Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Basketball Offense: Create the Two Front War

History reveals the difficulty of controlling two fronts. The lessons of WWII teach the problems of armies spread too thin

Defense can overload to the ball to seek advantage. 

But "two offenses," ball side and help (weak) side stress defenses by extending the territory defended. Conversely, by extending our defense, we can create pressure or weakness.

Here Al Horford gets an entry to post up and Kyrie cuts away, the 'second front' that goes undefended. 

The Spurs made penetrate and pitch an NBA staple. 

Spurs' assistant Etorre Messina teaches the Spurs attack, pass weak, and fill empty spots via "offensive shell" principles. 

Tom Thibodeau's Bulls used the high ball screen to create opposite elbow jump shots, attacking and creating away. 

Horns with double down screens can attack defenses on both sides. Versatile players (like 5 here) become a tremendous force multiplier. It's also easy to see how this action lends itself to Horns into Flex. 

4 out action with DHO and post away pressures the post defender on the downhill drive. 

Herb Welling's "special" moves the Jello around the plate before the attack comes from the weak side to the ball. 

The US Women's National Team ran DHO into a high ball screen looking to turn middle penetration into 3s on either side. The spacing is tricky. 

The Spurs made the "Hammer" famous, but others have adapted it. In this SLOB, multiple screens get the ball going to the basket, then screen-the-screener action springs the trap for the corner 3 off the Hammer. 

Simple inbound DHO creates an inside PnR or a curl or 3 pointer off the double stagger. 

The possibilities are limitless. Spread defenders and attack them relentlessly. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Basketball: Puck and Basketball

Make excellence our unifying theme. I'm a huge fan of MasterClass, which shares the process and mastery of luminaries in many fields. Steph Curry teaches basketball, Bob Woodward investigative journalism, Steve Martin comedy, Chris Hadfield space exploration, and so on. Wolfgang Puck shares his story. 

What shapes a master? Wolfgang Puck grew up poor in Austria, without television or telephone. Failing in an internship in a hotel kitchen, he almost washed out and considered the unthinkable. But he came back and got a mentor in Raymond Thuilier at L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. He worked his way up through Maxim's in Paris to Ma Maison (in LA), eventually starting his own restaurant, Spago. He persisted

But he took a different direction from high-end French, cooking local, fresh ingredients, perhaps founding "California Cuisine." He chose unconventional, with an 'open kitchen' and took risks with an innovative menu like duck sausage pizza (above). His open kitchen allows customers to see the food prepared and Puck to oversee the workflow from the kitchen. The rest is history. 

Puck prioritized the quality of the ingredients, the taste of the food, and the customer experience. He mingled with the guests...who might include Madonna or Prince.  

There's an easy analogy here. Wolfgang's journey parallels ours. We develop the players, the basketball, and team culture and the player experience. Basketball at a high level is conversation and collaboration. There's no cookie cutter and we can turn good resources into dreck or local, fresh ingredients into art. Everyone won't enjoy each dish, but nobody should question how hard we're going after it


It's not as simple as family. High performance teams have highly conditional operations. You get love by doing the right things...with profound trust. 

Lagniappe 2: Mental Model (Criticality)

Criticality occurs when materials reach the point where their state changes. That might include water boiling to become steam, mass for nuclear fission, or spontaneous combustion of oily rags as they oxidize and release heat. In a team sport, a critical mass of talent might inform championship play. A critical mass of dysfunction might effect chaos. 

Lagniappe 3: Wolfgang Puck's Business Philosophy (MasterClass, Chapter 14)

Risk. He enjoys taking intelligent risk. "Get great ingredients and don't F* it up." 

Creativity. Execution isn't enough in most businesses. 

Experience. Leverage your experience. In his 34th year at Spago LA, they had their most successful year ever. 

Evolution. You have to change and always work to improve. 

Inspire. Food inspires him. In the restaurant, he has to inspire everyone from the staff to the customers. Give people an adventure. 

Learn. He's learning how to cook new dishes, new food cultures to this day. He discussed modifying Chinese pancakes with the addition of scallions.  

Be willing to succeed or fail (His brewery/restaurant failed.) At QVC his cookware failed, but he was a huge success at HSN. 

Find balance. Your work cannot be your whole life. He hopes on his tombstone it reads, "he was a great father." 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Basketball: Wing Series Progression

"Do more to become more; become more to do more." 

Dissatisfied with your role? Then, expand your knowledge, your athleticism (our community offers physical training sessions free to middle schoolers Monday through Thursday), and your skills. 

