One thing in particular nags at Finch every time he watches Battier play: He doesn't run the floor very hard. Finch tries to come up with an alibi for Battier, to imagine some extenuating circumstance; perhaps Battier paces himself because he knows he'll be playing virtually every minute of every game. "Still, it baffles me," Finch says. "I keep wondering how many more points he'd be scoring if he ran the floor better. He's had one of the best guards in basketball [ Jason Williams] to get him the ball wherever he wants it. In our league a guy like Battier isn't going to be a starter right away. If he's only playing five minutes at a time and he's not running the floor, what will he bring to the game?"
Battier's name comes up often in the parlors where scouts congregate, and he's regarded as a double tweener: neither power forward nor small forward in size or skills. "It's up and down the board with this guy," Finch says. "He could go high first round or low first round or anywhere in between. But I think people who say he's a high pick are blowing smoke. It'll be very interesting. If he fails, it won't be because he didn't work hard enough."
All the skills veiled by those zones at the Big East tournament are on display amid the man-to-mans at the ACC tournament in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, where I've caught up with Finch. In our previous meetings he used a phrase, show and recover, that I asked him to explain. It turns out that this is another of the lost arts, such as reading a screen or cornering hard off a pick, and Finch rejoices when he finds it. A big man has to perform this maneuver, for it's essential to defending the pick-and-roll: He must hedge out to keep an opposing dribbler from using the pick (the show part), but not so far as to allow his own man, the pick-setter, to roll unchecked to the basket (the recover part). "I want to know if a big guy is willing to come out and guard," Finch says. "How well can he move his feet when he's out on the floor? Can he keep guys in front of him?"
Finch thinks that Battier shows and recovers like a champ. "Most guys these days are really bad at it," says the scout. "Duke runs a lot of pro sets, so [the Blue Devils] know how to run the pick-and-roll and how to defend it."
I take my press seat courtside, and Finch takes his in the stands as Duke tips off against North Carolina State. Both teams are playing man-to-man defense, but most of the first half unspools without Battier's being obliged to show and recover. Then, a couple of minutes before the break, Battier shows, stopping a Wolfpack guard cold. He deftly recovers, in part by keeping tabs on his man with one hand on the man's back—"an old Cliff Levingston trick," Finch will say later, referring admiringly to the former NBA veteran.
Moments later Battier shows and recovers again. In fact he recovers so well that, a few beats later in the same possession, under the basket, he draws a charge.
Like an apple-polisher angling for the teacher's gold star, I search out Finch after the game to let him know I took in the Shane Battier Show-and-Recover Show. Finch has been impressed anew by Battier's defensive smarts. Under next seasons new rules, that knack for helping out on defense could be a huge asset. At the same time, zones should play to Battier's strength on offense: He'll likely get the same standstill shot opportunities he exploited during four years of college. Finch will note two more credits in his accounting of Battier's pros and cons—and I give myself a pat on the back.
It's the eve of the Final Four, in Minneapolis, and a collection of college seniors is taking on the suddenly serious Harlem Globetrotters in a game sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. I'm sitting courtside at the Target Center when Cal forward Sean Lampley makes another strong move to the basket. From his seat across the floor, Finch meets my eye and flashes a thumbs-up.
"Lampley's changed in my mind," he tells me later. "I hate guys who do crap beyond the game—taunting the crowd or other players. Two years ago [Lampley] was pretty immature in that respect. He didn't seem to be into what he could do for the team. I got a different feel about him this year. He's a power player in a three's body, but he's tougher and more athletic than most, and he shows signs that he could develop a perimeter game."
A favorite bellyache of NBA never-weres and almost-wases is that the system is stacked against them. However, if Finch is at all representative of his trade, scouts want players to succeed as much as the players themselves do. Finch is loath to check the box on his evaluation sheet marked CNP (for cannot play).