NBA Hoops

The untold history of NBA players “walking the dog”

The untold history of NBA players "walking the dog"


It’s late October, and the Grizzlies lead the Nets by six with four minutes left when Memphis forward Santi Aldama softly rolls the inbound pass toward Morant’s feet. As the Grizzlies’ star guard makes his way up the court, he lets the basketball roll alongside him, slowly, slowly, slowly, an inch at a time, untouched. Morant only needs to maintain a slow walk to keep up as he scans the court, uncontested by any Nets defender.

The ball rolls another inch, another inch, another inch. Morant is almost at half court. He keeps letting the ball roll alongside him, knowing the 24-second shot clock won’t start until he touches it — burning precious game clock at the same time, almost 21 seconds now.

As he crosses half court, Morant finally picks up the ball and glances over to his bench. His defender, Ben Simmons, suddenly closes on him and lunges at the ball, looking for a steal — but he’s too late. Morant sees it coming and protects the ball. Simmons hits him in the arm. Whistle. Foul. That’s Simmons’ sixth; he’s out of the game.

Thanks in part to that play, Memphis wins by 10. Afterward, Morant explains that he was baiting Simmons, knowing he’d bite based on past experience. Clips of the play soon go viral.

So what was Ja Morant doing? Here’s what: He was “walking the dog,” the fun, obnoxious, sometimes disrespectful, and — according to analytics — game-changing play that is taking over the NBA. The art of rolling the ball up the court on an inbound has quietly been a part of the game for seven decades. Now, stars across the league, including Chris Paul, LeBron James, Marcus Smart and Nikola Jokic, are increasingly using the technique — to show up their opponents, to create viral moments and, most importantly, to win games. The league is on pace to more than double its usage of the move this year compared to the 2019-20 season.

No one does it as well, or as often, as Morant; he uses the move nearly twice as much as any of his peers, about once per game. But why? Why is it becoming so common, and why is Morant so obsessed with it?

This is the secret history — and the secret value — of walking the dog in the NBA.

BILL RUSSELL HAD A problem. One of the most dominant centers in NBA history wanted as much time as possible to operate in the post, where he worked as the primary conduit for Boston’s offense. So on…

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