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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Basketball: Surviving "The Lessons of History"

"History may not repeat but it rhymes." We are here to learn and to teach. 

Basketball makes us think; think better. The game teaches life. It teaches commitment, discipline, effort, humility, resilience, sacrifice, teamwork. Love and learn from our losses. Does a lesson inspire our destiny? 

History teaches perspective. Will and Ariel Durant wrote The Lessons of History to share that wisdom. "Only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.

Chapter 3 informs the path linking biology and history. Competition, selection, and reproduction define the winners. "We cooperate in our group - our family, community, club, church, party, "race," or nation - in order to strengthen our group in competition with other groups. Competing groups have the qualities of competing individuals - acquisitiveness, pugnacity, partisanship, pride." 

How do we select members for our tribes? Find competitors, those who "bring the fight" to the floor. Lions gather in a pride not a humility. We urge our team to show pride, to stand together. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, speaks for competition. She argues that effort pays twice, building skill and turning skill into results. 

Nature has no feelings, tolerating little error. Nature selects winners from the survivors. 

Many consider Dan Osman the greatest speed climber ever. Extreme risk produces exceptional resultsDan Osman is dead.

Nature chooses winners from large litters. Training a small group of players reduces the chances of finding outliers in terms of both talent and effort. Who will find the pick of the litter among underclassmen and foreign NBA draft entries? Teams will find fewer 'stars' and more 'litter'. 


Attack the middle of the zone to get multiple options. The entry pass moves x3 and the middle attack creates an inside 3 on 2. This BOB 'steals' from Tom Izzo and his Spartan "Down" zone offense. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Advice for Life and Sometimes Basketball

The average reader spends seconds on an article. Do we? "Think better" to think well. 

Find a great mindset, learning and teaching, whatever appeals to you. 

Tell great stories. Our humanity makes us narrators. Tell better stories well. Click through to get a summary of the Heath Brothers masterpiece on stories, Made to Stick

Mike Lombardi reminds us about Curly in the Three Stooges boat. The quickest answer may be the worst. Charlie Munger warns us to avoid making dumb mistakes. "It is better to be approximately right than exactly wrong.

Focus on big ideas, mental models. Farnam Street shares over a hundred mental models including inversion, sample size, the Pareto Principle, Hanlon's Razor, Black Swans, Robustness, Margin of Safety and much more. "The rule of life is to repeat what works and has been rewarded." Restated, "do more of what works and less of what doesn't." 

Drag is a force that slows us down. What's the basketball drag?  Ignore the units and focus on the concepts. Rho (the funny P) is the density of the fluid (material). 'A' is the cross-sectional area, and 'V' is velocity. Density, Area, Velocity. One year, we used the theme, Learn to Fly. We reduced our drag. 

Rho covers how dense the teaching material is, 'A' the extent (we can vary the extent, think pick-and-roll coverage), and 'V' relates to speed of play. Ordinarily, playing fast (squaring the velocity) increases drag (decreases margin of safety).  

Defensively, we want to INCREASE the opponent's drag. We can increase density (load to the ball, blitz), vary the area defended (alter the court), and speed them up (e.g. press). 

Offensively, increase their defensive drag. Spacing decreases our density, ball reversal increases the defensive area to be covered, and our ball and player movement alters our velocity. Better movement increases defensive drag. 

"Find stunning colleagues." Making great decisions consistently is hard...but making hard decisions well is great. Terrific coworkers make life better. Hire tough and work to keep valued colleagues on board. 

Focus. Munger quote, “Our main business is not to see what lies at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.” Make THIS play. 

Find great mentors. We are blessed to find one great teacher and more privileged to find a series.  

Do the work. Lombardi shares, "Belichick goes to work every single day with the same appetite and the same desire to improve and the same curiosity." We can always do "it" better. We choose how important "it" is and like-minded people.  

Reflect. Michael Useem teaches in The Leadership Moment. What went well? What went poorly? What can we do differently? What is the enduring lesson? "Expecting high performance is prerequisite to its achievement among those who work with you. Your high standards and optimistic anticipations will not guarantee a favorable outcome, but their absence will assuredly create the opposite."

