Coaching a European Club – Week 2

The players here do not work out during the summer, so week 2 was rough for some of the guys. It was evident during our basket college workouts that the young players were starting to wear down. The start of practice coincided with the start of school, so some of them went from no real activity to 6+ practices per week and the start of school. During both basket college workouts, we backed off on the intensity, and I backed off on our u20 practices too. With the basketball college players, we talked about the importance of sleep, hydration, eating right, eating vegetables, and staying away from soda and beer. If they are worn down after one week, this could be a long season, so week 2 was more about managing fatigue so nobody got hurt early in the season.  Read more

Creating a Defensive Strategy or Principles

I never played on a team that played zone defense, and I developed with the mindset that teams only play zone defense if they do not think that they can guard the opponent man-to-man.

However, as I began to coach, I realized that man-defense and zone-defense are very similar. When I coached in a professional women’s league in Sweden, we upset one of the top-ranked teams in the last game before the All-Star teams were announced. The Swedish National Team coach was in attendance. Our opponent had four players who were likely to make the All-Star Game (one played at LSU and the other at Miami). We won by 20+ points and held them below 50 points (averaged over 70ppg). After the game, their coach told them that their performance cost them an All-Star selection. Actually, it probably cost them one spot, as we received two selections, and they had three players represented even though we swept them on the season by double-digits in both games.

At the All-Star Game (I was the Head Coach and these players were on my team), we went out to dinner on the night before the game and the players asked me what type of defense we played against them. They guessed that it was a triangle-and-two and then a 2-3-zone. We played man-to-man defense. However, to me, every good man defense is a zone defense, and every good zone defense is a man defense.

At that level, I scouted opponents and game-planned our defense to take away our opponents’ strengths. That was our second time facing them, and we always defended better in the second game because I had a chance to scout based on the first game, whereas I did not always get to see an opponent live or on tape before our first meeting. Against this team, we fronted their strong post player and sagged off their forward who was not an outside shooting threat. They typically had a strong-side triangle or high-low involving their three best players, so we defended those three tightly and used the other two to play lots of help defense, daring their two weaker players to shoot.

At the high school level, my strategy is far more general. This season, rather than starting with specifics of rotations and movements and slides, I started with a general philosophy: force low-percentage shots.

When I played, we never had a general philosophy. The unstated goal, of course, was not to allow the opponent to score. During my J.V. season, our coach’s goal was 50 points allowed, and we ran a sprint for every point over 50 that we allowed.

There is no defense to prevent the opponent from shooting or to generate a steal on every possession. Therefore, as a coach, I am conceding that our opponent will shoot. My goal defensively is to dictate where the shots are taken.

To force low-percentage shots, we strove to do three things: prevent lay-ups, limit free throws and eliminate catch-and-shoot three-pointers. We never practiced weak-side rotations. However, we practiced contesting a lay-up in transition without fouling. We did not practice a traditional closeout; however, we practiced running at a shooter and forcing the drive.

While we defended a man, we really defended areas of the court. We defended the paint, meaning that off-ball defenders were prepared to help if someone had a lane to the basket even though we never worked on the proper rotations or the exact spot to stand (we never did the shell drill in the entire season). We defended the lane to the basket.

On the ball, the first goal was to eliminate the catch-and-shoot three-pointer, even if it meant giving up the drive. If our on-ball defender had good defensive position, she played the lane to the basket, not just the player. If the offensive player started to drive, our defender’s goal was not to stop her on her first dribble, but to keep her out of the paint. These are different goals.

If the opponent took one hard dribble and stopped for a 16-foot pull-up jump shot, we played good defense. We believed that a team could not beat us with two-point jump shots because we would make a couple three-pointers and shoot a lot of free throws. Even a good shooting team (50%) from the mid-range area would not beat us without making some three-pointers and free throws.

All of these thoughts and strategies crystallized as I played in my 4v4 men’s league game last night. We play a 2-2 zone and as experienced players, we rotate and cover the ground pretty well. We were playing a bigger, slower team and we started off slowly, as they passed the ball around the perimeter and into the high post and forced us to chase.

