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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Basketball: Creating a SHOT LIST

You know good basketball when you see it. I had an hour car ride home, feeling that we hadn't played well and that I hadn't coached well. Winning is not the same as playing well on defense, offense, and conversion.

We lacked offensive flow...despite getting a lot of good shots. We didn't turn the ball over much; we had chances we didn't convert. 

Arm players with quality. Young players usually lack the playground "know how" to sustain quality creation. 

Conversely, they need freedom, too. Finding balance between freedom and structure always challenges us

Here's a limited example of a shot list (and a reminder to me not to try to overdo it)

A shot list provides a mental cheat sheet. 

What went well? First, the defense did a better job at containing the ball and denying the middle. When they didn't, our centers provided solid protection. 

We had a few good chances out of straight pick-and-roll (left) and a beautiful read by the 1 and 5 on a slip for a layup which resulted in free throws (right). 

We had possibilities on spread give-and-go...mostly give-and-no...although during one sequence we hit three consecutive perimeter shots (I don't remember that historically with seventh grade girls). 

What went badly? I called a timeout with the ball about the level of the hash, looking to set up an ATO (below), but the officials gave us the ball on the my timeout and plan were burned. I suppose we could have just inbounded and reset. As I said, the coaching wasn't great. 

How do we improve the halfcourt offensive quality? Start by defining hard-to-defend actions. 

If one PnR is hard to defend, how about two? 

We have the personnel to run dribble handoff into a second ball screen. 

We haven't committed to screen the roller (Spain PnR) actions. 

Or what about offense from 1967 (Santa Clara), with screen-the-screener? 

We've demonstrated Flex at practice, but with injury and illness, we haven't had many repetitions, especially out of the BOB. 

Or what about getting drivers in position to drive? 

We could run staggered screens to get multiple options for a two-man game with half a side cleared. I didn't have that on my radar. 

We'll keep working on technique (fundamentals) and tactics (second half of practice) and I'll work to prepare my team better. Everyone needs to keep grinding. 

Lagniappe: via @BBallImmersion
Space and re-space. Good offenses are fanatical about spacing. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Basketball: The Big Idea

What is our Big Idea? Secretariat was perfection. Baseball has the perfect games. In basketball, we want to play the highest quality basketball. We're not close. 

The highest quality I viewed was the Winnacunnet (NH) girls program of Ed Beattie. How dominant were they? "Over the final six seasons, with teams that included such headlining stars as Abigail LaRosa, Tiffany Ruffin and Kirsten O’Neil, Winnacunnet went 119-3 overall, including a 75-game Class L/Division I win streak." They had brilliant transition, spacing, movement, and finishing, winning five consecutive state titles. As I recall, he said they had nine-high school All-Americans and twenty-one Division 1 players. 

Years ago, at a (random) summer tournament, I briefly chatted with Coach Ed Beattie. He explained that the team was together all offseason practice prohibition. "It's between the girls and me." He also explained they finished every practice with each girl making two consecutive free throws...making over twenty consecutive free throws AS A TEAM. 

Make signature moments - multiple actions (offense), multiple efforts (defense), and sustained effort by talented players. 

Coaches impose schemes, themes, and storylines...seeking solutions, the dominance of a group or the emergence of reserves. We suffer defensive lapses, cold shooting, fluctuating intensity. How do we elevate the quality of play and limit the downside?

"Stops make runs." Runs make success. What transforms ordinary into extraordinary? The magic of 372...three consecutive stops, seven times a half, both halves. 

Replay your last game in your mind. What went well or poorly and why? Expecting consistency from young players is a fool's errand. But it's fair to expect effort and fair to ask for it. 

Reimagine sequences that worked or failed. What players think is pressure defense differs from what coaches think. We and they need to have the same mental images? With unlimited resources, I'd film practice and games and have a library of clips of ideal and defective play. 

Recall your personal experience, watching yourself or your team on video or grainy 8 mm black-and-white film. Video reality restricts denial and self-deception. Make the Big Idea come to life. 

Lagniappe: via Frank Martin...closeout, containment, competition

Friday, January 18, 2019

Basketball: Filmmaking and Coaching, Inescapable Overlap

The parallels and overlap between coaching and cinema overwhelm me. We select the balance between structure and freedom, but within our truthseeking, inescapable realities inform our choices

Thinking about the production, I wonder, "will the audience feel satisfied with the play?" What the coach/director wants and what is possible aren't identical. Middle school shorts won't reproduce megabudget cinema. 

