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Monday, December 31, 2018

Basketball: Pick-and-Roll via Coach Nick

"Good artists borrow; great artists steal." - Picasso

Coach Nick Hauselman operates BBallBreakdown, reviewing NBA pick-and-roll artistry. Let's steal from Nick's knacks. We know the basics and more - the over, under, and through the screen to Grandmother's House (the rim) we go. 

The ballhandler needs a variety of finishes from inside, mid-range, and outside...including floaters. At 1:46, we see the DHO into secondary PnR for a lob. 

At 2:28, DeRozan shows how to finish from the left hand side with his right hand while protecting the ball. He follows with an analysis of LaMarcus Aldridge and his midrange magic. 

At 4:40 Conley and Gasol show 'classic' PnR actions...and at 5:22, they illustrate how Gasol gets into the ball screen off the screen away. 

There's been talk of how accepting and welcoming Dame Lillard was to Nurkic and Coach Nick's video bears that out. 

What you see isn't always what you get. Here are the NBA leaders in points per possession for pick-and-roll ball handler.

As for high utilization "roll men" Gobert, Ibaka, Towns, Nurkic, Allen, and Sabonis stand out. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Basketball: Highlights from Recent Blogs

"Real confidence - that is, not a mask of confidence, or phone bravado, or worst of all, misplaced confidence, but a true sense of one's own skills and character - arises not from ego, but from humility". - Leading Matters, John Hennessy

Unless we're Einstein, we always find somewhat smarter, wiser, more accomplished. Which argues for reading and study. I share recent highlights from my basketball journey, including this blog.  

Asymmetric informationAsymmetric information is common in decision making. Do you buy this used car? Does the insurance company have relevant information about the beneficiary's health? What price  to pay for a commodity (e.g. watch, designer bag) that might be a knockoff? 

How about basketball? 

When evaluating or recruiting a player, do you know their character, health, habits (work ethic), and deal-breakers (e.g. substance abuse)?

Be in the moment"Play with full force." Be fully engaged. In soccer, they call it "sticking your nose in". 

There are no 50-50 balls. A rebound is not a tie-ball. Secure possession, protect the ball, and advance it (to another player when necessary). 

Steal this play

Courtesy of Steve Kerr. 

Find hard to defend actionsI'm always looking for new or recycled, hard to defend actions. I know you are. Recently, I saw these in a high school scrimmage. 

Hard-to-defend actions (e.g. pick-and-roll), well-executed off-ball screens, screen-the-screener, and backdoor cuts against overplay never become unfashionable. 

Personal experience guarantees nothingYoung adult literature author R.L. Stine says that our experience, memory, and imagination craft our ideas. Our experiences shape us, for better or worse. But Pete Newell cautioned that attempts to copy your play from your previous coach usually ends up being a "poor reproduction of the original." 

Conflict is inevitableI presume the Prime Directive. Every parent wants what is best for their child. Don Meyer said, "a parent wants their child to be All-State rather than their team to win a state championship." Can we fault parents for wanting what's best for their child? 

This imposes a natural conflict between coach (what is best for the team?) and parents (what is best for our child?). 

We're all flawedWe might succeed anyway. Dennis Rodman helped win five NBA titles and etched a Hall of Fame career. He also was charged with spousal misdemeanor for striking a girlfriend, tax evasion, failure to pay child and spousal support, and driving while intoxicated and without a valid license. 

Clock, crucible, contractResearch sources material for Dan Brown's three C's - clock, crucible, contract. Our big picture clock informs our legacy. Do people remember us as innovator, teacher, mentor, friend, schmuck? Intermediate-term time uses urgency to develop our players for the next level (whichever that is). A game management clock asks whether our teams and players understand using type to shorten or lengthen games, using pace as ally. And the shortest version of time defines situation, doing the right things at the right time - the end of clock, quarters, and games. Too many good players corrupt the game by abusing time. And ironically, how our players spend seconds and situations informs our legacy

Behavior counts. "Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." Princeton coach Pete Carril said, "I don't recruit players who are nasty to their parents. I look for players who realize the world doesn't revolve around them." It even matters in the NBA, where Gregg Popovich says, "get over yourself." Be engaged on the bench; support your teammates. 

Play without the ball. Fifty percent of the game is defense. On offense, each person will have the ball twenty percent (on average, less). That means NINETY percent of the game, you play without the ball. Are you standing or moving? Are you spacing or corrupting space? Are you helping your teammates by getting open, creating openings for them (e.g. screening, emptying)?