I want both the perimeter and the post players to learn the footwork to attack from the perimeter. We almost always have undersized post players, mandating they learn to put the ball on the floor. 

Yesterday, I included the Paul Pierce "Wing Series" in the missive - direct drive, pullup, step back, spin back, and hesitation drive. How do we implement the teaching?

Wing Series base (skeleton). Begin without defense, emphasizing the front pivot (up) and introducing the reverse turn versus overplay on the catch. 

Add on-ball defense. Both offense and defense learn to attack. 

Add low post away option. Coach varies the defense (rotate, stay home) to create decisions for the driver. 

Add point guard with defender to simulate game action. Depending on participation, players will have mismatches in size, strength, and quickness...also game realistic. 


"Mouse in the House..."

Learning the 'screen game' takes a lot of time for young players. Defenders need communication and defined plan (hedge, switch, double/blitz) and offense understanding of getting an advantage. I want the screener defender to make the call (early) on the defense, to assume a leadership role.

Yesterday (we had five players), we switched more than I would like but the offensive players grasped getting an edge ("mouse in the house"). When the posts got the smalls in low, they took advantage of the mismatch. 

Lagniappe 2. Optimism bias...via Randy Sherman

We're all subject to cognitive bias. Highlights:

"I will not have a bad team because I am a good coach." 

"If your team is average you will not “coach” your way to elite in a season."

"In his book Black Box Thinking author Matthew Syed offers a helpful exercise that could guard against optimism bias – the pre-mortem."

"The better usage of their time would have been to lay the foundation for their PROGRAM by installing a long-term system even though it may not have been the best thing for the varsity TEAM in the short term."

What's your Plan B?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Basketball: Court LOCATIONS as Triggers for Offensive Actions

The basketball court has a myriad of locations - blocks, elbows, top, nail, short corner, wings, lane line, hashes, et cetera that could trigger learning of plays or 'actions'. Restated, players can actualize plays from different spots. 

Maybe, players could associate locations with actions available at that site, either individually or in concert with other players. This borrows from the MEMORY PALACE visual-spacial memory system. I'm always looking to improve my teaching and players' learning. Let's give a few examples. 

Wing and nail. 

In this Iverson action, the staggered screen sets up the wing attack. 

This Iverson cut didn't open the direct drive but does permit either ISOLATION or PnR

The "Texas Iverson" takes the play back across the twin post stagger. 

Let's review simple wing entry...basic options
a) Return pass to 1 cutting 
b) Wing ball screen (including 2 rejecting the screen)
c) 5 rolls into the low post 

Other choices include 2 rejecting the screen and direct drive or DHO 1 with 2 with 5 either rolling away or setting a second (hard to defend screen)...

Wings have to be alert for back door cuts from a variety of sets (1-3-1, 1-4 high, horns, spread). Aggressive defenders expose the back cut. 

I've recently discussed 5 'emptying' to open the wing drive. If you have a good passing 5 and good timing, the give-and-go in this situation yields a great chance for the wing. Simple is better. 

Two-decision motion offense (UNC Women, Sylvia Hatchell)...if wing entry, passer cuts through and players rotate. If ball reversed, passer screens away (not shown) 

If you're going to have isolation, then do something. Having a toolkit of wing moves offers you elite status. 

Paul Pierce wasn't the tallest or fastest NBA wing, but one of the craftiest. This video demonstrates five wing options:

1) Direct drive
2) Pull-up
3) Step back (a Pierce signature move)
4) Spin back 
5) Hesitation 

Lagniappe: Mental Models, Spring Loading


"A system is spring-loaded if it is coiled in a certain direction, positive or negative. Positively spring-loading systems and relationships is important in a fundamentally unpredictable world to help protect us against negative events. The reverse can be very destructive." The recent movie, Geostorm, describes combustible weather, engineered for good or bad purposes. 


In investing, Toby Crabel described a phenomenon known as NR7 (above, narrowest trading range of seven days), that can lead to outsized moves in either (profit or loss) direction. Volatility cycles, oscillating between reduced and increased. 

Teams and individuals can be volatile...think Dennis Rodman. The highly volatile player can add positive energy or create chaos. 

Lagniappe 2: The Index Card System

Find ways to intensify memory and teaching within your system. 

Everyone knows about the 'Horns set', its versatility, benefits, and potential. Do more with it. The "subject" goes on the front and details on the back of the card. 

