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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Basketball: Fast Five - "A Tool" for Everyone, Checklists and More

Atul Gawande wrote terrific books - Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal. A surgeon, he mostly writes about medicine. Derive better process from him. 

1. As a surgeon, he hired another surgeon to observe and critique his technique (fabulous article). Despite skill, experience, and training, he improved with mentoring

"Good coaches know how to break down performance into its critical individual components. In sports, coaches focus on mechanics, conditioning, and strategy, and have ways to break each of those down..."

2. Use checklists. 

3. Be prepared. 

Players (and coaches) forget to pack items. In our 'ball bag' I keep:
- A towel (there are always spills)
- First aid kit 
- Clipboard 
- Scorebook 
- Pinnies

Players - pack your "Go Bag" 

High among the forgotten items are sneakers, inhalers, Band-aids, and contact lens solution. 

4. Overarching "Checklist" philosophy:

Some things we want to do are simply beyond our capacity. We are not omniscient or all-powerful. Even enhanced by technology, our physical and mental powers are limited. Much of the world and universe is—and will remain—outside our understanding and control.

5. What can go wrong...will go wrong. 

We've all seen parents have to make extra trips for some or all of the above. Make it your New Year's Resolution to work on process. 

Lagniappe: I read and write every day because I need to improve. Look through this summary of Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird." She explains the title. Her brother had neglected to write a paper on birds for school and neared the deadline. He asked his father how he could possibly finish. His father answered, "bird by bird." 

Writing is about telling the truth. 

Basketball: Minutes and Time - Jordan, the Fab Four, and Roosevelt

Excellence starts by sacrificing time and resources. Kevin Eastman advises, "you own your paycheck." 

Michael Jordan told Carolina assistant Roy Williams, "I will work as hard as any player who ever played for Carolina." Williams replied that to be the best, Jordan had to work harder than any Carolina player. 

The Beatles were an overnight success. Not exactly. Years of grueling preparation under adversity blazed their trail to superstardom. "The Beatles had worked for around 600 hours, under terrible conditions. Imagine —for three months, (playing) between 6 and 8 hours a day and not a single day off."

"Your time is up." When Teddy Roosevelt was appointed New York Police Commissioner, graft and corruption ruled. He changed the culture by investigating and changing leadership. Manage by walking around. He found stars and slackers during midnight excursions. He put in the time when they didn't. Quality replaced crookedness by merit promotion, not favoritism and patronage. He backstopped the program through transparency and public support

Recent examination of Jack Clark's core values highlighted MERIT in a winning culture. Unlinking minutes and merit, we compromise quality and fairness. 

Couple minutes and player investment. In a developmental program, everyone gets minutes, but not the same share. Invest the time, engagement, and effort to earn more minutes

There are no shortcuts...not for Michael Jordan, the Beatles, or Teddy Roosevelt. Why should we expect them? 

Lagniappe: developing basketball IQ
Lagniappe 2: via @BBallImmersion

Dave Smart – Q: What are the weaknesses that you look for in a player?
A: The first thing is ‘Where do they struggle to pass from?’ If you can’t pass at a high level, you can’t play.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Basketball: Fast Five - Deceive Your Opponent

"To move your enemy, entice him with something he is certain to take." - SunTzu

Sun Tzu believed that "all war is based on deception." Use misdirection, fakes, and deception to prosper. Deception belongs to both offense and defense. 

The mongoose uses deception, patience, a thick hide, lightning speed, and biochemical adaptation to overwhelm lethal enemies

1. A great fake is a joy forever. Slow down; entice the defender


2. A great shot fake is "a shot not taken." 

Kelly Olynyk is a master...eyes on the rim, slows down, and brings the ball to the top of his head

3. Slipping the pick...a screen fake. 

Zak Boisvert shares. Recognition and execution. The screener defender overplays and 'cheats' on the hedge/show...opening the slip. 

4. Defending the pick-and-roll. Do you teach show/hedge? Coach K uses the descriptive "fake trap." Keep it simple. Have easy terminology

5a. Defensive feints. Combine active and passive approaches. Stunt at a ballhandler or a post player after entry. This may force a mistake or unintended action. In a passive approach, "lie in the weeds" preparing to jump a passing lane. 