Delete what doesn't work"You're not paying for all of the words that the author put on the page; you're paying for all of the words the author deleted...the author gave what works room to breathe."- Dan Brown

Who are we? From a Chris Oliver podcast with Liam Flynn "How would another coach describe your team?" What are your core values? 

Basketball at high levels is like chess...more skill, less luck. 

Rollers matterBrad Stevens, "Robert Williams and other elite rollers drag defenders from the perimeter and set up kickouts for threes." (See Clint Capela)

Know thyselfWhere does the team want to scoreIs the team a 'transition first' team, running at all cost? Are they ground and pound with an inside game? Are they mad bombers looking to take the first three that shows? Do they space the floor, screen, use combinations? Are they motion-oriented? Do they even have an identity? We want to be a space, cut, and pass team with a secondary focus on the screen game (see below). As in chess, understand the power of the double attack. 

Simple worked for the Pistons against the Celtics

Kelbick knows"Do you practice or think about where your skills fit in game situations?"

Take better shots"Just because you can doesn't mean you should." - Brian Scalabrine


Be good at what we do a lot.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Basketball: Christmas Break, Individual Skills Workout

"Excellence is accomplished through deliberate actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, made into habits, compounded together, added up over time." - Anson Dorrance, The Vision of a Champion
When extra practice presents itself, players have opportunity, not obligation, to polish their craft. So I drafted a template for that, presuming low availability. The ideal is having at least a shooter and a rebounder (or defender) as the situation requires. 

Our center has gifts including length and athleticism. But her defining quality is relentlessness, will to show up and push through. My vision sees an "inside 2" who succeeds from all three levels (post-up, midrange, perimeter), can take you off the dribble, rebound, and demands "draw 2" attention from the opening tap. I can't know for sure whether she'll be able to defend college 2s.  

I can envision her playing in the Ivies if she and her family want an elite education and a basketball experience.  

She's rapidly getting to the point where she needs higher level instruction than I can provide. I can't see the future, but I know somebody's going to get a heck of a student, a competitor, a leader, a basketball player.  

Friday, December 28, 2018

Basketball: 3 on 3 Shell

During Christmas vacation, we have fewer players (vacations, family commitments, illness). And yet that provides more repetitions and some 'advanced learning' time. 

We play "live shell" most practices and 3-on-3 shell out of spread formation teaches offense and defense. Young players benefit from learning to create. 


More detail 

Simple cut "away" 

Backscreen. Remind 4 that screener is the second cutter. 

Spain pick-and-roll (screen the roller)


Coach Wooden's EDIRRRRR... explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition x 5

Lagniappe 2: beautiful, "multiple actions" from Coach Liam Flynn

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Basketball: How Can We Simplify the Game?

"Simple is hard." Verify that players understand what we want and check it...twice. 

What's the message? Explain how we play. Forget absolutes, demands, mandates, goals, values, standards. Stick to basics. Symmetry. What we want offensively we want to prevent defensively. 

Get good shots. How? 

-Sprint, don't run. Basketball is a sprinting game.
-Space the floor. Don't get magnetized to the ball. 
-Cut and pass. Players and ball move. 
-Screen (especially against pressure defense). 
-Take OUR shots - layups, open mid-range, free throws
-Rebounders get second shots. 

Allow one bad shot. How?

-Get back to stop transition points. 

-Shrink the floor by loading to the ball. 
-Pressure the ball; take away give-and-go and back cuts. 
-Know how WE defend screens. 
-Deny the shots they want. No layups, no middle, challenge shots without fouling.
-Clean the defensive boards.
-Talk (ELO - early, loud, often)

If we do everything above, we still have to make shots. Tons of talk won't make shots. Practice volume shooting with pressure constraints of defense, time, competition)

Shooting drills (over a 1000 visits to this link): 

Spurs Shooting

Score "OSCAR MIKE" (On the move)...offense, defense, constraints (two dribbles)

Lagniappe: via Radius Athletics. Use deception.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Basketball: Fast Five Ways to Improve Offensively Today

"This is the great challenge: to maintain passion for the everyday routine and the endlessly repeated act, to derive deep gratification from the is not about convenience and it's not about shortcuts." - Chef Thomas Keller, introduction to The French Laundry Cookbook

Take nothing for granted. Be explicit in expectations. Battles are lost when troops misunderstand Commander's Intent. "The key to successful Commander’s/CEO Intent is trained, confident, and engaged military personnel/employees." 

