This was kind of a wasted week. Monday was the football banquet, so we had only seven players at practice, roughly half of the team. Then we played two games. We practiced once after the games, though we don’t play again until January 7th, and then we went into the moratorium where we are not allowed to do anything for five days.
During the short-handed practice, we worked on shooting and ball handling, as most of the perimeter-oriented players were there. We also played some 4v3 full-court games; one player played all-time offense to create continual 4v3 advantages for the offense. I like advantage games to work on transition and help defense. It also helps to emphasize shot selection, as the offense can get an open shot at any time; it’s just a matter of how hard it wants to work to get a great shot.
We emphasize creating 2v1s, but we still fail to see the obvious. In a 4v3, if the offense has two players on each side of the court in a balanced attack, the defense generally will have two defenders toward the ball side and one defender to defend the weak side. Therefore, if the ball is reversed, the offense should have a 2v1 if it moves quickly. I stopped them once to demonstrate this. We passed the ball from one side to the elbow on the other side so we had the 2v1 set up. However, rather than engage the one defender, the player made the next pass to the baseline about 12-15 feet from the basket. Because the defender did not have to engage the player at the elbow, he could close out to the baseline no problem, and the other two defenders could rotate to defend the strong side.
Had the player at the elbow taken one dribble toward the defender, rather than passing, he would have created the desired 2v1. If the defender stepped to the ball, he would have had a bounce pass to a cutting player for a lay-up. If the defender did not step up, he could have attacked the front of the rim. These are the small plays – engaging the defender quickly – that good players make that most players fail to notice.
Naturally, after a short practice with only half of the team and an hour bus ride, we started our game the next day very flat. We trailed by 2 at half, but won by 15 or 16. We played much harder in the second half. We finally had some post players turn to their right shoulder for easy looks rather than turning to their left shoulder every time right into the defense.
As we spread the court late in the game (we’ve never worked on end-game situations with the lead, so I called a timeout to work on something) with no shot clock, one of their fans started yelling at me (“Hey coach!”) that we were boring. Our goal was to spread out the defense and get a lay-up. We played keep away for a while as this fan yelled at me, and then passed to a cutter for a lay-up. He nodded and clapped.
The following day we played again against a team that we beat by 8 or 10 earlier this season. The officials did everything possible to keep the game close, making up calls, making up rules, etc. It was 15-3 in foul calls at the end of the half. This only served to fire up me and the team. We won by 40. Last time we played this team, we led by 16 at half and came out lazily after halftime, thinking that the game was over. This time, there was no let up. I’m not sure if they scored in the 3rd quarter. We played hard.
The one issue with playing everyone is that I cannot empty the bench when a game gets a little out of hand. Unless a player was being punished, every player has played in every half of every game so far – all 14 players. I’m not sure that I have started my best five players yet, as I’m not 100% sure who my best five or my best combination of five is. It varies from day to day. Our leading scorer in this game was the player who probably has played the least so far this season, but started because only four players were on time to practice on Monday so I started all four regardless of win totals. He scored most of his points in the first half, not in “garbage time”. You never know. However, when an opponent starts to play players that rarely play, I just don’t have those guys to put in the game. Every guy is in the game and playing; nobody is coming in unexpectedly and cold from sitting all game.
When we play hard and help each other on defense, we’re pretty good. The guys are improving so much from week to week. Our biggest guy, your typical freshman who has yet to grow into his body, got a steal and took the ball three-quarters court past three defenders and got the and1. Early in the season, he was missing most of his lay-ups; now he’s making his free throws too.
The guys have really good instincts, especially a couple of them. We have not worked a lot on help defense, but we’re picking it up game by game. We’re getting good back flow in the press and making it hard for teams to score even when they beat the press.
When we played them the first time, I didn’t feel there was a huge talent discrepancy. We won, and we should have won, but we had to play well and fight to win the game. Even though we led the entire second half, it always seemed that the game was one play away from turning, and we managed to have an answer every time they scored to prevent that one decisive play from occurring. This time, it was evident that there was a big talent differential even though they were the bigger team, at least inside.
I apologized to the coach after the game because the score got a little out of hand, but there isn’t a lot that I can do. I don’t like telling players to stop playing hard. I don’t have an end of the bench to empty. We took off our press, and we ran plays. I played guys out of position. However, when we tried to sit on the ball and let the game end, they came out and pressured us and fouled us when our guard drove by him to alleviate a 5-second call. If you’re not going to let us run out the clock, I’m not going to tell guys to miss shots just to keep the game within 40.
We had one more short practice prior to our break for the holidays. We worked on footwork as we were called for a bunch of travels this week. We played 3v3 no dribble and 2v2 Gael Passing Drill. We played 4v4 Canada Rules to work on spacing. We ended with the best 2 of 3 5v5 games with the winners getting cookies. I am glad that we did not need to get anything done, as the guys were wired from the beginning.
The guys are picking up things so quickly that I want to add some sophistication. Several teams thus far have run side on-ball screens; we just switch everything right now because I do not worry about mismatches. However, I want to teach them so more sophisticated defenses because I see them starting to do some things naturally. In one of the scrimmages, we set a side on-ball and the defense either tried to trap or fell asleep because the roller was wide open. The weak side defender rotated over early and perfectly before the rolling post could catch the ball. The defender is on the bottom in practice wins and one of those receiving the least amount of minutes, but if he can continue to anticipate and get into position like that, he’s going to see more playing time. The hard thing is getting all of these guys who are improving more minutes.
After writing about the guys who win in practice, it has become completely obvious why they win. Our leader in practice wins was flying around the court in games, defending their best player, beating everyone down court, etc. He wins because he does the little things, not the big things. He absolutely dominates 3v3 because with fewer players, he can have a bigger effect, and the hustle pays off even more.
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