Arians, team need to have some fun

Something has been missing from the 2015-16 season for the Milwaukee Panthers. I’m not talking about the defense, post game or anything tangible on the court that needs work. There’s always work to be done there. Instead, I’m thinking of the intangible, something that the best teams always make sure they take care of in basketball games:


Thanks to Derick Kelly, I have an extensive library of old games at the ready. Over Christmas, I watched the full 2014 Horizon League Tournament for Milwaukee. Remember how Matt Tiby shaved his head? He meant business, or at least that’s what he was trying to project. Like the rest of the team, he loved playing the villain, a theme for us this year.

Throughout that whole tournament, the Panthers were playing well. Shots were falling, defense was tight, but more than anything else, the team was having¬†fun. Like they were filming a rap video on their dad’s boat.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but I strongly believe that there is a correlation between the amount of fun a team is having and their success on the court. The cause and effect is in that order, by the way. Yes, teams have fun when they’re winning. But I think it’s deeper than that. I think the Panthers were winning throughout that tournament because they were having fun.

Let’s use Austin Arians as an example. Last week, I told fans to give him a break, that as a shooter, Austin needed to shoot the ball more to get out of his December funk. Last night, Austin made his first three shots from the outside. He was having fun, not trying to do too much. He was open because he was attacking the zone, yes, but you could see he put a lot less pressure on himself to do well because the Panthers were playing with the lead. His threes came from other people finding him after getting the ball inside.

When Arians is having a good time, he plays loose and is much more effective. He has fun, and the game slows down for him. It’s like he can do anything – shoot threes, make excellent cuts to the basket, wrestle a giraffe to the ground with his bare hands. The Austin Arians we saw in 2014 was that guy, coming out as a sub and high-fiving everyone down the bench, not putting a lot of pressure on himself to do well.

This season, it feels like Arians is pushing himself too hard. It seems like he is too nervous, trying too hard to score more, play harder. It’s like Dane Cook is on pay-per-view in 20 minutes and he has to get going. NOW.

In the game at Youngstown State, Arians started the right way – he wasn’t doing too much because the rest of the team was firing on all cylinders. Akeem Springs was tearing YSU a new one offensively, and

Then things started to change. With such a big lead, and the three-pointers falling, Milwaukee abandoned what had gotten them that lead – a balanced offense – and started jacking threes again. Arians was a big part of that. I don’t know if he saw Springs scoring a lot and wanted to get in on the action or what, but he was trying too hard to get back that automatic shot he had for the first two years of his career.

It didn’t end well. What had been a 20-point lead could have blossomed into 30 or even 40, but the three-point attempts stopped falling and the Panthers kept shooting them. I felt like I had a belly full of white dog crap when YSU kept the game within 17 at half despite being manhandled by the Panthers – the Penguins were on their heels on defense, and Milwaukee resorted to jacking threes again.

Milwaukee ended the first half 2-for-7 outside the three-point line, and the game – while not close – was not blown wide open as it could have been. During that same stretch, the Panthers were 4-for-6 from inside the arc, and one of those misses was the failed alley-oop attempt by Springs.

It seems, at times, that Austin has tried too hard to increase his own production. He’s known around the conference as an ace three-point shooter, so he’s been forcing the ball when he has any kind of opening. But that wasn’t how he started 3-for-3 from the outside – that stretch came from playing his role, not as three-point shooting specialist but as a wing breaking the zone.

Speaking of roles, Arians’ commitment to mostly three-point shooting has mitigated what made him such a special player – his ability to create a mismatch. He’s a 6’6″ wing. In conferences like the Big Ten, there aren’t a lot of guys who can do what he can – post-up smaller guards, knock down outside shots against tall opponents, and make precise cuts to the basket just when the defense isn’t looking. In the Horizon League, there are even fewer players like that. Kahlil Felder is a dynamo, but he’s not posting up anyone over six feet tall. Arians needs to get back to playing his role, the guy who knocks down wide open shots and posts up smaller guards because he’s an incredible mismatch in the Horizon League. And don’t be so serious.

On defense, it looks like he’s trying to hard to man-up every player. That’s not his game and it shouldn’t be. Milwaukee needs Arians to be the excellent defender he was in the Horizon League Tournament in 2014 – physical, helping defender. He doesn’t need to force himself to be great man-to-man. He’s not, and that’s okay. Just play great help defense and funnel the quicker players toward better defenders, whether it’s Springs on the perimeter or Panoske inside.

When the Panthers are having fun, both on the sideline and in the game, they’re firing on all cylinders. They’re playing well because their demeanor is positive and they’re enjoying the game. It’s not rocket science. It’s something incredible to behold, like watching someone sing with a voice like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

No one has to do too much because there’s so many people that can do a lot. The 2014 championship team needed a lot out of Jordan Aaron because he was one of three players that could carry the load offensively on any given night. Thursday, it was Akeem Springs putting up a career-high 33. He and Austin are just two of seven guys who could score 20 on any given night and pace the team.

The Panthers are a dynamic, nearly unbeatable offensive team when they’re playing with balance and having fun. They need to get to the line because it will open up the outside shot they seem to love so much. But most importantly, when the team is having fun on the court, they take advantage of what makes them a special group of kids off the court. Simply put, they’re friends. Friends who ride majestic, translucent steeds, shooting flaming arrows across the bridge of Hemdale.

Just go have fun. Play with a balanced offense because no one can stop you when you’re having fun and cooking fools.

This blog post was sponsored by Prestige Worldwide. Boats and hoes.


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