus on the superstars and their teams, but my attention is drawn to the coaches. While the NBA Playoffs showcase the amazing talents of the world’s greatest athletes, the constant media attention often gives us a much closer look at the strategies, motivational techniques, and off-the-court sparring of the head men on the bench. Continue reading