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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Basketball: Top Ten Recent Concepts

"Si vis pacem, pare bellum." 

We all see the world differently. We have an 'automatic' (System 1, reflexive) processor and a contemplating (System 2, reflective) processor. Change arrives by choosing an open framework of belief to analyze new information on merit. If we don't wish to change or be open to change, then spending time on it makes no sense.

We consume information emotionally. "That really makes me mad." Is it because it's wrong or because it's right? Or we hear information from someone we don't like and dismiss it on sourcing.   

Did any recent messages resonate? 

1. Be mindful of the story. The game is the story. The players are the story. Teamwork is the story. The coach isn't the story. Don't block the story.

2. "Was your work good enough that you would sign your name to it?" Do good better

3. Build an offensive palette of concepts, for example:
  • Isolation (1 on 1)
  • Two man-game (2 on 2)...includes pick-and-roll
  • Three on three inside the split
  • Back door actions
  • Single-screening actions
  • Staggered screens (including Iverson cuts)
  • Screen-the-screener
  • Screen-the-roller (Spain pick-and-roll)
4. "Whatever our role...elevate our game, be at the top of our game to advance the story." Excel in our role

5. "Create a world on the basketball court. Build a story. Define the rules." To improve players or simulate reality, add constraints. 

6. "The team that makes the most layups wins." Fall in love with easy

7. "Can you play one-on-one and get stops?" (via Chris Oliver) Learn to win individual battles. 

8. "General feedback is a hindrance to learning." (Chris Oliver) Details define destiny

9. Keep a catalog of your best actions (man offense, zone offense, BOB, SLOB, ATOs) and regularly update it. 

10. "Make the gnocchi." - Chef Thomas Keller. Repetition informs excellence. The '10,000 hours' bashers miss the point. The magic is in the work. 

Lagniappe: (via Chris Oliver)
Bonus idea. Every team needs a metronome, steady, reliable, unwavering. What's your tempo? 

I'm weak at remembering poetry. But I got this in a 13th birthday card...

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heav'n in a wild flower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."
-William Blake

Blake tells us to appreciate the world and the time available to us. Find the bits that make a difference today. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Basketball: The Disciplines of Success

"Success leaves footprints." - Kevin Eastman

What makes us different? How do we measure success? Development leaves fingerprints on the canvas of lives. When a former player gets suspended for substance abuse, frustration sets in at the 'inattention' to life lessons. When players earn advanced degrees, have academic or other achievements, celebrate for the person and their family. 

Control what you can control. 

In his MasterClass, Thomas Keller shares six disciplines learned (at his mother's elbow...she managed a restaurant). He began as a dishwasher. 

Organization. "Organization speaks for itself." You know it when you see it. "It is the difference between failure and success."

Efficiency. Efficiency builds execution. Practice at a higher tempo. Use that most valuable resource...time. 

Critical feedback. Understand how our input improves others' output. "It's the critical feedback that we learn from the most." He focuses on the restaurant customer who is not can we improve their experience? Growth... understanding... self-analysis. 

Repetition. "Repetition makes reputations." John Wooden marveled at how Bill Walton never tired of repeating the same footwork and moves that produced greatness. "Make gnocchi every'll have it in the freezer for convenience meals." Make the gnocchi

Rituals. Great habits build consistent performance. As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." We make our habits and our habits make us. What habits make us?  

Teamwork. "Without me being part of that team, being efficient, they couldn't do their job (server, chef, bartender)." Unless the twelfth player on the team is punctual, committed, challenging the starter, then the team suffers. Basketball is a collective experience. Do you play on the team or for the team


Chris Oliver podcast quotes and Buffalo Bulls video... Highlights: 

“We started charting paint touches and there was a pretty good correlation on at least one paint touch and our points per possession.” (Kirby Schepp has noted this in charting his possessions as discussed on FIBA video). 

“We are guaranteed to get an open shot once we get you in drive and kick basketball.” (Penetration draws defenders, opens the perimeter, and forces tough closeouts.)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Basketball: Building a Sequence

Chris Oliver emphasizes "basketball decision training" during practice. How can we inform a player's choices during practice? 

In the first panel, the player catches, faces up with a reverse pivot, and attacks to score off one dribble...ask for a layup or a pullup in the lane. 

In the second panel, add a defender (the coach can substitute and overplay to expose an opportunity. 

In the left panel, we add a short corner teammate and a help defender. The coach can help or stay. 5 starts back to basket and reverse pivots into attack/read. 

On the right, 5 has a pair of teammates. After the reverse pivot, she attacks and the coach chooses whether to help and whom to leave open. 

