Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do You Need a Permanent Post In Your Offense?

Something caught my eye on the X's and Os of Basketball message board recently. One of the coaches posted something to the effect of all good offense must have a permanent post player. His point was that 3-out or 4-out is far superior to a 5-out because the five out lacks a post in the middle. I completely disagree with this statement. The five out allows you greater flexibility in your post game and allows your post players to be harder to guard. I will outline my argument below.

1. Five out allows you to play everyone in the post and exploit match ups.
With the five out, any player with a good match up in the post can cut to the basket and post up on the block to take advantage. Your point guard might have a small defender on him and in a 3 out it's hard to be able to duck him in and look to hit him on the post up. In a five out however it's a simple part of the offense: pass-basket cut- post up. You can also use it to attack a star perimeter player who really doesn't want to play defense that hard. It's easy if he stays on the perimeter, he can sag off a little and has help, but if he's being aggressively posted up it takes him out of his comfort zone. It also has the potential to cause him to foul. This type of spacing allows any player on the floor to be a post threat at any time.  

2. Five out allows you to be flexible with how your post player gets touches, it's easy to guard someone standing in the lane.
In the 3 and 4 out your post is basically block to block or block, to high post, to block. This is fine but it becomes pretty easy to guard a player that is inside, especially with the help defenders added in a 3 out. It's harder for a defender to defend the post when the post is curl cutting off a screen, screening and then diving to the rim, backscreening and shaping to the high post, passing and cutting, backdoor cutting, etc. Guarding all those actions becomes a much more difficult task that guarding a player standing on the block.
Something we did at St. Croix Prep was have our "post" players hold for a pass or two if they were being fronted on the initial cut. It gave us high low and seal looks you would get in a four out.

3. Having permanent post players (especially 3-out) clogs up the lane for cutters and drivers.
I am just not sure how your perimeter players are expected to score inside in a 3 out. Watch teams that play a 3 out or a high low motion. The guards cut behind the posts so the post and their defenders block the pass to the cutter. When they screen it's a straight cut and the screener flairs out. What you end up with is passing the ball back and fourth around the perimeter and not really looking to attack. It's much better with the four out, but that post is still there - although it opens the floor for drive and dump, it still makes it harder to pass and cut cleanly.

4. It allows you to train your players to be complete players.
I am a huge fan of the European approach to skill development. Bigs should be able to dribble, pass, and shoot and guards should know their away around the block. Everyone should do everything. It allows you to be more flexible in your attack and really key in on mismatches. Even Michael Jordan, a great perimeter player, had a post up game when he needed it. How deadly was Charles Barkley? Put your power forward on him Barkley is taking him to the rack and shooting threes over him. Put your guard on him and he’s taking him inside and posting him up. Same with Bird, Magic, etc.  Playing a five out allows you to develop players in this fashion.

5. It allows you to play your more skilled and effective players, not put a player on the floor to fill a position.
How many times have you seen a team that plays a less skilled/talented player at the 5 because he's bigger while at the same time there may be a shorter player on the bench who plays the "4"? This player may be more effective in the game (even rebounding and defense) but they don't start him because he's not a "five". Why not play the more effective player? The five out allows you to put your best talent on the floor.
Also, I've seen teams with skilled bigs who can pass and shoot that get stuck on the block because they are tall. Once saw a kid on the block who was 6-6 but could shoot well from the perimeter - why not put him out there, draw the defense, and open up your game?!

6. It allows an undersized post player to compete and thrive.
If I had a legitimate, dominant post player who was 6-9+ I would be  playing a 4 out. But most of us are not blessed with these players on a regular basis – if ever. Our players are undersized post players. When I was in Iowa my tallest starter was 6-2 and was our best overall player - could pass, shoot, dribble. If I ran a 3 our 4 out he would be in the post - but why?! As good as he was I doubt he would consistently win many battles against the 6-5 to 6-8 post players we faced on a nightly basis. In the five out he could cut in and post from time to time but also had the luxury of taking the bigger, slower player he was facing off the bounce or shooting when they played off of him.
Gives offensive players a better chance at an offensive rebound as well because they have more space to evade the block out. It’s harder to block out a perimeter player than a player on the block.
Your undersized post player has a better chance of getting the ball by cutting PAST a bigger defender to the basket than he does standing and battling it out on the block. Cutting also allows him to get the position he wants.