False duality means separation of the one way and the other way. The Celtics and the Rockets aren't playing in the NBA Finals partly because of the false duality between the old way and the new way of thinking about and playing basketball. 

Consider the alternatives. "Invert, always invert." Another way may be better. Don't focus on my way, find a better way

Understand the power of "marginal gains." Compound our knowledge and wisdom. 

"Share something great." If we go to our grave leaving great ideas on the table or hidden in some treasure map, we've cheated a lot of people. 

Sweat the details. Our process demands both an overview (the bird's eye view) and attention to fine points. Legendary coach Pete Newell prioritized footwork, balance, and maneuvering speed. You play the whole game on your feet.

Opinions and truth aren't the same. "This is what I believe; I could be wrong." 

Ask better questions. In Pebbles of Perception, Laurence Endersen asks, "what could we do (or not) that would guarantee failure?" That revisits mathematician Carl Jacobi's mandate, "invert, always invert." 

Do a Premortem. The premortem study examines thorny issues that should keep us awake at night. Do we have the right people in the right seats doing the right tasks? 

Invest in ourselves. Am I spending time or investing it? When we read are we reading effectively? Farnam Street teaches us how to read better. Matt Haig explains, "the plot of every book ever can be boiled down to ‘someone is looking for something'."


We had a good turnout for yesterday's first offseason session. It never goes exactly as planned but gets planned exactly. Teach kids how to play not just to run plays. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Basketball: To Build Maximum Value Take the Long View

"This could be a great life." - Sam Hinkie on taking the long view In his podcast, Hinkie notes, "defense is poorly measured" and "three is more than two." He also finds, "so much of the value is about finding amazing people who can be additive in a kind of combinatorial system." Find "stunning colleagues." 

Building value for the long term  takes patience and courage. That can mean ignoring the short-term and taking heat. Others will disagree. Preparation, process, and consistency define us. 

Will and Ariel Durant say competition, selection, and reproduction link biology to history in The Lessons of History. Sport agrees. We pick our teams, compete, and grow. For that, we suffer the critics. The Durants share wisdom dating from ancient Rome, "A shallow sophistication prided itself upon its pessimism and cynicism." Did Rome have sports journalism? 

Constantly prepare because we never know when what comes next.

What backstops our search for truth? What makes peak performance? What choices and risks impact our returns? What keeps us awake at night? Selecting young players, we have small sample size (tryouts) to identify 'mispriced assets'. For me, potential is truth. Awakening that potential tests us. 

Culture nurtures growth. We can't predict the twenty-year success of twelve year-olds. But we can raise the level of every child as a person and player. Brett Ledbetter adopted philosophies from Don Meyer:
  • Not real big on goals
  • Have the best practice we could everyday
  • Become the best team we can be
  • No need to put goals that add pressure
Think about the team as a 'franchise'. Build long-term value. Constantly refine our learning and teaching. Chess champion Garry Kasparov notes, "a good tactical combination includes a few components." We must develop multiple threats that opponents will find hard to defend. 


Hat tip: Scott Peterman

Baseline out of bounds

Timing is everything. 

Double Lagniappe: Shell advantage-disadvantage drill for communication (Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry and others)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Basketball: Steph Curry Scoring at the Rim

Common themes repeat. Newell's "get more and better shots than your opponent" presumes that you can make the shots. 

Steph Curry's MasterClass includes a chapter on Scoring at the Rim. Understand where you are "in relationship to the basket and the defense." He discusses the value of taking off high (above the block)...

As x4 comes across, 1 gets advantage by taking off on the right side and finishing with the right hand from the left side of the basket to protect the ball. He stresses the importance of a variety of finishes

Wherever possible, he wants to attack between the lane lines to create more favorable angles. He says that it's a more difficult finish when forced wide by shot blockers. 

"The ball is protected...the ball, me, and my man." Anybody watching the Celtics last night saw how often the ball got stripped on basket attacks.

When possible, "use your (inside) shoulder to protect the ball from the defender." Curry had just made a face cut across the lane and received the pass from Pachulia. 

Curry shows how he uses a chair and passer to simulate coming downhill off a curl (screen) into a one dribble layup. He starts in the lane and uses his quickness to get the initial separation. 