5b. Moving without the ball. "Change direction and change pace." Setting up your cut means misdirection.

Lagniappe: half court offense never gets boring
Lagniappe 2: "Don't be afraid of challenge and hardship as long as you persist."

Can't learn a play? How about 200 pages of scripture? 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Basketball: Books Change Lives

“The differences between the person we are today and whom we become in five years are the people we meet and the books we read." 

Writers and readers uncover ideas and worlds unavailable to non-readers. Reading excavates expertise where none existed. Find books like these that challenge and inspire us now and forever. 

Search Inside Yourself. Chade-Meng Tan teaches the science and substance of meditation. Mindfulness upgrades our hardware (neuroanatomy) and software (neurophysiology) via neuroplasticity. We replace neurons into our nineties. Mindfulness training disrupts peripheral physiology, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress hormones. 

It demands a small time and no cash commitment.

The Positive Dog. Jon Gordon explores the value of positivity via a heartwarming story. Positivity and gratitude enhance everything from immunity to happiness.

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Man is the storytelling animal. We teach, we learn, we proselytize via stories. Success follows our narrative capacity. The Heaths expand the SUCCES acronym - simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories. Powerful stories leave an impression.

Leadership in Turbulent Times. Many values comprise leadership - empathy, curiosity, ambition, energy. Doris Kearns Goodwin studies four great presidents - Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson. She explores how their strengths and weaknesses changed America. Lincoln overcame disabling melancholy. Teddy Roosevelt had disabling asthma and his mother and wife died on the same day. FDR overcame paralytic illness. LBJ championed breaking barriers, navigating deeply entrenched racist roots to pass voting rights

The Leadership Moment. Einstein explained that "imagination is more important than information." Michael Useem links leaders to challenges faced in the moment. Wagner Dodge escaped a raging wildfire and advanced fire research. Arlene Blum led women where none had gone before, to the summit of Annapurna. Climbing one of fourteen Nepalese peaks over 8000 meters, her expedition faced unique challenges and paid a high price for glory. Merck CEO Roy Vagelos offered a free sight-saving drug to millions of Africans afflicted with river blindness. Years later Merck's philanthropy triggered payback, as countries opened their markets to Merck first. 

Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense. Carolina Coach Dean Smith had insight preceding today's analytics. Perhaps his Mathematics training gave him unique perspective to discuss practice and the development of offensive and defensive systems. Almost four decades later, Smith's book and life remain timeless. 

Commit to educating ourselves and our players every day. 

Lagniappe: Sixer ATOs from 2018 (includes video)

Screening the middle is a core concept. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Basketball: Measure What Matters, Give Feedback, and Adjust

"It's not good enough to be right, you also have to be effective." - Neil DeGrasse Tyson's father

Dissect and simplify. What two concepts are essential? 

  1. Quality shot(s) every possession (implies no turnovers)
  2. "One bad shot" (at most) for opponents every possession

To get sustainable competitive advantage, measure those essentials. But what? 

Dean Smith explored points per possession in his book, Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense. Carolina sometimes scrimmaged with shot quality-based scoring. An uncontested layup was the highest ranked. He thought that helped North Carolina have the highest shooting percentage in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

Data miners study factors contribute to winning. In the early 2000's, Dean Oliver published Basketball on Paper, seminal research about the four factors:

Other authors extended and idealized the concept. They rebranded the Four Factors as:
  1. Score every possession
  2. Protect the basketball
  3. Grab all the rebounds
  4. Get to the Foul Line
They emphasize what I call basketball symmetry - the opponent's statistics, relative performance. 

Effective field goal percentage (EFG %), while not the Holy Grail, becomes the primary target.

They adjust for the impact of the data on winning using complex statistical methods that give any of us an ice cream headache. 

In other words, shooting and turnovers account for over eighty percent of the outcome variation...not exactly low hanging fruit. 

NBA Team Opponent Floor percentage reveals a lot. The correlation with team records is striking. 

Data may not decide an individual game, but define large samples. Reinforce to players the importance of quality shots, disallowing easy shots, and avoiding turnovers. Give and get feedback through the season. As they embrace better process, better results follow. 


Brian Adams – “An area I really want to up this year is help defense – the ability to shrink and pack the paint . . The top eight defensive teams were all top eight in least amount of points allowed in the paint.”