Each of us has unique experience, perspective, vision, goals, and motivation that color our productions.

Studying the roster of MasterClass Film and TV "professors", we understand the breadth of possibilities. Is Popovich the Scorsese of basketball? Or is Hubie Brown Scorsese? Would the iconoclastic Spike Lee fit better as Jon Chaney or maybe Tark? 

What is the budget, location, availability of actors, viability of the story? What themes drive the process? 

Previous success guarantees nothing. Each season and film offers triumph and failure We seek powerful, timeless create a special universe/culture that inspires and drives the story. Blend intensity and subtlety (above). 

Do we learn from the giants, Kubrick and the Knight, Welles and Wooden, Nolan and Newell? 

When casting, do the actors have chemistry together? Outstanding actors don't always exceed or even meet the sum of the parts. 

Directors set up the 'shot list' with the cinematographer. The Director of Photography makes it happen. What elements belong in our shot list? How much pick-and-roll, transition, quick hitters, motion, and perimeter shooting belongs for us? 

Are our actors inhabiting their roles? Coach Knight famously said, "passers pass, shooters shoot, and everyone plays defense." In Basketball Methods, Pete Newell counseled the post to understand his role as scorer, facilitator, or screener. 

Music and sound enhance our production. Why have pep bands mostly become extinct (in our area) at our basketball productions?

Rehearsal and practice are time for exploration and failure. Editing practice and gameplay deserve books not sentences. 

Scorsese would say, "all that matters is in the images on the screen." Have we assembled a picture worth watching? 

Lagniappe: via @RadiusAthletics
Challenge defenses with hard to defend actions. Make them excel through "multiple efforts." 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Basketball: Style Drift, Are We Adding Complexity or Confusion?

"Change is the only certainty." 

In investing, STYLE DRIFT means chasing different investment approaches...growth, value, momentum, various chart patterns, dividend stocks, whatever. The best investors have an edge through understanding markets, companies, value, and market price structure. They apply that edge relentlessly and have a sell discipline. It's NOT easy. It isn't supposed to be easy. 

Coaches get lost in style drift, too. We're playing man-to-man defense, junk defenses, Amoeba, Freak, every imaginable zone. Play different defenses after made baskets, free throws, misses. That can be appropriate, even defining, for experienced teams. I ask myself, will this confuse opponents or us? Changing defenses creates problems, but young players need core competencies first

As a middle school coach with limited practice time, I want technique and consistency. The first half of practice (or more) is always fundamentals...layups, shooting form, footwork and balance, shooting repetition, free throws, individual attack (e.g. box drills, wing series attack). The second half applies tactics, pressure and gameplay around special situations and O-D-O (offense/defense/offense. What fails in practice sometimes works in games because of surprise. 

Creating options off core actions isn't style drift. 

SLOB Zipper cut into high ball screen. Weak side actions can vary. 

One attractive option is bringing the weak side cutter to screen for the inbounder. Sometimes it creates too much traffic. We haven't used that much. 

During practice, defenses 'cheat'. That opens up the 'unzipped' back cut. 

Or the very simple SLOB give-and-go with the zipper cut clearing out the lane. We get a 'feel' for how much each personnel group can handle. As they learn more, they want more. 

Style drift can occur in practically any area - offense, defense, special situations. It's better to do fewer things well than many things with mediocrity. It's better to defend the pick-and-roll well with hedging (fake trap), switching, or trapping than having six or more options. 

Do the calculus of Don Meyer's sophisticated complexity and mature simplicity. Black and white can outshine technicolor. 
Lagniappe 1: 

An easy BOB that our team struggled to defend in practice. 

Lagniappe 2: via @BBallImmersion (Chris Oliver)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Basketball: Engrave and Test Explicit Themes

From MasterClass, Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking, Editing

"What matters is what appears on the screen." 

1 Games turn on the smallest decision, simplest play. Don't overindulge personal wisdom. Share overarching themes to inform our basketball story. 

Do our players understand our core philosophy? Even though we know what we want, they won't unless defined and tested. 2 "Say it, say it again; tell them you said it." 