How much help (and how) do you give off the corner three? Via Radius Athletics

Lagniappe 2. 
Chris Oliver shares concepts of 2 v 1 attack. 

Lagniappe 3. 

Box drills. "Low and wide." Moves off the jab, off the rip, and change of direction. Villanova's Jay Wright drills "basketball players." 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Basketball: Signature Work

I heard a moving eulogy. The speaker tearfully described teenage work for the departed. The job was in a crawlspace (that the boss couldn't access) and he asked about the quality of the work. "Was your work good enough that you would sign your name to it?

Is our work good enough to sign? 

I read a Robert Benchley essay long ago about barbering and "professional pride." A great haircut takes longer. Cynics say that it's about earning a tip, but it's not that simple. Exceptional takes time

How do we earn signature work from our teams? 

Symmetry principles work. Everything we want as a team offensively we must deny defensively. Get easier shots; allow no easy shots. Get separation; pressure the ball. Pound the boards; keep them off the glass. This also works as a checklist pregame. 

Collectivism works. Model our demands
  • Be on time. 
  • Be prepared. 
  • Bring energy. 
  • Be relentless.
  • Be authentic.
  • Be consistent. 
  • Be detail oriented. Sweat the small stuff.
  • Respect the game, teammates, coaches, officials. 
  • Add value. 
  • Be a learning machine.  
  • Never give up. 
Lagniappe: Hat tip, Coach Liam Flynn
Successful actions create defensive expectations that foster defensive mistakes. A well-run screen confuses defensive reaction later. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Basketball: What's Your Offensive Palette?

We have a palette, a basketball primer and vocabulary to be shared with players and teams. 

Build an offensive and defensive palette according to your philosophy, personnel, and situation. For youth (middle schoolers), the palette isn't so much a playbook as a learning platform.   

Established coaches have well-defined palettes and apprentices evolving ones. Hans Zimmer shares that he creates a different palette for each film. He 'sees' the world through notes and sounds, much like August Rush did in the eponymous movie. 

Postulate 1. Make it as simple as possible and layer upon simplicity. It's better to have fewer actions with multiple options than encyclopedic actions. We certainly do not use all these actions. I am not discussing "motion offense" or "zone offense" in this post. 

Postulate 2. Refine, refine, refine. It's okay to teach to the test. 

Postulate 3. Don't ask players to do what they can't do. 

Building the Platform

1. Isolation. "Every player is king" may not apply. Put players in a position to succeed. 

2. Two-Man Game. The two-man game includes pick-and-roll, give-and-go, and inside-outside actions. We learned this at the playground or in the driveway. It's a different world. 

3. 3-on-3 inside the Split. I've introduced 3-on-3 play here. Choose your poison. 

Easy. Pick-and-roll with possible pass to corner.

Harder. Pass and screen the corner. The Bucks liked to run this for Giannis. 

DHO with diagonal screen from opposite post. 

4. Backdoor/Back cut. Tight defense favors screens and back cuts. Shuffle the deck and pick a card. 

LBJ series. Dribble at, backdoor. 

LBJ give and go from the corner.

Horns back door. 

Tufts women, 1-3-1 back door.

Added complexity: Triangle ball screen back door. 

5. Off-ball single screens.

Back screen away after post-entry (we call this Nurse, after Kia Nurse of UCONN)

Celtics 'triple'. After post entry (5, Horford), they will screen for Irving (1) or bring him off the handoff into a ball screen. 

Horns into Flex. 

Reverse action. 

6. Staggered screens

Horns into stagger.

Horns variant into stagger 3. 

Iverson cut (basic).

7. Screen-the-screener

BOB with STS in the paint

BOB (also good as a SLOB) with zipper-like action with the screener (3) becoming the cutter for a pass over the top.

Another look at the same action from a box set (elevator screen implied) 

8. Screen-the-roller. (Spain Pick-and-Roll).

We spend far more time on execution of 1 v 1, 2 v 2, and 3 v 3 actions than set plays. But establishing basic offensive concepts gives young players a good foundation for executing high school offense. They also learn to defend many of these actions as understanding offense allows for better defensive anticipation and reaction. 

Finally, we can develop "summary slides" for teaching. From a simple 'spread' (Spread, out, 50, Five-0 (Hawaii?) we can teach multiple actions. "Great offense is multiple actions" well-executed. 

Bon appetit. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Basketball: Tell an Epic Story with Every Tool in the Box

"Know the story that you want to tell...the creative process takes place in your head." - Hans Zimmer 

One MasterClass theme emerges again and again, story. Whatever our role - player, head coach, assistant coach, skill to elevate our game, to be at the top of our game to advance the story. 

