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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Basketball: Second Helping "Thinking in Bets"

Former World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke wrote Thinking in Bets. It's not a poker book, but reveals how decisions and chance interface. Thoughts and quotes from TIB help us understand the process. 

Instinctive and programmed bias impair judgment and outcome. Every individual and community benefits from skilled decision-making.

"There are exactly two things that determine how are lives turn out: the quality of our decisions and luck.

We cannot extrapolate back from results to judge the quality of our choices. Of Pete Carroll's Super Bowl goal line pass she shares, "The play didn't work. He had control over the quality of the play-call decision, but not over how it turned out." 

"I never seem to come across anyone who identifies a bad decision where they got lucky without the result, or a well-reasoned decision that didn't pan out." 

"Valuable information remains hidden..." (in making decisions)

"When someone asks you about a coin they flipped four times, there is a correct answer: "I'm not sure."

"Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science." 

How can we exploit better decisions? Better decisions inform better opportunities.

Statistics define which types of plays work best (and least) re: points per possession. Note how GSW does more of what works and less of what doesn't. We can, too. 

"When the chances are known, we are tethered more tightly to a rational interpretation of the influence of luck." 

"...making explicit that our decisions are bets, we can make better decisions..."

Our default state is to believe information (data input), which makes us susceptible to deception. She tells a story of a noise in the bush to early man, who had to presume danger lurked and urgent response (fight or flight) kicked in. That's how I view anxiety, a conflict between two different realities, real or illusory danger. 

We are not open-minded..."altering our interpretation of that information to fit our beliefs." We choose to accept false confirming or true disconfirming evidence to maintain our beliefs. I live with the cognitive dissonance that we forfeit a higher chance to win now, believing that man-to-man defense gives our young players a better chance to win later. 

"The potency of fake news is that it entrenches beliefs its intended audience already has, and then amplifies them." She points out that Nobel Laureate Danny Kahneman points out that being wrong doesn't fit with our positive self-narrative. She notes that smart people have higher blind-spot bias.

"We stubbornly refuse to update our beliefs." We all know people who discount the power, the social proof, of social media. I read a tweet that Alabama was last in public education and healthcare in the United States. I simply asked, "is that true?" while suspecting it was ballpark accurate but hyperbole. It was on the cusp of the bottom ten percent in both but NOT the bottom. We don't have to lie to score points. Credibility and truth intersect. Why accept bad information and mediocrity? 

We have a tendency to blame others for our misfortune. "in single-vehicle accidents, 37% of drivers still found a way to pin the blame on someone else." 

Duke advises us to "substitute the routine of truthseeking for the outcome-oriented instinct to focus on seeking credit and avoiding blame."

Getting 'right' starts by seeing "I'm not sure." 

I highly recommend Thinking in Bets for readers committed to make more informed decisions leading to better outcomes. 

Lagniappe 1: "This is defense..." from Chris Oliver 
Lagniappe 2: Good teams execute high percentage half-court actions. "Great offense is multiple actions." 

1-4 wing clear into post entry and cut. 

Simple high-low action off mid-post off-ball screen. Worst case scenario? 1-5 ball screen. 

1-4 wing ball screen with screen away. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Basketball: 2-3 BOB Zone Offense, Concepts and Simple Actions

Many teams zone baseline out of bounds (BOB) plays, often with 2-3 defense. Core offensive concepts of space, cut, screen, and pass expose weaknesses. 

Figure 1. General principles.

Concept 1. (left) Overload the baseline if x1 and x2 don't drop. Defensively, I teach "bigs away come back to play." 

Concept 2. (right) Make x3 decide coverage and screen the middle x5. A third option is to extend the zone against more aggressive zones (Figure 5 below).

Figure 2. Overload

Low shooters pop to corners and 4, 5 cut to the blocks...4 offensive players versus 3 low defenders. 4, 5 can stack or start at the elbows. Inbounder needs to read low defenders and be patient. Plays ALWAYS start with the official handing 1 the ball. 

