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Saturday, September 20, 2014

NBA’s Fried Liver Attack

I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for strategy games. I love card games like Hearts, Spades, or 31. I enjoy Risk so much that I currently have a board hanging in my work office. And I’ve played my fair share of chess over the years. When playing games I really enjoy non-traditional strategies. An easy Risk strategy is to isolate yourself in Australia and let the other players weaken themselves. But it’s one I rarely play, because it’s so predictable and boring. I prefer Hearts over any card game, since the greatest reward of shooting the moon (collecting all the points) is antithetical to the basic premise of the game (collecting no points).

My favorite non-traditional strategy in chess is the Fried Liver Attack. For those understand the rules of chess, I would suggest going to this link and forward through to move 6. In the Fried Liver Attack, white sacrifices his knight very early in the match to get the black king out in the open. It goes against everything that is taught in chess: control the middle in the opening, don’t lose material (pieces) early, and get your pieces out early. By standard thinking, white looks to have a disadvantage after their 6th move. They’re down a piece, black has full control of the middle, and they have more pieces out from the back row to attack. Nonetheless white goes on to trounce black due to one key strategy, they have exposed black’s king. Follow the link again, and play the rest of the game out. Notice that white forces black to move his king at every turn except for one. White wins by taking one advantage to the extreme.

In the NBA, there are traditional strategies as well. For instance good defense is the cornerstone of winning teams, is reliant on having a big strong center and requires keeping players close to the hoop to rebound the opposing team’s misses. On defense, players should stay between their man and the hoop in lieu of risking being out of position for a missed steal attempt and an easy bucket. On offense, teams should establish the low post game to open up the perimeter.

And then there is the 2007 Golden State Warriors.

Don Nelson built a team that defies traditional strategy. The Warriors frequently play without a traditional big center and eschews a low post scorer. The center position is manned by either a slender 6’11″ Andris Biedrins or Al Harrington a 6’9″ power forward. Golden State seems to attempt the fast break on every play, and they often go for the steal.

Despite all these flaws, the Warriors have made it to the second round of the playoffs because they do one thing exceptionally well: they spread the floor. While most teams will have one or two players that can shoot from the outside, the Warriors always have at least 4 and sometimes 5 players that can connect from downtown with accuracy. Don Nelson takes full advantage of this by using pick & roll or isolation plays on the outside to create mismatches & force double teams, which results in one of their shooters being open.

By using one singular advantage to an extreme, the Warriors have opened up multiple avenues that wouldn’t be available to them. For instance normally an undersized team wouldn’t be able to score from inside, but time and time again the Warriors have penetrated the lane and scored from the paint. Spreading the floor on offense means the defense is spread as well. This means not only is it harder to defend from a blown assignment, but it’s harder for help defenders to get over to assist. And defenders are always under the threat that by leaving their man will result in a high percentage three point shot.

Additionally the Warriors ability to score aids their defense. An excellent transition team, Golden State can keep opposing teams off the glass with the threat of the fastbreak. If the opposition sends too many players to rebound and fails to capture their miss, the result is usually a quick score. Although undersized, the Warriors use their quickness in conjunction with zones and double teams to smother larger players on the inside. Unlike the sharpshooting Warriors, their opponents usually has one or two players that can’t connect from outside. With less ground to cover and fewer players to worry about on the perimeter, Golden State can avert the low post threat.

Unfortunately this style of play has its weaknesses. As I mentioned previously, the fastbreak keeps teams from committing too many players to the offensive glass. Nonetheless teams usually have a size advantage against Golden State and can use fewer players to recover their misses. Additionally not having a low post threat gives less stability to the Warriors’ offense. This was apparent in the end of Game 4, when a series of bad decisions down the stretch cost them the game.

Like the Fried Liver Attack in chess, Don Nelson’s offense forces the opposition to play the game their way. After watching a few games against the Mavericks, I’m hooked. I’ve either stayed up late, or taped every game of the Utah series. With the Warriors down 3-1, and heading back to Utah where the Jazz have a strong home field advantage, I’m sad that Golden State’s season may come to an end. It’s a non-traditional approach that has been a joy to watch.

5 comments on “NBA’s Fried Liver Attack

  1. Lefty

    Hey Mike, you ever played Riskopoly? Two players per team, with one player playing monopoly and the other Risk. Monopoly money can be used to buy armies and armies can be turned in (at a discount) for money. The object is to win both games. Also, if you haven’t ever played Diplomacy, you need to try it. After the initial choice of countries there is no luck involved, just strategy. Sorry, I know this is off target but I loved the momentary revisiting of college days long gone by. :-)

  2. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    I’m always in search of interesting strategy games that are easy to learn, fun for everyone, and keep people involved. I tend to get bored at games like Trivial Pursuit, where either you know the damn question or you don’t, and you spend half the time watching the other people play. Monopoly is OK, but a tad slow for my taste. It falls to the same trap of waiting while everyone else is deciding whether or not to buy houses. In Risk, if it’s not your turn you may be rolling for defense, or you have to pay attention to what is going on to find weaknesses (and playing instigator is critical to success).

    I’ve soured on games like Chess, because there is little luck involved. It becomes clear after a round or 2 who the best player is, and unless you’re close in skill, that guy is always going to win.

    So that’s why I like a games like Risk, 31, and Hearts. You can teach someone in a few minutes. The games rarely last too long (OK maybe Risk can go on too long, but if you’re starting with 6 people, you’re not likely to be around in the end, statistically). And there is a fair amount of luck involved. So if you have any more suggestions, I’m all ears.

  3. Brian Cronin

    I?ve soured on games like Chess, because there is little luck involved. It becomes clear after a round or 2 who the best player is, and unless you?re close in skill, that guy is always going to win.

    Good point. That is why I only play chess with folks I think are worse than me. ;)

    Nah, seriously, that’s a great point. Most people I know who play chess are ABOUT my level, so it works out – but if they weren’t, yeah, it’d be silly.

  4. Owen

    Knickerblogger – Golden State may be a joy to watch. But I think too many people have taken GS’ surprising victory over the Mavericks as confirmation of the fact that perimeter play beats interior play in the new NBA, or that fast breaking is better than slow pace basektball. The bottom line here is that the Warriors were 5-6 in the playoffs and didnt make it past the conference semifinals. They beat the one seed by shooting very well from three in a bunch of games and because they lured that team out of playing the style of play which had made them highly successful. Credit should go where its due, but in the second round the inherent flaws in their game were exposed. They went 6-30 last night from three and it cost them the game. They couldnt defend the basket against Boozer, who ran wild against them.

    People have been raving about the drive and dish approach here, but really, the truth is that its not that hard to generate an open three point looks for an NBA team. It’s hitting them consistently that is the real trick. A team like Golden State is capable of beating anyone if it can stay hot for four games. But its not a model for consistently winning basketball games over the long haul.

    I think we should come out of the playoffs thinking the same thing as we did going in, boring teams led by players who can generate a lot of high percentage shots, and who dominate the boards, will always do better in the long run…

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