You want to be a better offensive player. It's not rocket science; I know because my wife IS a rocket scientist. Improve your mental approach, technique, and effort. Understand what coaches want - good decisions, mistake-free play, teamwork. 

1. Take better shots. Every player should know what makes a good shot for herself and for her teammates. Good players have accountable shot selection. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." - Brian Scalabrine

2. Cut hard. Be hard to guard. Change direction and change pace. And off the ball, remember "the screener is the second cutter." 

3. "Set up your cut." This is one of Jay Bilas' thirty-one Toughness mandates. "The toughest players make hard cuts, and set up their cuts. Basketball is about deception. Take your defender one way, and then plant the foot opposite of the direction you want to go and cut hard." 

4. Wait for screens. Don Meyer taught players to say, "wait, wait, wait." And while you're waiting, plan your read...curl, back cut, or bump (flare), understanding the defender defines your next action. 

5. Holster the dribble. Drive to score, draw two and pass, get a better passing angle. Forget showcase dribbling and east-west dribbling. 

Focus and attention to detail define success. 

Lagniappe: Chris Oliver @BBallImmersion shares great education every day on Twitter. 
Lagniappe 2: Double down with another Oliver gem. 

The versatile Flex offense shows off a SLOB. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Basketball: Don Kelbick Clinical Pearls

"There are no extraordinary players. There are ordinary players that do one or two things extraordinarily well." - Jerry West

Many great trainers like Don Kelbick share the game. One article can't get a bite of his knowledge or contributions to the game. A core Kelbick belief is to focus on your strengths. But I share other nuggets of his wisdom:

1. "In a game situation, sometimes slumps are created not by flaws in shooting but by shot selection."

2. "To become a better 3-point shooter...practice a lot...close to the basket (12 feet)...take the same shot every time." 

3. "Have a routine that you use every time to take a foul shot."

4. "There is a difference between dribbling and ball handling. Ball handling implies effectiveness."

5. "Do you practice or think about where your skills fit in game situations?"

6. "Stretch your comfort level and don't worry about losing the ball (in practice)."

7. "Visualize yourself playing well."

8. "Most players...don't take the time to understand what is important to the coach.

9. "Getting your shot off quicker depends on what you do before you get into your shot."

10."Catch and shoot the ball when you are open; move the ball when you are not."

11."While shooting, your only thought should be, "Make the shot.""

12."Defenses are make you do things you are not good at."

13."Shrink the court." Don't give your defensive assignment room to operate. 

14."Don't turn your back to the defense." 

15.Unselfishness begets unselfishness.

16.There's a difference between practicing and playing. Developing individual skills demands a commitment to practice. 

17."Explosiveness can't be developed without conditioning and strength."

18.You can't weight train well until your body is prepared (puberty).

19."Lift until faulty form, not exhaustion."


Kelbick goes 'old school' teaching hook shots. 

Lagniappe 2:

Players. Separation is skill. Ask yourself:
1. Do I understand what it takes to separate? 
2. Do I read the defender's eyes, hands, feet, actions? 
3. Do I work off the ball every possession? 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Basketball: Player Evaluation, The Matrix or The Red Pill?

“The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” - Socrates

Do you take the blue pill (the matrix) or seek underlying reality? "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more." To what extent do we seek the truth?

We have biases viewing the world, ourselves, the game, and players. What if we create a basketball 'matrix'? Subconsciously we do precisely that. We offer value to both measurable and intangible qualities and recognize "dynamic scoring" of variables. 

We could assign a "success" value to each hexagon - youth, high school, college, and professional or simply "onion skin" subdivide at your level (reserve, starter, all-star, Hall of Fame).

For argument's sake, set a theoretical construct of a player, impossible to measure fully. Establish "above the line" qualities (size, athleticism, skill) and "intangibles" of toughness, resilience, and basketball IQ. Of course, many of the qualities are dynamic, while size is not. The "perfect player" extends to the edges in each dimension. 

I've created an "imaginary" player above with greater intangibles than measurables. We can assign a player (or scout) value to create an image and then "compare" the player to another. 

