With his burly, 6'8", 250-pound frame and perpetual scowl,
Hornets power forward Anthony Mason doesn't look like a typical
NBA assists man. Yet when double-teamed in the low post, few
players are better at getting the ball to an open teammate. "I
take a lot of pride in making a good pass that leads to a
basket," Mason says. "It feels just as good as scoring a basket
Like Charles Barkley, Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen and other elite
forwards, Mason gets doubled almost every time he posts up. He
needs strength, skill and as much creativity as barbers put into
his scalp art to deliver the ball at the right instant. "You
want to draw the double team with enough room to make a pass to
a shooter in time for him to get his shot off," the 31-year-old
Mason says. "You have to time it perfectly or it won't work."
For Mason, it all starts with getting good position on the
block. There he can try to maneuver for a scoring attempt or, if
the opponent decides to double down, dish. "You want to be deep
in the post, where the other team is saying, 'He's in a
dangerous position, and we've got to get there,'" Mason
explains. "If they don't double me, I'm going to score. If they
do, I'm going to find the open man."
Mason's skill at distributing the ball, along with the
marksmanship of Glen Rice and Dell Curry, helped make Charlotte
the league's third-best three-point-shooting team, at 38.2%
through Sunday's games. "I want to lead the defense away from
the shooter so he'll have enough time to get his shot off,"
Mason says. "If I rush it, the defense will have time to turn
around and go back." How does Mason know from which direction
the double team is coming? "I use my peripheral vision," he
says. "Also, sometimes the guy defending me will give it away.
He'll relax for a split second, or turn a certain way, and that
will let me know where it's coming from and when."
Once Mason has spotted the double team, he still must get his
assist through a thicket of outstretched arms. To keep his foes
off balance he'll throw his full repertoire of chest, one-hand,
lob and bounce passes, mixing in head fakes and pump fakes.
"You've got to be smart," Mason says. "If you've got a big man
coming to double-team you, that's when you might want to
bounce-pass. If you've got a smaller guy, then you might want to
make an overhead pass."
Although he rarely considered giving up the ball as a youngster
on the New York City playgrounds, Mason has become a student of
post passers, particularly Barkley. "You see how Charles baits
people, then finds his open shooters," he says. "He takes pride
in it, and it shows." Mason now loves to pass so much he has
been known to grouse when the Hornets fail to run their offense
through him. At week's end he led all NBA power forwards in
assists, with an average of 4.4 per game.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Anthony Mason in game]