Evolution through blood, sweat, and teardrops

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DeJuan Blair would appear to have a bright future in the NBA. In his first year — without, as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich likes to remind, a single offensive move — Blair led all rookies in field goal percentage while averaging 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in only 18 minutes per game.

Given such raw potential, and with Hall of Fame big man Tim Duncan on hand to mentor him, DeJuan Blair might even have an All-Star appearance in his future. The only caveat to that last statement is the assumption that Duncan serves as the perfect mentor for Blair.

With the public on hand for their first extended look at the Spurs’ offseason work, DeJuan Blair kicked off his season not with a Duncanesque bank shot or drop step, but through shades of Tony Parker.

“I taught myself [the teardrop], man,” Blair said after the team’s open scrimmage on Sunday. “Tony was in France.”

The shot that made Tony Parker

To state the obvious, Tony Parker is fast, faster than most. But amongst NBA speedsters there have been faster, more explosive players. Some have combined measurable or superior speed with a better shot (Aaron Brooks), and some with a bigger frame (Derrick Rose).

So what then offensively separates Tony Parker from the Speedy Claxtons, T.J. Fords, and Leandro Barbosas of the world? As the former NBA Live cover athlete stated in a long ago interview with IGN:

“It’s the teardrop. So many players want to go in and dunk, but when the defense runs up on you, one of the best ways to score is throwing the ball up and over the top. That’s why the teardrop is more effective. It’s a shot young players should work on.”

More than a nice shot, the teardrop floater transformed Tony Parker into an All-Star. If Parker entered the league a bundle of raw, untamed speed, the teardrop is the means through which he channels it into tangible results.

While the shot has its drawbacks, namely that the very nature of the teardrop — which is released before the defense can converge — is prohibitive to drawing fouls, it is a shot from which an entire game can be built upon.

Just as Tim Duncan has an entire face-up game based on the threat of his bank shot, the development of a teardrop floater has opened up an array of dribble hesitations, feints, and spin moves used to set up Tony Parker’s signature shot.

Tony Parker’s protegees: George Hill and….DeJuan Blair?!

As a point guard-sized combo guard, not to mention Tony Parker’s backup, the teardrop would seem the natural evolution for George Hill’s game.

The teardrop, however, will probably not be as transformative for Hill. Finishing was not a problem, creating shots was. As such, overuse of such a shot would be counterproductive for Hill.

Last season, Hill’s improvements were based on finishing (both open jumpers and at the rim). Like Richard Jefferson in his prime, to keep his offensive efficiency up Hill relies on fast break points, a decent percentage from 3-pointers, and free throws. A shot designed to avoid contact takes away from that last part.

The Beauty to DeJuan Blair’s Beastliness

DeJuan Blair’s most pressing need right now is some range on his jumper. Not so much for his individual game, though it would help, but to be able to play next to Tim Duncan for extended minutes he’s going to have to keep the lane free. If DeJuan Blair is going to take a step past being a role player, the teardrop will be the perfect remedy.

Creating shots is not going to be a problem for Blair, he creates them from nothing through his offensive rebounding. And while he finished at a high percentage, most of those baskets came on the receiving end of pick-and-roll passes or tip-ins. But he does have some basic tools for an offensive game independent of other players, as our own Timothy Varner pointed out:

Blair has good speed and handles for a man of his size. His game is deceptive in this way, but he motored to the hoop on a number of occasions last season.
Like Parker’s speed, Blair’s brute strength and quickness are tremendous assets that can create space. Unfortunately, at times he had no way of capitalizing on them, as ultimately he still had to shoot at the rim over the length of taller players. At times last season it was the case of a million dollar move, but a ten cent finish.
The teardrop, again, is a shot DeJuan Blair can use to channel these strengths. The biggest advantage of the shot is that it only needs the slight bit of space to get off and is unpredictable enough to keep opposing defenders off balance.
It might not be the most orthodox shot for a man of Blair’s build or position, but the only thing about his game that can be related to the word textbook is associated with medical journals under no ACLs. As a role player he’s already great, but the potential is there to be more. He just needs a way to channel it.
  • rob

    I saw some of the offensive (shot taking) improvements watching the live practice. But also saw the careless reach in’s and out of place positioning on defense that got him into early and often foul problems last year. Just being able to stay on the court will be a great improvement as well compared to last season even if he didn’t improve his shot range or selection.

    But his effectiveness through brute strength and quick feet can’t be matched. And I agree…if he can perfect the teardrop it will keep opposing defenders honest.