We create a world on the basketball court. Build the story. We define the rules. Can our team thrive in that world, within that story and those rules? But...IT'S A GAME. But no committee ever informs basketball excellence of purpose and execution.

Conversations from sport, art, science, music, history, and more affect our world and us. "What do you mean?" 

The Red Line. Urban Meyer talks about "the red line" in Above the Line. When you cross the red line around the field and enter Meyer's world, be ready to go. He says every play is A to B, 4 to 6, as you move from point to point in a few seconds. 

Master your artPrecision and shading enter into execution. Da Vinci did 'drapery drawings', precision works using light and shadow to define dimension. Be where you're supposed to be and not where you aren't. Every stroke of the pencil matters. 

Science rules. Science informs physical training and conditioning, shooting (angles, backspin), sport psychology, nutrition, etc. Using the backboard isn't coaching preference; it informs makes or misses. 

Play on. Music creates advantage and invests students in the process. Music energizes the individual and the collective. Do everything to max out our advantage. If we leave a useful club in the bag, shame on us. 

There's nothing new. History teaches us to overcome disadvantage (David and Goliath at the valley of Elah, Lee at Chancellorsville), to lead (Arlene Blum and Annapurna, Gandhi and the Salt March), and learn (Professor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain won the Medal of Honor at Gettysburg). The scholar became a decorated soldier. 

Tell a meaningful, epic story. Use powerful themes - transition offense, ball and player movement, help-rotate-recover defense, communication, and belief to translate themes into reality. 

Lagniappe: Wing ball screen/side pick-and-roll

The player's job is to create not to be a robot. 

If you have a hammer, then hammer. Hat tip: Radius Athletics

FSU likes to pick and pop, but also uses the screen-and-roll. 

USA Basketball puts it all together. 

If the ball defender wants to go over the top, fake, crossover and reject the screen. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Basketball: Chris Oliver Podcast Annotated on BDT (Basketball Decision Training)

I've discussed the triad of VDE - vision, decision, and execution. Every individual becomes the quarterback, the paragon of decision making and accuracy. 

Chris Oliver's podcast with Mark Jablonski discusses BDT, basketball decision training and its place in development. Skills without decision-making ability limit results. Some quotes belong to Coach Oliver and others to Coach Jablonski. 

"Every player has to be able to play offense." It begins with footwork ("fight for your feet") and the capacity to drive. 

"The team that makes the most layups wins."  This prioritizes driving until players can make outside shots.

Eliminate the spin dribble as a counter (for the young player) because it compromises seeing the basket. University players are not absolved from execution of fundamentals. 

"Challenge the highest level player" to raise the skills of each individual on your team. The high level player still can improve decision making. Build skills (e.g. separation moves) with decision-making (defensive reaction). (For example, at practice yesterday, we worked on reverse pivot attack, post moves, wing attack, and pick-and-roll with defense to emphasize decisions.)

"Block practice" may increase a player's confidence, yet may not translate well to game simulations. He asks whether a chair simulates game distraction and perception. We've all seen (and maybe used) curl and flair cuts off chairs into shots. 

"What are we doing (right now) that directly transfers to a game?" Dribbling well around cones doesn't mean you can beat a defender. 

Distinguish "I taught it" from "they learned it" (from John Wooden). 

Improving a player's enjoyment and confidence relates to skill, with decision-making in that context. What a player can achieve during their individual workouts determines their ceiling. 

HANDLING PRESSURE at the youth level separates the successful teams. 100% agree. You can't learn this in isolation. 

DEFENSIVE HABITS. Keywords: stance, being low, effort, competition

"Can you play one-on-one and get stops?" 

"General feedback is a hindrance to learning." Be specific on what went well and what needs improvement. We need to play better defense doesn't specify the who or the what. 

FINISHING MOVES. Vary and include the moves and angles. 

GAME UNDERSTANDING. We can't have a fixed structure for every situation. Players learn to respond to new space/time situations. Players will need some freedom within the structure of play we prosecute. 

Ultimately, players have to figure it out. We can't spoon feed everything. 

Three Fs : Oliver brands the game as fun, freedom, and focus. 

Reflect on our message, our process, and our adaptability. 

"How do your teammates feel about your shot selection?" Ultimately, your teammates hold you accountable. Teammates can take away your freedom, particularly regarding shot selection. 

Popovich, "shoot a good shot but give it up for a teammate's great shot." 