Figure 3. Inside PnR

The primary action here is entry to 5 with a handoff to the inbounder into an inside pick-and-roll. There are options at the top and opposite block. 

Figure 4. Screen the middle.

Pressure the ball side low defender and screen the middle defender. 

Figure 5. Open the middle. 

Offense decides whom and where to pressure. The action begins like the entry to 5 shown earlier, with a delayed attack from a driver into the middle which is drive and/or kick to the opposite corner. 

Lagniappe: via @BBallImmersion (Chris Oliver)
Beautiful actions with "2 second rule", drive the gaps, zone distortion, and ball reversal. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Basketball: Game Planning

"Have a plan, be ready to make mistakes...document your mistakes. You only learn how to make good barbecue by making bad barbecue." - Aaron Franklin, MasterClass

Principles translate across disciplines. Act for the greater good. Franklin explains that when trimming meat, a piece (fat, cartilage, whatever) goes if it's "for the greater good." That translates to tryout strategy, selection, practice planning, practice, and games. Act for the greater good

But what is the greater good? In high school varsity and above, it's winning. In youth basketball, everyone likes to win and wants to win, but it's development. That means opportunity, teaching, and repetitions...the Wooden EDIRRRRR...explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition times five. 

Location, location, location. If I were coaching high school varsity with experienced players I'd developed, I'd play to the personnel. With the players I have now, that would mean, winning the middle over the ends (speed game). If we had elite size, then dominating the ends (power game) would play better. Every team should want the shots they make. 

Defensively, I believe in multiple defenses, trapping, and rotation. Create harder decisions for offensive players. That's not appropriate (in my view) for middle school, because of limited practice time. We play almost exclusively man-to-man, except defending baseline out of bounds. I'd want to play full court man-to-man pressure full time if I had twelve players with enough speed and doggedness to do so. We're working on it.

And anyone who wants to be good has to score in the half-court because so many teams play zone and the better teams won't give up too many scores in transition. And I want to implement offensive concepts as part of development...spread offense, ball screens, isolation, off-ball screens (simple, staggered, elevator, screen-the-screener, screen-the-roller) and so on. 

Film and prior experience with teams helps.

We had game film on a team that ran this "primary" sidelines play to set up corner 3s and had scored twice on threes against us. Young players won't counter with an "over-the-top" pass to the opposite corner. We simply cheated over the screen and took that away. 

Another team had a player that had scored almost 30 points against us the previous year and dominated us. We forced other players to beat us. They also used "America's play" on the BOB and we switched and took that away. 

Last year they still beat us, but their 'star' had seven points and we led by two at halftime. Their 1 made a bunch of 3s in the second half, credit to her. 

As players learn the game, they should make sight adjustments. 

It's not so easy...the Pistons ran a cross screen for Drummond against the Celtics early in the year. Drummond against Kyrie is two points for Drummond. 

Lagniappe: Defenses make mistakes at every level. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

What Advice Would You Share at a Commencement Address?

Some of you earn the privilege of giving commencement addresses. What wisdom, emotion, and humor shines from your palette? 

(Get engaged.)

Congratulations Class of 2019. No more books, no new loans; no more Game of Thrones. 

Mister Rogers tells us to "look for the helpers." I'm here for you. Awaken daily to be there for others. Take out your phones and start recording. (Pause.) And now you've got a way to pretend you're listening while surfing 

You need a job. Be the person they want on the team. Start with a strong handshake. Sit up straight. Hold eye contact. Look the part. Lose the blue hair, nose rings, and exposed tattoos. Flip flops are not shoes. Don't sell a stream of "yeah", "you know", and "like." Ya know?

(Keep the story moving.) 

Do your homework. Know the team and your role. Study your professional playbook. So much for "no more books." Teacher, nurse, lawyer, shooting guard. You will always have homework. 

You will make mistakes. Persist. Starbucks trains their employees in LATTE. The letters stand for:

Listen to the customer.
Acknowledge the mistake.
Thank the customer for bringing it to your attention.
Take care of the problem.
Explain the problem to your coworkers so it doesn't keep happening. 

