Monday, February 18, 2013

What Makes a Team Great?

I've spent way too much time analyzing this year's Purdue squad...why they seem to be getting worse since early January, why this many 4-star players play like a 2-star team and why they simply don't compete at times.

I think the answer to this question has a ton of facets...but have said it before, continuity is the very base of all of team's problems.

All that said the ripple effects of one player's effect on the program have been costly and I'll tell you why.

A few years ago, when Kelsey Barlow was being recruited to Purdue, I went to watch him play to get a first-hand account of the player.  At that point, I didn't understand his recruitment.  He played lazy basketball...he didn't move on offense, was inconsistent on defense and didn't seem to use his length and athleticism effectively-enough on that level. But Painter liked the guy. He probably liked his ability to get under other people's skin...Ironically, that's part of the reason he's no longer on Purdue's team.

At BS, we liked that too...but just as Barlow pissed off IU fans with his antics his Freshman year, Barlow pissed off his teammates at Purdue. If you read him on Twitter, it's tough to tell at times if he's an evil genius, a troubled individual or just an immature kid...might be a little of each.  There's no doubt Barlow could have been very good (if not great) for Purdue had he developed differently...but hypotheticals don't matter...things are what they are.  Barlow didn't buy into Painter's philosophy and never was a fit.

After a few troubled years, Barlow was officially kicked off of the team one year ago this week. The void he left sent Painter scrambling to find another point guard to fill the void...one which he couldn't fill in time.  A few Seniors who were looking to transfer for their final year of eligibility didn't pan out...and this year, Purdue has had one true Freshman PG on the roster and a bunch of shooting guards in disguise trying to direct an offense that has no direction.

How important would another Senior been, especially a versatile, athletic point guard, been on this year's Purdue team? We don't really need to answer that question, do we?

But, Painter simply had to do what he did last winter.  The fallout from the tough decision left Barlow in transition as he sat out a year...and Purdue's program in transition as it had no identity.

Ronnie Johnson leads all Freshman in the nation in assists...that's a pretty good stat. Sure, he has a ton of turnovers and shoots at the wrong times...but he's a Freshman...one surrounded by an incomplete, discombobulated team.

Barlow's loss was and is important...but Barlow's dismissal was overdue. Painter couldn't have had a captain that continued to abandon the team when he was needed most...and more importantly, couldn't have a Senior creating disciples with the same philosophy.  The long-term effects of leaving a player, ANY player, on the roster for four years who is divisive, can kill a program.

The recruitment, signing and subsequent abridged career of one player was/is important...not because that guy was a super star, but because timing is everything.  Purdue's program needs to know what defines it as it moves forward. And everyone who is part of the program needs to be on-board with that definition.

So what makes a team great...or even good?
On paper, the team from '07/'08 was OK...but in three dimensions, they were pretty darned good.  Why?

Here are some things that I believe make teams great.  Nothing earth shattering...and I'm no rocket surgeon...these are just a few thoughts.

DEVELOPMENT
Hard work in the off-season makes a player better and helps build chemistry as everyone focuses on the same goal.

LEADERSHIP
Having players that define the team in positions of earned respect go a long way in making a team a force.  Whose team is it?  The answer to that question says a lot about a team.

BUYING IN
Do players believe the coaches plans and vision for the program? Are they executing these plans, not just in games, but during practice and off the court? Players need to feel like they're fortunate to be playing where they are, with whom they are, right now.

TALENT
Elite talent obviously covers up a ton of problems...but having talented people in the right places; in key areas, makes everyone else better.

CONTINUITY
Do the parts mesh? Much of chemistry is about time together- players that have played together and have been together become cohesive.  Teams that don't have history often aren't teams at all (what we've seen this year from Purdue).  Teams that have great continuity believe in the guy next to them and are willing to play hard for/with him.

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Look at the really-good teams in the nation...and those that are on the other side of the coin.  Teams like UNC and Kentucky have talent, but have a dearth of leadership...so they have no identity.  Leadership doesn't have to come from Juniors/Seniors (but that helps)...but it has to come from someplace; and a coach isn't enough.  Coaches need to put leaders in the position to succeed to help them be a focal point for the guys that need to develop.

Sorry...you probably didn't think you were coming to a motivational site, but this stuff has been rattling around my head for a bit and I wanted to put it down someplace.

10 comments:

James said...

Nicely analyzed and stated.

There comes a time where it is the duty of a leader to state the obvious. I'm facing such a moment in my professional life. It seems that Purdue Basketball is also facing such a moment.