We assign values for each player, but it's limited. 
  • Where does Len Bias land, erased by bad decisions? 
  • How do we account for interobserver variation? One GM, coach, scout loves a player and another is lukewarm. Someone always has the final say. 
  • How do we measure character? 
  • What about outliers?  Players (e.g. Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Marcus Smart) seem greater than the sum of their parts. 
  • Are the warts worth it? Another player is spectacular but moody, often injured, or perceived selfish.
  • Do we need a special category for Dennis Rodman?
  • How do we account for potential
  • Does coachability deserve its own character?  

Bill Belichick and Mike Lombardi developed a twenty-four category spreadsheet that evaluates every player under consideration. I'd enjoy being a fly on that wall. 

Lagniappe: On the bookshelf, Leading Matters. Separate leaders from managers and pretenders


Strive to become better leaders every day and know that leaders make leaders. Our players deserve that. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Basketball: My Favorite Short Basketball Videos

What makes a short video great? Education and/or emotion help.

Red Auerbach's Celtics share the best two-minute pick-and-roll lesson. 

Bryce Drew, forever is a long time. 

Phil Ford ran the Four Corners as delay game or standalone offense. 

Texas A&M. "It's not over until it's over."

Bill Walton "never tired of doing the little things that make a player great." Footwork. 

"If we allow defense to make a mistake, they will." 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver (@BBallImmersion)
Iverson cut-like action as deception for back screen

Lagniappe 2. Make a difference. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Basketball: Deconstructing Victory - Bets, Skill, and Luck

"Love your losses" and learn from mistakes. We constantly bet. We bet that eating a donut now won't cost us obesity and diabetes later. We bet that studying today improves our grade, educational opportunity, and success later. We bet that buying an expensive widget today won't impair our retirement tomorrow. We bet that wearing a seat belt might save our life. We bet that a vote for candidate X won't result in catastrophe. 

I'm reading an outstanding book, Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, that dissects results in process. Duke is a former World Series of Poker champion. Here are a few quotes:

"We have the opportunity to learn from the way the future unfolds to improve our beliefs and decisions going forward. The more evidence we get from experience, the less uncertainty."

"Self-serving bias has immediate and obvious consequences for our ability to learn from experience.* Blaming the bulk of our bad outcomes on luck means we miss opportunities to examine our decisions to see where we can do better.

"As artist and writer Jean Cocteau said, “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”" (That's our equivalent to the saying, "we know how God feels about money. Look whom he gives it to.")

Stay with me. Duke helps us understand the nuances among skill and luck in defining results. Duke profiles the archetypical poker champion, Hall of Famer, Phil Ivey. After his wins, he meticulously reviews his game with others, searching for flaws, remediable decisions. Replicate or remedy

Last weekend, we played a pedestrian middle school girls' basketball game, winning 43-36. Amidst the "brilliant coaching" (sarcasm) what factors decided the outcome?

How did skill and luck intersect? We devote the majority of practice to fundamentals, especially offense (layups, shooting, free throws). I doubt we spend more than twenty percent on defense. I believe that if we don't emphasize offense, everyone will outscore us. That's not necessarily true. Results follow a continuum of skill and luck and it's hard to assign proportions. See the LEARNING LOOP above from Duke's book. My core belief is that offensive efficiency outweighs defense (if defense is adequate). 

What skill deficiencies cost us? 

1. We foul relentlessly. Two of my top players got three fouls in the first eight minutes (that's not easy when most are playing 3-4 minute stretches interspersed with substitution). It also informs understanding how to play to the officiating and whether to remove players during the first half with two fouls. Coaching matters only as it translates to our teams. 

2. We couldn't contain the ball off the dribble. That exposes poor defensive preparation (I own that) and opponent skill (give them credit). 

3. Guard your yard. Cover your player. Individual breakdowns allowed easy baskets (obviously that girl was invisible to us). Individual defenders haven't embraced the shut-down challenge (I own that). 

4. During the first five minutes, we missed at least eight layups. We can't practice layups and free throws enough. (Self-serving bias: we have three hours of practice a week. I've talked with coaches who have as much as twelve...hard to believe.)

What luck saved us? 

1. Our opponents shot free throws poorly. I doubt they made twenty percent. 

2. Key players didn't foul out. Playing with fouls is a learned skill. But our opponent didn't attack them either. 

Key point: winners study flaws in their knowledge, preparation, and execution. Success is a choice. 


