Hard 2 Guard Player Development Newsletter
Practice in Proportion to your Aspirations.
In this Week’s Newsletter…
- A Quick Word: Federer vs. Nadal & our Definition of Athleticism
- Why do players struggle with 2v1 breaks?
- Neuromuscular Footwork
A Quick Word
During the Australian Open, a fan poll asked viewers to vote for the quickest player on tour between Andy Murray, Rafa Nadal, Gil Monfils and Novak Djokovic. I cannot explain the absence of Roger Federer, but Nadal captured over 50% of the votes.
Since the inception of the Nadal/Federer rivalry, tennis analysts and the general public have framed the discussion in terms of Federer’s skill versus Nadal’s power and athleticism. Whenever Nadal plays, the analysts use terms like “physical” to describe his talent, while Federer’s play is characterized by the genius of his shot-making ability. These characterizations short-change the talents of both players.
Nadal apparently is injured again, as he struggled through a three-set loss in the Quarterfinals. While many ignore these factors in their discussions of athleticism, Nadal’s frequent injuries, and Federer’s lack of injury, are signs of Federer’s superior athleticism. When I commented on twitter, I received a familiar response: “Nadal’s athletic ability makes him play out of control, Federer can’t get hurt he is barely exerting himself.”
This thinking illustrates our collective misperceptions of athleticism, athletic and athletic skills. I would never characterize an athletic performer as “playing out of control,” as body control and dynamic balance are two foundational qualities of athleticism. Federer’s gracefulness and ability to appear not to exert himself is a testament to his skill, which I do not want to diminish, but also a signal of his amazing athleticism.
Knee injuries plague basketball players. Injuries do not manifest themselves without a cause. For chronic injuries like knee tendonitis, there is often an underlying cause beyond the repetitive stress and the hardwood courts. Basketball players possess great power, which translates to high vertical jumps, but they often lack other elements of athleticism, including deceleration skills.
A friend told me the story of his local gym. Around 8th grade, the young guys realize that they can dunk, so they spend hours in impromptu dunk contests. However, because these gains in vertical power occur rapidly, rather than progressively, and the players seemingly add 10 inches to their vertical jump almost over night, they do not develop the requisite strength and skill to absorb force correctly or efficiently. They crash down from the rim putting huge loads on their developing knees. Within a year or two, nearly all of them have some form of knee pain.
In our culture, an 8th grader who can dunk is the embodiment of athleticism. However, that power has a consequence, and the consequence is often16-year-olds with knee tendonitis. A 17-year-old with the knees of a 40-year-old man is not the embodiment of athleticism.
Nadal is a powerful tennis player. He does play a physical brand of tennis with jarring stops and starts and violent moments at his shoulder and elbow. However, power does not equal athleticism. When analysts describe Nadal’s athleticism, at least in relation to someone like Federer, they should specify power, not athleticism. Right now, nobody is a better athlete in tennis than Federer. He may not be the fastest running straight-ahead (Murray) or the most powerful, but his combination of athletic qualities is second to none. Federer appears to strike the ball perfectly every time – he is able to appear perfect because he is always on balance. This balance results from superior deceleration, quickness, agility, reaction time and anticipation (a sports-specific skill). He appears not to exert himself because he moves effortlessly, and this effortlessness derives from his athleticism.
Power is a major component of athleticism, especially in a sport like basketball. However, until we move past the idea that power = athleticism, we will never maximize our players’ athleticism, and those who are predisposed to injuries because of poor technique or poor general athletic development will never receive the instruction or foundational work necessary to remedy the issue, maximize performance and reduce injuries.
2v1 Transition Situations
I attended two college basketball games and watched several others last week, and the decision-making and execution in 2v1 situations was deplorable. When I played, we generally practiced 2v1 situations in the less-emphasized aspect of a 3v2/2v1 drill. However, our junior varsity coach Jim Peth constantly stressed that a 2v1 was just like a 1v0 and should be finished with a lay-up every time.
The problem is timing. As I explain in the video above, there are two very basic types of 2v1 fast breaks: (1) the two players attack in a straight line as one wave; or (2) one player sprints out ahead of the second player.
In youth basketball, problems occur because the player without the ball tends to get far in front of the ball handler, but the ball handler continues to dribble. The wing sprints to the basket, stops and waits. The ball handler eventually passes to the stationary target, giving the defense an opportunity to recover because the wing stands straight up while waiting for the ball and finishes slowly. To compound the error, the ball handler passes too early: that is, he passes before the defense commits to the ball, meaning the defender has a shorter slide to recover to the finisher.