Gene Keady left the cupboard rather bare when he retired and Matt Painter was forced to rebuild the program from almost the ground up. There is also the example of IU and its sad experience with Kelvin Sampson, which left IU's program in a desert-like state. Purdue Basketball must start over. Again. And Coach Painter must say so!

If this is the case, then why not go the "juco" route? Painter should be able to sell the Big Ten to good juco players. After all, doesn't ESPN tell the viewers daily that the Big Ten is the premier college basketball conference? And Purdue is {barely) in the Eastern Time zone.

One year of juco players can buy some time to recruit the long term solution.

Ptownchris said...

I tend to agree with your guys' assessments of this years team. All programs go through these kind of droughts whether the talent is there or not.
It'll be interesting to see at the end of the season who stays and who transfers. When you start weeding out the guys who really want to be there and buy into the system, things will get back on track

Ben C said...

I don't disagree with anything you wrote, but something that you didn't write deserves mention: Barlow was a darn good on-ball defender. That defensive tenacity is sorely lacking this year, and it's very un-Purdue. Painter did what he had to do, though. With a better roster, we might not have even noticed.

boilerdowd said...

Agreed, Ben...no doubt about it. If he could have kept his head screwed on straight, he had the ability to be MVP for the team this season.

boilerbeck said...

This winter I read Mark Titus' book, "Don't Put Me In Coach". It chronicles his time as a walk-on at aO$U from '06 to '10. It has an interesting chapter that talks about the dynamic that formed and almost tore the team apart the season following the Greg Oden fueled Final 4 drive. Basically, following a very successful period of O$U b-ball, a group of very talented freshmen (including Evan Turner) came in to the program. They knew they were the shit, and let the existing upperclassmen know it. What followed was a terrible team dynamic that lasted all season with the talented freshmen on one side, and the upperclassmen on the other. Anyhow, they didn't make the tournament that year and instead went to the NIT. I just wonder if there is anything going on like that this year?

COD said...

With Barlow playing D and John Hart knocking down jump shots this team might look very different this year.

zlionsfan said...

I think there are two reasons why Painter hasn't recruited jucos this time.

One is that the problem with Barlow wasn't really apparent until late last season, when there wouldn't have been time to add someone to fill in the class. (By that I mean that up until that point, presumably Painter thought Barlow would pull it together and be allowed to stay.)

The other is that the problems this year aren't primarily ones where juco talent can help. I think you typically use juco players to fill talent gaps, particularly when a roster is bare, like when Painter took over from Keady (and signed Calasan). The issue here isn't so much that there isn't talent - most of these guys were heralded recruits - but that the talented players here aren't doing what they're supposed to. Also, I don't think you'd get leadership from a juco player unless it was a guy who was booted from a major-college team, went to juco to get his act together, and then came back with a story of redemption, etc. etc.

On the other hand, one problem juco players can address is class imbalance. One of the things about attrition is that you can end up with a really large class, depending on when the players leave. Barlow and Hart departing meant that Painter ended up with six freshmen this season - not ideal, particularly with no experienced returning starters. Of course that won't be a problem next season, even if one or two underclassmen don't return: with just two seniors, there is room to add more players if necessary. (Then again, if you don't know until March that you've got another opening, it can be tricky to land a quality recruit in that spot.)

Row Boilers said...

Lots of comments about chemistry and effort lacking this year, no argument from me on either point. I think the bigger problem is lack of athleticism. Besides Hammons, how many dunks do we have this year? I'd guess in the 5-10 range. None of our guards dunk do they? Good teams have at least one. Carroll can't, Lawson doesn't have the skills, Hale can and may show it with his increased PT. Chooch can but when has he?

We aren't fast enough, don't jump well, aren't very muscular as a group, we just don't have good enough athletes. Other teams drive by us, jump over us, are faster to 50/50 balls.

We might also not be smart enough basketball wise. Getting to 50/50 balls and beating someone off the dribble is enhanced by guys who see the floor, who is quick mentally.

Kodiak33 said...

Lawson has dunked a few times.

B-Kizzle said...

I think one of the biggest issue is team chemistry. That team is EXTREMELY cliquey. Not all 15 guys are all going to hang out with each other, but when 3 players only see the other 12 people on their team once a day, it makes it hard to gel. There are at least 3-4 factions of players (by my count in the computer lab at least). With no central leadership, there is no sense of continuity among the players. It makes it extremely hard to play together on the court if you don't play together off the court.