Pete Newell said it best, 3 "Get more and better shots than our opponents." How?  4, 5

In ball denial, full-court pressing, I want players fronting (6 chest-to-chest) the receivers. The second line defenders are to play as far off their assignments as they feel they can play, looking to 7 deflect or steal passes over the top. We call this hawk defense. It pressures both the inbounder and the receivers. Players trap opportunistically. It's a learning process. If the press is broken, sprint back and pick up. 8 "Basketball isn't a running game, it's a sprinting game." 

Teaching a solid press teaches twice...those pressing and those under pressure. 

Lagniappe: via Coach Gordon Chiesa @gchiesaohmy

Don't pile on after hard losses. Corrections can wait. We can and we will come back. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Basketball: Don't Script Offense, Create!

"Little things make big things happen." - John Wooden

As a kid, coaches told us, don't play "robotic" basketball. Nobody watches robots play basketball...almost nobody. 

We practice "shell drill" with variations...including subtracting a defender, but also using different numbers of players and 'formations'. 

Create an ecosystem with rules and constraints. Limit dribbles, insist on paint touches or ball reversals (or both), or number of passes before full attack. 

Teach players to think, maybe not as fast as robots. Basketball robots lack the savoir faire to play interesting basketball. 

We live Coach Wooden's world of EDIR(5)...explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition times 5. Create, create, create. Find advantages. I stepped in at the '2' for one demonstration with the second group. Set up the cut and got the off ball screen. 3 passed and 5 "saw" the roll and got an easy flip for a layup. 

This was pedestrian basketball, but what made it extraordinary is 5 immediately recognized her advantage, rolled and scored. "The screener is the second cutter." 

Celebrate those too infrequent moments where players "get it" and catch them in the act of doing something right

One 'balancing act' all coaches perform is when to blow the whistle versus letting play proceed during evolutions. I'm prone to stop play when spacing fails or during purposeless dribbling. In our sixteen team league, we're second in scoring and third in point differential after eight games. When we space it, we score. It's 12 and 13 year-old girls so Brad Stevens has nothing to worry about. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Basketball: Coaching, Five Words from Around the World That Feed the Essence of the Game

Find our way. Illuminate our path with light from other cultures. Discover competitive advantage around the planet. 

Wonderful words instill unique meanings. Empower our teams with them. 

SAWUBONA. Sawubona is a Zulu greeting, "we see you" but also inviting mutual participation. The video below elaborates. 

Use MANA. As coaches, we hold the paradoxical positions of servants and leaders. In Leading Matters, John Hennessy writes, "It is a difficult lesson because almost every other aspect of being a leader convinces leaders otherwise: leaders typically are paid more money than most of the people they lead, leaders hold authority over their teams, their decisions take priority, and their subordinates are ultimately dedicated to serving their leader (or more precisely, the institutions they lead)." Mana, a Polynesian word, invokes a spiritual quality of influence and authority.

Yesterday during halftime, I shared the Hindi word MASTI loosely translated as the "intoxication of life." Mira Nair shares this in her MasterClass on Independent Film Making. We had played a lifeless first half. We needed energy and joy to mount a comeback. We got it. 

DUENDE translates from Spanish as passion and inspiration, charisma. I associate duende with former Boston Globe columnist George Frazier. Frazier wrote, "So difficult to define, but when it is there it is unmistakable, inspiring our awe, quickening our memory. To observe someone who has it is to feel icy fingers running up and down our spine." Pedro Martinez had duende; Greg Maddux, not so much. Always inspire. 

SISU means to Finns, "what must be done will be done." We might call it persistence or will. "Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character."

Lagniappe: I'd like to say this play keyed our comeback victory. Maybe it did. It didn't score, but it fired up the bench. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Basketball: Stay Open to the Exceptional

We know it when we see it. Stay open to unique talent, persons, places, or things. We don't expect it; it just happens. 

Beware The Black Swan or the albino croc. 

A vertical jump of nearly four feet by a woman. How? Mireya Luis picked fruit out of trees as a child in Cuba. 

Kyrie Irving works tirelessly on finishing with both hands around the iron. 

Get noticed with exceptional footwork. Pete Newell preaches FOOTWORK, BALANCE, and MANEUVERING SPEED. First step quickness wins for girls. 

We work on box drills every practice. Not enough, but there's never enough time. Part 1. Drop step and front pivot actions.