    Great anology …”At times last season it was the case of a million dollar move, but a ten cent finish.”

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  • Mike T

    Another possible benefit of Blair using the teardrop is that he can probably get a number of offensive rebounds if he misses the initial shot. The defender will be up in the air challenging the shot and Blair can slip by him and be at the rim for the putback.

  • Henry

    Nice observation Mike T. The other question is whether or not the shot was used [at open practice] simply because Blair “pulled it out of his magic hat” or because he feels comfortable using it to the point where it can become a viable option for him every game…

  • DaveMan77

    I agree with Rob. I think the Spurs are spending a lot of time how these guys are improving on offense with no mention of improvements on Defense. I’ll say it again unless the Spurs are a Top 5 defensive team all this talk of offense is for nothing.

  • http://www.airalamo.com BradAss76

    DaveMan, the addition of Splitter to the team should do a lot to plug the leaks.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    DaveMan77, well said….we need to be able to hang our hat on our D not so much our O. Personally, if DeJuan crashes the boards like he did last season and gives us a ton of putbacks…as long as he reduces his number of fouls, anything he does over and above that is simply gravy! GO SPURS GO, DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!!!

  • bduran

    I agree that it’s really important for the Spurs to improve their D. However, if Blair doesn’t develop a complimentary offensive game to TD, then his minutes will be limited and it won’t matter so much if he improves on D or not. I think for Blair, not necessarily the rest of the team, that he needs to have the offense first. A lot of playing D is rotations, and that will develop as he gets more playing time.

  • Jim Henderson

    Solid post, Jesse. As an undersized PF Blair will need to develop a broad array of tricks to reach his potential as an all-star caliber player. The tear drop, although unorthodox for a player of that size, could be one of them that he pulls out of his hat in the right situation. I doubt it will become a signature move as it did with Parker, but instead a relatively uncommon shot that nevertheless effectively supplements his overall game. And as you said, his main goal should be to develop some range on his mid-range jumper. I’d love to also see him work on a fade away jumper out to about 18-20 feet, a la Carlos Boozer. He would truly be a BEAST with that shot.

    As for others on the thread making comments about defense, your points are well-taken. As a team, our defense simply must improve for us to contend with teams like LA in the WC. That said, Jesse’s post was merely taking up one of the obvious issues that is holding Blair back as a player, and that can help us as a team — his lack of shots and moves away from the basket. In a future post I’m sure we’ll get some commentary about player/team development defensively.

  • Hobson13

    I’m sure many have read this article regarding RJ, but I thought it was very interesting.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/TrueHoop/post/_/id/20185/gregg-popovich-and-richard-jefferson-work-overtime

    When I watched a few minutes of the Spurs scrimage, I thought that RJ had added strength to his upper body. He looked like he’d hit the weights hard in the offseason and it turns out that he did. RJ should be improved, Blair is adding shots to his repertoire, and Hill is getting his floater and 3pt shot down better. This team is looking better and better at least on paper.

    I’m really interested to see what the coaching staff can do with Splitter. The guy could be a beast if he adds some strength and improves his game. I have to say that I’m impressed with Pop for working so hard with RJ during the offseason. That’s a time when Pop usually travels and gets his drink on (wine for him, I guess). If I had to guess, Pop is feeling a bit more pressure on him this year after last season’s boast that “If I don’t win with this team, I should be fired.” I’m not suggesting Pop’s job is in jeopardy, but he has to feel the heat for spending so much of Holt’s money on last years roster yet falling flat in the second round. I think he’s super motivated this year and expect some surprises out of this improved team.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    I’m pleased that DeJuan has added a teardrop shot to his resume. What would really develop him into a force is to have presence in the post.

    As Jim pointed out, an 18 ft fadeaway would be awesome. I would be happy with a 12-14 ft turn around shot from the block or a fade away from the baseline/lane.

    I really wonder if Blair will able to become a post player. He can get to and then hold the spot, no problem. Then DeJuan could actually become an occasional passer and an even better back side rebounder.

    When Blair announces that he’s learned a couple post moves, that’ll be the step that I’ll get really excited about.

  • wardy

    Blair is effective at the rim, defenders know this and can sag off into the lane. The teardrop is effective on the drive to the basket, which is easy to get when the defence sags off into the lane. Pop needs the defence to step up onto Blair, not sag off, so he needs to develop a solid mid range jumpshot, get those defenders to respect the shot and open the lane so TD and Splitter can be more effective.