He discusses the value of floaters, preferring a right-left into jump stop which also avoids the offensive foul (above the restricted area)...but he demonstrates one-handed and left-handed floaters (too advanced for my players). 

Unrelated video...the magic doesn't just happen. "The magic is in the work." 

Additional unrelated video 

Curry also shows a "side step floater," for example, with a left-footed takeoff into a jump stop going right into the floater. This is also an advanced skill that I won't emphasize at the youth level. 

Summer practice starts tomorrow. Consistent and versatile finishing is a point of emphasis for the summer program. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Basketball: Heroes and Athletes

"We can be heroes, just for one day." - The Wallflowers

Heroes walk among us. Heroes are real. Heroes make a difference. 

What do they look like? They are black, brown, red, white, and yellow. Nobody has the patent on good works. 

Bobby Orr was a hero to some because of this Stanley Cup winning goal. But he became a hero because of who he is. “First, he became a great teammate,’’ said Dave Silk, a member of the 1980 US Olympic “Miracle on Ice’’ gold medal team...“then he traded up and became a great humanitarian.’’

LeBron James means much more to kids than slam dunks and chasedown blocks. 

We work in a world with habits and feelings. Heroes help build better habits. Heroes champion imitation not innovation. We want to be like them. 

The primary emotions are joy, sadness, anger, and fear. Heroes help us fight through negative emotions. 

Heroes understand the value of learning. "My dad would never answer a question...he handed me a book." 

What do they say? Heroes understand how they make us feel. They lift us up. 

What do they do? Progress comes from education, opportunity, and experience. LeBron James' foundation helps provide education and opportunity. Kevin Durant's foundation seeks to further education and leadership. They aren't exceptions as many NBA stars are exceptionally giving. 

The NBA "Read to Achieve" program has been going strong for over fifteen years.

How did they make you feel? It only takes a minute to make a child feel special. 

What we do, what we say, and how we make people feel changes lives. Why not be better? 

Basketball: Simplicity and Ownership


Simplicity is hard. Take Don Meyer and Richard Feynman. Meyer defined three stages of coaching: blind enthusiasm, sophisticated complexity, and mature simplicity. Physicist Feynman taught 1) define the problem, 2) explain it, 3) research, and 4) simplify it (to show we understand).

Simplify basketball. Get easy shots and force hard ones. Separate and deny separation. Nobody simplified better than Pete Newell, "get more and better shots than your opponent." 

Structure your program...clear philosophy, culture, identity. Players must own the process. 

Do the work: Organize. Learn. Teach. Communicate. Motivate. Add value. Adopt EXTREME OWNERSHIP. But even great work has no guarantees.

Key quotes:

"The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails." (Our mission states the process - teamwork, improvement, accountability.)

"The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win." (Coach George Raveling says, "what is not learned has not been taught.")

"Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them." (Get and give feedback.)

"Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible." (Coaches coach; players play.)

"Don’t ask your leader what you should do; tell them what you are going to do."

EDIRRRRR. Explain, demonstrate, imitate, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Clarity advances our process and our team. Simplify. Add value. "Trash the trash."

Lagniappe: "Great offense is multiple actions." 

Chris Oliver shares a "Dribble At" sequence. There are even simpler ones.

4 out, 1 in with DHO, Dribble At backdoor

4 out, 1 in with "Dribble At Clear", player rotation into reverse action or shuffle cut action

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Is There Low-Hanging Basketball Fruit? (Plus Double Lagniappe)

I've posted over fifteen-hundred blog entries. Low-hanging fruit is gone. That ship has sailed.

Players and coaches see the 'easy' pickings. Where's the hard stuff? Beating pressure, applying pressure well, shooting. No magic genie grants three wishes.  

Consider free throw shooting. If we took twelve free throws a game and made six, a hard to reach fifty percent improvement would yield three points a game. Where can we find points? 

Imagine we averaged 24 turnovers (too many) and 50 shots a game, with 16 hoops (16/50~ 32%), including 1 of 6 threes and 15 of 44 twos (33 points).

Let's walk through scenarios. 

Hold possessions constant, reduce turnovers 20 percent to 19 per game to increase shots to 55 per game. Vary turnovers, threes, and twos and examine the possibilities as a function of modest gains in shooting (better skill or shot quality). 

