Thursday, February 4, 2016

Communication - Not Just Talk!

I didn't realize that I wasn't teaching communication well - until this year. I've always been a coach who's "preached talk", demanded our team talks, I've even shown them what to say. But this year I realized in some ways I was missing the boat - I was not teaching them meaningful communication. They were "saying things", but they weren't COMMUNICATING. Sure they were calling "ball", "help", "man", but it wasn't to anyone and was not being acknowledged or used by anyone else on the floor. It was empty words that were not being heard by others. In short, I taught them to talk, but not to communicate. 

This year I started preaching something different. I started teaching them to "have a conversation". Instead of just talking, say something important to someone. Some of the ways I have done that are below:
  • Talk about EVERYTHING that is happening, all the time. 
  • RESPOND to other's communication by repeating it or responding with something else. 
  • Use NITE (PGC acronym) and LEO Communication. 
    • NITE
      • Name
      • Information
      • Tone
      • Eye Contact (When possible)
    • Leo
      • Loud
      • Early 
      • Often
What does "having a conversation" look like? I will use our defensive transition conversation as an example. It illustrates how the conversation involves everyone and forces action. 
  1. Everyone yells "PAINT" on the way down the floor, communicating that we need to get two feet in the paint. 
  2. Once the player gets in the pain they (an everyone else in the paint) start yelling "who's got rim?"
  3. A player takes rim by yelling the response "I've got rim". It should be the first player back theoretically, but they need to hear "I've got rim" before moving on. 
  4. After a player has taken rim - all the players in the paint yell "who's got ball?". 
  5. A player responds by saying "I've got ball". 
  6. Once the ball is stopped they point and talk their match up. 
No brain surgery going on here, but I do think the simple things are powerful. If you are yelling "who's got rim?" more than 2x, you better get to the rim - same with the ball call. Communicating helps players really understand what needs to be done on the floor. 

Getting players to "have a conversation" has helped our communication this year. Are we were we need to be yet? Of course not, but I've noticed that we are doing it better than teams I have worked with in years past - so at least I've made a step in the right direction. I'd love to hear other's feedback on communication with their teams. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ball Movement, Star Players, and Selfishness

Quote courtesy of @Royceyoung
Before I begin the article, I want to state for the record I LOVE KEVIN DURANT. I love to watch him play.  He's great for the league and great for basketball in general. He's got some athletic gifts but has worked hard to be an incredibly skilled player. He's one of the best on the planet. And mostly, I love his attitude and approach to the game.

With that said, his comments made to reporters on Monday (see the quote above) are troubling and seem to convey a lack of offensive understanding on his part. The issue I have with the comments is with the premise that the OKC Thunder have dynamic scorers who can "get buckets" and that means the team is more effective with those players in iso situations. Durant makes it sound as if the OKC Thunder are somehow different from the Spurs and Warriors in terms of personnel. The Warriors and Spurs are full of guys who can "get buckets". Do you think Curry and Klay could demand, and be successful with, more iso plays? How about Lamarcus Aldridge? Of course, but they don't because they understand offensive basketball and the power of ball movement. They understand that moving the basketball will get you MORE open and create BETTER scoring opportunities.

Offensive basketball is really simple - disorganize the defense, find a small advantage, take advantage of that and create a big (scoring) advantage for yourself or a teammate. My problem with high pick and roll and iso situations, without previous action, is that they allow the defense to become organized, marshall their troops, and defend the action more effectively. If you look at the Spurs/Warriors/Hawks/Blazers basket attacks, many come when the defense is disorganized by ball movement - creating BETTER lanes to get to the rim and score or create. What Durant is missing is that if OKC moved the ball better he (and Westbrook) would score MORE EFFICIENTLY because the defense wouldn't be as ready to defend them if they were attacking off of ball movement.

And it's not just Durant that feels this way. I would wager that the best players on EVERY team from middle school to the pros feels that way. I would bet that Jahlil Okafor and Ish Smith think that the 76ers shouldn't move the ball as much because they need iso plays to help the team win. I know some of the better players on our sophomore team deep down feel that if they got more chances to ISO that it would help our team score more. The players on the BEST TEAMS however are able to put those feelings aside and embrace the concept of moving the ball. It's obvious that the Spurs and Warriors have done this with great success. Would San Antonio and Golden State still be good if their strategy involved more iso play for their stars? Of course, but they wouldn't be nearly as scary. This doesn't just apply to the elite teams in the NBA. The Hawks are a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts because of their willingness to have ball movement in their offense. Atlanta's ability to move the ball has really helped the Hawks play to their full potential, and exceed expectations, the last few years.