    Once he has that shot mastered then maybe we can start thinking fadeaway and all-star teams. But for now I would be happy to see DeJuan develop into a solid starter in the Spurs lineup.

  • rj

    so……the heat looked fantastic. lebron looked like he was playing NBA 2K11, controlling his teamates on the break and in the half court. this was devastating…..we better be looking for some perimeter defense. i know we would only face them twice in the regular season, but i’m just saying. i really hope tiago gets healthy soon and some of our roster hopefulls can seperate themselves from the comp.

  • Michael Erler

    I respectfully disagree that the teardrop is Tony’s biggest weapon. In my mind his biggest asset has always been his savant-like ability to make layups, with either hand, at either side of the rim, in all sorts of absurd angles. Tony just has this gift of knowing precisely the right kind of spin or English to put on the ball to get it to go through the net, no matter where on the backboard he has to bounce it from. He’s like a trick shot billiards player, in a sense, and the way he can make these split-second adjustments or lightning quick calculations considering the breakneck speed he’s flying toward the rim, it’s really something to behold.

    Of course I realize that more likely than not he just does it with instinct and practiced muscle memory and he’s not really thinking when he’s doing it, but still, it’s been pretty neat to watch him all these years and I don’t think he gets enough credit for this gift.

  • Jim Henderson

    rj
    October 5th, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Just remember, the Heat were at home and played a team that’s lucky to win 30 games this year. I wouldn’t read much into today’s performance. We’ll see how they do when they play the Celtics in Boston opening night.

  • two cents

    heat preseason game on saturday no?

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “Once he has that shot mastered then maybe we can start thinking fadeaway and all-star teams. But for now I would be happy to see DeJuan develop into a solid starter in the Spurs lineup.”

    DeJuan won’t be a solid starter when his only offensive move is a tear drop.

  • rob

    Lenneezz

    “When Blair announces that he’s learned a couple post moves, that’ll be the step that I’ll get really excited about.”

    Blair does have good post moves. The main problem is he’s too short in the low post to convert his already good moves into points.

    That’s not to say he can’t get better in the low post. But he’s always going to have problems converting those moves into consistent points because of his lack of height.

    As Jesse pointed out earlier…”At times last season it was the case of a million dollar move, but a ten cent finish.”

    Blair simply has to develop a CONSISTENT mid range game whether it as you and Jim mentioned a fadeaway, jumper or even jump hook to his repitoire in order to keep opposing bigs honest in their defense of Blair. Doing that and adding a teardrop will open more opportunities for Blair to becoming a better post player.

  • Tyler

    @Michael Erler

    You make a good point. I’ve always thought TP is the best below-the-rim finisher in the league. You can’t teach that – it is all instinct.

  • zainn

    Please Jim Henderson, just wait till they face the spurs on Oct 9, they’ll lose due to our sparkling defense, and use d. Wade’s injury as an excuse.

  • http://tikikayaktours.com tiki

    Let’s face it, the Heat will beat up the east and some bad west teams. The rest of the league just has to say “fundamentals” is half the battle-where as the Spurs do have T.D, still not falling off the radar-like K.G. George Hill is going to be a frontrunner for 6-man of the year. Ginobili will add the spark, Parker (contract year) will play like an All-Star. R.J. is the x-factor for me-(will he have a better year in Pops system?) Splitter and Blair will make a huge impact on the league-not just the Spurs. In 7 games with the Heat vs Spurs- i like my chances-Spurs in 7.

  • Daniel

    I watched Blair very closely during the intrasquad scrimmage, and I noticed one incredible thing– his release on his jumpshot is the quickest I’ve ever seen by a basketball player. I’ve watched guys like JJ Redick and Ray Allen up close, and Blair’s new shot blows the speed of their releases away. Blair got blocked all the time last season– that’s definitely going to change this year. His offensive game has already improved significantly, and he’s passing like a young Duncan. I’m incredibly psyched for his continued progress– there’s no way he gets fewer than 20mpg this season– he’ll probably be closer to 25mpg in which he’ll average a double-double. Not bad for the 37th pick and $900k/season.

    Now if only Richard Jefferson could remember how to play basketball. And contrary to his adamant statements otherwise, yes, he did forget how to play basketball.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “Blair does have good post moves. The main problem is he’s too short in the low post to convert his already good moves into points.”

    Rob, what you just said contradicts itself. If Blair’s post moves are good, than why does he get blocked so often?

    I’ve got one word for you: Barkley. Sir Charles had no problem pushing his man off the block , spinning and powering his way for a bucket.