Now, I write too early with some trepidation. In fact, when looking at this break as a whole, the ball handler passed far too late. If a teammate is ahead of me, and there is a lane to complete the pass, I should pass ahead. Put the pressure on the defense. In these cases, the 2v1 should look more like a 1v1 with the second player trailing. The original ball handler typically receives the return pass because the wing attacks, draws the defender all the way because of the 1v1 situation and passes at the last moment to the original ball handler for a lay-up.
Once the ball handler decides not to pass up the court, the pass comes too early which you can see in the video. As the ball handler, I attack until the defense stops the ball. If I allow the defender to play the passing lane or hedge in between myself and my teammate, the defender has a better chance to deflect a pass, steal the pass, slow the break or defend the shot. As I demonstrate, if the defender fails to commit all the way to the ball, I finish. Players develop with the mindset that they have to pass in a 2v1 fast break. Our defense played the pass all season last year, and players continually passed even though we sat in the middle of the key and made no attempt to stop the ball.
When players attack the basket, they must attack to score. When that lane disappears, then they adjust and pass to the open player. However, many mistakes occur because the ball handler is unsure of what to do and attacks passively, slowing the speed and allowing another defender to recover. In the drill below, 2v2 Army Drill, there is always a second defender sprinting into the play because the defense will be trying to recover in a game. The goal is to score in the 2v1 rather than having to play 2v2. That means that the break should take no more than one pass once the offense gets inside the three-point line. If it requires two passes to score, especially below the free throw line, the first passer probably made a poor decision.
In the college games, the ball handler almost always passed too soon, even in the successful breaks. He made the finish more difficult for his teammate rather than taking one more dribble, drawing the defender to the strong side of the court and then passing to a wide open teammate.
In the first example in the 2v2 Army Drill video, the player in green runs too slowly. Rather than sprinting and trusting his teammate to get him the ball, he runs down the court asking for the ball with his hands. When the ball handler passes to him, he has no advantage over the ball handler. Because they ran so slowly, the second defender easily recovers and makes it a 2v2 situation. The ball handler and the wing failed to put pressure on the lone defender. If the ball handler takes on the defender, he has to make a choice: guard the ball handler who is aggressively attacking the basket or continue to play both players. If the wing explodes down court, the lone defender must decide to drop to the wing’s level, giving the ball handler more space to attack with speed, or stay at the ball handler’s level, giving the wing a wide open lay-up if the ball handler passes over the top. In this case, neither player put pressure on the defense, and the second defender recovered easily: transition situation squandered and no basket scored.
In the second repetition on the same video, the ball handler passed too early again which is why it took another pass to score. However, because he rushed the ball down court, they had time for the extra pass. Rather than pass when he did without forcing the defender to stop him, I would like to see my players attack the rim. The defender was playing in the middle, which makes the pass more difficult than the drive. I would prefer for my player to attack the rim. If the defender recovers late, then the pass might be an option or if he is out of position when recovering, a lay-up attempt may result in a three-point play.
The key to successful transition basketball is to attack quickly but with control and to take what the defense gives. In a 2v1 fast break, the defender can defend only one person. If he is not defending you, he is defending your teammate. Therefore, you should finish. If the defender is defending you, then nobody is defending your teammate, so you need to get him the ball. When thinking about the break in these terms, the decision-making is simple. Am I defended or not? Has the defender stopped me? Often, because defenders are taught to play both players, the ball handler has the best opportunity to finish.
I found the below video from Dr. Duncan French of Newcastle United The x-up to tuck jump is a good combination drill to add to a dynamic warm-up once players competently perform the carioca and the tuck jump separately.
Beyond illustrating a new drill to incorporate, I wanted to demonstrate the ground contact in the last repetitions. You can hear his foot contacting the ground on the ball of his foot.
At P3 in Santa Barbara, this is the first thing that Dr. Marcus Elliott emphasizes with new clients: ground reaction forces. An athlete wants to use the ground contact to increase the force of his movement rather than thinking of the ground contact and the movement as different actions. When the foot hits the ground, there is stored energy to use to drive the person’s movement rather than allowing the force to dissipate (alternatively, the challenge in gymnastics is to land with great velocity and dissipate those forces without stepping forward or squatting deeply).
When executing drills like the above X-up to Tuck Jump, one should emphasize the foot placement and positioning. With the ankle dorisflexed (toes up) and the contact on the ball of the foot, the athlete is positioned to be more explosive by using the stored energy rather than dissipating the energy through a longer ground contact.
In addition to warming up the neuromuscular system, these drills – especially when the details are emphasized – reinforce the basic movement techniques desired in workouts, practices and games. If warm-ups are simply exercises to complete quickly to break a sweat before the real workout, the coach and players miss a learning opportunity and reinforce movements and techniques that ultimately must be changed when used in conjunction with more sport-specific skills. Develop these movement habits generally through warm-ups and movement preparation drills, and the basketball-specific skills build on top of the right movement fundamentals improving balance, quickness and explosiveness.