7. It stretches your help.
Like it or not, no matter how much we drill, most high school players are mediocre help defenders at best. Playing a five out, players naturally hug their man a little bit tighter. For instance, the ball is on the right wing. The player guarding the left corner man will be on the block, not mid lane like good help. If that player was on the block, there is a better chance they'd be comfortable enough to play mid-lane they feel more comfortable selling out with their man closer to them. The stretched help defender allows your cutters to cut in front of the help when they cut to the rim - not into it or behind the help. It also makes the defense one step slower helping on the drive.

8. It makes an opponent's defender play out of position.
In high school basketball, many 5s are that traditional football player, usually a lineman - big, bulky, slow. The type of player who is used to throwing his weight around under the rim. Why not bring him outside? Make him defend cutters, defend the drive, defend screens, and have to actually find a guy, sprint at him, and box him out? It's harder to rebound when guarding a perimeter player - especially when you have to sprint from the help position. Making that big play on the perimeter takes him out of his element and makes him do things he is not comfortable with - and frankly may not be able to do.

In closing, I'm not saying that the 4 our 3 out is a bad thing - although I've become much less of a fan of three out over the years for spacing reasons. What I merely saying is that you don't need to have a post in the traditional sense of the word to be successful. In fact

Friday, August 12, 2011

Just finished up reading "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith. Yea, yea, I know, I'm about two decades behind on this one! It's a well written book about the Chicago Bulls first title run with Michael and the Jordaires, as the rest of the team is called. Not only is it a good read from a basketball fan's standpoint, it also provided some good coaching insight. I've thrown some of the highlights in below.
What I found so interesting was how dysfunctional the team actually was for almost the entire year. Jordan didn't trust his teammates, they didn't trust him. No one was holding the others accountable. All the players were worried about themselves. They exhibited every single dysfunction in "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team"!! Everyone hated their playing time. Everyone hated their contracts. Everyone hated Jackson. Everyone hated the management for their contracts and the management's relentless pursuit of Toni Kukoc who they had already anointed the next star. They fought and cursed each other out on a regular basis. The locker room was full of gossip and behind the back complaints. It was complete madness most of the season.

Considering the dysfunction, you would think they would have had a season similar to my Timberwolves last year, but they somehow managed to win a NBA Championship. What happened? Well several things happened. First, they had the talent. They were winning games because they had the best player of all time, they also had Pippen who is one of the best of all time, they had guys like Grand and Cartwright to do the dirty work, and they had some guys like Paxson who could shoot from the outside and stretch the defense. They also had some stretches where they were fortunate to play injury plagued teams. So while they were wrought with dysfunction the cream still rose to the top against a lot of the bad teams during the regular season. But it all seemed to change in the playoffs.

They started to come together at the right time, for several reasons. First and foremost, what really stuck out to me was Coach Jackson began to mandate that Jordan start buying into the team concept. He was public with it, at times subtle and at times really up front. He started calling Jordan out for his play. What this did was gave the other players on the team a feeling of respect for Jackson. It also made them feel that they were part of a team not supporting actors in "The Jordan Show". I really think that once Jackson called out Jordan it forced Michael to buy into what was going on - and respect Jackson for it. Jordan, like every superstar, wants the discipline and wants to be coached I believe. They all need to be held accountable. Many coaches, including Phil Jackson himself in the beginning, (and including myself when I was a rookie at South Tama) are sometimes scared to hold that star accountable. We don't want them to quit or mutiny because we are afraid we will loose credibility and loose the team. The truth is, if a star is out of control, the star knows it, the other players know it, and everyone really wants the situation to be fixed by the coach. If this doesn't happen players start to really get frustrated.

Also, it was crazy to see how much Jordan matured himself during the season - he started to become a winner almost overnight. He started to figure out what it took to be a champion and ran with it. He started to trust his teammate he started to find his open teammates, frankly he started to trust his teammates more. At the beginning, Jordan wouldn't pass to ANYONE almost anytime, and especially not in the crunch. By the end of the book he's hitting Paxson for three after three against the Lakers. The development of Jordan in this book really impressed me.

I think this would be a great book to pass along to your "star" that really doesn't get the team concept. I think it would open his eyes to the issues his behavior is causing and what he could become if he buys in and figures it out. I know from now on I'm going to have a couple of extra copies on hand. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Teaching Players How to Dive on the Floor

All of us as coaches become quite frustrated when players refuse to dive on the floor for a lose ball because we all know how much those 50/50 balls matter in a close game. It also infuriates us because it shows that we are soft and that's something we just can't tolerate. Having a team that gets on the floor and plays physical gives you a distinct advantage. I coached a freshmen team in Bagley (MN) that started the year 0-12 and we wouldn't get on the floor for a ball, ever. But as time went we started  really getting on the floor hard and we finished the year 6-2. Was it all because of the loose balls, of course not! Some things started to come together. But I believe on of the things that came together was our "screw you" mentality. We were going to be the aggressors and we were going to out-physical you every chance we got.
With that said, I think sometimes players don't go to the floor because they don't know how to do it or it's not a habit for them. Sometimes I also think players are scared of getting hurt and need assistance overcoming that fear. Below are some ideas on how to build the habits and also the way that I teach going for a lose ball in order to hopefully prevent injury.

