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.