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.
"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.