Building the Habits
Building proper habits for loose balls essentially boils down to doing two things - emphasizing it and rewarding it.
Emphasizing It:
1. Have it subconsciously be a part of every drill in practice.
     You don't need to do 10 loose ball drills a week for this to kick in, in my opinion. Loose ball drills are only something you run to start the year, or as a fun change up mid to late season. Their only real purpose is to get players over their fear of going for the ball. After that anytime there is a loose ball in a drill, in ANY drill for that matter, players need to dive on it. Even if a player fumbles the ball while passing it around in shell drill players need to sprint over and dive on it. This creates
2. Chart It In Games
     Kevin Eastman of the Boston Celtics (who you need to follow if you already don't), has a saying that goes something like: if you want to make things important to your players you need to chart it and stat it. He's exactly right. If you want players to dive on the floor for loose balls you need to keep it as a stat from your games. I think it would be relevant to keep attempts instead of balls gotten (you can keep both however), only because you want to highlight the effort that each player is putting in to get loose balls. It's also a stat that your least talented player can have a chance to excel at.

Along these lines, a great video for toughness is Tim Miles DVD "Creating a Culture of Toughness" and look into his GATA (Get After Their Ass) scoring system. It's a great way to integrate toughness into your program. It's a DVD that I watch every year before the season starts just to pick up a new thing or two and also re-affirm some old ideas.

Rewarding It:
     Rewarding it goes hand in hand with emphasizing it. You can chart it, stat it, and have it in practice all you want, but the thing that will get you farther with players is to positively acknowledge it when it takes place.
     In many of the practices I have been to, coaches find a way to give players positive feedback when the dive on the floor. It can be as simple as telling them good job, having everyone clap for them, etc. Another thing I have seen at practices for loose balls (and charges) that I really like is when it takes place the entire team sprints over, cheering, and pulls their teammate up. I don't know that there is a better reward.
     To emphasize it in a game you can simply have it as a category on your stat board and talk about it with your team. For example, "We only got 3 dives last game and we lost by 2, imagine if we would have gotten 2 more 50/50 balls that might have been the difference in the game" or "Jimmy, you did a great job last game getting on the floor 5 times, that's the kind of effort we need from you". If you want to go deeper with that you can give locker stickers for dives, among other stats. Either way, just doing some small thing to acknowledge the dive goes a long way.

Teaching the Form
     When teaching the form there are a few key points I like to make.
          1.The first is to dive at the earliest possible spot you can get the ball. No sense in waiting until the last moment - after someone else has started their dive.
          2. Leading with your shoulder is another important point. All players want to lead with their head, but I teach them to go shoulder first to prevent injury.
          3. Slide on your side is another key phrase I use. Have the players slide on their hip, it helps to turn the body and lead with the shoulder. I don't want guys landing on the palms of their hands either - sure way to break a hand or wrist. Side should hit first, then shoulder while the arms reach out.

All in all I think loose balls are an easy thing to have players do - once they become habit. We can stand and yell and stomp our feet on the sidelines over yet another missed opportunity - but what we really need to be doing is asking ourselves have we taught and emphasized the loose balls enough to be able to be angry at our players for it?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Using Progression within Your Drills

Progressions within drills are something I have been toying with for a few years but really started exploring this summer. Although the Czar may not agree with me, it's something I have become a fan of lately and will continue using.

When I talk about progression within drills I am talking about a build up of sorts. Start with one skill and just and and build on that skill. For a great progression you need to start with one breakdown drill and build to live play. Each drill should emphasize the concepts from the one before as well as the live play after that.

One of my favorite times to use progressions is when teaching on ball defense using the series below. It's definatley not the only time, you can do this when teaching anything from an offensive move (crossover vs. cone, crossover vs. dummy defender, crossover vs. live defender) to team defense (shell, shell with cuts, shell with cuts and drive, shell into live).