Anticipate the unexpected. You'll hear questions about your goals, your dreams, and your plans to climb those hills. Share examples of your success and be ready to explain a failure and how you kept moving forward. Failure is not final

(Tell a compelling narrative.) 

Engage your interviewer. Remember the acronym SUCCESS*. Develop a conversation which has depth: 


Julius Caesar wrote a letter to the Roman Senate in 47 B.C. "Veni, vidi, vici." "I came, I saw, I conquered." Know that success only crosses the terrain of hard work. "The magic is in the work."

(Deploy humor strategically.)  

I was driving in the country and saw a sign, "TALKING DOG $25". I stopped and asked to see him. "Tell me your story." The dog answered, "When I was a puppy, people learned I could talk. The CIA trained me and sent me on missions around the world. I could listen to any conversation. But I got old and they sent me back here."

"That's incredible. Why are you selling him so cheap?"

"He's such a liar; he never did any of that stuff." 

Whether you plan to be a unicorn or a talking dog, be authentic. As Kafka wrote, "everyone is necessarily the hero of their own imagination." Be the real deal

(Ask insightful questions.) 

President John Kennedy said in his 1961 Inaugural address, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." As you leave today, how you will make a difference for your teams...your family, your workplace, your community? 

Many of you made it here today because family, teachers, and mentors intervened along the way. Appreciate them. Ask yourself, "how will I improve today?"

(Network, network, network.)

How can we be terrific and yet get along? Remember the legendary Lego movie, 

Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you're part of a team
Everything is awesome, when you're living out a dream. 

Add value to the team and get value from being part of the team. Work for the team not on the team. Keep the success of the team your daily priority. It's more likely you'll create disruption as part of the team than on your own.The main thing is the main thing. 


"Brevity is the soul of wit." You won't remember much of this speech, much less who gave it. If you remember two things, be your best self and share something great every day. Congratulations! 

Lagniappe: Spread options with off ball and ball screens.

Lagniappe 2: Free throw attack? 
Lagniappe 3: Greatness and change. 

*The SUCCESS acronym comes from the Heath Brothers' Made to Stick

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Basketball: Eye Test

"Coaches see everything." I don't. And our vision filters through a personal lens distorting reality.

See more. Expand our sight with a panoply of tools - experienced assistants, young 'relatable' assistants, film, reading, analytics, after action review (AAR), mentors, and the Personal Board of Directors. 

And perception is non-linear. We rely on inputs from emotional libraries, mental models, and real-time working memory (focus). But distractions (thoughts, earbuds, cellphones) overtake us. That's literally how pedestrians walk into traffic. Diversions abound and with limited working memory (focus), catastrophes happen. Just using a cellphone when driving creates a hazard approximating drunk driving. "Texting and driving at 55 miles per hour is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with eyes closed." We will all know someone who died from distracted driving. 

And you know of inattention effects, where focus on one action causes us to miss another...the gorilla walking through basketball practice. 

We suffer the Rashomon Effect, flawed interpretation of inputs with perception-dependent reality. We don't always see our teams or ourselves accurately. Finding the truth takes openness, real work, and the will to do so. 

We can't always trust what we see. We mistake people and events. Eyewitness testimony fails. 3 of 4 DNA exonerations involve mistaken identification. And recall the scene from My Cousin Vinnie where the eyewitness who saw the boys had her already poor vision obscured? 

Film study helps us see who lost containment, who didn't see open players, turnovers and root causes, help and rotation issues. 

Further complicating our vision is "resulting" or interpreting play strictly by outcomes. Don't neglect how the game was played or the influence of luck. We may do a lot right but run into an opponent who makes key plays or we get a few bad breaks. But blaming poor outcomes consistently on outside factors shows overdependent attribution bias

Multiple sets of eyes improve scouting and tryouts. Other coaches have called my attention to contributors I might have overlooked. 

We see with our eyes and our hearts.

