Latest update: May 23rd 2014
First posted: May 8th 2014
These are coaching points or rather preliminary ideas that occurred to me when watching the first round of the NBA Playoffs 2014. Ideas from the Conference Semifinals can be found here.
Hawks @ Pacers / Game 7 / May 3
* The more precisely and rigidly a team follows the guidelines derived from the analysis of past performances, the more vulnerable it becomes to tactics that go against the grain.
* Meaning, Pacers are built to play defense against an offense with at least one big who stays inside – say, an ordinary NBA offense.
* They got into trouble against a team that played a five-out offense – even if the Hawks didn’t do it very well or smartly.
* So a coach should prepare his team to meet the unexpected.
* Also, the more similarly the other teams in any given league play, the more advantageous it becomes for one team to do something wholly different.
* If all other teams play man-to-man, you play zone. If all other teams play zone, you play man-to-man.
Bobcats @ Heat / Game 1 / April 20
* A coach should never use the term “extra pass”.
* Usually there is nothing extra about an “extra pass” but the term simply refers to a pass that is made by a player, who is in a decent position to shoot, to a teammate, who is in a better position to shoot.
* The underlying assumption of the term “extra pass” seems to be that basketball players are by nature selfish, and that making an “extra pass” is somehow a sacrifice – when in fact it is the basic job of a collectivistic basketball player.
* The aforementioned individualistic line of thinking is deceivingly common in basketball. Think about it: isn’t it the general opinion that Michael Jordan nobly sacrificed his game when he settled for scoring less and passing more? I.e. when he enabled Bulls to win all those championships – while still playing de facto selfishly but less so.
* Phil Jackson won all those championship rings by getting his superstars to play – not selflessly, but less selfishly. Isn’t it kind of embarrassing to the rest of the NBA that this ability played a big part in making Jackson possibly the greatest coach in the league history? Shouldn’t selfless, collectivistic play be the default setting, instead of an achievement to be celebrated?
* Because of this, if a coach is able to replace all individualistic tendencies in his team with a collectivistic approach, it is going to look like his team is overachieving.
Warriors @ Clippers / Game 7 / May 4th
* If a coach wants to develop a future high-performance player, the goals for sport-specific skill learning must be set enormously high compared to what most of us are used to.
* At the moment Stephen Curry looks like an anomaly, but that won’t last for long. In sports, as in business, competitive edges always fade due to “the erosive forces of imitation, competition, and expropriation”.
* As the players develop more and more advanced technical skills, it becomes more and more important and difficult for them and their coaches to realize when and where to apply those skills to enhance the success of the team.
* Otherwise, the players are just showing off their technical skills.
* In other words, a player should possess great skills, and yet use them as rarely as possible. That is because the greater a skill seems, the riskier it probably is to execute – that is why the skill seems great in the first place.
* A lesson learned from watching Curry: some technically exceptional players not only resolve difficult situations with their skills but also create the very same difficult situations in the first place – or at least let them arise – because of they’re confident that their skills will get them out of trouble.
* Which is more telling a sign of a player’s greatness: not getting in a lot of risky situations, or resolving risky situations successfully?
* It’s not either or, but both, right?
Grizzlies @ Thunder / Game 7 / May 3rd
* Any #5 is going to be valuable, if he’s able to:
1) set a high middle pick,
2) soft roll,
3) catch a bounce pass at 10 feet from the basket
4) and hit a shot consistently from that distance or make a smart, quick pass
* At the highest level of play, this simple-sounding action is hard to execute successfully.
* The same can be said about any number of actions. The physical, technical, and tactical constraints are strict.
* That is why “positionless basketball” will and can never happen at the highest level of play. Players must specialize in certain skills to be able to execute them efficiently even where the air is thin.
* Why did the Grizzlies never have a chance in this Game 7?
* Was it that because Zach Randolph was missing, the sum of the available players’ individual skills was not enough to compete with the Thunder?
* Or was it rather because Randolph’s special skills were such a crucial part of the Grizzlies’ highly integrated system? When no one else even attempted to play his role, the network shut down.