Reducing turnovers alone increases scoring about 10 percent. The largest gains occur at intersection of turnover reduction (20%) and improved shooting (to 38%) increasing scoring about twenty percent. 3 point shooting to 30% (girls going into 7th grade) ain't happening. 

As we play better teams, we need efficient, winning possessions

Winning defensive possessions means consistent core defense...ball pressure, ball containment, contesting shots without fouling, and cleaning the defensive boards. It's how they embrace what must be done. 

Hubie Brown summarizes winning with less talent: 

1.Control the defensive boards
2.Get more shots (turnovers, offensive rebounding)
3.Get best shooters more shots
4.Shoot free throws better

Undermanned teams can't beat themselves. My mantra to players is "possession and possessions." Win this possession and get more possessions. 

At lower levels, many teams defend BOBs with zones. Chris Oliver discusses a "hedge and recover" technique used by the Cavs. 

Lagniappe Bonus: SLOB with multiple options (spitballing)

Double Diamond with multiple options

You can change that look by screening the inbounder to create other options to get 5 opportunity or an isolation for 1 by cutting 5 through and relocating 3 to the wing. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Basketball: Basketball Punishes Casual Play; Invert

"Invert, always invert." German mathematician Carl Jacobi taught thinking backwards from the end state. In Pebbles of PerceptionEndersen extends this mental model. He asks about goals, how achievement would look, what would guarantee failure, and what steps are necessary to succeed. 

Someone asked Amos Alonzo Stagg, "what do you think of your team?" He responded, "ask me in twenty years and I'll tell you." Commander's Intent informs a desired END STATE. What should the team look like? 

Define your time horizon. I have no mandate to win today or to win, period. I have cognitive dissonance about winning versus readying players to win for the next coach. Inconvenient truth. Good coaches make their teams survivable. Figure out how to train our teams to take hits and keep going. 

To earn success, study failure. Why do we give up too many points in the post? Do we have ball pressure, poor entry denial, fouls? If pressure bothers us, are we moving without the ball, dribbling too much, passing into traffic, not seeing help defenders? 

When the ball sticks, invert. Get paint touches and ball reversal. 

Allowing transition points? Invert. Do what it takes to get stops - sprinting, protecting the basket, shaping up, forcing offense to make the extra pass. 

Avoid the dreaded S WORDS soft, selfish, sloth. Invert to get intensity and focus. Basketball punishes casual play.  


Radius Athletics (@RadiusAthletics) tackles a thorny problem, early offense. Young players often struggle to find early offense because of poor spacing or standing. In the top panel, Real Madrid has excellent spacing and sets a high ball screen. This spreads the defense and often exposes the defense when the protection rotates. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Basketball: No Excuses for Kyle Maynard

Losers make excuses. We've heard them all. Attribution bias blames field conditions, officiating, fatigue, illness, injury, weather, and more.

But people overcome real adversity. Kyle Maynard (above) was born with congenital amputation, stumps for arms and legs. @KyleMaynard

"On January 15, 2012, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without assistance, by crawling all 19,340 feet in just 10 days."

Maynard's philosophy is simple, "no excuses." "I've always believed that anyone can achieve their dreams, regardless. I've always had this attitude about no excuses." 

He adds, "I had to go through failures in order to learn how to do it." 

“It’s the social skills and communications skills and self-development skills. Kids who have access to that end up excelling throughout their lifetime.”

After some wrestling losses, he vowed never to be pinned.

He first dressed himself at age sixteen...he explained that it took him thirty minutes to put on a sock. "When we start anything, it's really hard at first." Now it takes him a minute to get dressed. 

Focus on what you can do

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Basketball: Note Cards

“If you take the pain to write it down you’re more likely to remember it and use it.” - Robert Chandler

Develop a system to store and recall information. Use note cards, a commonplace book, spreadsheets, Evernote, or a personal system. But we need ways to access, recover, and sort ideas. Ideas are our currency. 

I use spreadsheets to store offensive themes, drills, practice schedules, short teaching videos, and longer concept videos. Google Drive shares simplicity and portability. 

This represents an offensive 'note card'. It distills the big menu into snackable choices. 

