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The Season in Review:
A Critical Self-Examination and Intelligent Off-season Preparation

By Dave DeVenzio, Director of the National Point Guard Camp
and Richard Ford, Assistant Director National Point Guard Camp


The subjective impressions that you draw on your own and solicit from your coach and teammates are important first steps to frame a picture of your season; however, there is also very likely a factual record of your season that can be crucial to your evaluation and the construction of an off-season practice plan. The two most valuable "hard data" resources are stats sheets and game tapes. Hopefully, you'll have access to both through your coach. If you are lucky, your coach may have already calculated individual and team stats for the entire season; if not, you may need to do some number crunching on your own. If you are even luckier, perhaps your team charted shots for each game showing where each shot was taken, who shot it, and whether it was a make or a miss. Obviously, this information would be crucial to evaluating your shooting skills, shot selection, decision-making, and perhaps, strength and conditioning.

The Stats Sheet
What are you looking for in the stats sheet? Well, that may depend on what position you play, what role your coach has defined for you, and the system that your team runs. You will have to assess your stats in light of those context-specific issues. Nevertheless, there are some global observations you can draw from even a cursory review of your stats for the season.

A. Playing Time
First, how much did you play? If your coach substitutes frequently, it may be difficult to judge your actual playing time from memory; however, the stats sheet won't lie. If the actual number of minutes you played didn't meet your expectations or recollection, then ask yourself why you didn't play more, and what you need to do to increase your playing time. Again, this isn't a time for self-pity or complaining. Your goal here is to get answers and take action to become the best player possible. On the other hand, if you are happy with your minutes, you should try to identify those aspects of your game that are valued by your coach and work to emphasize and enhance those attributes as well.

B. Defense
Second, what about your defense? Good players recognize that a team's success or failure starts on the defensive end of the court. It is no coincidence that good coaches and good teams emphasize defense and begin practice in the fall with front-loaded, intense defensive work. As you reconstruct and consider your defensive play (from memory or game tape), you may want to think about whether you: (1) always sprinted back on defense; (2) always saw the ball; (3) always knew where your assigned player was in relation to the ball; (4) always kept your head lower than the ball handler's head when playing ball defense and always stayed in the ball handler's "bubble", making him/her uncomfortable without lunging or reaching; (5) consistently and intelligently talked to your teammates to achieve your team defensive goals; (6) always stayed in good position with a view towards protecting the basket on or off the ball; (7) always got an opponent's body on your back when a shot went up; (8) and lastly, but importantly, always played with a sense of urgency and passion to keep the offense from entering its comfort zone.

The stats sheet should give you some insight into these issues. Let's assume that your team plays man to man defense. How many steals did you have each game? How many defensive rebounds? What about fouls? Were you foul prone, and if so, why? Were you taking shortcuts on defense by reaching or leaving your feet? What about charges? What were the stats of the player you were assigned to guard? Did he/she score at will or have an eye- popping assist to turnover ratio or huge boards? If so, then you need to make defense a conscious priority in your off-season games. Challenge yourself to put the proverbial "glove" on the player you are guarding. Type out a "checklist" of the defensive goals outlined above, bring it to each off-season game and rate yourself after each game. Remember, even if you are not the best athlete on the floor, you can make yourself indispensable by playing intense, intelligent defense. Never underestimate the value of defense.

C. Shooting
Third, what were your field goal and free throw shooting percentages? Were they below your team's averages? What are your coach's expectations in that regard? What are your expectations? Let's assume that you are one of your team's guards, that you averaged 14 minutes a game and you shot 40% from the field and 65% from the line. How would you feel about these numbers and what would you conclude from them? If you are happy playing 14 minutes out of a 32 minute game, then great; but quite frankly, a really good guard would not be satisfied with these stats, especially the free throw percentage. Anyone can become a good free throw shooter and you should aim to shoot at least 80% in games if you want to be on the floor when the buzzer sounds . Thus, if you are serious about increasing your playing time, you will likely have to do some intense free throw shooting in the off-season, preferably charting your shots to record your progress. Can you imagine what a statement you would make to your coach if you showed early in the upcoming season that your hard work in the off-season raised your game F/T percentage to 80%, or even 85%?

