How Quick Beats Tall

Originally Published by Basketball Sense, January 2002

The most common excuse among youth, high school and college teams is the lack of a big guy or an inside presence: “He’s too big;” “We’re too small;” “They’re too strong;” “How are we going to stop him?” These excuses set up teams for unnecessary losses. Height or post play rarely decides any game or championship at any level below the NBA and elite international competition. Teams lose when they fail to shoot free throws well; turn the ball over too much; fail to block out and rebound; get out hustled and outworked; or get severely out shot.  Height is not a determining factor in these scenarios.

The most reliable stat I have seen for determining the game’s outcome or a team’s season outlook is possession margin, which is determined by adding the difference in offensive rebounds and turnovers. If possession margin is an indicator of success, protecting a team’s defensive glass and protecting the ball are the two most consistent ways to win games. Creating possessions through offensive rebounds and by forcing turnovers enhance the team’s chance for success.

Teams generally rely on posts for three reasons: 1. Rebounding; 2. Interior defense; 3. Interior offense. A smart, quick team can compensate for their lack of size, and punish teams for their height advantage.

Rebounding, and especially defensive rebounding, is assumed to be the posts’ job, but defensive rebounding success is positioning and toughness. A big team has a rebounding advantage if all things are equal, but below the NBA level, most rebounds are gathered below the rim. Essentially, the skill of defensive rebounding is gaining inside position (a product of solid man to man or zone defense), making contact with the offensive player, and retrieving the ball. A tough defensive team with good position will get almost every rebound, with the exception of the occasional long rebound. 

Offensive rebounding is a special skill — less positioning and toughness, and more quickness and anticipation. If the offensive player anticipate’s the rebound’s location and quickly moves in that direction, he or she negates the size and/or positioning of the defensive player. The likelihood of an offensive rebound increases in transition, on a long shot (produces long rebounds), and when penetration forces defenses to help and scramble, negating their positioning advantage. Smaller teams are more apt to push the ball, attempt longer shots, and penetrate to the basket, putting the defenses at a disadvantage and presenting offensive rebounding opportunities.

Defensively, teams that rely on strong post play tend to be easier to guard because there is a tendency for other players to stand. Defending a team that stands or a player that stands is easier than defending a team that constantly sets screens and moves without the ball. A post player generally receives the ball with his back to the basket. If he or she is dominant, and the defensive team is severely out-manned, it is easy to double team and practice rotations, especially when his or her teammates stand around. It is much more difficult to plan for, and practice rotations to beat a terrific penetrating guard.

Offensively, it is easy to compensate for the lack of an inside game by pushing the tempo, shooting the three and/or penetrating to the basket. First, this puts pressure on the defense. Second, the ability to do all three makes help defense and defensive rotations difficult. Third, it opens up offensive rebounds and second shots. By constantly attacking, the defense is put on its heels, negating its size advantage.

The small team’s biggest advantage is ball handling and ability to pressure the ball on the perimeter. By taking care of the ball, a team prevents its opposition from getting easy shots and increased possessions. It insures itself of getting at least one shot almost every time down the court. By pressuring the perimeter, the team can create turnovers and easy offense for itself, and also make it very difficult to enter the ball into the post players, thus negating its disadvantages inside. 

Height is the most over-hyped aspect of basketball. Rarely if ever does post play determine the championship, unless there is a Shaq-like force. These examples above illustrate how quick beats tall, breaking down the perceived disadvantages of the height-deprived. There is no excuse at all: this is how quick beats tall.

Basketball Transition Defense: are You Tom Izzo or Coach Bennett?

By: Coach DeForest

Why is this Important?

If you ask most coaches to describe what the game of basketball is when you simplify it to its basic principles they will give you offense and defense. While this is true, Bobby Knight believes that transition is a critical component of sound basketball. Think about it for a second…if you are a great half court defensive team, but you allow transition lay-ups, how good is your defense? In a worse cast scenario, if your players aren’t crashing the glass for the offensive rebound and they aren’t back in transition, then where the heck are they? We are going to examine where they should be in regards to two different philosophies on what a team should do after a missed shot.

Offensive Rebounding or Limiting Transition Opportunities

As a coach you basically have to choose between two options in regards to transition defense. Remember that you can’t be good at everything or you are going to be good at nothing. For example, if you try to crash the offensive glass, but you expect the other team not to score any lay-ups in transition then you are setting your team up for failure. CHOOSE and EMPHASIZE your philosophy based on the talent of your team. Also remember that the philosophy a coach chooses should mirror their offensive philosophy. I would like to present the two basic philosophies that most coaches adopt in regards to transition defense.

The Philosophy to Offensive Rebound

Tom Izzo, the great coach at Michigan State, has built his program on the belief that most teams aren’t good at the defensive box out. His teams are among the nation’s leaders in rebounding margin (+11.7) since he took over the Spartan program. He spends at least 15 minutes each practice on teaching his players the habits to crash the offensive glass. They fight and compete to tip the ball, keep it alive, and own the offensive glass. A byproduct of this hard work is that his teams are fantastic at defensive box outs because they are used to going to “war” (a drill he uses) each day in practice. Most teams don’t compete like the Spartans on the glass. For more information, take a look at his DVD: Tom Izzo-Dominating Rebounding & Man to Man Defensive Drills.

Basic Offensive Rebounding Principles

· Choose if you are more athletic than the best teams in your conference

· Point guard to half court line and everyone else to the paint to rebound

· Stress that 70% of all rebounds come opposite – overload that side on shots

· Practice and chart – do your players get 4 to the paint and the PG to half court in your drills? Offense? Defense?

· Teach them to tap the ball against the backboard if they can’t come down with it

· Keep the ball alive – TIP it!

· Celebrate offensive rebounding

· Never accept it, but be prepared to see teams fast break more often

The Philosophy of Limiting Fast Break Opportunities

On the other hand, another great coach that believes coaches have control over transition, Dick Bennett of Washington State, would send two and sometimes three players back depending on the opponent in an effort to neutralize fast break opportunities. His teams traditionally held opponents under 60 points per game. Coach Bennett’s philosophy was that his team was better than your team at half court execution on offense and defense. His teams only pressed if behind in games late and they played strictly man-to-man defense. In other words, his teams were simple to prepare for, but difficult to beat because of their execution. For more information, take a look at his DVD: Dick Bennett’s “Pack-line” Pressure Defense.

Basic Principles of Limiting Transition Opportunities

· Choose if you are less athletic than the best teams in your conference

· Send the PG to the opposite FT line and the Off Guard to the half court line

· Another option is to also send the shooter back immediately against superior teams along with the two guards

· Stress that we are not giving up ANY transition lay-ups

· Work on defending scramble situations in the full court every day

· Teach how you want to match-up and remember that open shots NOT match-ups beat you

· Practice and chart – do your players have defensive balance in your drills? Offense? Defense?

· Choose offensive sets that allow for defensive balance; For example: stay away from 1-4 low sets or the Flex. Instead use 2-3 high sets or 4 out – 1 in motion

Prepare them the best you can so that your team can achieve to the best of their potential because you put them in the best situation to succeed. Transition is often overlooked and the main thing a coach needs to do is decide from Day 1 what their team is going to do in regards to defensive transition. Teach that all year long and emphasize it in practices and games. I hope this article has helped you to better understand the two basic philosophies of transition defense.

About the Author

This is an Online Basketball Coaches’ Club designed to help other coaches learn about this game. If you want to learn more about these coaches or philosophies, join our online coaches club at Basketball Coaches Club (www.basketballcoachesclub.blogspot.com) or email me at coachdeforest@gmail.com.

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