    If Blair can’t score in the post with his size, THAN HIS POST MOVES AREN’T GOOD.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    And part of the reason that Barkley could score from the block was that he had the able to pop a jumper. So, your point about getting a jumper would help his post game, I agree.

  • spursfanbayarea

    Tony Gaffney cut by Celtics today. He is a good defender of small forwards? Anybody intersted in trying to sign him for out backup sf spot?

  • bduran

    “THAN HIS POST MOVES AREN’T GOOD.”

    This is simply not true. A guy could have fantastic footwork and moves in the post, but if he’s only 5’5″ it’s not going to get very far in the NBA. Turns out, size does matter.

  • ThatBigGuy

    No mention of Bonner’s floater? For shame!

  • futureAE

    The one that actually impressed me the most at the live practice was James Gist. I would say he’s a lock to make this team. He played most of the game and looked solid on D, the offensive boards as well as the defensive boards, and is a combo forward. Sure he had 6 fouls, but he had like 9 boards and 10 points if i’m not mistaken. Thats pretty good for a guy coming from Russia to a new system.

    I could really see this guy playing backup to Jeff’s starting, but Pop really isn’t known for this behaviour.

  • ITGuy

    Let’s get ready to rumble Spurs fans!!!

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “This is simply not true. A guy could have fantastic footwork and moves in the post, but if he’s only 5’5″ it’s not going to get very far in the NBA. Turns out, size does matter.”

    Blair is 6’7″-8″ and has the muscle and shoulder width of a mack truck. He should be able to muscle his defender off him to score off the block. If he can’t do that it’s because of a lack of post moves that utilize his assets best.

  • rob

    “Blair is 6’7″-8″ and has the muscle and shoulder width of a mack truck. He should be able to muscle his defender off him to score off the block.”

    Blair is a generous 6′ 6″. And granted he has the frame and muscle to “power” his way to the basket…players 6′ 10″ with arm length can (and have) been able to easily block his shot under the rim regardless how good his move under the basket has been.

    But I’ll grant you Blair does need to improve finishing while under/at the basket. It’s just his “moves” are not bad. His current issues stems from the lack of height to finish consistently more so than a lack of moves while there. In fact…Blair has already demonstrated numerous great moves around the rim in just his first season.

    Developing a dependable jumper, hook, teardrop will greatly improve his ability to finish at the rim. And that’s what made Barkley so good…he had an outside shot that kept defenders honest.

  • bduran

    “If he can’t do that it’s because of a lack of post moves that utilize his assets best””

    Also, you saying he can’t score in the post seems a little off base. The dude definitely did score in the post last year. He also showed some nice, if limited, moves. However, he was short and a rookie so he did get blocked more than we’d like. So what. He was used to out muscling people easily in college. In the NBA the size disadvantage is much more pronounced and opposing players are stronger. There’s definitely an adjustment.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “I’m pleased that DeJuan has added a teardrop shot to his resume. What would really develop him into a force is to have presence in the post.”

    This was my original post regarding DeJuan. Being a presence in the post is different from having an occasional move from the low block that might or might not result in a good shot.

    When DeJuan can get to his spot on the block and have 2 or 3 solid scoring options and even be able to make a couple different passing angles, than he will be a POST PRESENCE.

    Heck, when DeJuan has at least TWO (a baseline spin and a baseline fadeaway would work) moves that result in consistently good looks than I’d consider him to have “good post moves”.

    Look, I am a big fan of DeJuan’s. He’s got incredible hands, tremendous mobility and desire. I think he’s got alot of potential and he is an amazing rebounder, especially for his size.

    I would have just preferred that he continue to improve his post game, freethrows or a 12 ft turnaround rather than develop a teardrop. Any of those would help the Spurs more, imo.

  • Jim Henderson

    Lenneezz
    October 8th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    “I would have just preferred that he continue to improve his post game, freethrows or a 12 ft turnaround rather than develop a teardrop. Any of those would help the Spurs more, imo.”

    I don’t disagree with your priorities, but the fact remains Blair will need to develop a wide array of shots/moves to pull out of his bag of tricks in order to become the REALLY special player many of us think he can be someday. I think the tear drop just got some early attention because of the unorthodox nature of the shot for a guy his size, and the fact that TP has used it with such fanfare over the years. Believe me, DeJuan’s working tirelessly on a least a handful of shots/moves as we speak, including the ones that you mentioned. They will all get their chance in the limelight in due time.

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