2019 statistics: 

New York is limiting points in the paint...but allows the second most points per game on three-pointers (41)...Philadelphia is best at 28.9...the Knicks are also 24th in allowing highest percent of points on free throws and 25th in field goal percentage allowed. Overemphasis on one data point can mislead us. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Basketball - Technique Informs Artistry, Ballet to Basketball

We cannot separate our lives from play and coaching. Misty Copeland shares her childhood poverty, a life without structure, consistency, or hope. She lacked balance and had zero confidence.

Music and dance imposed structure and conveyed her self image and message. Hardships became emotions expressed through dance. Dance built robust resilience, Doris Kearns Goodwin's "ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration.

Art imitates life. It recalled Kevin Bacon's character Ren in Footloose

Our play and coaching tell a story. The story reveals our dreams, purpose, and will. It illuminates character through teamwork...or selfishness. Like the great Sam Jackson, Copeland studies the period and characters in her performances to animate them through dance.  


Basketball fosters freedom and constraints. Years ago, the local girls' high school team led by eight with fifty-five ticks left. They had sidelines out-of-bound possession near midcourt. ATO, the team inbounded the ball to a team captain who immediately jacked up a long three...and missed. Profound unawareness or extreme selfishness? Either way, the play disrespected teammates and the game. Not the story anyone should seek to tell. 

Most thirteen year-olds have limited life experience. Expecting them to inject that experience into their play asks the unreasonable. Few can power their physical training and skill into statement play. Their adolescent struggle with identity and self-awareness reveals itself as indecision and inconsistency.  

Copeland asserts the dancer as actress, technician, and athlete. With experience, players have the know that and know how to impose skill and will upon the game.  

Years ago, I coached a team that 'turtled' in a game, pushed around and submissive. Afterwards, I scolded them, not for losing, but for their attitude. "Stand up for yourselves. How you play reflects how you live your life.

Six months later a player approached me, "that how you play is how you live stuff really got to me." She is a multi-sport varsity athlete now. Coaches never know what players hear. Artistry and attitude find a way. Use art to tell great stories. 

Lagniappe:  Build strength, balance, and flexibility into your training. 

Lagniappe 2: The Daily ATO (at 11 seconds, "baseline drive - baseline drop"). Incorporate winning actions. 

Lagniappe 3: "The key to success is WORK, WORK, WORK." - Abraham Lincoln 

Double Bonus: "The losing army fights first, then seeks victory." - Sun Tzu 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Basketball: Need a Late Three

What are your favorite three point sets close and late

Start with the availability heuristic

I first think about PORTLAND. 

Horns fosters flexible actions like an elevator screen three. 

Gregg Popovich has an ATO double stagger off of a dribble handoff. 

"Winner" creates multiple options against the 2-3 zone from a SLOB. 

Lagniappe: Sometimes the defense provides charity if you have a shotmaker. Hard bet. 
Lagniappe 2: It's math. With young players, we won't shoot a high percentage, so we need more and better quality shots. Where they arise -rebounding, reducing turnovers, and better passing

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Basketball Practice: Themes for Tangible Improvement

After people, practice is our most valuable resource. We can't waste a minute...

During our first six weeks (twelve possible practices) we've lost two practices to holidays and one to a snowstorm. As Bill Belichick says, "you can't win a war digging a hole, you've got to attack." 

Time constraints challenge skill growth and game play in a 90 minute practice...

Get organized. 

Review your drill book to refine team needs. 

Vary drills to keep practice fresh

What words and concepts never grow stale? 

Energy. The coaches and point guards need energy every practice. Energize. Jon Gordon's The Energy Bus shares ten rules. 

Remember that although we're the driver, we don't have the right to throw people under the bus. 

Collaboration. Work together, always on the same page. Remember Nassim Taleb's Silver Rule, "Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.

Sacrifice. Early in his career, President Lyndon Baines Johnson served as principal at an impoverished school near the Mexican border in Catulla, Texas. He taught, coached sports and debate, and spent half his salary on equipment for students. He recognized the inequality facing the students and made a difference. Share something great. 

Curiosity. How does the game work? What does our team need? Franklin Roosevelt pored over his stamp collection, which took him to faraway places and people. Be a learn-it-all. 