One of the misconceptions with ball movement is that the offense becomes "equal opportunity". I hear this all the time when coaches discuss the cons of motion offense. Do you think Curry get's less shots because of good ball movement? Obviously not. The Warriors players have been taught shot selection, roles, and who should be taking what shots. If OKC had better ball movement, Durant and Westbrook would still take the majority of the shots - as they should. The difference would be that their shots would be better shots with less defensive pressure.

Why do players NOT want to move the ball? Durant himself even admits it is "great basketball".
In my opinion it comes down to three things - lack of understanding, lack of trust, and strong belief in abilities. First, players don't understand what moving the ball does to disorganize a defense - which opens up better shots. They miss the importance of ball movement in breaking down opponents.  Secondly, and probably most importantly, they don't trust the system or their teammates to give it back. They fear that moving the ball means losing out on scoring opportunities. Thirdly,  all good players have a healthy dose of ego (as they should). They believe they can get to the basket/score whenever they want against anyone that is guarding them. What they miss though is the amount of effort they have to put in and the fact that those shots are less efficient than ones that come from ball movement.

The last thing I want to address is the idea of selfishness. It is easy to deduce that Kevin Durant is a selfish player. I don't think that is the case. I think Kevin Durant wants to help his team win, but truly believes that he and Westbrook playing a certain way will help them do just that. To steal an idea from my head coach, Mark Klingsporn, there are three types of players when it comes to selfishness. There are selfish players, there are selfless players, then there is an in-between where you are not selfish, but you are not selfless either. I think MOST players fall into the middle category. I think that Durant isn't selfish because he wants to win and wants his teammates to have success, but I think don't think that he's selfless enough to consciously give up the ball (and possibly shots) often. And thus he fits in with where most players are.

The magic key for coaches is to get players to buy into being selfless for the good of the team. It's not something that is easy, and something that I invest a lot of time in as a coach. If you can get your players to understand the ideas of "small advantage big advantage" and "good to great", your team will be special offensively - no matter what offense you run.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Using the Activity Triangle for Planning Practices

The diagram on the right is one I use on a daily basis when structuring practice. It's a great way to ensure the activities you are doing in practice meet the current needs of your team. I'm not sure where I got it from, but I am confident I stole it from somewhere. Apologies to the person who didn't get credit.

The triangle is used in two ways. First, I use it to analyze WHY I am doing a various practice activity. I try to be very systematic about planning practice and using the right tool to teach a given aspect of the game. To me, ANY team activity outside of warm ups fall into one of three categories:

  1. Teaching
    • When you are showing the players how to do something, you are in the teaching phase of practice. 
    • This is usually categorized by instruction, demonstration, and players doing the action at a speed of 75% or less. 
    • I know it's time to move past the teaching stage when players can verbalize or explain the action you are teaching and can also show you how to do it correctly. 
  2. Technique
    • Technique accounts for most traditional "drills". Anything where players are performing a given aspect of the game and really focusing on technique. 
    • This category is identified by it's focus on performing a single action repeatedly between 75% and full speed. It's also identified by it's lack of game like environment and randomness. 
    • I know it's time to move past technique when players can correctly perform the action in a drill setting, at game speed, over and over again (85%-100% correct). 
  3. Training
    • Training is any full (5 on 5) or small sided game in practice with rule modifications used to focus the game on the skill you are using. Also can be any small sided or full sided games in general that allows players to APPLY the skill in a realistic game setting.
    • This is the type of activity to use when players can perform a skill in drills, but seem to "forget" or not be able to perform it in a live game. 
    • This is where you get the carry over from practice to games. 
The key here is to look at everything you do in practice and understand why you are doing it. If your players can't tell you how to do something, then you need to teach (or re-teach) it. If they can correctly explain the skill, and preform it at game speed in a drill, then they need to spend time in training activities. At the same time you can't jump into training activities before players can perform the movement correctly. It's a important balance to strike in your practices, and is important to understand where your players are in regards to the skills you are trying to teach them. As a rule of thumb if they don't know - I teach. If they know, but can't do it - we drill technique. If they can do it correctly in a drill but not a game - we train. 

I will use defensive slides as an example. At the beginning of the year I spend 5-8 minutes TEACHING the footwork. I demonstrate it (or have a player demonstrate it), then have everyone do it in slow motion. We might break into partners and do it in slow motion until everyone has a feel for it. I'll even ask a few players how to perform the movement to see if they at least KNOW what they should be doing. After that we go through some traditional drills - mass stance, 1 on 1 dummy cut offs, etc. Once we see players doing it technically correct, we move into training. In training we play variations of 1 on 1 and 2 on 2 that force them to defend the ball constantly. As they play, I watch their form. If they start to develop poor technique, we move back to technique. We alternate between technique and training as needed, with the occasional "reteach" thrown in when warranted. 