There's a difference between development and prioritizing winning. The less developed player doesn't develop if we deny them shooting open, in range, in rhythm shots.  Communicate that to parents during development. (My message to parents: "nobody gets sacrificed in role or minutes on the altar of victory in middle school." If anything, this is mildly unfair to the stronger players. When we improve and play competitively, the results gradually look better.) 


Mental Model: #ActionBias discusses what works versus "looks good." Consider the Rockets' offensive productivity not necessarily its artistic merit. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Basketball: Mindset, Practice, and Execution

Thomas Keller begins his MasterClass simplifying cooking to "ingredients and execution." Each of us uses ingredients differently to tell our story. We need a theme. Some call that philosophy. Our language must reflect our personality and the character of our actors. The story told with speed differs from the power narrative. Find the right solution to wearing down your opponent with your ingredients. 

Playing fast cedes control but engages players with freedom. Recognize that the intelligence of the ball allows it to find those most capable. Our weaker players will not have the same usage ratios as our strongest. The ball knows

We haven't been 'big' for years. But we have speed and intelligence. So we have to play fast and work to dominate the middle of the court and survive the battles at the ends. Speed permits you to extend your defense. Intelligent players permit graded complexity

We introduce the spread pick-and-roll. Once players understand options and can execute, then we can layer additional concepts. 

A DHO with a staggered screen away challenges defenses on two fronts. We could rearrange the personnel, e.g. 4 and 2, to force a mismatch on switching...a better concept. 

We could adapt the high ball screen further by bringing the receiver into play off the double stagger screen. Now the defense has a greater challenge, although our spacing may or may not work.  

I've discussed "techniques of refinement" and the tools to do so, which include tweezers not tongs, peeling, blanching, straining, and so forth. What are our refinement strategies? How effective are they?" Everyone won't agree. Having someone tell you your hard work is all for nothing can be exasperating at best. For most professionals deeply invested in their product on a daily basis, it is uneasy and in some cases the fuel on the fire if they have a bit of a temper. The defense starts and the individual hold their breath and when they have a free moment let loose and vent."

Practice begins with safety. Assess heat and humidity, court conditions, player health. If we're running players to the point of heat injury or vomiting, we're doing it wrong. Many of us have been on the receiving end. Learn from it. 

Be detail oriented. Set up cuts. Wait, wait, wait for screens. Deliver the ball on time and on target. Stress precision and refinement.

If players can execute this action...

Then they should recognize the same concepts, slightly rearranged.

We have limited resources (practice). Abandon useless tools and refine better ones. At practice today, I want to add more decision making into individual offensive skill building. Instead of basic catch and attack, we add defender(s) to add realism. 

The growth mindset doesn't just mean for players. Own it to share it. 

From S. Davies review of Mindset

Monday, July 23, 2018

Basketball: The Science and Solutions to Choking

Anyone who watches, plays, or coaches sports knows about choking. Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College (Columbia) and author of Choke defines choking as "worse performance than you’d expect from an individual, given that there is high pressure or stakes associated with the situation."

Beilock elaborates, “People choke under pressure because they worry about the situation, what others will think, what they will lose if they fail, and whether they can do this.”

Her experiments show that overthinking leads to brain malfunction via excessive blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex leading to a stress response. She found that self-conscious people may be particularly affected

Similar to Carol Dweck's research, she recommends the 'growth mindset' and practice to automate performance. Stereotypes also may result in underachievement, like girls underperforming in math. Giving people examples of people who 'defy' stereotypes can improve performance. "Women score about ten percent higher on math tests when you have them think about positive aspects of themselves."

Here's a partial list of 'anti-choking' approaches:
  • Practice under pressure (at his zenith, Tiger Woods finished each practice by making 100 consecutive eight foot putts)
  • Write down our fears. Writing down worries helps us let go of them. Writing helps fulfill reality. "I will finish this task." 
  • Think better. Reaffirm our strengths and value.
  • Meditate. Meditation reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, increases brain density in learning and memory centers, and decreases density in the stress center (amygdala).
  • Practice coping with failure. Realize that failure isn't final. 
  • Let it go. Don't reflect on prior poor performances or question what we're doing.
  • Be positive. Positivity takes time and training. I recommend Jon Gordon's book, The Positive Dog and Darren Hardy's The Compound Effect. 
  • It's the process. Excessive focus on results distracts from the tasks needed to get there. 

Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry wrote an excellent book, Performing Under Pressure with specific approaches that help mitigate pressure. Think about the COTE of armor (above). I've discussed it a bit here

We lead at the intersection of the head (information) and the heart (motivation). When we struggle or fail in either domain, our teams fail. We own that. 

