Summer Reading: "The Art of a Beautiful Game" written by Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated.
Ballard's book is one of the better recent basketball books that's been published. It was released in the Fall of 2009 but I just got to reading it now. I can't recommend it highly enough. While the chapters seem scattered all over the place, it doesn't interrupt the flow at all. While the book itself doesn't contain that much Celtics related material, there's plenty of great insights of the NBA in general. There is however, one interesting tidbit in Chapter 11.
Entitled: "Shot Blockers: A Rare Affection for Rejection," Ballard discusses the mindset of the shot blocker and what it takes to become a good shot blocker. He discusses how much Dwight Howard enjoys rejecting a shot 30 rows into the crowd, then contrasts Howard with Bill Russell, who perfected the blocked shot by tapping it to a teammate.
He touches upon Manute Bol's 8 blocked shots in one quarter and how Mark Eaton holds the NBA record for most blocks in a single game with 14. Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Ben Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Alonzo Mourning and newest Celtic Shaquille O'Neal expectedly get their due. The one little nugget I found interesting was how Utah's Andrei Kirilenko described Paul Pierce. Below is an excerpt from that chapter, discussing how shot blockers use the "bait-and-block" ploy to block a shot effectively:
This ploy, the bait-and-block, is one of many tricks of the trade. A primer might include these tips: 1) know your pump fakes (Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady are especially dangerous); 2) swat with the hand opposite the shooter's for better extension (a favorite of Ben Wallace's); 3) watch your man's jersey, not his eyes ("the eyes lie," warns Eaton); 4) beware the nearly unblockable floater of guards like Tony Parker (it's the blocker's mirage, there one second, gone the next); and 5) know who loves to get to the line (Utah's Andrei Kirilenko rates Boston's Paul Pierce as the easiest "good" player to block because Pierce is forever trying to get a shot off near the basket in hopes of getting to the free throw line, sometimes offering up easy block opportunities).
If you're an NBA player speaking strictly from your defensive instincts, this might be true about Pierce. Going by statistical data, Pierce ranked 77th in total shots blocked with a total of 50, tied with Andrew Bynum, Aaron Afflalo, Dirk Nowitzki and teammate Glen Davis. Here are the top 80 (from HoopData.com) based on players that played at least 40 games last season:
Interesting to note that Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Amare Stoudemire, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Joe Johsnon and Dirk Nowitzki (tied) are all ahead of Pierce. I guess in Kirilenko's mind, they are tougher to reject.
It should also be noted that in an earlier chapter that discusses the defensive capabilities of Shane Battier, Battier himself gives Pierce an "honorable mention" when ranking the toughest players to guard. He ranks Kobe, Wade, Brandon Roy, Manu Ginobili and LeBron James as the most difficult while giving honorable mentions to Pierce and Kevin Martin.