For example, place the 1 and 5 at the twins positions. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

My Favorite Recent Basketball Posts (and why)

There's no accounting for taste. What moves the needle for me may not appeal to readers. It's the LICORICE like it or not. 

Guy Molloy podcast with Chris Oliver. This post featured "coach improvement." We can always be better. He discussed the book Thinking Volleyball and the value of signature style of play. Filming practice measures teaching methods AND language. ABC = always build culture. We're either improving or losing ground. We have to communicate on many levels with many stakeholders. What's your plan B? Plan A will fail. 

Remember epic Arnold in The Terminator. "I'll be back."

Enhance teaching with Flashcards. Andrew Cohen writes, "there’s a reason that flashcards have been a preferred study method for hundreds of years: They friggin’ work!" Do more of what works and less of what doesn't. 

Learn from mistakes. "Love your losses." Selfishness, situational unawareness, and loss of focus kill success. Ask players, what if and what next? When we watch a high school game, track the mistakes, both technical and tactical. It's astonishing the amount of poor spacing, excessive dribbling, playing in traffic, bad shot selection, doubling down on mistakes. Teach our players to throttle back on mistakes.

Lagniappe: Mental Model, Influence of Authority

We are powerfully affected by authority. In the Milgram Experiment, test subjects "gave" (false) high voltage shocks when prompted by authority. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, "guards" became brutal within hours of assuming the role. Abuse and torture occur when sanctioned by authorities. As leaders, coaches have authority and great responsibility to use it wisely and justly because of the influence of authority. 

Lagniappe 2. Inbounding vs pressure. (Chris Oliver)

Read the actions of the denial of the weak side cut

Friday, July 13, 2018

Basketball: Finding the Blue Sky (RELOCATION)

"The ball is a camera." To be in the picture, you must be seen...and the ball won't move to see you.  

We want players to see the game. Most players don't see what we do. Show them. Show them again and again. 

This image from Radius Athletics shows how the Villanova Wildcats relocated to open passing lanes

Positive imaging. In the NBA, higher points per possession belong to scoring off cuts and through scoring on shots off the catch. Reminder: "movement kills defenses."

Challenge defenses by relocation to space. This forces larger defended space, opens driving and passing lanes, forces closeouts, and makes drive and kick possessions. 

Relocation opens opportunity for teammates (above). 5 knows 3 is a strong driver and 'empties' to open the driving lane. Less is more. 

UNC Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance describes the "shape of the game." Movement defines how teams shape their offense

Movement isn't unique to man offense. Cutters pressure zone defenses into making choices, some of which create chances. 3 stresses the middle of the zone with the cut and 5 rolls behind. Relocation distorts the zone

Movement rewards offense. This older (March 2017) post reminds players of the variety of simple movements that challenge defenses and create quality scoring chances. 

Lagniappe: Great offense from multiple actions

Chris Oliver demos a Celtics inbounds play that creates a postup for the inbounder and a staggered screen away. In the first example, Jason Tatum gets three screens. We all want to create mismatches and hard to defend actions. 

Lagniappe 2: Another mental model...Bias from incentives

Bias "causes us to distort our thinking when it is in our interest to do so." Drug companies sample medications to align our thinking with theirs to increase both market size and market share. We may promote coaching ideas that are part of our signature style of play. That might increase our influence, demand for clinics, et cetera. 

Lagniappe 3: Overcoming Procrastination

Professor Barbara Oakley from "Learning How to Learn" at (free courses). Eat your frogs first means finish the painful stuff first. A consistent morning routine gets us off to a powerful start. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Basketball: Show Your Work (to Test Audiences)

"The sculpture is inside the marble." - Michelangelo

Practice combines "gathering resources" and editing. Director Ron Howard says, "I like to turn to the editors...and say, what idiot directed that scene?"

Present your work to test audiences. Find out what works, what doesn't, and why. Transparency and scoreboards prevent us from pretending our stuff 'works' when it doesn't. 

"What is our story?" Are we an offensive juggernaut, defensive stalwarts, or balanced? Observers should see clarity, intentionality, and a signature style of play. Practice should reinforce those dimensions. I want athletes who are willing defenders whom we'll develop into offensive attackers...easier said than done. 

Are the players fully engaged? Does game pace vary and work? Do we elicit the emotion we want? 

Examine process from the top down (big picture) and bottom up (details). For example, when we run the pick-and-roll, what options for both the handler and screener are working? Recently, I asked a young guard what her first thought should be on the play...looking for 'drive to score.' She wasn't sure. That's director error. "What idiot directed that scene?"