Positivity. Pat Riley says, "catch people in the act of doing something right." Find ways to celebrate good play. Make players know they are valued. "I believe in you." 

Lagniappe: Learn to play at different speeds. Separation follows change of direction and change of pace
Lagniappe 2: Read. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Basketball: Pattern Recognition

"The more patterns you learn, the more tools you have at your disposal as a competitive player." - Garry Kasparov 

VDE - Vision, Decision, Execution
The root struggle of basketball is one-on-one. Excellent players win individual battles, seeing advantage and exploiting technical edge. 

"It's a shoulders game...low man wins." 

"Attack the front foot, front hand." A fraction of the players we teach absorb the techniques and execute the skills. 

Chess masters grow by 'chunking' positions, recognizing opportunity in specific positions. 

From Gobet and Simon, Memory, 1998. Chess Masters recall and copy chess positions according to their skill levels. 

The fortunate geometry of two black pieces on the same color sets up the double attack, the pawn protected by the knight relocation (next move). Kasparov reminds us that when we are overwhelmed with our own ideas, we tend to forget about the competition. 

You don't need ten guys to play. 2-on-2 built players from the ground up...learning to execute in small units first. 

2-on-2 with Dribble Handoff (DHO) spawns another skill set. 

3-on-3 yields another level of complexity. We practice 3 v 3 inside-the-split most sessions. 

Basketball has its unique geometry, like this Chicago Bulls/Tom Thibodeau set. 

We have the high ball screen with its intrinsic basket attack, roll, pop theme. But depending on help, we create multiple attacks with the 4 relocating to the elbow and a possible corner three...chesslike. 

Teach players to create quality scoring opportunities. They own responsibility to carry that forward to high school and beyond, growing knowledge, athletic explosion, and execution. 

Lagniappe: SLOB  Boomerang from @BBallImmersion (Chris Oliver)

Monday, December 23, 2019

Fast Five: Jack Clark Raises the Bar, Getting Better as a Coach

1 "Hard work is a talent, because hard work means you keep going under pressure." - Garry Kasparov, former World Chess Champion

2 Hard work builds a process creating continuous quality improvement (kaizen). It never ends. 

Everyone studies successful coaches. Cal rugby coach Jack Clark is among the best in any sport. Wikipedia shares, "the Bears' era of success under Clark has also included a combined record of 36–1 against rugby powerhouses ArmyNavy and Air Force; 14 of the last 18 vs. University of British Columbia; a domestic winning streak of 98 games from 1990–96 and a 70-game tear that lasted until 2003; a winning streak over U.S. collegiate competition that lasted 115 matches between April 2004 and May 2009; and a winning streak in 15s of 63 straight matches from 2010 through Feb. 18, 2012."

He shares his view of coaching structure. 
3 Clark puts day-to-day operations first, emphasizing communication with individuals at every level...bosses, players, coaches, media, donors. 
Execution demands mental toughness. Bring our best every day. 

4  Clark preaches a leadership model with everyone responsible. "On this team, the leadership model is open to everybody. For instance, even if you’re a freshman, you have the ability to make those around you better and more productive: Don’t be a distraction, be on time, know your stuff, play hard and well when you’re called on."

What are our values? We emphasize (for youth basketball) accountability, improvement, and teamwork with the goal of 5 "performance-focused, feedback-rich" process. 

Lagniappe: Share role models for your players - Sabrina Ionescu, the Queen of Triple Doubles

Lagniappe 2: via @BBallImmersion - diversion proves a valuable threat
Lagniappe 3: from Garry Kasparov, MasterClass, Workbook.

"Strong players use their experience to inform their tactical and strategic decisions. You might see what looks like a strong and natural continuation, but remember that a formidable opponent will expect these logical moves. Look for opportunities to embrace creativity and surprise, as an uncomfortable opponent is more likely to make mistakes."

Lagniappe Christmas 'antepenultimate':

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Basketball: Team and Work Make the Player

In The Art of Possibility, Rosamund and Ben Zander question the impact of grades on performance. They quote Michelangelo, "inside a block of marble is a statue" and the sculptor's job is to find it. They require each student to submit a letter explaining why they earned an "A" and insisted that they not use, "I will" or "I intend" or "I hope." 

