Steve Nash on Mike D’Antoni’s Genius

When I presented for Positive Coaching Alliance working with Ray Lokar, he often said that coaches work in the fish bowl; everyone watches the coach from the outside, often without knowledge of the environment, but the coach always is in front of an audience. This pressure from the fish bowl shapes many of the negative behaviors that we see from coaches: I once watched a coach who would yell loud enough for everyone in the audience to hear him, “Player, we practiced that yesterday for 20 minutes. How can you make that mistake?” There was no information; in essence, he was saying, “Look, I did everything that I could at practice and it is your child who is messing up, not me.” I was appalled, but I see this behavior to some degree fairly often.  Read more

Assists, point guards, and ball movement

Earlier this season, I posed a question about Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo to several basketball coaches. I asked if Rondo’s gaudy assist totals were a positive for the Kings. The coaches answered unanimously that a point guard racking up a lot of assists could not be a negative, and several even questioned why I would ask such a question.  Read more

Problems with Free Throw Practice

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NBA Pre-Draft Workouts and Contextual Interference

NBA General Managers are easy targets because they have a tough job: they play fortune teller with often physically mature, but mentally and emotionally immature teenagers with millions of dollars at stake. However, they do not make it easy on themselves either. From a recent Ian Thomsen article:

“The postseason process when you’re kicking their tires in a private workout — the importance of that time is going to be heightened this year,” a scout said. “Just because a guy makes a couple of shots on CBS some Thursday afternoon in March, I’m not going to go by that. I’m more likely to go by what I see in the workouts.”

NBA workouts are a low contextual interference environment. NBA games are a high contextual interference environment. Therefore, does one’s performance in a workout correlate to his performance in the NBA?

Perspective NBA players train specifically for the NBA Draft workouts. They know the drills ahead of time and hire high-priced trainers to train specifically for these tests. Does one’s preparation in this environment illustrate his motivation to practice on a cold Thursday in February when his team is 11 games under .500? Will shuffling in a box illustrate his ability to stay in front of Chris Paul or Derrick Rose? Will his bench press repetition test demonstrate his ability to hold his position in the paint against Dwight Howard? Will his unguarded shooting performance in a practice gym correlate to his performance in the 4th quarter of a play-off game in a sold out Ford Center in Oklahoma City?

Just as Geno Auriemma said that players work out with personal trainers and practice and practice their skills but get in a game cannot play, NBA workouts provide only a small glimpse of an NCAA player’s readiness for the NBA. I would be far more interested in the psychological tests and personal interviews from these sessions than how well someone can shoot in a gym by himself.

NBA fans and the media often overrate a player based on his NCAA Tournament performance. This performance is the last thing in people’s mind, and the tournament is an emotional experience, so the memory sticks. However, it is just one game, and one small aspect of the overall picture. Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn skyrocketed up the draft board with his Big East and NCAA Tournament performance two years ago, and Gordon Hayward would not have been a lottery pick if Butler lost in the 1st Round. Performance over one’s NCAA career is far more telling of one’s abilities than a one or two week run in the tournament.

When evaluating players for the NBA Draft or when choosing your 12 for your high school team or when deciding who to offer a college scholarship, one game, one workout, one shot or one test should not be the deciding factor. I have yet to see a paper that shows empirically that performance in X correlates at a significant level to NBA success. What test would predict Steve Nash’s MVP performances? What physical metric would predict Kevin Love’s rebounding? How does one measure work ethic to know with certainty that a player like Russell Westbrook is going to continue to improve and improve?

At the end of the day, some guys like Jimmer Fredette or Jared Sullinger can play regardless of what the tests or measurements show because the tests used by NBA teams are incomplete at best and misleading at worst. Tests in a low contextual interference environment, just like training in a low CI environment, do not transfer or predict performance in a high CI environment.

If a scout is going to put that much emphasis on the tests, they need to develop and use better tests. Training for the NBA tests is now an art, just like the NFL combines. However, improvement and performance on these tests shows virtually nothing about one’s improvement or performance in 5v5 games because the tests do not show persistence or adaptability of the learning.

Developing Decision-Making Skills through Diverse Sports Participation

Steve Nash excelled as a youth soccer player before making his mark as an NBA point guard. Uruguay’s World Cup hero, Diego Forlan, was an age-group tennis champion before pursuing a professional football career. Former NBA All-Star Allen Iverson was an all-state option quarterback before leading the NBA in scoring.

Typically, when mentioning the diverse youth sporting pursuits of elite players, parents and coaches suggest that these players are simply exceptional athletes, and therefore their varied pursuits did not prevent eventual elite performance in their chosen sport.

However, what if their varied sports participation actually enhanced their development and helped them become elite performers?

In “Sport-Specific Practice and the Development of Expert Decision-Making in Team Ball Sports” published in JOURNAL OF APPLIED SPORT PSYCHOLOGY, 15: 12–-25, 2003, Joseph Baker, Jean Cote and Bruce Abernathy write:

An important finding unique to this study is that the range of accumulated hours reported by the expert athletes was highly variable both within and between sports, suggesting factors additional to the total hours of accumulated sport-specific practice influence expertise attainment in team sports. Related practice, in other non-sport-specific contexts, emerges as a prime candidate as an additional factor critical to the acquisition of decision-making expertise in sport.