Editing needs reviewersDirector Ron Howard says, "all any director really wants is just to put it together and have everyone say, oh, my God, it's genius. That's never happened to me." The sculpture is inside the marble. We have to find it. 

Lagniappe: (from Lemov et al. Teach Like a Champion)

Part 1. Gathering Data

(from Lemov et al. Teach Like a Champion)  Traditionally, a teacher would ask students to name a cause of the Civil War and three students would get it wrong and the fourth one would get it right. The teacher would think, “Oh, good they finally got it.” However, the champion teacher thinks, “Only one of four students understands this, I need to circle back.” By sampling a smaller group of students who are representative of the larger group, teachers can learn about student understanding. Get feedback. 

Part 2. Find and use all your playmakers
Coach Liam Flynn shows the value of additional playmakers. It's worth checking the weak side spacing which helps the play. 

Part 3. Another Mental Model. Sample size. 

"We take a small number of instances and create a general category, even if we have no statistically sound basis for the conclusion." - The Decision Checklist, Sam Kyle

During summer leagues, whether local or the NBA, it's easy to make premature judgments on players. Gather more data for valid inference. "One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy." - Aristotle

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Basketball: Editing Multiple Offensive Actions

"You can't make old friends." 

"The editing room is where the film is made." - Ron Howard

Coaches direct, teach, lead, mentor, edit, support, and discipline. As directors we get the 'talent' (cast) into situations where they move the needle. Our edit decides which scenes belong, how they are shot, and acted. 

'Shoot the scene' from multiple, multiple angles. Give them names, like set, ATO, SLOB, and BOB. Off we go. 

Basic 'scene' - Tufts' women wing back cut (Coach Carla Berube)

Spread formation, 5 cuts to top for entry. This could just as easily set up other players for a back cut, a handoff back to 1, or split post action with 1 and 2 within Coach Bill Wuczynski's "family of plays" motif. But here the two cuts to and away from the ball which is delivered down the lane line for a score.

Call this our ATO scene. Start with a Horns set and occupy the weak side with a down screen. 5 gets entry and the filled corner cuts up hard and then back cuts looking for the pass. If it's not there, she should go through and we still have 5 with an iso or options for 1 and 5 combinations. 

BOB. Look to enter over the top to 5. With a dynamic finisher at 1, she can look to slip the screen for 3, a minor variation of the same theme. 

SLOB. Start our action with the SLOB. Enter the ball and have weak side distraction. 1 has to sell 'disinterest' and then blast to the rim looking for the delayed give-and-go. We still have 3 as an iso and weak side action available. 

Challenge ourselves to edit well, keep it simple, and develop finishers at multiple positions. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Basketball: Teach Better

I am not a teacher. As physicians we constantly teach, as education changes behavior. As a resident, Chief Medical Resident, and Fellow at Bethesda Naval Hospital, I had major teaching responsibilities.

We're the new coach with new students. We need attention. When attention lapses, failure can mean catastrophic defeat. We've all lived it. 

Eyes on me. Ridiculous or necessary? 

1. Don't be boring. Energize. Players must want to practice. We need a sense of urgency every day. 

Prioritize process not managing expectations. 

2. Have a clear philosophy and sell it. Steal Pete Newell's, "get more and better shots than your opponent." We need great shots and great stops. 

3. Keep it simple. Simple is hard. Get feedback. Demand "performance-focused, feedback-rich" culture

4. Use multiple teaching tools.
- Notebooks (Write it down...your commonplace book)
- Video 
- Course material (e.g. Jay Bilas' Toughness, offensive and defensive standards)
- Flashcards
- Quizzes (One coach told players that only players who knew the plays started) They all learned the plays.) Testing improves recall. Reward understanding and performance.  

- Steal from the masters...Teach Like a Champion (above). Don't apologize for caring and demanding their best. 
- Update your drill book and playbook. Revise and edit.  

- Use Mental Models...what's the difference between rigid and flexible thinking? Push on your bed and it moves...push on a waterbed and waves flow and return. Live your Circle of Competence (teach what you know; know what you teach). Think with probabilities. Get your best players using your proven stuff. 
- Tell great stories. In How Champions Think, Bob Rotella tells the story of a 90 year-old who addressed a national golf convention and promised to work on his short game for two hours a day. The next year, he apologized and hoped participants did better than he did. "I missed two days..." 