For example, I 'drill down' possibilities and will refine offensive teaching over the summer in both court and didactic (with film and whiteboard) sessions. Teaching fundamentals adds more value than lecture after lecture. 

In practice we'll shoot a lot and play small-sided-games and advantage-disadvantage press break. But the players love O-D-O (three possession scrimmage starting with BOB, SLOB, free throw, or ATO actions). 

If we can't explain our organization, then we're not organized. 


BOB, Hat tip: Scott Peterman

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Basketball: "Make Them a Star"

"Make them a star." The best players make everyone around them better.

Consider the mental model, inversion. A player worsens teammates by lack of effort, indifference, selfishness, silence, unwillingness to pass, bad shots, turnovers. Who wants to play with her? 

From about Jose Calderon: 

"He always made it about everybody else," DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, said. "Being a good individual to your teammates, to everyone in your work environment, your colleagues, that's definitely something I took from Jose. To have a point guard like that, who gave off that energy, that vibe and professionalism, to this day, I carry a lot of things I took from Jose with me leadership wise."

Phil Jackson reminds us, "basketball is sharing." Larry Bird elevated Hall of Famers. 

Encourage your team on the court, from the bench, in the media. Coach Kevin Sutton writes about Alan Williams' book, Teammates Matter. He shares several quotes including, “If you want to know what the head coach is all about, don’t ask the star of the team…. ask the guy that sits at the end of the bench who doesn’t get to play.  He will tell you what he’s really like.” – Tom Konchalski – Founder of HSBI

Pull teammates higher by working with them. That includes academics, cardio, weights, shooting, playing one-on-one. Become closer friends and better players. The Navy SEALs teach, "two is one and one is none." 

See the game together. Take video and analyze each other shooting. Study video individually and in groups to grow your game understanding. Film teaches form in the Information Age (image above). Celebrate unity. 

Grow our process. Reflect upon strengths and weaknesses. Collaborate with mentors and colleagues. Track our process and our results. "Are we building a program or a statue?" 

Ask better questions. Why do comparable programs succeed or fail? How does another program do more with less? What methods can I import from great players and coaches in another sport? 

Make them a star and shine in their light. 

The Celtics "Ice" the side pick-and-roll. Rozier and Horford switch and Love cuts to the block. Marcus Morris switches and Jason Tatum rotates to the weak side corner. This only works by understanding the defense and through great communication. 

Keywords: Basketball, Mental models, inversion, learning, process, questions

Monday, May 21, 2018

Grandmaster Garry Kasparov Teaches Basketball

Elite basketball and chess rock the mind. Both demand intelligence, creativity, mastery. Both set a long road to excellence. Garry Kasparov's MasterClass introduction works for both. 

Both share a rhythm of spacing and timing. Masters see possibilities within positions, setups to attack and defend. 

Let me walk you through Kasparov's introduction.  

"My teaching dynamic, direct, and aggressive." (Excellent teams mirror the coach's personality, philosophy, and experience.) 

"Fear doesn't survive on the chessboard." ("It's not who you play; it's how you play.)

"We'll talk about openings...middle game, end game...strategies and tactics." (Crisis and opportunity arise at many points.)

"Use it as a platform for future learning." (We teach life.)

"You can always find new ideas that will make you happy...make yourself more engaged in this endless process of exploration." (If the universe didn't have basketball, someone would have to design it.)

"How this experience...could help you different positions." (Basketball teaches commitment, discipline, effort, preparation, resilience, sharing, teamwork.)

"People talk all the time about one person being more talented than another..." (Talent alone is not enough)

"Hard work is a keep going, you keep fighting, you know how not to quit under pressure." 

"Only the combination of...talent...combined with the talent to work hard...create a winning combination."

"If you feel enriched, and encouraged, and inspired, I hope that I will inspire you to love the game (of chess) as much as I do." 

Lagniappe: Tough questions selected from on Self-scouting drive what we do. Better questions seek better answers. 

What is most identifiable about the way we play?

What do we devote more time to, enhancing our strengths or addressing our weaknesses?

Begin to look at the game through a “per possession” lens and ask yourself how can we win more possessions?

Are there repeated situations we can recreate in practice that would help decision making?

Does what we are thinking of adding advance our players understanding of the game? Or is it just another “play” or “offense” in the traditional sense?