Coaching a European Club – Week 24

After last week’s game, I went back to the basics this week: we focused on basic movements. We worked on shuffling, quick sprints, hockey stops: basic simple movements. We aren’t quick enough – in our feet or in our minds. I added a change-of-direction speed (CODS) component to our finishing drills, as we have done previously. I wanted to focus on getting into a better stance and moving better and quicker. In our guard breakdowns, I moved from 2v2 to 3v3. We started with the skip pass to the lone side and played from there. Again, we worked on the closeout and defending after the closeout. My emphasis on the week was not to over-help. This is one of the biggest differences between coaching in Europe and the U.S. In the U.S., the number one thing is taking away the lane. However, here, if you collapse, they will kick out for three-pointers. When we play defense, I want the help defenders to read the on-ball defender. If he remains in position to contest the shot, I don’t want to help. I want to force the ball handler to make the contested shot rather than giving him a wide open teammate and passing lane. Defenders have to learn to read this situation: too many times, we end up with help defenders in no man’s land – they are not contesting the shot, but they are not close enough to their man to take away the shot on a kick out. Sometimes, even worse, they stand under the basket – the midline – and are not in position to rebound a missed shot. This was a large focus this week.

In our scrimmages, I simplified out offensive options and focused on plays to get people in position to enter the ball into the post. In games, we tend to rely on two plays because we are most comfortable with those two. However, we need to use other plays to change up the motion and to create passing lanes into the post. With everything that we did wrong last weekend, if we had simply gotten in better position for post entry passes, we probably would have won. We focused heavily on these plays this week.

On the night before our game, I used the last half hour to play end-game games. I don’t coach either team. I force them to figure out what to run and what to play on defense. I use a time and score, and each team gets one shot on offense and defense. As we went through the games, I stopped them because we were not on the same page. One team got the ball with 20 seconds left down by 1 and did not run anything or get a good shot. I asked what play they called out. The point guard said that he didn’t. We talked about the necessity of huddling and talking and being on the same page.

In FIBA rules, a coach can call a timeout only when the ball is not in play. Also, like in the NBA, in the last 2:00, a timeout advances the ball to the front court. Therefore, if our opponent is shooting free throws, I save the timeout until after the second free throw. However, if the free throw is missed, I cannot call the timeout. Therefore, the players have to huddle and plan in the event of a missed free throw.

In our game, our opponent came out bombing threes. They penetrate and kick out for open looks when the defense collapses. They went 7/21 on threes in the first half, and kept shooting. We started poorly again, and I struggled to find a combination that worked well. They had too much speed and shooting to have our two bigs in the game together, so that eliminated our best defensive line-up. They played zone, too, which made it harder to get my quicker defensive guards in the game because they aren’t shooters, which allowed the defense to double team the post, even in the zone. Every time I felt like we were taking control, they would hit a three-pointer.

Eventually, we had to hit a three to send the game into overtime. Then, we hit two free throws to send the game into a second overtime. Finally, we won 107-105 in double OT. They shot over 50 three-pointers. We finally got the ball inside in the 4th quarter and OT, and fouled out three of their bigs in the process. Luckily, we had enough legs to make our free throws in the second overtime, and we made just enough stops to win.

Despite working on it, we over-helped too much on drives and gave up too many kickouts. It is a hard read to determine when to help and when not to help. The decision has to be made in a split second. It is easier when you know that you always help. However, when you always help, the offense knows where to pass. They did a great job of the second pass: the kick along the baseline and the swing to the wing to the wide-open player. It made it difficult to defend.

Our goal defensively is to create short slides, rather than long slides, and stop penetration early. We did not do a good enough job in that area. We also need to talk more.

After the game, I talked about thinking the game, building in part on what I discussed in the end-game games. When we call out a play, we tend to get too robotic. We pick a spot and we stand there; we need to be better at finding gaps or taking one step either way to create a better passing lane. We’re still playing the game too slow, thinking too much. The instincts and the feel are not there for enough of the players. We need more work this week just playing – no plays. Just play fast and make plays. Get into gaps. Go on the catch rather than waiting for the defense. Of course, as I wrote this, we are averaging 79.95 points per game even though we tend to play a slower pace than many of the teams, and we had three awful offensive games when we were missing a couple guys. So, as much as it is frustrating from a developmental standpoint, offense is not really our problem competitively.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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