As a Laker fan, there’s not a player I’ve disliked more in my life than Kevin McHale. Whether it was his clothesline on Rambis, how he’d lumber up and down the court, or just his lurch-like look he was the Celtic I despised most during those epic 80’s battles.
I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that one of the main reasons I also couldn’t stand him was because of how good he was and how often he’d take his defender to school – especially whoever on the Lakers was checking him (that is until the Lakers traded for his college teammate Mychal Thompson). McHale was a low post monster, shooting 55% for his career and twice eclipsing the 60% barrier in a season. His mix of long arms, fantastic footwork, and ability to mix primary moves with almost unstoppable counters made him a nightmare on the low post.
So, when McHale talks low post scoring or has opinions on the games of today’s post players, you listen. His insight in this area should be as respected as much (or more) than any other legend, especially since he relied on technical skill more than athletic prowess. At the Adidas Eurocamp, McHale was doing some talking and teaching on playing on the low block and one topic he covered should be of interesest to Lakers’ fans. Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk has the story:
The question came up of how important it was for a big man to be able to learn to pass out of a double-team in the post — a skill Lakers center Andrew Bynum has struggled to develop as he’s started to face that extra defender inside. McHale said that’ll come, but smiled when the question was asked, because it’s really the very last step to come in a competent post player’s game.
“First of all, there’s like three prongs in that thing,” he said. “One, you’ve got to get good down in the low post. Two, you’ve got to get good enough to beat your man steady. Three, they double-team you — that’s the third prong, and then you’ve got to pass out, OK?
“You learn pretty quickly, because in the NBA especially, when you start getting double-teamed a lot and when teams have success, they’ll do it every single night. Bynum a year from now will be a very good post passer. He’ll know where to go, he’ll be relaxed, he’ll read it, and pass it out. Then you’ve got murder on your hands because the guy can score down there and he can pass out. And any time two (players) guard one in our league, three have got to guard four. And three cannot guard four in the NBA, the players are too good.”
During this past season, we saw Bynum progress through all three of the prongs McHale discussed. Early in the year Bynum showed that he had the strength and size to establish the deep post. From that position he then showed he could score against single coverage with great efficiency. At that point, defenses started to adjust by double teaming him and that’s where things got tricky for the first time all-star.
Throughout the year Bynum had his ups and downs in dealing with the double team, sometimes making the right read and other times forcing the action a bit too much. Rather than making the easy pass back out to the same side wing, Bynum would try to make the homerun pass to a teammate cross court that wasn’t quite open. Other times he’d try to bully his way through the double team to score rather than pass at all. And other times, he’d (seemingly) resign himself that the double team was eminent and not work for position to make a catch at all. (As an aside, the latter two issues could also be the product of the inconsistencies the Lakers showed in featuring their big men on the block. Too often the ball stuck in the hands of perimeter players – Kobe and his wing running mates are guilty of this – and not looking inside early or often enough.)
Bynum’s inconsistency in dealing with the second defender – no matter the reason – only created further incentive for defenses to continue the tactic. It’s easy to say that Bynum was getting doubled because of his ability to consistently beat single coverage, but as McHale mentioned teams also double team because they have success doing so. That means they force turnovers, bad shots, and frustration of the guy they’re doubling. Anyone that saw the last few games of the Nuggets series clearly saw a frustrated Bynum weary of constantly having to deal with double teams.
However, as McHale also said, Bynum should only continue to grow in this area. Big men must learn to navigate defenses with their back turned to the rim and getting that grasp on where and how a defense wants to attack them takes time. I liken it to how a quarterback must turn his back to the defense when executing a play-action pass in football; big men don’t often see how the defense is shifting behind them and how their teammates move in accordance with those shifts. As bigs get more comfortable with how the D wants to double them, their reads become almost automatic and are executed off muscle memory the way a counter spin move is when the defender takes away middle.
We saw flashes of that with Bynum this year but he’s not yet a finished product. However, in time, I believe he’ll get to where he needs to be. I remember the period in their respective careers when Duncan and Shaq struggled dealing with double teams, firing passes to the other team or committing traveling violations when getting pressured by the second man. Over time they learned how to stare down the pressure of the second defender and make the right read more often than not. One day, and probably soon, Bynum will get there too.