With Christmas falling in the middle of the week, and our next game more than a week away, we practiced twice this week. We had 8 and 9 players show up for the two practices. Whereas I would have been disappointed with this turnout in California, I was surprised to get that many to a freshmen practice in Utah. Sports are not as all-consuming as they are in California, which I suppose in the big picture is a positive.
During the first practice, we tired early and often, so I did as many full-court drills as possible to try to get us back into shape, and interspersed the full-court drills with shooting drills. We did a lot of shots out of one of our sets, working on the catch and first-step footwork. We also did more form shooting. Because all of our guards were present, I spent some more time on ball handling. I also tried the Canada Transition Drill for the first time with this group (below).
The second practice was better and more competitive. We played 3v3 no dribble, did the Foster’s 1v1 Transition Drill, Gael Passing Drill, and Army Drill (transition).
I also created a new game for practice. Rather than revert to the shell drill, we played 4v4 cut throat. However, I manipulated the scoring to emphasize paint touches. One of our weaknesses tend to be helping too late or too low, so I wanted to emphasize helping early and outside the paint. Offensively, we can get jump-shot happy sometimes and not even explore the paint. I got on the team at halftime of our last game because the officials were calling everything, and I was imploring my team to attack the basket, and we settled for jump shot; it was like we were allergic to the key. We attacked in the second half and won the second half by close to 30 points.
To emphasize the paint touches on offense and defense, we played a game to 15. To score, the offense had to make a basket. The value of the basket was determined by the number of paint touches on the possession. A drive to the basket for a lay-up was worth one point; however, if the offense drove and kicked, drove and kicked, drove and kicked, the eventual basket was worth the number of times they got two feet in the key with the ball, whether off of a pass or a drive.
The game started slowly. The players were so focused on getting the ball into the paint that they tried to throw the ball into the paint on the first pass, regardless of whether someone was open or if they had a good angle. Naturally, the defense was trying harder to prevent the ball from getting into the paint, so passes that are often available were not because of the increased defensive urgency.
The drill did not elicit the improvements on offense as I had oped. However, there were two noticeable improvements on defense: (1) post players playing defense before their man caught the ball to prevent the catch in the paint and (2) guards fighting over the on-ball screens. If we carry those two changes into 5v5 play when everyone returns, our defense will make huge improvements. Our defense generally is pretty good, except for in one game. If our posts play better defense before the catch, it should keep us out of foul trouble better, and if our guards play harder on the ball, we should create even more steals.
In a lot of cases, I think our guys get bored on defense because many teams play so slowly. Their action takes so long to develop, and they really only use 2-3 players. We tend to be lazy. If we correct that laziness, we could be pretty good defensively. Our offense generally is pretty good. We have no shot clock, but have scored in the 40s only three times (our spread is 43-70). Each time, we missed double digit free throws and numerous lay-ups. Hopefully our shooting is improving, as percentages from the past 2-3 games suggest.
If we can continue to improve defensively, I plan to add some more sophistication to see what the players are capable of executing. Also, after watching them defend the ball screens today, I am no longer going to allow an automatic switch. Whereas we rarely get punished when we switch, and I rarely worry about mismatches, I think it makes them lazy on defense. We are aggressive in the full-court; I want to increase our aggressiveness in the half court, even if it means we give up a few more open looks than we do typically. In the long run, it should make them better players, as they can always fall back to switching (I do like switching because it makes every player defend every kind of player, so our guards learn to fight and front in the post, and our posts have to move their feet on the perimeter).
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