5 for Friday: Josh Eberley

An NBA aficionado gives advice for high school players, dishes on balancing advanced stats with the eye test and why offensive rebounding is going out of style.

5 for Friday: Josh Eberley

An NBA aficionado gives advice for high school players, dishes on balancing advanced stats with the eye test and why offensive rebounding is going out of style.

We get to interact with some pretty cool people here at Hudl. Between coaches, video coordinators, players and talent evaluators, we search for insights inside the basketball space. Now we want to share that access with you.

Welcome to 5 For Friday, where we sit down with one individual each week and hit them with five questions.

This week our guest is Josh Eberley, a writer for the HoopMag section of NBA.com. As a former middle school coach, Eberley watches games with a critical eye and combines what he sees with advanced statistics to get an unbiased look at the game and uncover different insights.

How do you go about combining advanced statistics with the eye test?

“For me, it’s about challenging what you see. It’s different for a coach versus media, and there’s definitely a line there, but you react to what you see in a game. It’s simply not possible, even if you’re the most devoted tape watcher and you record everything, to digest everything you’ve seen. That’s why you have to rely on some of these stats. It’s a tool, not an ultimatum. It’s a combination of both. You see these things and you get this idea in your head - ‘This player works well in this setting, and this player doesn’t work well.’ Then you check yourself. It’s fact checking - ‘I believe this, but I’m going to run some numbers over a greater sample size and try to prove it.’”

What are some things that high school players should really look for when watching NBA games?

“There are so many sites out there where you can watch any play at any speed, and just pick one thing to digest. One thing I’ve watched this week - I’m a big Hassan Whiteside fan and I don’t think he gets his due - but something I’ve noticed is he can’t set a screen to save his life. He’s setting his screen two to three feet away from the guy at times, he’s at a weird angle, he’s not setting his feet… I mean this guy can’t set a screen. He’s such a big body and it’s such a big part of the game in the NBA, but we’re just not seeing that from him. So this week every time I watched Hassan go up to set a screen, I’d pause and rewind it and I looked at how he was doing that to get a better feel. So if I do get some time to write a piece on that, I’m going to go back and look at some of the NBA stats and see where he ranks in the pick and roll and how many points that relates to for the Heat.”

Based on current NBA trends, what are some skill sets you’d recommend for high school guards, wings and big men to work on?

Guards - “If you’re open, it’s a good shot. Now in the NBA they don’t want you to shoot inside the 3-point line. But if you’re open at that level, you’ve just got to take the shot and feel good about making that shot.”

Wings - “Movement. I think the 3-point shot is so prevalent in today’s game at the higher levels, so now all kids want to do is wait in the corner for that 3-ball. Run to the near side and if it’s not there, run to the other side. Do this over and over. Keep moving. Cut on the weak side. Come across. Set a screen, and roll. Move the ball and keep yourself moving. Just waiting for the ball isn’t helping.”

Bigs - “There is this old school mentality to crash, crash, crash (the offensive glass), to follow your shot. But if you’re a big man, especially at the younger levels, unless you have a freak athlete that you know is going to get that rebound 40-50 percent of the time, get back. Everybody back. Nobody crash the shot. Nobody follow. I want my big men to get back because nine out of 10 times it’s more important to get a defensive stop against a set offense and not give up a fast break than it is to try and chase that rebound and be out of position.”

Are you seeing more teams employ that approach to offensive rebounding?

“It’s a rising trend among coaches at the NCAA level and the high school level, where transition basketball is so huge. What happens is when you crash and don’t get that rebound, your guy has leaked out and now your team is on a 5-on-4 or a 3-on-2 and these opportunities really add up. So unless you’re offensive rebounding at such a high rate that’s it’s overwhelming, you’re better off getting everyone back and playing a set defense.”

With so much talent up and down the league, are we currently in the golden age of the NBA?

“I don’t really like this superstar/super-team era so much. I’ll find things to love in every game - the Warriors’ ball movement is excellent, and there is a novelty in seeing historic teams play on a nightly basis. And these are historically great teams that we’re watching right now, and it’s really cool. However, having some parody and knowing that Team X can get hot and break through is something I really enjoy. I would like to feel going into the playoffs that a seventh seed or a sixth seed really has a shot to go deep, and while that’s never really been prevalent in the NBA, it’s nonexistent at this moment. 

I think we all know it’s heading towards Cleveland and Golden State and it would take something utterly miraculous or a terrible injury to change that. Again, there is something special about seeing them in the Finals and seeing these historic players we’re going to talk about forever. But I would like to see, especially over this long regular season, some more competitive basketball, some more pride in staying with the team that drafted you, some more ‘I’d rather beat you than come play with you.’ Maybe I’m a little old school, but that would be my one complaint.”