Lagniappe: Legal guarding position...or not? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Basketball: Fairness

- George Orwell, Animal Farm

A woman, her husband, and her mother cross a river in a boat which capsizes. The woman is a strong swimmer and can save one. Whom does she save? 

As beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, then so does fairness. Fairness crosses the lines of sport. Basketball fairness includes communication, time, recognition, publicity, officiating, and more.

We send fairness messages in time, quantity, and tone. Players keep score. Do our best to believe in and value each. After a limited open practice, someone asked UCONN's Geno Auriemma if he didn't yell at players because of guests. He answered that he didn't yell because "players are babies." If he yells, a player says to herself, "Coach hates me." And that doesn't work for their program. 

In The Politics of Coaching, Coach Carl Pierson shared that he measures speed, strength, and vertical jump during tryouts. When a parent questioned why his daughter had not made the team, Coach Pierson pointed out that she finished at or near the bottom in each area. 

Players measure fairness during practice, repetitions, and minutes. Sometimes tracking helps coaches assure more equality. At other times, people keep score to prove inequality. Group substitutions simplify measurement but can't assure that all players will be happy with minutes, roles, and combinations. Quality and equality are not identical but not fully separate either.  

Fairness is personal. Fairness is perception. We can treat two people exactly the same and be seen as unfair. For example, if the top player and twelfth man play the same minutes, is that fair or unfair? Is it fair to the fans, the team, and the individual? 

Some communities make every effort to avoid parent coaches because of concerns about fairness, especially about minutes. But finding enough capable, committed volunteer coaches is hard. 

Fairness goes public. An area girls' coach winning multiple championships was run off in part by a parent who claimed that the coach had not publicly promoted her daughter enough. 

Fairness challenges us and our values. Fairness balances the desires of the one with the needs of the many. Can everyone get what they want or what they need? Who benefits the most from the most repetitions, the best players or the willing needy? 

Fairness fails with unequal discipline. I've told the girls, that when the star football players get caught with some infractions, they were historically treated more leniently than girls playing other sports. 

Fairness withstands transparency. Are we objective and do we have agendas? We can be objective (share verifiable facts) and still have agendas. We decide which facts and opinions to share and which to omit. Communication informs and seeks to give or get something from the other actors on life's stage.  

Throughout sports, players (high draft picks, "bonus babies", or relatives of management) get more opportunities to rise and to fail. 


This former Red Sox player had tastes of five seasons in MLB. He never hit .200 with more than ten at bats in a season and a career negative WAR (wins above replacement). Let's just say he was connected. 

Few officials approach a game intending to be unfair. But there are venues that are especially hard to win at. An NCAA D1 basketball official told me that you will be disinvited to return to referee at a school in northern New York if you are impartial. 

Nobody is perfectly fair but most coaches try. The MomsTeam blog informs, "One way to spot a good youth sports coach is that he teaches, models, and demands respectful behavior, fairness and good sportsmanship." In his letter to players, John Wooden wrote, "You may feel, at times, that I have double standards as I certainly will not treat you all the same...I know I will not be right in all my decisions, but I will attempt to be  both right and fair." 

Fairness, we know it when we see it. 


Monday, May 20, 2019

Basketball: What Does UNDERRATED Mean?

"She's underrated." Explain that. Humans label. We see uniquely - size, athleticism, skill, knowledge, communication, emotion, and especially our interactions. 

One person's underrated is another's overrated. Circumstances and tribe (e.g. politics, wealth, religion or lack thereof) influence us. And we're limited by our "implicit bias." 

We could guess this person has issues (note the background) but we don't a priori know without details. 

He looks like a nice enough guy. Right? If he's underrated, it's only because we don't know with certainty how many deaths he's responsible for (Ted Bundy, over 30). 

What properties cause us to mischaracterize basketball players or coaches? 

Here are the top 25 scorers in NBA history. 

We're biased...such as recency bias (latest performances), confirmation bias (we read what we believe), social proof ("everybody knows that") and more. Who are the most underrated and overrated players on the list? As a group we'd differ, but probably with clusters around a few names. Are we valuing the 'total recall' of the player or just their scoring? 