And what about your 40% field goal percentage (this is an overall average, not differentiating b/t "regular" FGs and threes; however, you may choose to analyze the two stats separately)? What would you make of that? While 40% may be acceptable if you are the team's best defender or average 10 assists or 10 rebounds, it is by no means eye-popping, and you should make sure that you know why you missed 6 out of every 10 shots. If you were missing open, on-balance shots and your technique is sound, the answer is obvious: you need to practice your shooting. No short-cuts here, just some dedication to a serious off-season shooting regimen that will enhance your muscle-memory, your range and your confidence. If you perceive (or if game tape reveals) that you were routinely shooting quickly, under pressure, or off-balance, then perhaps it's not only a technical shooting issue, but also a decision-making issue. If that is the case, you should make it a priority in off-season pick-up and league games to take only wide-open, on balance shots within your range---no exceptions. If range or fatigue was a contributing factor, you should consider a rigorous off-season strength and conditioning program that is basketball-specific.

D. Ball-handling and Decision-making
Fourth, what about assists and turnovers? For a point guard, the assist to turnover ratio is the best indicator of basic ball-handling skills, decision-making (how well you value the ball) and risk tolerance. You should strive to achieve a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio. What if you are at 1.5 to 1? Well, the problem may be your basic ball-handling skills in which case you should think about intense ball-handling skill enhancement with individual drills. However, even many technically skilled guards have poor assist to turnover ratios because of bad decision-making. How can you improve your decision-making? You must achieve a disciplined change of attitude that you can implement and reinforce in your off-season league and pick-up game opportunities. Just as good shooters must develop an efficient and accurate shooting "muscle memory", so, too, must good guards develop an intelligent, efficient "decision-making memory".

Thus, challenge yourself to enter each off-season game with the following goals: (1) I will always throw the ball to my own team (simple, right?); (2) I will actively seek to engage two defenders with an intelligent use of my dribble and quickly make a simple, catchable pass to an open teammate (most likely, the teammate whose defender you engaged); (3) I will never leave my feet to pass; (4) I will never make a simple play look more difficult than it should be (no style credit in this game…a FG is still worth only 2 or 3 points); (5) I will never force the ball in transition when the defense has a clear advantage; (6) I will be mindful of where and when to deliver the ball and to whom (would you pass the ball on the break to a clumsy post player in a position where he/she has to shuffle his/her feet to pull off a "maybe" shot?); (7) I will VALUE THE BALL!!! Simply bringing this ethos into each off-season game opportunity and reinforcing it through consistent awareness and repetition will make you a better decision-maker. Type out a "decision-making" checklist containing the items listed above, bring it to your games and fill it out after each game. Chart you progress and achieve a well-developed decision-making memory!

Game Tape
Finally, a note on game tape review: hopefully, you'll have access to decent quality game film. If that is the case, you will have a wonderful opportunity to answer some of the stats sheet questions posed above. However, watching yourself on tape can be tricky. There is a tendency for many athletes to be either hyper-critical of their game or completely blind to their weaknesses. If you think you may lean to either of these extremes, think about having a hoops friend or teammate watch the film with you. The hoops friend can be objective, perhaps even "grading out" your game. With a teammate, you can start by watching each other, taking notes, and exchanging scouting reports. Then, you can go back and watch the game on your own, with your teammate's notes in hand and perhaps be somewhat more objective. You don't need to review every game tape, but you should pick out perhaps three games that represent what you perceive to be a good game, a poor game and a so-so game. Remember, the goal is to get an accurate perspective on your season.

While you will likely be focused on your "objective" stats in tape review, you will be well served to also analyze your intangible contributions. Were you always communicating with your teammates? Were you positive and encouraging? Were you complaining to refs or your coaches? Was your body language speaking the language of a winner? Were you getting your team together during free throws? Were you aware of the game situation? These issues may seem trivial, particularly if you had great objective stats, but positive intangible attributes turn a good skills player into an indispensable teammate.

Okay, you've done some serious critical self-examination and you can feel the momentum driving you to become a better player --NOW-- while there is plenty of time. How do you begin?

GoTo: Part III: Making Your Off-Season Plan.

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