Rather than practice only basketball skills, this study found a positive correlation between playing other sports and developing expertise in one’s primary sport. These elite performers fell short of the magic 10,000 hours in their specific sport prior to reaching the elite level; however, they reason that the additional hours of participation in different, but similar sports count toward the magic 10,000 hours because the skills transfer between sports.

Participation in other activities may indeed be a functional element in the development of expert decision-making skill. Exposure to practice in other sport settings, especially in generic aspects of pattern recognition and decision-making, may circumvent the need for, or perhaps partially substitute for, some of the many hours of sport-specific practice needed to become an expert in team ball sports. Perhaps, unlike the domain of music, within which Ericsson et al. (1993) developed their theory of deliberate practice, sport expertise in team sports may be sufficiently multi-faceted to permit beneficial learning to occur through settings other than deliberate, task-specific practice.

While playing soccer will not enhance one’s basketball shooting or dribbling skills, playing soccer, lacrosse or another similar sport will enhance the pattern recognition skills that are vital to one’s tactical success.

In recent years, as youth basketball players play more and more basketball and specialize at earlier ages, many critics note that their decision-making skills and game awareness has decreased. Rather than specializing at earlier ages, these players may need more time plying a variety of sports to increase their exposure to and implicit learning of the basic tactical skills that are similar in many sports.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

Why I am rooting for Jeremy Lin

Early Sunday morning, I walked to the court where I train a 9th grader every weekend. He is generally late and sleepy when he arrives, but today he was on the court and shooting. As soon as I was within earshot, he said, “What do you think of Jeremy Lin?”

For those who do not follow the NBA Summer League or Ivy League basketball, Jeremy Lin is a point guard from Harvard who played with the Dallas Mavericks at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He is an Asian-American, the son of immigrants from Taiwan. He was overlooked by nearly everyone as a senior in high school despite leading his high school to the California state championship with a win over national powerhouse Mater Dei; even nearby Stanford University offered only an opportunity to walk-on. Now, as an undrafted free agent, he is on the cusp of a guaranteed NBA contract, the holy grail for every young child who picks up a basketball.

While basketball fans concentrate on the athleticism of John Wall or the psychology of DeMarcus Cousins, from a developmental perspective, Jeremy Lin is the most important rookie in the 2010 class. I am rooting for Lin for the impact that his success will have on players like the one that I trained this morning.

While everyone hopes that race is a non-issue in the 21st Century, it is. Living in California, I have trained and coached a number of Asian-American players. While they love to play, there is often a sense of the glass ceiling – regardless of effort or talent, the Division I scholarship or the professional career is beyond their grasp. They look at D1 basketball and the NBA, and they do not see many players who look like them (Irish basketball players suffer from the same issue).

When I was young, many white players suffered from the same self-imposed glass ceiling. It is easier to blame one’s genes or race for one’s inability to achieve his dreams, and this pervades athletic and talent development. We create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I coached at a high school with a heavy academic emphasis and a large concentration of Asian-American students. Few if any actually believe that they could play college basketball. Their teachers, parents and coaches emphasize more realistic pursuits, like the orchestra and advanced calculus. When something must be sacrificed, sports are the first to go because sports are viewed as superfluous, as there is no future in sports. However, is an NBA career any more outrageous than a first chair position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic?

Before Roger Bannister broke the 4:00-mile, it was viewed as a ceiling of sorts. However, once he broke through the barrier, dozens of runners ran under 4:00 in the following months. The 4:00-mile was a mental barrier, not a physical barrier.

As Steve Nash flourishes in the NBA, he inspires white suburban players all over North America. No longer can a white player blame his race or genes, as Nash proves that a white player can excel in the 21st Century NBA without having to be 6’10. Lin has the chance to have the same impact for Asians and Asian-Americans, as to this point, only 7’0 Asians have had much basketball success.

I am not interested in the economic impact of a successful Asian-American player. My focus is developmental. We spend too much time looking at race, and not enough time controlling things within our control – our effort, skill development, practice habits and more. Once one player breaks through the perceived barrier, it becomes easier for others to set higher standards for themselves.

From a developmental perspective, I am interested in eliminating excuses. I want players to create their own positive self-fulfilling prophecies rather than allow prevailing myths to create a perpetually negative self-fulfilling prophecy to limit one’s dreams, goals and effort.

Jeremy Lin may never be an NBA all-star. However, his impact as a player may not be felt immediately; instead, his greatest impact may be felt a generation from now when young Asian-Americans no longer view college or professional basketball as an unattainable dream, but a worthwhile goal to pursue diligently.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development

Steve Nash & the High On-Ball Screen

If you run high on-ball screens as part of your offense (as I do), here is a video of Steve Nash (via True Hoop) destroying the L.A. Clippers by reading the defense and taking what the defense gives up. He does not over-penetrate and he does not force a shot. If he has an open jump shot, he takes it; if he draws a double-team, he swings the ball to the open man.

The high on-ball screen disorganizes the defense, and the Suns move the ball until they have a high percentage shot, never allowing the Clippers to re-set once they start to scramble.

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

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  • Starting A PBDL

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