As we shift focus to the NBA playoffs, I’ve been catching up with my hometown Milwaukee Bucks and have witnessed a transformation that most of us in the basketball world have noticed happening for quite some time – the vanishing low post (We took a closer look in 2013 with Christmas & Post-Ups). Gone are the days of Milwaukee’s Lew Alcindor hitting sky hooks and drop-stepping from the block, but we have welcomed in two other seven-footers in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe wheeling and dealing from the elbow. They’re still posting up with their back to the basket, but they provide evidence of how the game of my youth has changed and it reminds me of the struggles going on within the church of today.
BASKETBALL – The Change
With the analytics of today, it has become increasingly understood that one of the most inefficient ways to score in basketball is from the low post. Free throws, rim runs, penetrations, and ball screens to create lay-ups and three-point shots have become the norm. Look no further than this year’s Houston Rockets under Mike D’Antoni (see this terrific article from Bleacher Report: How the Rockets Made The Wildest Scheme In Basketball Analytics Work for a good look at the newest trends and also a peak into the “chapel” culture of the team and at Rob Mahoney’s Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets Go Full-Throttle).
And colleges are following suit. Which means it will be filtering down to all levels soon. And even though two of this year’s men’s Final Four teams in Gonzaga and North Carolina rode strong low post play to the final game, most teams have moved away from low post scoring as Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn clearly outlined prior to the tournament in his 2017 NCAA Preview: An Inside Look. These days, most teams utilizing the low post will look for advantage scores by their bigs, but much more often use the low post as a focal point for cutters and shooters in response to how the defense adjusts.
So, let’s get back to my Bucks to see the change that has been made. In the early 70’s, the Bucks pitched the ball into Alcindor and let him work. He certainly would pass out of the post when necessary, but make no mistake, he was counted on and he was paid to score. Once he got the position he wanted, he was almost unstoppable:
Fast forward to the Bucks of today. They’ll still post up a variety of players on the block to take advantage of mismatches or to create passing opportunities more than the Rockets will do, but much of their half-court offense has been moved to the elbow or the pinch post. By sliding up the lane, the basket area is opened up and the post defender has to step higher. When Antetokounmpo isn’t playing the point, he can be an attacking force in the middle of the paint or a decoy to open cuts from teammates on the perimeter. As you can see in this breakdown from Coach Daniel, the Bucks can use a variety of players in the elbow post area in their Corner Series. They can use athletes like Antetokounmpo or other wing players who can drive from the high post or, with the skills of today’s big men like Greg Monroe and John Henson, create the same kind of post play that the Bucks used to get in the 70’s:
Houston’s move away from the post-up is still an outlier, though the trend is growing. For many purists, however, even with less focus on developing post players with low post moves, the traditional low post game still holds on. The question is, should it? Can the same scores come from the elbow area and from pick and rolls? As you can see, it certainly opens up spacing, so doesn’t a change of tradition make sense? I’ll be pondering that question in the off-season. Do we hold to something just to hold on to it or do we need to consider purpose and production?
LIFE – Tradition
Next week our high school son will be performing in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. In the song “Tradition” Tevye says “You may ask how did this tradition get started. I’ll tell you . . . I don’t know!” Life is full of traditions like having the entire family wear Packer gear during every Packer game or going for Saturday morning coffee with a daughter or watching “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” every Good Friday. What? You don’t have these traditions? Sometimes, we need to re-evaluate our traditions. What about all the overly expensive wedding traditions these days, many of which do nothing to celebrate God as the creator and defining element of marriage unions? Do they continue to accomplish their purpose? We had our kids watch Narnia to help them understand better the sacrifice of the cross as we remember Jesus’ death, but as they’ve approached adulthood, the tradition has served its purpose. I’m not opposed to finding something new that accomplishes the same thing with our adult children, but I don’t think we should carve out time that day just to watch. There are other more productive means of accomplishing that goal. And I don’t believe we should do it just because we always have.
FAITH – Church Traditions
Jesus sparred with the tradition hounds known as Pharisees throughout his three year ministry and after several run-ins, put them in their place:
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” and quoted Isaiah “These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (Matthew 15:3, 8-9)
Religion is about following rules and traditions because we think we must, but following Jesus is not about following traditions. It’s about production. It’s about drawing our hearts closer to God. Too often we fall victim to thinking that church traditions like worship and music styles, orders of worship, structures of meetings, and the roles of pastors and leaders are of primary importance. They certainly can help, but only if they draw us each closer to God and allow the Church to impact and serve the culture around us with love and understanding. When traditions lose their impact, or worse, mislead us into blind observance, we lose our productivity. It’s true in basketball and it’s true in the Church.