* This quote from Duarte et al seems relevant: “Complex biological systems face a complementary interplay between functional specialization tendencies (based on interindividual variation) and functional integration tendencies.”
* A paradox: The more optimally a coach wishes to utilize his players’ unique skills, the more functionally specialized his system should be. Yet the more functionally specialized a system is, the more difficult it becomes to make it functionally integrated. E.g. replacing injured players becomes more difficult.
* What resolutions are there to this paradox?
1) Recruit role players who can fill in for your starters by playing the same basic role reasonably well.
2) Keep the system as flexible as possible by e.g. practicing with different scenarios in mind (like losing your irreplaceable #4 for Game 7).
* What does this imply in practical terms? E.g. this: in the NBA playoffs 2013 San Antonio Spurs’ center Tiago Splitter got injured in the Game 3 of the first round series against Lakers. In Game 4 Splitter was not replaced in the starting five by their next best big man but by Aron Baynes. He had not played at all in the first three games but he is the same type of player that Splitter is.
* Certainly, Splitter’s absence still hurt the Spurs because he is a better player than Baynes is. Yet Coach Popovich’s decision minimized the damage because he wouldn’t let Splitter’s absence break down the team’s integrated network and rotation.
* This is not to claim that Coach Joerger should have used another player than Mike Miller to replace Randolph at #4 in the Grizzlies’ starting line-up. He certainly knew what he was doing.
* Rather, the point is that a coach should work like hell in advance and in the long run to prepare his team so that no matter what happens, the basic system of play will remain intact and thus the team will remain competitive.
Spurs @ Mavericks / Game 6 / May 2nd
* Primary ball handlers should be taught to dribble in a way where there is no regular rhythm, or arrhythmically.
* I.e. they should constantly vary the height of the dribble, the force they use to push the ball towards the floor, and the time the ball stays in contact with their hand.
* This constant variation will help them:
1) Time their passes,
2) Time their shots off the dribble,
4) Minimize the number of times the ball is stolen from them,
* Mavericks’ Jose Calderon is a great example in this aspect of ball handling.
* Wizards’ Andre Miller is also something to see. He has a curious knack for keeping the ball in contact with his hand for extended periods of time without getting called for carrying the ball.
* Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney have written about Dwayne Wade’s arrhythmic dribble.
* Once again, varying the dribble is easier said than done. It takes a lot of practice to learn to do it constantly without explicit control.
Raptors @ Nets / Game 6 / May 3rd
* What is the purpose of shooting practice?
* To learn how to hit shots, right? That’s what I always thought but maybe the emphasis is somewhat misled.
* Maybe a better wording is that the purpose of shooting practice is to learn to shoot effectively in game situations.
* Besides hitting shots, shooting effectively includes selecting shots wisely, drawing fouls and hitting shots while getting fouled.
* Also, shooting should not be treated as an isolated action, as it often is.
* Rather, when shooting practice should include shooting over a defender, shooting from way beyond the 3-point line, shooting off-balance, shooting while getting fouled, shooting while considering passing, shooting while being afraid of getting.
Trail Blazers @ Rockets / Game 5 / May 1st
* Currently in pick-and-roll defense, the most obvious room for improvement lies in using hands. Some pocket passes or even skip passes are barely defended since defenders tend to keep their hands in generic, traditional positions.
* Though an obvious one, this aspect is probably not an easy one to improve because it demands novel motor patterns. It is a tough task to e.g. fight over a pick and follow the dribbler in full speed with your both hands held high above your head in order to harass the skip pass.
Wizards @ Bulls / Game 2 / April 23rd
* Help side defender should be in a position where he has a hand in the passing lane and will not allow a direct, crisp pass to his player.
* At the moment this is not happening consistently but rather help side defenders drop too far back, possibly because they are overly worried about the other team running a backdoor alley-oop on them.
* Because of this overblown concern teams give up easy direct passes that lead to open 3-pointers.
* Certainly, a backdoor becomes a major concern as the help-side defenders step up to have a hand in the passing lane. Because of this, players should work on recognizing the signs of a backdoor attempt and e.g. on pedaling backwards, jumping off one foot and interrupting the alley-oop pass.