General basketball skills before specific basketball plays

by on February 26, 2015
in Team Offenses

Before reading the article, if you need plays to run, subscribe to Half Court Hoops on youtube. I go to youtube every day to see the new videos that HCH uploads. The following is not meant to disparage HCH in any way.

Atlanta Hawks “Rub 5” is a high on-ball screen. Nothing else. Now, Atlanta may call for this specific response to the on-ball screen, or run this particular set against a specific defense, but it is a high on-ball screen with a short roll by the screener. That’s it.

When I write about the general and the specific (Developing Basketball Intelligence, The 21st Century Basketball Practice, the upcoming SABA), this is my point. Many coaches who subscribe to HCH may see this set on youtube and use it as a set play with their team. The point guard uses the screen, the screener rolls toward the opposite elbow, voila.

The problem is the short roll is a response to the defense. Rather than hedging on the on-ball screen, as most high school and college teams do, the screener’s defender hangs back and clogs the driving lane to the basket. The ballhandler’s defender chases over the screen to take away a three-point shot. Because the screener’s defender is to the basket-side of the screener, rather than being higher than the screener on a hedge, a roll to the rim is less effective, especially for a below-the-rim type player like Al Horford.

Therefore, Horford rolls to the open area, away from his defender. In this case, it is the short roll wide of the ballhandler. If his defender does not recover quick enough from containing the ballhandler, he has an open shot or an open lane to the basket. When the screener’s defender leaves early to recover to the screener, the ballhandler has a pull-up jump shot.

Whereas this may be a specific call or play for the Hawks, teaching this set is the same as teaching any middle on-ball screen. When teaching young players how to use the middle on-ball screen, I should not tell the screener where to go. The screener’s movement depends upon the defense. The screener must see whether his defender hangs back, hedges, traps, or switches and react accordingly. As a coach I should not have to have a set play for a short roll, a run to the rim, a pick and pop, etc. These should be based on the defense.

Now, I may incorporate other tactical skills with the on-ball screen to create other options, and these may require a separate play call. For instance, I could have a shooter set a back pick for the screener to create an open layup or an open three-pointer (below; hat tip to Raul Jimenez, another good follow). This would differ from the straight middle on-ball.

The larger point is that, too often, coaches focus on the specific and ignore the general. They run a set play to get a short roll, but they ignore the basics of the on-ball screen and the similarities with all other on-ball situations. Players learn to do one thing in one specific situation, and if that is not open, they may not be able to adjust. By starting with the general first – teaching the basic tactical skills generally, not through a specific play – players learn adaptable skills, and the coach can add specificity later as required, as with the back pick for the screener.

There are a few skills that dominate the game. By learning these skills generally, players can adjust and adapt to almost any situation. Instead, coaches focus on a few specific situations, and players struggle outside of these defined sets. Teach the general first.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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