We'd need a hierarchy of values. I haven't met so many NBA players. I'd say the nicest ones I've met are Henry Finkel and Doug Collins. But my sample size and degree of contact are very small. Confidence level in my beliefs should be small. If someone is our friend or played on our local team, we have endowment bias. Whether someone treated us well shouldn't factor into ratings. Ted Williams allegedly didn't win an MVP because a writer left him off his ballot. 

To be "underrated" implies a certain EXPECTATION and performance exceeding expectations. Overrated reflects performance (probably recently) failing expectations. 

We benefit from domain-specific experience and expertise. Lacking either, we struggle to build "valid baselines." Asking me about NASCAR drivers is worthless. 

Accurate ratings need appropriate comparisons. When I was inducted into the inaugural class of my high school Alumni Hall of Fame, I commented that I benefited from lack of comparison. What I accomplished paled in comparison with subsequent classes, including my sister's. That is not false modesty. She was a Fortune 500 CEO. Another subsequent class member was US Senator Scott Brown. 

In The Smart Take from the Strong, Pete Carril asks, "who's your favorite general?" Do we know enough about generals to have an opinion? 

General McArthur's speech at West Point is unforgettable and colors my judgment. Grant's Civil War achievements surpassed those during much of his life. General William Tecumseh Sherman eschewed great battles to win great gains. And my favorite, General Alexander Suvorov, overcame a sickly childhood to become the General Who Never Lost. "What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle."

We need clear definitions. If a player or coach comes with minimal expectations, then they can be underrated simply by jumping a low bar. Some coaches set low expectations with the intent of surpassing them. Simply beating the bare minimum doesn't constitute underrated for me

Do we need consensus? If a 'majority' of observers find a player or coach underrated is that enough? 

Great players can be underrated to us. I thought Nate Archibald was underrated. That doesn't make me right. 

More ordinary players can be underrated for a time. Performance varies. Mark Belanger was an elite shortstop with a .228 career average, but somehow hit .287 in 1969. 

Underrated is an opinion not a condition. Underrating or overrating, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. 

Lagniappe: Brief 2-3 zone offense course from Radius Athletics 
Lagniappe 2: How much mustard is enough? 

Screen capture from MasterClass on Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas BBQ

Grillmaster Aaron Franklin uses a light 'slather' of mustard on his pork ribs...enough to make them 'tacky'. He then applies a simple rub of two parts pepper, one part Kosher salt, and a little paprika for color. 

Coaching young players, I emphasize the meat not the mustard. A bunch of "And 1" dribbling that doesn't attack the basket or get separation is just 'extra mustard' to me. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Basketball: Lessons Learned from Legends

"The difference between who we are today and whom we become in five years are the people we meet and the books we read." - Anonymous 

If we wrote our younger selves, what would we say? Would we get conventional wisdom, old saws, or new age advice? What enduring lessons would we share? 

Establish high standards of performance. Bill Walsh's The Score Takes Care of Itself clarifies Walsh's standards, which extended to everyone from receptionists, to landscapers, and to his coaching staff and himself. Mike Lombardi expands this in Gridiron Genius

  • Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement.
  • Demonstrate respect for each person in the organization.
  • Be deeply committed to learning and teaching.
  • Be fair.
  • Demonstrate character.
  • Honor the direct connection between details and improvement; relentlessly seek the latter.
  • Show self-control, especially under pressure.
  • Demonstrate and prize loyalty.
  • Use positive language and have a positive attitude.
  • Take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort.
  • Be willing to go the extra distance for the organization.
  • Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation.
  • Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive.
  • Seek poise in myself and those I lead.
  • Put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own.
  • Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high.
  • Make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.

  • "Thanks is the cheapest form of compensation." - Robert Townshend, Up the Organization, 1970. 

    Gratitude adds value. Getting and sharing gratitude fills endows happiness. Everyone wants and likes to be appreciated. Dean Smith practiced inclusive gratitude to players. Gratitude marked programs of Don Meyer and Shaka Smart.