The other way I use the triangle is as visualization tool for how we utilize our practice time. When looking at various skills or tactics, I like to think about where the red dot would fall on the triangle from day to day, week to week, or even practice to practice. It's a great way to monitor amount of time we are spending in a given area, and analyze if it's meeting the needs of our players. Very early in the year the dot would be more toward the bottom middle of the triangle because we would be spending a lot of time teaching and drilling technique. By the end of the year we should be spending most of our time in training because we've learned the skill and gotten the technique down - hopefully. 

Hopefully this is useful for you when it comes to practice planning. I've found it very beneficial and think it applies directly to making me a more efficient coach. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Jab Fake I Like...

Most of you that read this blog know that I'm not a big fan of triple threat. I don't look down on people who use it, or teach it, but it's not for me.  I think it's slow, cumbersome, kills your team's offensive flow, and leads to a lot of this...

With that said, I did like how Kelly Olynyk used it against the Timberwolves last night. What I liked about it wasn't that it made the Big KAT get weak in the knees, it is that Olynyk used it IMMEDIATELY. He saw that KAT was out of position already and used the jab with a purpose - to further get him out of position. I like this and it's a LOT different from what Anthony is doing above. It's fast and keeps the cadence of the offense going.  Now, looking at it through the lens of a high school coach, I'm probably teaching a hard drive on this - unless it's an exceptional shooter. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spurs Secondary Action

Everyone knows, and loves, the Spurs secondary break package. It's always very effective at moving players and disorganizing the defense. Last night against the Wizards I noticed a wrinkle that I hadn't seen yet.

The point initiates the secondary by bringing the ball up and swinging it to the trailer (4).  The trailer swings it to the backside wing. As the ball is being reversed, the point cuts hard across the lane and comes out on the ball side corner/low wing. The wing swings it to the point guard.
(Note: In the clip both wings start on the same side, opposite the point guard. I think that was a mistake and the 2 cleared out to balance the floor.)

This is the part that I love. After making the pass, the wing cuts through and it looks like he purposely runs into the post player's defender. This effectively makes the ball screen naked. It also knocks the post defender out of position and you could get a post up here. The point then attacks off the ball screen. As the screen is being set the trailer is drifting to the backside block/short corner. 
(Note: It looked like the trailer was looking to screen for the 2, that's a viable option.)

Here is a video clip of what I saw. In this situation, the Wizards "Ice" the ball screen and you get the throw back to Aldridge for the jump shot. 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Phil Jackson's Bullseye Test

I am currently reading Phil Jackson's book, Eleven Rings. I'm really enjoying it, but I'm currently into a player centered, philosophical approach to coaching, so it's right up my alley. One gem I've pulled out in the first 100 pages is the "Bullseye Test" he uses with his players.

The Bullseye Test is simple, yet insightful. Give each player a three ring bullseye. Have them write where they feel that they are in terms of their connection to the rest of their teammates. Don't give them anymore than that.

You then look at their bullseyes and see how connected each person feels to our group. It also gives you a handle on how connected the team feels as a group. If they are very connected they are in the middle, if they feel kind of connected their name will be in the second ring, and if they don't feel connected they write their name on the last ring or outside the rings. A lot of times it comes down to playing time - the more they play the closer to the middle they write their name. So you have to account for that a little bit when looking at them.

Once you've done the exercise, you can use them to have individual talks with your players. Ask lots of questions about why they feel that way, and if they are outside the middle how can we move them closer (without adjusting playing time of course). It will also help you determine if how to proceed with team bonding activities during the season. It's something we will definitely use this season.

NCAA's Greatest Games to Practice Situations

This was a topic I THOUGHT I blogged about before, but when I looked back I hadn't.  So here it is.

As coaches we want our players to understand late game situations. It's a must in good coaching. But how do we do it? There are a lot of ways, but one way I like is having a "Greatest NCAA Tournament Games Day" to teach late game situations, and basketball history.

This is a really simple concept. On a bunch of notecards, write down situations from great NCAA games or great NCAA comebacks. One team picks a card (they are the team that is behind). They play out the last 30s-3 min of the game. The length of time depends on the game that you are playing out. The players go on the floor and play the game as the two teams. After they play it out, you show them the video clip (if available), or tell them really happened. Below is an example of one we've used.

UNC vs. Georgetown 1982

  • Gerogetown Up 62-61
  • Georgetown playing a packed in 1-3-1
  • 35 seconds left.

Have the players play the game out. Then after they are done, show them what really happened. Then use it to address some specific late game situations.

  • Opponent is playing zone - what shots and how to attack it to get a shot. 
  • How to handle the other team scoring to go ahead late. 
  • How to handle us scoring a basket to go up late. 

Last year when I did this it was the BEST thing we did all year. The players loved it and BEGGED to do it again. It was well worth the half of practice we invested. This year I might do one every day over a few weeks, to keep the excitement. Either way I hope you can use it to add value and excitement to your practices.