Here's an edited letter:

"I received my grade A because I worked hard and thought hard about myself taking your class...I became a new person.

I used to be so negative a person for almost everything before trying. Now I find myself a happier person than before. I couldn't accept my mistakes a year ago, and after every mistake I blamed myself. 

I enjoy making mistakes and really learn from these mistakes. In my playing I have more depth than before. I used to play just notes, but now of found out about the real meaning of every piece, and I could play with more imagination

I found my value. I found myself a special person, because I found that if I believe in myself I can do everything."

A teacher divided his class in two, grading one on their volume of clay pots and the other on the quality of their best pot. The group that fired the most post also fashioned the best, learning from their mistakes. Trial, error, and refinement define success. 

This recalls the Marshmallow Challenge to build a tower of spaghetti and marshmallows in finite time. Kindergartners are champions because they build instead of organizing in their finite time. "Practice is magic."  When time is limited, action rules. 

Brad Stevens comments on Patriots' practice, “Their culture, the way that they move from drill to drill, how they pull together, how connected they are… it’s special.”

We disallow failure words, "I'll try" or "I can't." Celebrate Bret Ledbetter's "the person is greater than the player" and choose to focus on possibilities.  

  • Have clear goals. 
  • Be organized.
  • Be specific.
  • Energize. 
  • Operate at the highest tempo you can. (Stevens said he was amazed at the tempo of the Patriots' practices.) Condition within drills. 
  • Be objective but be positive. "WE CAN." 
  • Praise the praiseworthy. 
  • Outstanding players want coaches to make them better. 

Your individual workouts demand equal focus. Hone your strengths. Shrink your weaknesses. Add new dimensions. 

This summer I demonstrated the Reverse Mikan drill to a player on a scorching Sunday. She struggled. Seven days later, she finished with either hand from either side. Own the skill. Believe and do the work

Lagniappe: Strong teams complete a series of actions. In development, we invest time teaching how to play more than running complex sets. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Basketball: Bridging Belief and Truth: Defensive Delay Game

Seek knowledge not validation. President Reagan told a joke about optimism, the little boy excited to find a pile of horse manure in his yard on Christmas. He grabs a shovel and starts digging furiously. "I know there's a pony in there somewhere." Open our minds looking for knowledge. 

Knowledge is an overlapping subset of personal beliefs and truth. Biases, lies, statistics, and sample size color our beliefs. In our first league game this season (8th grade girls), we shot 1 for 9 on three-point shots. I doubt that's an outlier, based on watching practice. 

The conventional wisdom has become the Rise of Analytics

The Houston Rockets embraced the New Wisdom sooner than most other teams and found players to execute it. 

Game 7 shot chart, May 28, 2018. "Houston, we've got a problem." The Rockets shoot 7 for 44 from three and the Warriors go 16 for 39. 

Houston led by 11 at half, but during a 33-15 third quarter, the Rockets goose-egged the three-point line (shot chart above). 

Successful teams figure it out. Many games are decided close and late. Build offensive and defensive (comeback) delay games, especially without shot clocks. 

If we trail by 'X' points at 'Y' time, can we rally? What desperate measures come into play? 

When, who, and how are paramount. Implement at the 'right time' with the 'right people' with the 'right strategy.' 

When? I have no data on this, just opinion. I read (somewhere), that desperation comes when a deficit is twice the minutes remaining. In what universe? If we average 40 points a game (youth) and trail by eight with four minutes left, we're beyond desperate. Everyone decides for themselves. The Texas A&M video shows what's possible. Dean Smith's Carolina Tarheels (below) overcame an eight point deficit with seventeen seconds remaining, tied and defeated Duke in overtime. 

Who? Do you have a comeback/pressure team? Do you practice comeback situations? And if so, is your "comeback team" practicing against the quality opposition they will face? 

What is our comeback strategy? Do we play full-court man or zone? Do we trap or play full-denial?  If we trap, do we only trap on the dribble? What are our switching rules? When (and whom) do we foul for profit

I've asked not answered the questions and we lack the practice time to address the delay game in even a fragmentary way. As the season progresses, we'll adjust "special situations" practice to include offensive and defensive delay, working to bridge the gap between belief and truth. With help, the players ultimately figure it out or not.