1. Mass Stance (2-3 Min)
-Typical defensive stance drill. Players in lines, facing the coach at half court. Coach calls "stance!" players slap the floor, yell defense and get into a stance. After 2-3x of that (checking the stance) the coach has them chop feet and slide in a direction.
-Emphasize the proper stance

2. Partner Close Out (3 min)
-Groups of two with one ball. Player 1 passes to player 2 and closes out into a good defensive stance. Player 2 rips and pivots while the defender mirrors the ball. The defender (1) uses the verbal ball. Defender slides back and offense (2) passes to defense (1) and becomes defense.
-Emphasize the proper stance, proper closeout (sprint, drop, chop, high hands), and verbals (BALL)

3. Partner Close Out Cut Off (3-4 Min)
-Same groups, same situation as above. This time the offense catches and rips twice. The offense takes 2 dribbles, the defender now bounces back and cuts off the dribble. Use the verbal BALL on the closeout and DEAD on the pick up.
-Emphasize the proper stance, proper closeout, bounce and cut, and verbals (ball and dead).

4A. Iowa 1 on 1 (5-6 Min)
-Group of 2-4 at a basket with one ball. One defender starts under the basket with the ball, one offense starts at the free throw line. The rest of the players are in a line above the top of the key. The defender tosses the ball to the offenses, closes out, and they play 1 on 1. The offense has 3 dribbles max and cannot go outside the lane lines. If the offense scores they go to defense. If the defense gets a stop they stay. Players get 1 point for every stop - losers have pushups. The defender now must work on closing out, being in a stance, bouncing and cutting, and verbals now in a live one on one situation.
-Emphasize proper stance, proper closeout, bounce and cut, and verbals.

4B. 2 on 2 1 Side Drive (6-8 Min)
-Groups of 2, one defense one offense. Offense starts at the wings and has to catch the ball from the wing outside the three on the pass. Defense starts at the rim but is matched with an offensive player. Coach (or player that is out) throws the ball to one of the offensive players, that defender closes out and they play with the other defender as help. The offense tries to score, if the drive is shut down they pass to their partner on the opposite wing. Other defender closes out and plays 1 on 1 on that side with help. Switch every time,keep track of spots for points. Losers have pushups. Just like Iowa we are in a live situation using our skills.
-Emphasize proper stance, proper closeout, bounce and cut, and verbals

5. 3 on 3 Drive (5-8 Min)
-Players play 3 on 3, the offense has to drive and the defense works on closing out, being in a stance, bouncing and cutting, etc.
-Emphasize proper stance, proper closeout, bounce and cut, and verbals

6. 5 on 5 On Ball (6-10 Min)
-Play 5 on 5, the ONLY thing you watch as a coach, and emphasize, is the on ball defense - are they closing out, being in a stance, talking, etc.

Something I think is important is to share with your players the importance of the build up - something I didn't do a great job on this spring. Explain how one drill translates to the next and so on is important. Make sure you go over the emphasis, use the same terms, etc. This is a great way to get things to translate to the game. It's not just a drill followed by another, seemingly unrelated (in a teenager's mind) drill. It's a series where you are working on them in differing situations - really making their brain work and turn the skills into habits.

Have been reading a lot of Brian McCormick lately and he does a great job of talking about this kind of thing as well - teaching players how to play and developing habits with small sided games. One of things I like from him, and is applicable here, is the idea of play more and drill less. Do the breakdown drills quick, then have them play and watch what is happening. Which skill in this are they not getting? Is it a matter of form or practice (forming the habit)? If it's practice play if it's form do a breakdown drill again. After they play, run a quick breakdown drill based on the skill they are missing and have them play again. Kind of goes with what I did in Iowa with the 1 or 2 minute games. Play a few quick games, drill what we lacked, and come back to it.

Book Recommendation: The Politics of Coaching by Carl Pierson

One of the girls basketball coaches at St. Croix Prep recommended this book to me. It arrived in the mail on Friday and it was finished this morning. It is a book I would call a must have for coaches - especially young coaches such as myself. The book covers many of the political challenges we as coaches face - even some of the touchy ones most people don't want to talk about - and we don't even want to think about. Some of the material is controversial, but it does get you thinking about the content and what you would do in a given situation.
It's written by Carl Pierson who was, until this year, a very successful girls coach at Champlin Park High School (MN) and Red Wing (MN) among other places. Pierson uses many real life situations he was in, how he dealt with them (good or bad), and what, if anything, he would have done differently. He also pulls in real life situations from his many coaching friends. The real world scenarios really help to make the book readable; it makes it come to life. He's got a very political mind and he talks about his thought process in different situations. The book covers everything from how to get a job (the campaign) to public relations moves, to dealing with program cancer, and so on.

I am not what you would call political. So this book was a great resource to get me thinking that way. I really feel it would have helped during my one year stint in Iowa, but better late than never. I have included the website below, and just to clarify I do not get anything for putting this up - just trying to pass the word along.