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.


Unknown said...

This may be the best thing you have ever written. I say that, of course, because I agree with every single word! :)

Mr Linton said...

John - great thoughts for coaches! What do you see as the reasons coaches do not teach that more or insist on that philosophy? It is up to coaches to teach and instill that way of thinking in players, players play the way their coaches allow.

sounds like a good topic to talk about at coaches roundtable in the spring!

Unknown said...

I dont disagree with much that you stated. I would, however, like you to elaborate on the high pick and roll offense. I also am curious on your thoughts on the read and react offense that ive been learning about lately. Btw this is your favorite freshman coach, coach brewer.

Unknown said...

I dont disagree with much that you stated. I would, however, like you to elaborate on the high pick and roll offense. I also am curious on your thoughts on the read and react offense that ive been learning about lately. Btw this is your favorite freshman coach, coach brewer.

Mr Linton said...

Coach Brewer - I would agree with John that pick and roll can be good offense when used with in the movement of the offense and not an isolated action. You want to get the defense moving and at a disadvantage and then the pick and roll can be effective. When the defense is set and able to overload toward the pick and roll is is much less effective. Read and react offense does teach ball movement and player movement to get the defense moving and shifting but like any offense, it is what you teach and expect players to do within that offense that determines its effectiveness in shot selection and ball movement. Any offense can be improved when you make the defense move and take advantage of it when it is weakened by over helping or rotating and switching.

JohnCarrier said...

Coach Linton:

I think that more coaches don't insist on it because it is a hard sell. You are going to get push back from players. It takes A LOT of time to teach and get buy in for. It is a style that takes time to become effective - players have to learn how to play within the philosophy. Would be a GREAT discussion piece for the round table.

Coach Brewer:
Coach Linton pretty much summed up my thoughts on high PnR. What I am talking about is take your best player to the top, have him wait for a ball screen, and then have him come off while 3 players stand. Great ball screen teams don't do that, but great ball screen teams run more of a "ball screen motion" or run a lot of actions.

Thanks for the conversation!

Unknown said...

Reading the comments and the article, I would like to add my two cents. Any offensive system that a coach installs needs to evolve and mature along with the players. The talent of a team needs to be considered as the system goes in place. Adjustments for said talent have to be worked in through the learning process. It takes time to install a good system (like the Spurs) and it can only be successful if taught in increments that allow players to learn and adjust in a comfortable manner. As the players grow in abilities and experience, new variations and concepts can be introduced to make the system even better. Learning a good Offensive System, like almost anything else, takes time. Coaches need the patience and confidence to install their system using as much time as it may take.

Anonymous said...

Coach Carrier -

Having been a casual follower of your work for some time now, I appreciate your commitment to learning. This will be my 5th season on the bench and I am always looking to read others opinions, in regards to the article there seems to be a lot of merit between what Durant says and what you are saying revolving successful offense.

The personnel for the Spurs and the Warriors bodes well for their display of versatility within the offense. Both teams virtually at all positions possess the capability of putting it on the floor, making the right reads, and being a shooting threat within their role. I also would acknowledge that Thunder do have dynamic playmakers and scorers in Westbrook and Durant allowing them to create disadvantages on the defense by putting constant pressure on the rim with aggressive penetration. Implicit in successful offenses are the characteristics you had mentioned within the article - role acceptance, spacing, and making the right reads when putting pressure on the defense through a myriad of ways.

I appreciate the forum to discuss and I look forward to the next one!

Mike McCabe said...

This is a quote from Serge Ibaka earlier in the year
“I’m gonna tell you the truth, it’s hard sometimes when you play hard, you play you’re (butt off),” Ibaka swore, before apologizing and rephrasing. “You play so hard on defense, then you come to offense and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball. We human, man. It’s hard.”

The article was regarding Ibaka's drop off on defense this season. By all accounts, Ibaka is a great teammate but my interpretation of what he is a saying is that, 'I'm not looking for as many shots as you but when I go 4,5, 10 possessions without touching the ball it is very hard to keep up that same intensity in other parts of the game.'

This is the overlooked part of low ball movement offenses by coaches and star players. Human nature takes over and intensity and effort drop. If I'm playing a pick up game and two guys are taking all the shots, my effort drops and my desire to play (with those guys) disappears. In the end it is a game and even pros need to feel like they are having fun, never mind kids.