"The single biggest change that has happened in the league over the last 20 years is rotating defenses," says a G.M. who wants to maintain the illegal-defense rules. "Back in the early '80s, if Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] got hot, he was going to score his 44 points, and we single-covered him the whole time. Everyone thought about offense, and no one thought about defense. Then the coaches started rotating the defenses and double-teaming to try to force the ball to a player who was not as good a shooter. Now you come to our practices and we spend half to three quarters of our time working on defense. Offense sells tickets, but defense wins games."
Thorn thinks the emphasis on D has overwhelmed the pro game. "There have been lots of innovations on the defensive end, but when was the last time you saw anything innovative being done on the offensive end?" he says. "There's a sameness about our game now. Virtually everybody plays exactly the same style of offense, and because of that, if s easier to defend against it. But if you allowed any defense, you wouldn't see that You'd see a lot of defenses, a lot of offensive sets. There would be a lot more movement. You could use some really good shooters who can't make it in the league because they can't guard anybody one-on-one."
Charlotte's Baron Davis
Delayed Payoff From the Lottery
Last season top draft choice Elton Brand of the Bulls and No. 2 pick Steve Francis of the Rockets were on their way to becoming co=Rookies of the Year. The fourth selection, Lamar Odom, was starring for the Clippers, while point guard Andre Miller (No. 8) was a fixture in the Cavaliers' lineup. By comparison Baron Davis, the third pick, from UCLA, didn't start one game for the Hornets and averaged 5.9 points and 3.8 assists in 18.6 minutes. Of the four point guards selected in the 1999 lottery, there was speculation that Davis might be the biggest bust.
"Baron needed to work on his outside shot," says Charlotte coach Paul Silas. "I knew teams would sag off him, invite him to take that shot. I didn't want to have teams almost embarrass him."
Silas no longer has such reservations: He and the Hornets are promoting the 6'3", 212-pound Davis for the Most Improved Player Award. Through Sunday he was averaging 13.4 points, 7.3 assists, 2.22 steals and 5.2 rebounds in 39.4 minutes while becoming one of the NBA's most spectacular penetrators and dunkers. "He gives us an explosiveness and an ability to push the ball that we didn't have," says Silas.
While Davis sat through most of last season, he didn't sulk. "I look at myself first before I blame anybody," he says. Determined to make up for lost time in the off-season, he returned to Los Angeles and sometimes played in three summer-league games a day. He worked out with Celtics assistant coach Lester Conner, a longtime friend; studied videotapes of everyone from Isiah Thomas to his teenage idol, Jason Kidd; and sought advice from Magic Johnson.
Putting it all together, Davis realized he had been playing in too much of a hurry as a rookie. "Magic was telling me, 'This is going to be your year,' " Davis says. "He knows that you have to be confident in this league."
Davis had no aversion to hard work. After tearing the ACL in his left knee while dunking during the NCAA tournament in his freshman year, he recovered from surgery quickly enough to start 26 games as a sophomore and enter the draft. Some of his most difficult practices over the summer were spent reinventing his jump shot with Hornets assistant G.M. Jeff Bower. Davis fired only 100 to 200 jumpers a day, but he took great pains to achieve a consistent tempo and release. "People don't understand how important the grip is," Bower says. "You want to keep your index finger lined up in the middle of the ball. Baron had his middle finger lined up there, which was why so many shots were going wide left last season."
After a 20-9 start, Charlotte has slumped in the last month, falling 3� games behind the Bucks in the Central Division at week's end. Many blame the collapse on the Dec. 26 return of forward Derrick Coleman, who had spent six weeks on the injured list for being out of shape; through Sunday, the Hornets were 5-12 since he came back. Over the last three seasons they are 64-69 when Coleman plays and 35-9 when he doesn't.