How to Practice Getting Steals

Previously, I wrote about improving the fast fast break by enhancing the net-effect of steal attempts. Among the key implications were:

  1. Stealing is a skill that can be improved by practice.
  2. To enhance the net-effect of steal attempts, learn to limit the amount of gambling involved.

This brought about questions on how stealing can be practiced in praxis. Here are some ideas.

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Learn to Steal While Limiting Gambling

This entry is the 13th chapter of the blog Ideas on Building a Fast Fast Break Offense. The whole blog is here.

A steal provides a better opportunity to run a fast break than a defensive rebound does. Possessions that start with a steal produce more points per possession. Thus it makes sense to try to enhance your fast break offense by increasing the probability of steals.

Up to a point, that is not hard to do. As discussed previously, you can pressure the opponents full court. Or aggressively overplay the passing lanes. Or double team the post-ups. Or simply tell your players to go for steals. And so.

The problem is that there is a price to be paid for steal attempts. There is usually risk involved. For example, if a player gambles to steal a pass but doesn’t get the ball, he will very likely be out of his designated defensive position. This may open up an easy scoring opportunity for the opponents.

Thus, the question becomes: how do you enhance the net effect of your steal attempts? For some teams the best short-term answer is “by making fewer steal attempts”. Lowering the number of gambles may lead to fewer steals but enhance e.g. the defensive field goal percentage – and thus be net-effective.

For some teams the best short-term answer may be the opposite: for them, the best way to enhance the net effect of steal attempts may be to make more of them. That may be the case if the coach has taught his team to play containing, conservative defense and not to take a slightest risk when attempting steals.

However, In the long term the best way to enhance the net effect of your steal attempts is this: practice stealing while limiting the amount of gambling involved. This practice should include both tactical and technical aspects.

This may sound simple and obvious. But outside practicing pressing and trapping, how often do you see teams practice stealing? Quite rarely, wouldn’t you say  – especially considering the high value of steals.

So, for a lot of teams, some practicing stealing would probably be time and cost efficient. Why then don’t teams practice it? Maybe because:

  1. Practicing steals is not a part of the basketball coaching tradition.
  2. Coaches are worried about encouraging gambling.
  3. Steals are such rare occasions that they are undervalued and perceived as random.
  4. Coaches don’t perceive stealing as a trainable skill.
  5. Tactics and techniques used to get steals are so varied and numerous that it’s hard to figure out which ones to practice.