Rough week. Due to the gym schedule, we went three days without a game or practice before our game on Monday. We started okay, but once we went cold, we were very cold. It was never very close. After the game, I asked the guys if they wanted to practice on Tuesday morning before school, as we had no practice availability after school. The majority said no. One or two players were incredulous that guys did not want to practice after such a poor performance and prior to our next game.
Without a practice, we played again on Wednesday. Again, we started even. Both teams traded baskets for most of the first quarter; the only difference was that they made a couple three-pointers to our two-pointers. In the second quarter, we fell apart. They were on fire, and we could not get a basket to go around the hoop.
Trailing by 17 at halftime, I told them that we were fine. In the first half, we pretty much shut down their two best players – it was players who I did not even recognize making three-pointers. We also had some great players where we missed open shots: one possession, we made two extra passes to get a wide open three-pointer and missed.
We did come back. We cut their lead to two at one point and had the ball only to make a pass to the wrong side of a post player. We had two baskets taken off the board on bad calls, and they shot 17 more free throws, but we still had a chance at the end.
Two games and in both games, the second quarter was our undoing, but in both games, the guys played really hard. We don’t always play smart, and we’re not always on the same page, but it’s not for lack of effort. We get into problems when one guy thinks that we are trapping, but the trapper backs off, giving the ball handler too much space.
Defense works when everyone is on the same page working together. If you are a gambling team, everyone has to be aggressive and ready to help and recover; if you are a conservative team, everyone has to buy in and play smart, positional defense. When one player gambles, and everyone else is unprepared, the defense is disorganized and oftentimes out of position. Good ball movement leads to a wide open shot. We’ve been caught a couple times with four players playing one way and one guy playing his own way. I think many of the mistakes stem from falling behind and trying to get back the lead all at once rather than one basket and one stop at the time.
At practice on Thursday, I had intended to spend the entire practice as an individual workout, but found out that we did not have gym time on Friday to practice. We spent some time focusing on finishing, as that has been out issue. When we played 5v5, I realized our issue: either our defense is not very good in the half court. We are soft and do not have enough ball pressure. It’s funny because the bigger that we go, the more athletic we become, and the better our defense.
On Saturday, I focused more on our individual defense. We played 1v1 out of a help and recover situation, and 3v3. The 3v3 was a little like our games. We play 3v3 3 stops: the defense has to get three stops in a row to get out of the drill. The first group played great defense – however, one of the offensive groups schemed to exploit the weakness. We were working on trapping the pick-and-roll, rotating on the back side, and sprinting out of the trap. Our biggest problem tends to be the sprinting out of the trap. One group spread out the defense, rolled to the elbow rather than all the way to the basket, and put the single defender in a bind: rotate up to the elbow or stay low to take away his own man. It was good offensive practice, as one of our other opponents traps our pick and rolls and if we do the same thing – roll to the elbow, catch and face the basket – we have wide open shots or lanes to the basket.
The groups showed the problems with focusing on results. The first group was stuck on defense the longest, but they played the best defense. They got beat by things like a guard stopping behind the basket, pivoting and making a left-handed hook shot over a bigger defender: they could not have defended much better. Meanwhile, another group miscommunicated and gave up a wide-open lay-up, but the offense missed.
In some ways, it is hard to use a system based on results and wins, while trying to focus on the process too. I want players to be responsible for their actions and behaviors, but I also want to focus on doing things the right way and developing their skills rather than taking a short cut to win a drill or scrimmage.
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