Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 8.3. Subscribe here.
Steve Kerr allowed Warrior players to run the huddles during their game against Phoenix last night. His decision has inspired praise from those who view it as empowering players and derision from those who view it as disrespecting an opponent or evidence that the Warriors are so good that they do not need a coach. What’s the big deal?
In nearly every practice, we play a simulated game. We play four quarters with the quarters anywhere from one to three minutes. We have two teams. Players coach themselves. Players substitute themselves. Players set their defense and call their own plays (Occasionally I insist on a specific defense or plays for a quarter to practice for an upcoming opponent, but generally, they choose offenses and defenses for at least two of the quarters). After a quarter, I may ask questions or review a new situation that occurred, but generally they coach themselves to win the game.
I want to win the end of quarters, which is one reason that we spend time on these situations. Last game, we had one more possession in three out of four quarters. That is a potential six to nine extra points in a game because we value the end of periods and practice these situations two to three times per week. I want to be prepared for end-game situations. I do not rely on drawing up a play at the end of a game. I may call a timeout to organize, advance the ball, or substitute, but we run one of our practiced plays, which they choose to run during these scrimmages.
Kerr’s decision is headline news today because it is the NBA and the Warriors generate great dialogue because of their dedicated fans and detractors, but what is the big deal? These are professional players. Do we really believe that they are so clueless about basketball that they have no idea what play to call or defense to run? Do we believe that professional players are mindlessly running around a court following a coach’s directions without any thinking, anticipating, adjusting and adapting? Is that our vision of athletes?
I once wrote on a coach’s message forum that we should develop players who are capable of playing well in pickup games. This was met with derision from high school coaches, as was most everything that I wrote back in the early ‘00s, because many coaches have a negative impression of pickup basketball, at least in terms of its fundamental execution. I still believe that it is true. Successful pickup players do not rely on a coach’s offense or instructions; they can adapt to different teammates, positions, and demands. Why do we believe that the coaches should possess all the knowledge? Why do we not value what players see on the court? Furthermore, how do we improve their knowledge if we never challenge them to think or make decisions?