Center Pieces: Haddadi Learning From Sampson's Experience
They say behind every good man, there is an even better woman. In basketball there should be a similar turn of phrase: behind every good player, there is an even better coach.
Take Hamed Haddadi for example. Since his arrival in the Valley at the trade deadline, the Iranian born center has begun to gain more playing time and popularity with fans. For the first time in his career he’s averaging consistent minutes and proving that he can be a disruptive force defensively and on the boards.
So what is it about Hadaddi in Phoenix that has him getting two full rebounds and 1.5 more points than he’s ever averaged before in his career?
Some of it certainly is because of opportunity. But his head coach, Lindsey Hunter, feels his newfound center may have been overlooked by others in the past.
“I think a lot of people underestimated how effective Haddadi could be,” Coach Hunter said. “I’m glad we’re benefiting from it. As he’s getting more and more comfortable it’s been good to see.”
One of the people who hasn’t underestimated Haddadi and helped make his transition a comfortable one is Suns player, development coach, and basketball hall of famer, Ralph Sampson. The 7-4 assistant not only can see eye-to-eye on the game with his big man having played the position, but is one of the few coaches in the league that can actually look Haddadi in the eye while instructing him.
It’s that interesting blend of knowledge of what it's like to be one of league’s tallest players of all time mixed with his comprehensive understanding of what it takes to succeed in the low post, that makes Sampson the perfect candidate to mentor Haddadi and the Suns’ other centers.
“Ralph has a great and unique way of impacting those big guys,” Hunter said. “They think differently than we [guards] do. Ralph being one of those guys, he really helps those guys understand. He brings things out of them things that I never could bring out. He’s been great.”
Sampson takes great pride in being able to pass along his years of knowledge to a new generation of NBA big men and being able to help mold Haddadi’s career.
“It’s a combination of understanding the size and the ability he has and then being able to evaluate that ability to make him effective in the game,” Sampson said. “But also it’s about understanding the game from the inside out. From how the guard is going to pass you the ball to how you’re going to receive and how you’re going to position yourself. There is a lot to it but also you need to understand the mindset of the player and his conditioning to be effective on the court.” The extra effort and understanding hasn’t gone unnoticed. Haddadi is quite appreciative of his new coach’s desire to improve his game. Even if it means a little extra hard work.
“[Coach Sampson] is a great guy,” the 7-2 center said. “He always pushes me to work. He always tells me to jump, jump, jump. He’s a good coach for big guys. I’m learning a lot from him.”
Although he didn’t know much about Haddadi prior to his arrival in Phoenix, Sampson sees a lot in his game in the small sample size he’s witnessed.
“I hadn’t seen him play at all,” Sampson said. “Most people said he couldn’t get up and down the court and couldn’t run. He’s pretty mobile. If we can get his upper body stronger and more determination around the rim, I think he can be pretty good.”
And if he reaches that next level he’ll have the coach that teaches him in post practice workouts new moves and skills to thank for it. Because, at least in Phoenix, behind every good 7-footer there is an even better 7-footer there encouraging him and helping him improve.