Rather than allow them to walk the ball up court, I extended into the back court. I did not guard the man, but I guarded a lane. I forced the ball away from the area of the court that I left open. If they tried to pass over my head, I forced a lob pass, which gave me time to recover, or I stole the pass. By extending the defense, we gave up some open shots. However, these shots were typically runners from 15-feet or angled 18-foot jump shots. More important, these shots were taken when we had 3-4 defenders, while they had 2-3 offensive players.

On the first couple possessions, we gave up several offensive rebounds that led to most of their early points. Once we extended the defense, their rebounds diminished. While it appeared that we gave up open shots, we created advantages for our defense. They took hurried 18-foot jump shots which increased the pace (our advantage) and limited their offensive rebound opportunities. Sure, they made a couple jump shots, but they were the shots that we (I) could live with because they shot a low percentage and we easily compensated for the made shots with a couple steals for lay-ups.

Most coaches spend a lot of time on specifics with the approach to eliminate all shots or create turnovers on every possession. However, what if you do not create the turnover? What if the other team gets open shots? Are they the shots that you want to give up or the shots that they want to take? Do your players know the difference? Do your players know your defensive philosophy? Is the philosophy realistic?

When creating a defensive strategy, you cannot plan only for the best possible outcome (steal for a breakaway lay-up) but also have to plan for the worst possible outcome (2v1 fast break vs a press or an open shot vs a half-court defense). When your players know how to react in these situations and defend with a purpose, then you have a tough defensive team regardless of the original strategy (man, zone, press).

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League<

Oklahoma City Playing Fundamental Basketball

Try to guard him by Lorianne DiSabato.

Oklahoma City is 3rd in team defense at the All-Star break, and assistant coach Ron Adams gets much of the credit.

“We don’t really change what we do,” explained Nick Collison. “I’ve been on a lot of teams where game to game we try to change how we’re going to guard the pick-and-roll, whether we’re going to rotate to a certain guy. We do the same thing, but we really work at it. I think a lot of teams try to win with Xs and Os instead getting good at what they do. We do fundamentals all the time – closeouts, for example. It’s almost like basketball camp. I think with a young team that’s a good way to go. We’ve been real solid.”

During my season, I tried to get my team to do a couple things well. We did not adjust to our opponents, scout or change things. We played teams who could not dribble with their eyes up, yet their coach was calling out multiple plays and switching defenses several times. We would beat these teams by 40 points while playing 12 players fairly even minutes. We did not try to win through X’s and O’s, but by being smart and improving each day on basics like passing and catching, lay-ups and containing the dribble. I was amazed that teams would spend 25 minutes in the locker room before games and 10 minutes at half time talking. We never went to the locker room the entire season, and only once did I talk for more than five minutes at half-time. For me, pre-game and half-time was more practice time to work on shooting, passing and lay-ups.

For OKC, Adams runs the defensive portion for head coach Scott Brooks.

“His segment in practice is defense,” added Kevin Durant. “We go over the same things over and over again. It might get boring to us sometimes as players, wanting to do something new, but I think it’s helping us. We want to be perfect at it, even though that’s not possible, and have it become second nature.”

Sometimes the process of improvement becomes repetitive. For players who want to be players and want to improve, they maintain concentration toward the ultimate goal. For more recreational players who simply want to play, the repetitiveness gets frustrating because they do not value the improvement as much as the fun.

On my team, I had a mix of the two. I probably did no more than 12-15 different drills all season. I am not big into variety, and I do not want to waste time explaining the drill’s proper execution.  I eliminate most of the typical drills like three-man weaves and zig-zag drills, and nearly every drill is competitive, some form of small-sided scrimmage. This maintains the concentration of the recreational players, as the game is fun, and the more developmental players, as they improve. However, during those times when I felt compelled to concentrate on one specific thing with a block practice drill, the attention of the recreational players quickly waned. I had to switch groups some times to put a more serious player with a less serious player to keep the recreational player’s concentration. On other occasions, I did not switch the groups and allowed the developmental players to work together and work hard and the recreational players to work together and be more social at a basket away from the harder working players so they were not a distraction.

In this way, it is a matter of adjusting to the varying interests of your team’s players. However, even at the NBA level, successful teams keep the system simple and focus on fundamentals first to raise their level of performance. Before concentrating on your strategy, make sure the players have the basic tools and fundamentals to make use of the X’s and O’s.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

  • 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

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

    Read more →

  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

    Read more →