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Basic Advantages in Basketball

by Steve Jordan of the

Think of Basketball as a Simple Game

Observe basketball from a distance to get an objective look at the game. What are its simplest elements? This general viewpoint can be enlightening, even for an experienced coach, because it is so easy during the course of a season to become immersed in details and miss some obvious opportunities. Try to look at basketball in a fresh perspective, as if you had never seen the game before. You'll learn how to explain the game in different ways to different people. You may even rethink your game strategies and dare to depart from comfortable methods used over the years.

When coaching young or first time players, it is important to approach the game from a simple, basic plot and then add the frills and skills as the players progress. Think in terms of the basic advantages listed below, evaluate your players and then take logical actions to get the most from their strengths. You must work on weaknesses in practice, but choose a game plan that will allow your players to feel successful. To develop the game plan, look at the court as your battleground, game board or whatever analogy you prefer. Think about the basic advantages your players possess. Common sense goes a long way.

Size Matters

"You can't coach size" the adage goes. There is no way to make your players taller. Because tall people are closer to the basket than short people, it is easier for them to reach rebounds. Its easier for tall people to shoot over short people. Tall teams tend to intimidate small teams - a basic human survival reaction that attributes superiority to the larger opponent. All other things being equal, the taller team will likely win most of the time, proportional to the disparity in height. BUT... all things are rarely equal. As the ball moves away from the basket, the height advantage lessens. Tall teams should keep the play close to the basket - in the key area. Unfortunately for the tall folks, the key only represents 7% of the playing surface. The remaining 93% belongs to the quick and the sure-handed.

Quickness Matters More

High school basketball players travel about a mile and half over the course of a full game. In a competitive situation, the pace can be constant and quick. Often the game is a footrace from end to end, with the winner getting an easy opportunity to score with the loser unable to defend at all regardless of height. The quick offensive player, with the advantage of initiative, can create enough space to go around the slower player.

For the defense, fast hands pluck the ball way from the unsure offensive player. Fast feet prevent the slower player from dribbling to his destination. Quick thinking enables the defense to intercept passes. The rule of thumb is that the quicker team will get more shots, primarily due to the relatively greater number of turnovers caused by the quicker team.

Conditioning Matters Most

It doesn't matter how tall or how quick you are if you cannot sustain your opponents pace for the length of a game. It is not uncommon to see a close game deteriorate in the final quarter because one team cannot keep up. Teams often score more in the fourth quarter than the earlier quarters because the defense tires out. The frequency of turnovers rises with fatigue, creating easy baskets for the fitter group. Whatever the physical makeup of your team, devote as much as a third of your practice to conditioning early in the season. Players that preface their season with cross-country running have a "leg-up" on their competition. If you can't run, you can't play. Its that simple.

You Cannot Outrun a Pass

Why do players dribble when they can pass the ball so much faster? One most common faults in basketball is excessive dribbling. Not only is it difficult for a ball-handler to shake a defender, the odds of a turnover increase with every bounce. However, a defender cannot even hope to outrun a crisp pass. Many teams never grasp this fact and insist on dribbling around the perimeter - a complete waste of time because the defense can easily adjust.

Two Against One

A basic advantage in conflict is 2 versus 1. Two intelligent people should be able to overcome a single opponent whether playing offensive or defense. Two offensive players may gang up on a defender by driving him into a screen. A defender cannot effectively guard two offensive players (unless they allow it!). Defensively, two players may gamble and double team a ballhandler to force a jump ball, turnover or bad pass.

In the Kung-Fu movies, one mighty hero defeats all comers. In basketball, the outnumbered player is usually victimized in some way. Its hard enough to match up against one worthy opponent, let alone two.

Possession is Power

The team with the ball gets to decide what happens next.  The defense is forced to react to what the offense does. Do not lose sight of that simple, yet powerful, advantage. There is no need to panic facing a press. There is no defense that can not be beaten. The offense just needs to be patient, protect the possession, and strike when the advantages are in their favor.

The best defense is offense. If you have the ball, your opponent cannot score. That's as fundamental as it gets.


A novice coach can do well by keeping things simple and using the team's natural advantages. Work hard at conditioning so quickness and height can be effective throughout the game. Place people where they are likely to succeed. Use the power of possession to make the defense MOVE from their position of strength. When the defense moves, claim the ground they vacated through the speed of the pass. Whether on defense or offense, look for two against one opportunities to create momentary advantages.

Our thanks to Human Kinetics for sending us some excellent coaching books. You can't beat the discounted price, less than $20 including shipping.

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Excellent video with thoughts and drills on organizing your practices. Learn from one of the greatest coaches of the game, Coach "K".
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