Part 2. Reverse/back pivot actions shot, rip, and counter. 

"Luck is the residue of design." 

DHO, clear, backcut. 

Exceptional performance follows exceptional habits. Exceptional habits follow openness to exceptional performance. 
Lagniappe: Combine hard to defend actions

Cross-screen into zipper cut into drive/backcut ("Zipper Buttons") 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Basketball: We Are Editors, Measure Practice

Filmmaker Werner Herzog, MasterClass, chapter on Editing

If you happened upon the players you coach, what would you do? Would you adapt them to your beliefs and system or would you adapt your approach to them? Do you "enforce your will" upon the footage? 
Games help teach us about our practice needs. How do we measure practice effectiveness? 

Anson Dorrance's Competitive Cauldron measures every player on each aspect of practice performance. This isn't realistic for youth practice as far as time, resources, and ego. We shouldn't impose our performance standards on preadolescents. 

Note intangibles like competitiveness, communication, energy, and focus. 

The blind visitor should hear the communication, squeaking sneakers, and teaching without lecturing. They hear sandwich technique of correction amidst praise. should Practice positivity has to dominate the audio.

The deaf visitor sees the efficiency, organization, sweat, and tempo. I like seeing players smile and laugh occasionally. Go play. Learn to love practice. 

In his MasterClass, filmmaker Werner Herzog shares the logbooks that he uses during the editing process. He records vital footage with one, two, or three exclamation points. "It is so intense...if I do not use this in the film I have lived in vain."  
Gestalt reflects on perception of the whole. We all want the whole to exceed the sum of the parts. 

What is the goal of practice and individual elements of practice? Did we achieve none, part, or most of what we set out to practice? 

We can measure drill outcomes. 

At a UCONN Women's practice, I saw them make 175 shots (tracked) in four minutes during this drill. We've never made over 50, but I'm waiting. During their free throw shooting segment, players made 92 percent of attempts. 

Everyone is different. A "press unit" doesn't fit everyone, although everyone deserves a chance to apply and withstand pressure. I structure practice so that the press team gets more defensive repetitions. Players struggling against pressure get more repetitions against the stronger pressing unit. 

Material doesn't always "work" right away. Don't force it. If the "pressing team" struggles to implement new concepts (e.g. run and jump switch) against players who are less skilled at handling pressure, I don't install those concepts prematurely. Do more of what's working and less of what isn't

"The final cut ultimately belongs to the audience." - Werner Herzog 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver (@bballimmersion)

 Lagniappe 2. Triple Option Variations from "America's Play" 

1. Cross-screen into perimeter shot. 
2. Option for lob.
3. Base play, "America's Play" 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Basketball: Where Do Points Come From?

Points don't grow on trees. I've stolen Koran Godwin's "Four Ways to Score" theme for individuals. Plans and practice precede points. As a team, Geno Auriemma's UCONN Huskies plan to score a third in transition, a third on threes, and a third on sets. Obviously, there is overlap. 

The Huskies average 82.8 points/game and are scoring 24.6 per game on threes (30 percent). That's not a solution for us (seventh grade girls).

Where are you going to score? 

Tap plays. There aren't enough opportunities to spend time on tap plays but have a core idea. At worst, NEVER ALLOW a score off a tap play. 

Find easy baskets (transition, putbacks, layups, free throws). Ideally, that means understanding (from analytics) how we score. Balanced scoring helps diffuse the opposition defense from focusing on stopping one player. 

Transition. We can have transition off steals, rebounds, or made baskets (including free throws). Some speak of the Golden Moment where opponents "let down" immediately after scoring. A quick inbound and advancement can get a couple of easy baskets and help score early before zone defenses establish. 

Know where you want outlet passes, whether rebounders can advance the ball, where shooters and rim runners are going, and a flow into early offense. 

Special situations. We want to score 8-10 points on special situations (BOBs and SLOBs) and use O-D-O (offense-defense-offense) three possession scrimmaging to work on them each practice. We need actions against both man-to-man and zone defenses. This also allows us defensive work against them. Within your portfolio, you still need "favorite" ideas. 

Some combine 'traditional' sets like Flex above as a BOB. 

Against the 2-3 zone, we could borrow from MSU Coach Tom Izzo and modify his "Down" offense to attack the middle. 

