Publish date:


One of my semiregular conversations with Boston assistant coach
Don Casey recently turned to the subject of the Celts' Dino
Radja. I haven't covered the NBA on a regular basis for the last
two seasons and was curious about the 6'11" Yugoslav
expatriate's style. Casey searched for an answer.

"Dino's kind of a finesse 4 who's becoming a power 4," he said

I thought about that for a moment. Once, forwards were just
forwards in the same sense that all guards were guards, even
though Bob Cousy, for example, was clearly what would become
known as a point guard, or a 1, and his running mate Bill
Sharman was clearly a shooting guard, a 2. Forwards gradually
got divided into small forwards and power forwards, or 3's and
4's, and now, evidently, those sub-divisions have been further

"What exactly is a finesse 4?" I asked.

"Well, Dino won't muscle in on you, but he'll use his finesse,"
answered Casey. "He's a little bit of a faceup 4 and a quick 4,
but mostly he's a finesse 4."

"O.K.," I said, "gimme a faceup 4."

"Charles Oakley's a faceup 4," said Casey. "He's about the best

I thought about the muscular Knick power forward crunching
bodies under the basket.

"He seems more like a break-your-face 4," I said.

"Well, on defense he's kind of your classic power 4," said
Casey. "But on offense he usually doesn't back you in and post
you, and he's got a pretty good faceup jumper from the top of
the key. Ken Norman's another good faceup 4. He'd rather face
you than post you. Karl Malone, now, there's your post 4."

"Ah, that's why they call him the Mailman," I contributed.

"Actually, thinking about it, Vlade Divac is probably the
classic post 4," said Casey, "at least when the Lakers put him
at 4 and play Elden Campbell at 5."

"Kind of hard to imagine a 7-foot guy like Divac being anything
but a cen--"

"Of course, Malone's got a lot of other things too," said Casey,
who was really rolling now. "He can face you and he can quick
you. But he's not the classic quick 4."

"And that would be ..."

"Probably Robert Horry," answered Casey. "His style is more what
you'd think of as a 3, but the Rockets use him at 4 because he
causes all kinds of matchup problems."

"You got any other quick ..."

"The thing the Rockets did with Horry was kind of create a new
type of 4," said Casey.

"A new type?" I asked reluctantly.

"They pulled him away from the basket and made him a perimeter
4," answered Casey. "That made it awfully tough for Orlando in
the championship series because they had to decide whether
Horace Grant should chase him out there or stay put."

"And what's Grant?" I asked.

That stopped Casey for a brief moment.

"Actually, Grant's kind of a regular old 4," said Casey, "a
standard power forward."

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Well, that's not exactly right," Casey continued. "I'd call
Grant both a stick-back 4 and a get-out-and-about 4. Does his
damage mostly on putbacks, collecting follows and tips around
the basket, and also by running the floor. Oakley's a stick-back
4 too, and Malone's a get-out-and-about 4, which is possible
when John Stockton's getting you the ball, just as A.C. Green
was an out-and-about 4 when Magic Johnson was leading the Laker
break. Getting back to Horry, there was a big reason the Rockets
could use him as a quick 4 or an outside 4."

"And that was?"

"Drexler," answered Casey. "Clyde's kind of a bastard player--and
I mean that in the good sense--a 2, but more like a 2 1/2. Sure,
he'll shoot outside and run the floor like a 2, but he'll really
kill you by slipping in and fronting up. A guy named Jordan is
pretty good at that too."

"They're kind of post-up 2's?" I suggested.

"Well, yeah, except that you've got to knife those guys down to
get them to the post, so that's not exactly like a post-up,"
said Casey. "I'll give you a good knife guy: Anfernee Hardaway.
That's amazing when you think about it--the guy's a point guard,
a 1, and he's knifing you down and sealing up on you. They've
got another real good bastard player too, Brian Shaw. He's a
true 1 1/2, not exactly a point, not exactly a shooter."

I was still thinking about Hardaway. "Sealing up?" I asked.

"Sure, getting that post position so nobody can get around him,
creating that seal," said Casey. "Hardaway's a 1 who does it
better than most 4's."

"It helps when you're 6'7"," I said.

"Doesn't have much to do with height," said Casey. "The original
seal guys, aside from the centers, were players like Adrian
Dantley and Mark Aguirre. They were the first real
back-to-the-basket 3's."

Ah, we've moved to small forwards.

"It's interesting that both of them played for a while with
Detroit," said Casey. "They could afford to be seal guys because
Laimbeer, their 5, was a pick-and-fade 5."

"Could you be a little more specific?"

"Well, Laimbeer did a lot of his scoring away from the basket,"
said Casey. "He got points at places where the 3's would
normally expect to get them, although to a certain extent
Dantley and Aguirre were step-back guys along with being seal
guys, which is why they scored a zillion points. But that's
another story. Anyway, Laimbeer was most dangerous when he set a
pick and then, rather than roll toward the basket, he'd fade to
the perimeter and shoot a jumper. Most big guys, obviously, are
roll guys. On our team, if you ever see Eric Montross pick and
fade, just assume he's going out for a hot dog because he's not
gonna be shooting a jumper."

"That's the good thing about a Montross," I said. "He's pretty
much just a center."

"Right," said Casey. "He's got no bastard in him. You take
Barkley, you don't know what Charles is."

"How so?" I asked.

"Well, he's a 3 and a 4 at the same time, and most of what he
does is what a center, a 5, used to do," said Casey. "And if
Charles had his way he'd be playing 2. But he's got it all. He's
got post-up plus step-out. He'll draw and kick, or he'll draw
and go through."

"You want to take that slower?" I asked.

"I mean he'll dribble in one place and draw defenders, and then
kick out to his teammates," said Casey. "Or he'll dribble, draw
defenders and power past them. In other words, from the low post
he'll give a fade game, a power game or a finesse game."

I pondered all the jargon.

"I was thinking about Bird," I said to Casey. "He was a bastard
player, a hybrid of 2, 3 and 4. He wouldn't quick you much, but
he could finesse you, get out and about on you, back you in,
face you, post you up, seal you, fade on you, stick back on you,
take you outside, knife to the basket, slip in and front up,
pick-and-roll, pick and fade, draw and kick, draw and go
through. What'd they call him?"

"Bird?" said Casey. "He was pretty much just a forward."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY AXEL SANDE Jordan and Drexler, both post-up 2's, are not to be confused with a post 4, like Malone. [Image of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Clyde Drexler, incorporating photograph of each player's face with drawing of each player's body]

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY AXEL SANDE"Another good bastard player is Brian Shaw. Not exactly a point, not exactly a shooter, he's a true 1 1/2." [Image of Brian Shaw incorporating photograph of face with drawing of body]

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY AXEL SANDE "You don't know what Barkley is. He's a 3 and a 4 at the same time, and if he had his way he'd be playing 2." [Image of Charles Barkley incorporating photograph of face with drawing of body]