Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Rise and Shine
- Thinking the Game
- Shooting and Movement Skills
A Quick Word
Last summer, I kicked in $25 to two filmmakers trying to finish a documentary about U.S. Men’s National Team soccer player Jay DeMerit. From 2007-2010, I worked on a documentary that never raised enough money to complete, so I know the frustrations of the documentary business. I also knew a little about the legend of Jay DeMerit.
Parents and coaches should get a copy of Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story for aspiring athletes. In short, DeMerit went from a lightly recruited high school player to an overlooked college player to a Sunday “pub league” player in England before being signed by Watford and scoring the goal that sent Watford from the Championship to the Premiere League. DeMerit was never involved with the U.S. Soccer youth development program, yet started at the 2010 World Cup.
Two relevant points for young athletes:
- DeMerit was a three-sport athlete through high school. The old family footage shows him playing basketball, pole vaulting, and triple jumping. When his coach asks him to move from midfield to central defense, he says that he’s never played the position, but he could do it. He felt the concepts of marking a man on the soccer field were similar to the defense that he had grown up playing in basketball. He was a late specializer in soccer who changed positions in his twenties because of his athleticism and multi-sport background.
- The door was shut in his face – literally and figuratively – over and over. He continued to train in the hopes of that one opportunity. He was never guaranteed a tryout, let alone a job with a professional club, yet he stayed ready. He never lost confidence, he never pouted, and he never let himself get de-conditioned. He never made an excuse.
I see players with much better opportunities who have ready-made excuses. They are afraid to put themselves out there like DeMerit. His friends thought that he was nuts. His parents wished that he had a job. He had plenty of reasons to give up and get a real job. Instead, he persisted, earned an opportunity in the EPL, and a starting position in the World Cup.
Rise and Shine could be titled “Self-belief and Persistence.” For an aspiring athlete who may be intimidated by the long odds, it is an inspirational and worthwhile movie.
Thinking the Game
I started practice with this explanation today. I wanted to explain to the players how I think about the game, and how I hope to be able to get them to think about offensive and defensive basketball. I believe that regardless of how the defense chooses to play, something is open. As an offensive player, I have to be able to see the opening and have the skills to take advantage. If the defense leaves the jump shot open, and I cannot shoot, it does not matter that I can see the opening. This is why I need to have all the skills; if I can shoot, pass, dribble, finish with either hand, etc., I feel like I am never defended, at least by one player.
I started off an underneath inbound pass because we struggled with them in our game, as I spend very little time coaching underneath out-of-bounds plays, sometimes to our detriment. I asked my center to defend me, and I started in front of the basketball. I told him that he could defend me any way that he wanted. First, he full-fronted, standing between me and the ball with his hands high. I simply stepped between his legs, put my inside shoulder on his chest, kept both hands high, and called for the pass over his head. I caught the ball and in one motion, front pivoted on my top foot into a jump hook before he could recover.
Next, he played to the inside of with his hand and arm between me and the ball in a half to three-quarter front. I simply walked toward the other block, reverse pivoted into his body and called for the ball. He was now on my back with nobody between me and the ball or me and the basket.
If for some reason he started on the outside of me to prevent me from walking him across and sealing him, I would simply step over his bottom foot (foot closest to the passer; normally it would be the top foot with the pass coming from the wing or the top of the key) and call for the ball with my opposite hand away from the defender.
No matter how he chooses to defend me, I should be able to get open in a dangerous position without much effort. That is how I think about offensive basketball. If the defender tries to take away one thing, he becomes susceptible to something else.
Next, I asked them to think about the best way to defend me in that situation. I gave them a hint: it depends. As a defender, I want to play percentages. Where do I have an advantage? If I am taller as a defender, I might front and dare them to throw over my head. If I am stronger, I might play to the inside and not allow him to walk me to the other side to seal me.
Team defense is designed to turn percentages in our favor. If our defender decides to front the offensive player, a teammate drops down from the top to take away the lob over the top. If the defender plays three-quarter or half-front, the on-ball defender can slide to the basket to take away the pass when he pivots and seals. That is the purpose of team defense; reduce the percentages.
Of course, the offensive player has teammates too. The offensive strategy is to disrupt this defense or take advantage of their defense. For instance, if the on-ball defender sits in the middle of the key to take away the pass, the passer will be open for a second as soon as he passes the ball and steps into the court. If there is a screen set for him, he will have even more space. In this way, we punish the defense’s tactics.
When players think in this manner, offense and defense become easy. It isn’t about plays or strategy. It’s about seeing the openings and taking the path of least resistance. If I can stand in the corner and spot up ready to shoot, and my defender has to help in the lane on penetration, why would I do anything else? I am open. Cutting, screening, etc. are ways to disrupt the defense and get players open. If I am already open, why move? I put my hands up and get ready to shoot. If my defender takes away my teammate’s lane to the basket, he has to have the skill to see me in the corner and make the pass. Similarly, if I am a post player and I can set an on-ball screen for the point guard and force the defense to switch, we don’t have to do much else. I roll to the basket with a smaller player on my back (mismatch 1), while my point guard squares to the basket with a post player in space (mismatch 2). Without any help, one of us should score. If the defense helps, someone else is open. We simply have to have the skill to find the open player, and the open player must have the skill to perform the required skill (finish close to the basket, make a three-pointer, etc).
Defensively, we play the percentages. Offensively, we disrupt the defense. Every specific tactic or skill returns to these general ideas. We just have to think about how to disrupt the defense or what the best percentage play is, and we know how to handle any situation.
Shooting & Basic Movement Skills
A couple sophomores practiced with us today. At a break, I saw one shoot a free throw. I asked if that was really how he shot because it was all kinds of wrong. He said he was trying to change because he was off-balance. I told him that he was off-balance because when he bent his knees, he bent forward onto his toes, with his knees in front of his toes. That is not a balanced position, regardless of what he did with the rest of his body.
While searching through photos for a presentation, I found this photo. It is not exactly like the sophomore, but close. I have no idea who this player is, but I would be shocked if he is a good free throw shooter. His body lacks alignment: his toes point in different directions; his knees point in different directions; his shoulders and head appear to be out of alignment with some twist in his torso. Each of these is a small thing, but together, there are a lot of things that have to go right for him to shoot effectively. He is simply not in a good position to be a consistent shooter.
His body position could be due to tightness, weakness, habit, injury or something else. Regardless, the underlying movement is inhibiting the shot execution. With a player like this, I would address any tightness first. Based on his body position, I would guess that his calves are tight. I would recommend a foam roll or tennis ball for his calves. I would also use a tennis ball on the bottom of his foot to release the fascia.
Next, I would make sure that he could squat. Ideally, I would have him squat barefoot so that he can feel the motion and get a sense of his heels lifting off the ground.
After addressing some of the likely issues affecting the underlying movement, I would align his body in his shot. Some players shoot better with an open stance; I shoot with a slightly open stance. However, in an open stance. I want both feet and knees pointing in the same direction.
The theory of opening the stance is to make it easier to keep the elbow in a straight line. As you can see in the photo, the player’s elbow is not in a straight line, so if that is the intention, it is not having the desired effect.
There are other details that I personally do not like, like his hand positioning. However, some of the other changes might improve those naturally. Others may wind up less important if the bigger issues of balance and alignment are corrected. Right now, the player is shooting against himself. He is moving in so many different directions, he cannot possibly be consistent. Before concentrating on the shot, I would address the basic movement and then transfer the improved movement to the sport-specific skill.