Half-court offense. Are you a "dribble drive" team, a "screen team," motion offense, focused on sets, or have multiple approaches? The 'best' way is the best way for your philosophy and personnel. 

We like actions out of spread sets, "Horns" and 1-4 to open the middle and limit "natural" weak side defense. 

Celtics' Horns pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop.

Celtics' Horns slip and off-ball screen actions.

Celtics' Horns options for Kyrie Irving off-ball cut or DHO/pick-and-roll. 

We usually work a 1/4 court three-on-three segment to develop "freelance" and/or breakdown offense. We also practice 4-on-4 no dribble to force a cut-and-pass mentality. 

What's your approach? 


St. Joseph's College (Division III) scrapped plays for playing and averages 93 points-per-game. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Basketball: Coaches, Energize, Share and Ask for What You Want

"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." - Psalm 118:22

Play the long game. Plant seeds. They grow in mysterious ways. We don't know what a young player chooses to become. 

Filmmaker Mira Nair, MasterClass

Players surprise us. It may take years for discovery of what we have. A player's athleticism and skill may lag her understanding...but they catch up...and BOOM. 

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." 
- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

At practice, we have the opportunity to plant seeds and water the flowers. What we say and how we say it matters.

"You get it. I know that you know. That's your advantage." I'm learning that a player has a particular skill in inbounding the ball. 

"If we need a three, you'll get the chance to shoot're going to be an excellent high school player (wink), even though you'll make some coaches crazy." She laughs. 

Recognize work and progress a player makes. Build confidence. "You're in there during crunch time because we believe in you." 

Practice is work but should be fun. Kids PLAY. Energize.  

It's that time...flu season. We had eight players last night. 

We can finish better in transition. Get players into transition drills in different ways. Add constraints (e.g. number of dribbles).

Ideally, a drill works offense, defense, conditions, and teaches vision, decision, and execution (Crutchfield's SEE, ANALYZE, REACT). 

Filmmaker Nair has often worked with children, as in Salaam Bombay and Queen of Katwe. She asks for what she wants from child actors and non-actors. 

"In chess, the small one can become the big one." 
"You belong where you believe you belong." 
"What matters is when you reset the pieces and play a game." 

Lagniappe: via Chris Oliver, @BBallImmersion
I teach the zone offense mnemonic DR FLAPS

D -   Drive into gaps (Draw 2)
R -   Reverse the ball
FLA- Flash into open spots
P -   Postup
S -   Screen the zone

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Basketball: Stop Killing Offense, Play the Beautiful Game

"Great offense is multiple actions." 

Love the game. Beautify the action. 

1. Multiple is self-explanatory...more than "night at the opera", me, me. Great players make everyone around them better. 

2. Multiple also implies options. Mindlessly running offense from the sideline advantages the defense, which loads to the ball. Sideline offense limits options, especially if we lack perimeter shooters.

Choose NOT to play two or three against five. Note the "Helpside "I"" above. 

3. "Don't play in the traffic." Our parents tell us that as soon as we're old enough to understand. Great players thrive in space. Dare to be great. 

4. Stop eating space. Make the defense cover space. Fight the temptation to migrate in. 

I adapted this from Del Harris' book on zone offense. Open passing lanes and force long closeouts

5. Don't be a ball sticker. There's a higher scoring percentage in the first two seconds of the touch. Steal great ideas (see below). 


"Coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets are borrowing a page straight out of the Spurs' playbook with this philosophy: Don't hold onto the ball. Malone wants his players to make a decision within a half-second.

"If you're open, shoot it. If you're not open, get off the ball with a 0.5 (second) mentality," Malone explained. "That makes you and us as a team really hard to guard. Because the ball is going to move a hell of a lot quicker than the defense can.""

6. No bad shots. Doc Rivers calls them shot turnovers. Some call them garbage shots. We remind players of Jay Bilas' "it's not your shot, it's our shot." At every level, bad shots ruin the soup. No, you say? 

Brian Scalabrine says, "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Yeah,'s only Summer League. 

Lagniappe: The Spurs' Beautiful Game

Lagniappe 2: a couple of 1-4 high scoring actions from a HS game I saw last night 

Combined ball screen and off-ball screen attack...

Wing into elevator screen. 

But the victors did the most damage with conventional "Flex" offense