Short week. Took of Monday because of the holiday, and players other commitments. Practiced Tuesday, played Wednesday, practiced Thursday, and that’s it for the week.
On Tuesday, I introduced some new things. The objective was to work on our individual defense, and then to prepare for our opponent’s zone because we rarely work against a zone at practice. I took a couple drills from the Joe Blogg’s Madrid blog. We worked on help an recover into 1v1; we worked on trailing the baseline runner around a stagger screen and then playing 1v1 – in both drills, I set out cones for the offense to try to get through, and for the defense to take away. Hopefully the cones helped to inform the players of what we want to take away, and when the objective was clear, as well as the consequence, they played much harder to defend in that way.
I started the practice with the three-man drill. Divided the group into teams of 3. I dropped a ball for each of two teams and the first team to score at the other end won. Only one team was smart enough to play defense on its opponent, and consequently that team won. The other teams simply tried to use speed, not strategy.
Based on our performance on Wednesday, our practice against the zone did not work well. We did not move the ball well against the zone or finish our opportunities. We fell behind early, caught up at halftime, took the lead on the first three possessions, and then imploded, losing by 11. They played a 1-2-2, and whenever our PG penetrated, they cherry-picked for a basket. When I called a timeout, and mentioned this, one of the other guys even pointed at the PG. I got on the guy, and said that he had taken the last shot in the key: rotating back is not his responsibility in that case. It should have been one of the wings or whomever was rotating behind the penetration. That player lost vision of the player leaking out and we gave up a lay-up. It was disappointing to see the player, supposedly the best player on the team, immediately target another player rather than accepting part of the responsibility, but he does not practice with us, so there’s not a ton that I can do there when I only see him for games.
Besides the leak outs, our defense was pretty good. Our offense was not good. We moved the ball too slowly. Everyone on the bench could see the open player, but we were slow to pivot and find him. When we started to move the ball better in the 2nd quarter, we knocked down consecutive wide open three-pointers. They overplay the ball side so much that the opposite block is wide open. We would pass to the high post, but then we would not pivot to see the opposite block, even with the whole bench yelling. It was frustrating to watch. However, even when we substituted new players in the game, guys who had been watching the others’ mistakes, we continued not to look opposite.
Then, when we did get the ball to the basket, we missed. We had one possession where we missed four lay-ups! This kills us. As I thought about the game that night, we have had a recurring pattern. We start off slowly. However, the problem is not that we play poorly, but that we do not finish. We miss a couple lay-ups early in the game and fall behind, and then we start to press, or we start to play too fast, or we try to get it all back with a 10-point possession. If we finished those chances early, maybe we stick with our game plan, and fare much better. On one of our first possessions, we had a perfect high post entry, looked opposite and threw the ball to the opposite block. The player caught and tried to finish like an alley-oop, a skill well within his repertoire (he made a backwards lay-up while getting fouled later in the game), and the ball rolled off the rim. Stuff like that has been killing us.
On Thursday, finishing was the emphasis. We did some toughness finishing drills, some isolated finishing drills, and some post move drills. We worked on catching and ripping through against a half-speed defender to get body contact on the drive rather than driving wide. We also played 3v3 with simple rules adapted from the Madrid blog: if you’re open in your range when you catch the ball, you had to shoot; if you were defended by one player, you had to drive; you could not pass until you drew 2 defenders (the basic tenets of Blitz Basketball too).
Besides the actual making of the shots, I have decided that a major issue is that we have allowed thee teams that zone and play junk type defenses to slow down our offense. Rather than attacking and being aggressive, we have fallen into the zone trap of becoming passive. I wanted to emphasize the quick decisions and attacking the basket.
Afterward, we played some transition games emphasizing getting the ball to the basket quicker. It’s amazing how many times I have said that a perfect possession would be an outlet, a pass ahead to the wing, and a pass into the post for a lay-up, yet we almost never look for that pass to our posts who are generally bigger and stronger than our opponents. Every time players failed to look at the post, I called the turnover. It was a very choppy game as I yelled turnover after turnover, but maybe that is good, as our opponent’s defenses have been making the games choppy lately.
As I was calling turnovers, I realized that one of the hardest things is to balance the desire to allow players to play with the desire to run the play to get good shots. I do not want players to be beholden to the play, but I also do not want them to ignore it completely or fail to get to the right spots. I stopped the game numerous times because 3-4 guys would be running something, and a fifth player would not be where he should be. Sometimes, however, this player had made a good read, so I showed how we can adjust and adapt to a cut; after all, that’s what I most want to teach.
If we want to reverse to the high post, and the high post cuts backdoor to the rim, what do we do? If we want to pass to the wing, and the wing is denied, what do we do? If one player was supposed to cut, and he’s standing still, what do we do? If a post cuts, and a guard fills, and the next pass is supposed to lead to an on-ball screen, how can we adjust to get a post setting the screen? These are things that happened in practice; in a couple cases, we had adapted correctly, and I wanted to show everyone what 1-2 players did correctly. In other cases, we did not adapt, and I asked how we could make the play better.
It’s not that I want them to run the play; it’s more that I want them to know how to adjust after someone breaks off from the play but does not get the ball. I want to score, and if someone makes that attempt, but we don’t get it, what happens next? How can we continue to run the play from that point adapting to the player who attempted to make a play?
Unfortunately, sometimes that comes across as “RUN THE PLAY!” when I want it to come across as, “Okay, we’re out of the play, and it didn’t work, what do we do now?” Typically, we do one of two things: (1) The point guard backs out the ball and sets up something else or (2) We continue from where we are, not certain of whether we are just playing or trying to run the play still, often with an unbalanced court. I don’t want them to back out and set up: I want them to continue to attack from that point, but I want everyone to be closer to the same page when we do attack, which means adapting to each other and staying within what we were trying to do, with modifications based on what happened. It comes back to the adage that I try to instill: “Make the best decision now.” Someone made a cut that’s not part of the play; okay, what’s the best decision that I can make right now?
We’ll see if any of this sticks with three days off before our game on Monday…
By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League