Containing the ball: Footwork, balance, pressure

Friday, December 21, 2018

Basketball: Getting Extra Possessions

"Money is the mother's milk of politics." Extra possessions are the mother's milk of basketball

Possession and possessions informs key principles. Success relates to our use of this possession and our ability to get possessions. 

"What do you mean extra possessions?" After scoring, possession changes. Let's find ways to get extra possessions, starting with the less obvious. 

1. Increase pace. Only Phoenix and Cleveland have fewer possessions per NBA game in 2018. Defensive intensity (including pressing), transition, and identifying open shots earlier during possession increase pace. 

If you increase pace and offensive efficiency (without losing defensive metrics), you get...Milwaukee. Milwaukee increased its effective field goal percentage from 53.3% to 55.3% and takes almost seven more shots per game. 

That translates to about four more points per 100 possessions for the Bucks. 

And the Bucks have reduced their points allowed per possession from 1.067 to 1.022! So they score more and allow fewer points per possession. 

2. Hack-a-Shaq. The NBA implemented rules to limit strategic fouling but it's still a viable strategy outside those conditions. Knowing your opponent helps with strategic fouling. 

Every NBA coach knows the worst free throw shooters. But only three players 'average' less than 1.1 points per two free throws. 


3. Held balls. In youth basketball, held balls can account for significant possessions. Teaching players how not to get tied up saves possessions and having players create tie balls adds possessions (without fouling). 

4. Unofficiating. Some coaches teach players to automatically take possession after the ball goes out of bounds. Players point the direction to "help" the officials. It's up to the officials to correct the possession. 

5. Turnovers and violations. Forcing turnovers and violations usually relates to better ball pressure and better off-ball denial. We were taught to yell "pinch" when the ballhandler lost the dribble with automatic denial for other defenders. 

6. Taking charges. We take few charges, a great play that changes possession and adds a foul to an opponent. 

7. Rebounding. Defensive rebounds finish possessions and offensive boards offer second chance points. I've read that an offensive rebound has a fifty percent point of scoring and a second offensive rebound increases that to nearly eighty. That's less believable for youth basketball. 

Don't forget the role of personnel. Deploy superior rebounders, a pressure team, and a come-from-behind squad when extra possessions are especially needed. Going with "offense-defense" solutions occasionally is a difference maker. 

Finally, remember your timeouts. I like to save three (of five) for the final four minutes, but sometimes they're necessary to stop runs, give rest, make substitutions, or setup an ATO play. There's no Holy Grail for time out use. But they make lousy Christmas presents. 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver @BBallImmersion 

"Great offense means multiple actions." 
Continuing a recent theme, watch double downscreens into a dribble handoff set up a weakside backdoor cut. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Basketball: Proven Mental Toughness Applications

Everyone says, "you need mental toughness." What does that mean? How do you get it? Does playing better improve your toughness or vice versa?

Garry Kasparov considers his greatest achievement surviving from game 27 to game 48 of his 1984 world championship chess series against Anatoly Karpov. He played on the ropes for months with the series abandoned with Karpov leading 5-3 with 40 draws. 

"Compete against your own excellence."

Kasparov says, "mostly I lost games because I made terrible mistakes." He said that he had to recover because he felt, almost, a physical pain. 

He discussed his preparation including his ability to sleep. Sleep is critical because our brain cells shrink and toxins are cleared. He was also the fittest player of his generation (he ran, swam, and could do over a hundred pushups). 

He retired from the game when he felt he could no longer make a difference. 

Researchers at the University of Miami compared mindfulness training (e.g. breathing exercises and body scans) to relaxation training (imagery, relaxation training, relaxing music) and found mindfulness training superior on standardized attention testing. NBA players and employees receive free access to the mindfulness app Headspace. 

"Mindfulness is for pansies." That includes Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, and Zach LaVine. Or Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. 

What specific, practical applications are available? 

Attend to process over outcome. Develop a consistent routine
Mental toughness correlates with physical endurance. Exercise. 
Have a mindfulness routine. UCLA has free, guided meditation here. 
Learn more effectively through spaced repetition (multiple training periods)
Use short breaks (Pomodoro technique), e.g. 25 minutes training, 5 minute breaks. 
Self-test. Self-testing reinforces progress. 

"Performance science" applies proven methods to enhance outcomes. We either get on the train or get left behind. Performance tracks combined mindset and preparation. 

Lagniappe: What did our players find hard to defend at practice last night? 

Emptying the ball side and running staggered off ball screens created pace and space that challenged our defenders.