2:00 pm Aug. 15, 20121
The decision by Amar'e Stoudemire to train with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer in the art of the post move is an encouraging one.
Stoudemire, after all, didn't train at all last summer as he recuperated from a back injury that prematurely ended his season. The resulting slow start, which Stoudemire attributed to his lack of game shape, helped to put the Knicks in an early hole that Linsanity and the best spell of Carmelo Anthony's career couldn't overcome.
So the mere fact that Stoudemire is healthy and working on his game is worth applauding. But the lessons with Olajuwon, having been taken up by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard in previous years, yield varying results.
Consider what the ultimate goal of improved post moves would be: cleaner looks at shots near the basket, and more opprotunities for dunks, the ultimate high-percentage shot.
Kobe Bryant worked with Olajuwon prior to the 2009-10 season. Bryant took 17 percent of his shots in the season prior from close range, making them at a rate of 59.9 percent. Four percent of his shot opportunities were dunks, which Bryant made at a greater than 95 percent clip. After his Olajuwon tutorial, Bryant took more shots from close range, up to 20 percent. But his effectiveness dropped to 54.5 percent. And he only dunked two percent of the time. His shooting percentage from 3-9 feet actually dropped slightly, from 47 percent pre-Olajuwon to 46.2 percent post-Olajuwon.
His dunks have remained consistent at around two percent in the two seasons since, while his shots from close range have dropped further. By 2011-12, only ten percent of his shots came from in close. And he shot just 42.6 percent from 3-9 feet.
A year later, Olajuwon lent his expertise to Dwight Howard, then of the Orlando Magic. Howard was coming off of a 2009-10 season in which he shot 55.4 percent from close range, and did so 58 percent of the time. Twenty-five percent of his shots were dunks. A year later in 2010-11, he shot 55.1 percent from close range, and did so just 49 percent of the time. Only 16 percent of his shots were dunks. Interestingly, his jump shot improved considerably, from 25 percent accuracy to 50 percent accuracy. But most of that improvement came on shots from 16-23 feet, exactly the place where post moves aren't in evidence. His shooting in close stayed static.
Nevertheless, LeBron James signed on after the 2010-11 season to improve his post play with Olajuwon as well. And James, it must be said, appears to have incorporated his Olajuwon lessons into his game.
In 2010-11, James shot 25 percent of his attempts from close range, hitting them at a 64.1 percent clip. He dunked five percent of the time. In 2011-12, after working with Olajuwon, James shot the same number of shots inside, but his percentage jumped to 68 percent. His dunks remained static as well. But the largest increase in where his shots were attempted took place at the rim; the greatest drop, year-over-year, took place from three-point range. The result was a more complete, more efficient offensive game.
Interestingly, the biggest flaw in Stoudemire's 2011-12 game wasn't around the rim, where he took a comparable percentage of shots as in 2010-11 while making a significantly higher percentage of them. It was, instead, his shots from three-to-nine feet, where his attempts dropped from 4.8 per game to 2.2 per game, and his accuracy plummeted to 32.4 percent from 45.3 percent.
If Olajuwon can confer some of what he managed to excel at regularly to Stoudemire, that number will go up, as it must for Stoudemire to regain his status as an elite offensive player.