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A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land: Internet All-Stars, The Process of Growth, and Flip Saunders is a Good Coach

I loved Wise's article on Saunders that Prada posted the other day, but was more impressed by what Flip had to say. What he's talking about, teaching the right things then being patient, is the only way I knew how to teach. When your students don't pick up complicated concepts right away, you repeat the lesson in as many ways as you know how, and his statements lead me to believe that's exactly what he's doing. We do a lot of pointing at infuriating trends and screaming about them, and while I'm as prone to do that in a gamethread as anyone else, CAPS LOCK shouldn't have a place in analysis.

I think a lot of the vitriol may come from the little place inside our head that thinks, "If I was uber-athletic and so many inches shy of seven feet, I could do it better." Having trained and competed at the amateur level in my own field, I want to provide a quick window into the mindset of a competitive athlete, and perhaps why it seems so difficult for some of our guys to make their way past what we see as simple obstacles.

To kick things off from a place most of us can see our way to, the majority are willing to accept shooters need to shoot. The psychology of that truism is based on a shooter having the confidence to continue tweaking their form without being distracted by the pressure of the moment. While rational fans have little problem with accepting this idea in principle, even the most patient can lose their cool when games are going down the tube because good possessions keep turning into wasted shots. So it isn't difficult to appreciate why many Wizards fans are pulling out their nose hairs.

I'll bring my own personal experience into this here and there, because I feel the martial arts paradigm is one that translates well here. Like every path of physical expression, basketball begins with a mixture of basics, instinct, talent, willpower, and hard work. How all of these factors combine in each individual results in what most of us call the raw package.

Nothing's better for learning than experience, and just like the shooter mentioned above, having the confidence to continue playing without being distracted by the fear of failure is paramount to facilitating maximum development. To this end, a player comes to trust him or herself, and by extension their instinct, in much the same way a warrior must trust their sword. You believe when you're on defense that your shield won't shatter and that when you shoot your sword will strike home. A player possesses a deep faith in their game, and it is absolutely necessary for any NBA professional. This is equivalent to holding your sword in the head, it becomes too easy to place your faith only in your game. That's when you get five guys on the court playing one-on-five, something we've all seen and Mike mentioned in last night's recap.

This is where a player's trust in the coaching staff becomes crucial, and should illustrate just how personal and difficult a relationship it is to establish. When you've been through pressure situations where you can only count on your skills and instincts, letting someone in to change how you survive in those pressure situations may not be as simple as cocking your head and paying attention. You go back to what you know because it's comfortable. Kind of like Javale McGee, sometimes I can't resist trying to roundhouse someone in the head instead of sidestepping for a more conservative strike. It's somewhere between conscious thought and compulsion, and trusting a coach to change such a deeply ingrained instinct should further reinforce how personal that relationship is.

What we call court awareness or basketball IQ is feeling the entire floor. It evidences itself when the offense is running competent sets, when the defense is rotating and closing out in good order, when it becomes five players playing as a team, and trusting each other the way they used to trust merely their own individual game. When that happens, it is evidence the individual players are coming to trust the coaching staff on that extremely personal level and meshing in the way that we witnessed against New Jersey. That level of trust has a way of maximizing each player's talent, and when they recognize that, it is the equivalent of holding your sword in the heart, and games like that night's aren't wild-life fueled statistical anomalies.

Concluding, I believe there is evidence that Flip is building those relationships with the team and together they're changing the culture. I still raise my eyebrow from time to time, but more and more, it's appearing that Flip Saunders is not only a good coach, he's the right coach for this team.