Lagniappe: hat tip, Chris Oliver Twitter account

Fake DHO into 'Hammer-like' Action for Corner 3

Adjust personnel to the skills available...

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Basketball: What's New? Homecourt, the Shot Tracker

Kobe Bryant took 1000 shots a day for 100 days in the summer. Larry Bird took 500 free throws before school. Bill Bradley practiced for three hours a day as a child except on weekends when he did more. 

There's a new app, Homecourt, for your smartphone, to track shooting. Naturally, it's 'free' with in-app purchases. Shooting is a perishable skill and repetition makes reputation. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Homecourt. This app is going to make its founders financially secure. 

I don't know if it's unbelievably great, but even if it's only "really good" then it can help our players. 

We perform to the level of our training. 


No gym time. That doesn't stymie us. Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can. Some thoughts (not all from the video):

  • Dribbling. You've all seen The Pistol (haven't you) about young Pete Maravich. We can always do more to work on our handle.
  • Conditioning. Many coaches tell their teams, "we'll be in better shape than all our opponents." I'm guessing that's mathematically impossible. 
  • Pivoting. Grab a pillow or stuffed animal and work on your footwork (without breaking every lamp in the house). Make pivoting off either foot natural. 
  • Flips. Form shooting matters. Elbows in. "Ring the bell and drop the parachute (follow through)."
  • Study film. No, don't watch film; study film. Pick a topic like moving without the ball, reading screens, or zone offense and learn the details. 
  • Develop your mind. I found the free course Learning How to Learn at very thought provoking and filled with tools that can help serious students improve.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Basketball: Tools of Refinement...

"Technique beats tactics." - Gregg Popovich

MasterClass instructors teach lessons that translate across disciplines. Chef Thomas Keller often refers to tools of refinement - tweezers, tamis, China caps, blanching, peeling, straining. Many disciplines use refining tools - sanders and polishers in carpentry, cleaving and bruting in jewel craft, lasers and robotic instruments in surgery. 

In Keller's kitchen, he leaves no doubt about the message. Chefs have a "sense of urgency" to prepare great meals. Summer, tryouts, or in season, players need that sense of urgency to refine their tools.

Let's review a few refinements that coaches apply:

Footwork. Basic offensive skills include shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, pivoting, and cutting. The natural 'face up' is the front pivot. We work every practice on reverse pivoting into attack. "Second-order" thinking teaches reading the defender to optimize the attack. 

Handwork. Good players protect the ball. Exposing the ball risks turnovers. Teach keeping the ball out of the "strike zone" (knees to letters) where defenders get easier access to steals. On defense, learn 'hand discipline' and 'showing your hands' such that officials see you're NOT fouling. Keeping the elbows back, helps prevents shooters from 'raking' through your arms to draw cheap fouls.

Blocking out. Defensive rebounding keys are position and toughness. Some players just "get the ball" and overthinking hurts the process. Whether we advocate "hit and get" or "traditional" blocking out, we want possession. Coach Tom Izzo practices with helmets and shoulder pads as his 'refining tools'. The weight room gives solutions for others. 

Receiving the outlet. We teach outlet receivers to get position above the foul line with their back to the sideline. Ideally, they receive the outlet even closer to the hash. When the second pass has 'air time' over the timeline, opportunity for success is higher. It hasn't happened enough. 

Stance. Defense begins with attitude, a ferocity more often born than made. "Dead man's defense" (six feet under) is unacceptable. Buzzwords abound, "in the face", "don't back down", "nose on chest", and "crawl up into them" are a few reminders. Forget about Be Our Guest...embrace Be a Pest


Reverse layups. We're usually small and that creates problems inside. We're struggling to grasp reverse layup techniques. Here's a short, simple video that might help players. Remember the saying, "eyes make layups." 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Basketball: "Winning Basketball Strategy" Miscellaneous Offense

Glenn Wilkes wrote Winning Basketball Strategy in 1959. I like the book's dedication, "To My Mother for sacrificing so much so that I could play basketball" and "James M. Cowan for so patiently teaching me the game." Sacrifice, patience, and teaching have meant so much over a lifetime in the game. 

I want to share a few of Coach Wilkes' diagrams...

Combat the switching man-to-man defense. 

Tandem post play.

Tap backscreen

Mismatch into the post off the dribble perimeter switch. 

Save some actions for crunch time. When we need to score, do we have BOBs, SLOBs, ATOs, zone offense, and man plays that create unusual advantage for us? Keep a catalog of possibilities and regularly update it. 

With young players, know what they can handle and what they can't. I've had groups where we could call a timeout in overtime and put in a play and score it and others with no "time and space" tolerance. That's life.