    But, needing credit and adulation undermines teams. 

    "Do more of what works and less of what doesn't." - Anonymous

    Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code notes, "the difference between good writers and bad writers is that good writers know when they're bad." Self-reflection defines us. Good coaches change when it's not working. Kevin Eastman uses four steps, "do it harder, do it better, change personnel, and "#$%& it ain't working."  

    Nick Saban asks, "Are you spending time or investing it?" We say that many ways, "the magic is in the work" or "chop wood, carry water." Hard work backstops good process. Steve Kerr gathered ideas and developed his playbook over years before leaping into coaching. Expecting good outcomes from poor process is delusional

    "Invert, always invert." Inversion stands near the top of mental models. Mathematician Carl Jacobi reminds us to consider a range of possible outcomes. Smile at Seinfeld's "Opposite George" episode. Use premortem analysis to explore how projects can fail. 

    Outcomes are blended. Results flow from more than skill or choice. The continuum of luck or chance contributes. How can we know? We can intentionally lose an activity where skill is paramount, like chess. 

    Michael Mauboussin writes, "Separating skill and luck encourages better thinking about outcomes and allows for sharply improved decision making." He continues, "The best way to ensure satisfactory long-term results is to constantly improve skill, which often means enhancing a process. Gaining skill requires deliberate practice, which has a very specific meaning: it includes actions designed to improve performance, has repeatable tasks, incorporates high-quality feedback, and is not much fun." 

    Avoid big mistakes. Warren Buffett's partner, Charlie Munger says, “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” That begins with work but also by knowing your Circle of Competence. The current popular version is "stay in your lane." Don't beat ourselves by losing focus.  

    "Study your mentor's mentors." - Usher

    My coach's mentors included Dean Smith and John Wooden. They shared a wealth of wisdom. Smith made it personal. Phil Ford said, “he got a coach for four years and a friend for life.” Wooden reminds us to "make every day your masterpiece." 

    Be positive. Optimism isn't easy, just helpful. Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry have optimism as part of their Performing Under Pressure COTE (confidence, optimism, tenacity, enthusiasm) model. Obviously, results won't always go our way. 

    Replace "I can't" or "I'll try" with "I will."

    Optimism trends with better life expectancy. "In fact, the top quartile of optimists had almost a 30 percent lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analyzed in the study when compared with the least optimistic women (the bottom quartile) in the study."

    Coach Randy Sherman reminds us that optimism has limits and optimism per se won't turn around losing programs. Optimism and an open mind pair well. 

    Edit our lives by finding sustainable principles, "sharing something great" while remaining open to better discoveries. 

    Lagniappe: Another SLOB, a Cavaliers Horns play into a wing ball screen. 

    Saturday, May 18, 2019

    Basketball: Practice Activities That Kids Love

    I love practice. Players love certain games, drills, or actions, often competitive ones. You all know the game Knockout, so I won't go there. 

    1. Frito-Lay(up)

    Better with multiple baskets. Each "team" starts on the baseline. The first player flips the ball to the free throw line, catches (back to basket), reverse pivots and attacks the basket for a layup (1 point if scored). They rebound, dribble to the elbow and shoot (another 1 point). They pass to the next player in line who repeats. Game to 21. Switch sides for second round. The drill emphasizes reverse pivoting, one dribble attack, and elbow jumpers. 

    2. Ultimate. 

    Ultimate is 5 on 5 no dribble with the goal to pass the ball into the opponent's endzone for a point. You can modify to allow bounce passes or scoring. The hitch? When the ball hits the ground, it's turned over and live for the opponent to advance the ball. It emphasizes good cutting, catching, and accurate passing. 

    3. Celtics 11. Fast-paced competitive shooting. 

    4. Specials (O-D-O = offense, defense, offense) three possession games

    "Specials" informs 'scrimmaging' started via free throw, BOB, or SLOB. It practices offense, defense, special situations, and is played with full court man-to-man pressure defense. The coach chooses how to start each three possession game. I've put up a couple of our SLOB actions.