Spencer Haywood tried out at Detroit and was offered a scholarship if he sank fifteen consecutive free throws. The rest is history. Kobe Bryant took 1,000 daily shots for 100 days during the offseason. 100,000 shots. Larry Bird took 500 free throws before school.
- Persist. From Teach Like a Champion, "Get ALL students to exert effort and not give up. You ask a question and a student shrugs his shoulders and says, “I don’t know.” Rather than moving to the next student, learn the technique NO OPT OUT."

5. The Blank Sheet Technique
- Review a subject, like rebounding, with students
- Perform spaced repetition coming back to the students a blank sheet and a pen and ask them to write as much as they know on one side of the paper...they can discuss rebounding philosophy, angles, positioning, offensive versus defensive, drills, outlet passing...but they have to turn in something. This modifies the Feynman technique of define, explain, research, and simplify. 

The Socratic Method draws out answers and understanding. "In Socratic teaching we focus on giving students questions, not answers."

Find solutions through teamwork. 

"Make every day your masterpiece." - John Wooden

"Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more." - Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird 

Teach players, "I'm not worried about you being the best; I care about you being your best."


Hat tips: Radius Athletics

Teach specifics. Where do you want the screen? 
Horns flows into high ball screen. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Basketball: Zipper Options from SLOB; Lagniappe: Back Pivot Review

We see "zipper action" most often (not exclusively) on SLOB situations. We have many options off the zipper. 

Base action

Unzip: cutter option to reverse to basket

Refuse the zipper. 5 entry and staggered screen away. 

Backscreen lob for 5 instead of the zipper, 3 releases. 

Handback flare for 3 (Zipper flare)

Zipper into Screen-the-screener (pick-the-picker) for 3. 

This illustrates the "family of plays" theme that might allow players to understand execution easier. 


We didn't have a big turnout at workouts yesterday (not surprising in early July), but we spent a lot of time on footwork.

Teaching point reminders (I teach middle schoolers):

1) I use the term front pivot or back pivot, because the FRONT or BACK of your body leads. We can always expand terms later. 
2) Play low in athletic position to have better balance.
3) Protect the ball. When you pivot, defenders can more easily swipe the ball in the "strike zone" between the knees and chest. I encourage ripping low. Some players like to move the ball high, which can cause the player to elbow the defender in the face. This can lead to offensive fouls and worse. 
4) Read the defender. If they "open" a side (open the door, open the gate), go through. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Basketball: FIBA Lecture Notes, Mike Brown on Flow

Our players have struggled to get into early offense mode when transition isn't available. We teach "freelance" out of small-sided games, but system 'flow' has worked offensive wonders with the uber-talent Warriors. Here are annotated notes from Mike Brown.

"...need to know where they need to go and what they need to do." 

"...everybody must box out" (doesn't want leakers)

"...we want deep outlets" (doesn't teach guards to go to shallow wings), usually via overhead or baseball pass (calls this "high outlet")

"bullet points...(staples)

  • Pace with High Outlets
  • Space (quadrants...doesn't want 2 players in quadrant unless screen, PnR, DHO)
  • 0.5 (quick, intelligent decisions)...don't allow defense to load 
Goals in transition...two feet in the the rim or a catch-and-shoot 3

Interchangeable 1, 2, and 3 or 4 and 5

Ballhandler = "push man"...first look to 'big' ahead, if unavailable, then high PnR, calling DRAG...other players to space the weak side (if smalls ahead, option for catch 3s

DRAG, DRAG asks for both bigs to screen early and high, others space weak

If passed ahead to non-shooting big (rim runner) with small nearby, will run either DHO (above) or PnR

"Push man" can still call DRAG or DRAG, DRAG if smalls ahead

If big ahead, "Push man" can call QUICK to ask for "Step up PnR" (Action of 'big' depends on whether a shooter...POP...or not)

If big ahead (Rim Runner) can run nose to rim seeking postup in lane

Weak side SPACERS, high wing can call "THROUGH" to get CORNER to got THRU to opposite CORNER FILL

"Push man" with ball
Rim Runner
Weak side wing (spaced)
Corner Fill 
Trail big 

"Push man" can also "dribble at" corner fill (bottom of picture) into DHO who then dribbles toward trail big, setting up back cut to rim. 

If two bigs ahead but not passed, then wings flow to both corners, bigs cut to elbows, and Push Man may pass to elbow and use POST SPLIT action...devastating options with Curry, Durant, and Thompson as key cogs...with pin down on the weak side 

There's more, but this is far too much for young players to digest. We have to simplify this into a useable form.