The Problem with Set Plays

Set plays are not bad. However, when players depend solely on a play, the play has the effect of limiting the player’s development of game understanding.  Read more

Basketball & Improv

In the December 2009 Los Angeles Magazine, Michael Mullen recounts his experiences learning improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Hollywood in an article titled “Get Me Outta Here!”

During two passages, he captures the essence of great basketball as well:

Improv…is about scenes and what is known as The Game. There’s a paradox here. It is human nature to be competitive, to want to stand out and earn a pat on the back. If a scene works, however, it is because players have cooperated and found a game. The game requires an ensemble performance, so it works to your advantage if everyone succeeds.

While NBA basketball depends on star performances, and many high school and colleges win because they have one dominant player, the best teams typically have an ensemble. When everyone plays well, the team performs at its best, offensively and defensively. Even stars depend on teammates to pass the ball, set screens, rebound and defend. While everyone wants to be the star, too many wanna-be stars hunting bad shots or playing individually lead to poor performances.

A group game is infinitely harder than a two-person scene. It is akin to meeting seven friends at a shopping mall and trying to decide what to do. Everyone stands around for half an hour, then finally arrives at a compromise nobody likes. Group games depend on achieving a consciousness in which one loses awareness of self and becomes mindful of only the thoughts and movements of the assembly. It takes listening.

Motion offenses are similar. Bad motion offenses are like the seven friends at the mall. Great motion offenses succeed when teammates read each other and anticipate each other’s movements. This comes through experience playing with each other as well as knowledge of the best plays in certain situations.

If we run a high on-ball screen and the defense rotates to the screener rolling to the basket, the ball handler anticipates that another player fills the vacated area and another player anticipates the open area where the screen originated (top of the key). This is fairly basic basketball, but it spaces the floor and keeps the ball moving. Rather than the ball handler forcing the pass to the screener or pounding the ball, the ball handler reverse to the top for a high-low into the screener or to get a new action going to the weak side.

When the players anticipate the play in this manner, each player plays off each other and off the proper spacing to create open shots for the team. As the players play together more and more, the timing improves and players understand each other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, and the offense flows with less thinking and more reacting to the situations, leading to quicker and more effective decision-making and more decisive plays.

Youth Basketball Offenses: Principles, not Plays

Strength Coach Charles Staley’s newsletter refers to an article on Programming, which uses the example of different martial arts or fighting styles:

Most Japanese and Korean styles of martial arts utilize a “technique-based” approach to self-defense. In other words, if your opponent throws a punch to your face, you defend with “technique A.” If he throws a kick to your ribs, you respond with “technique B.” And if he tries to stab you with a knife, you counter with “technique C” and so forth. The problem with this type of approach is that you need as many counter-defenses are there are possible attacks, and that’s a lot of techniques to learn.

An alternative solution can be found in the Filipino martial arts, such as Kali and Escrima. In these fighting arts, all attacks (whether they be foot, hand, or weapon) are categorized into 12 different groups based on the angle of the incoming attack. For example, any straight thrust to your midsection is a “number 5.” Any sweeping attack from the side is a “number 4,” and so on. Using this system, the martial artist only needs 12 different defenses as opposed to the hundreds he’d need using another system.

His point is similar to one about teaching plays vs. principles. Some teams run plays for everything; they have a press break for a 2-2-1 press, 1-2-1-1 press, man press, half court trap, run and jump, etc. This methodology follows for all areas. This is like the Japanese or Korean style, where coaches must anticipate all the possible attacks and teach different defenses for each one. This is very time consuming and requires a great deal of memorization and game preparation.

Teaching principles is like the Filipino martial arts. Rather than teach a press break for every possible half court and full court press, I teach 2-3 simple skills which players use against any type of pressure defense. The basic skills and spacing are the same against any press: the foundation is the same – the specific depends on the defense. If players know the foundation and understand the proper spacing, they can adjust and adapt to different presses.

By Brian McCormick
Founder, 180 Shooter

How to Develop Better Passing Skills

Passing is a two-way street: the passer and the receiver. Most attention is paid to the passer, but oftentimes the receiver’s role is even more important or the cause of the mistake or turnover.

In Vol. 3, No. 41 of the Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletters, I write about two concepts that I picked up at the Basketball BC SuperConference.

First, former Wake Forest University Head Coach Dave Odom spoke about playing against pressure. He stressed cutting past the line of the defense to get open.

In the first diagram, the player cutting to the diagonal (O2) stops short of the line of the defense and on the pass, they converge at the same time and it is a free-for-all.

In the second diagram, the player cuts past the line of the defense to receive the pass.

In a different session, local high school coach Matt McKay spoke about developing a motion offense for a youth team and stressed getting to the level of the ball for a cut. Follow O3 as he cuts to the elbow to get to the level of the ball, then across the free throw line, and finally makes the L-cut to get open at the three-point line.

His other option would be to receive at the elbow if he is open, or cut backdoor if he is overplayed.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development Leagues

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