When any magazine or newspaper publishes its upcoming season preview for either pro or college basketball or football teams, there is often a feature wherein a coaching opponent or scout will give their take on a team other than their own. And, often in these sections, an opponent’s coach or scout will say lines like, “This team tries to make you play fast,” or “This team likes to isolate smaller defenders in the post.” And so on.
When one stops and thinks about it, that is as succinct a way to describe what you want your team’s focus to be on or to describe to your team the essence of an upcoming opponent. Short descriptions of what we are “trying to do” are really at the crux of our philosophies and systems and those of our opponents. Most system decisions revolve around personnel, tempo and space and how we want to mix those elements.
Now, in a perfect world what “we like to do” would be exactly what “we try to do”. But, personnel restraints being what they often are, we always can’t try to do what we would like to do. So, we have to assess our personnel and do what we think we have to do to be competitive each and every season. Based on our personnel assessments, there are an infinite number of things that we can try to do but among them, the following seem to be the most effective:
- Do we want to try to quicken or slow the pace of the game? If the answer is to quicken the pace, do we do so both offensively and defensively?
- Do we have the players that can pressure the opponents at various places on the court and over the course of any period of time, create more points off turnovers than points than we surrender?
- If we want to shorten the game, do we pack it in defensively and try for long opponent possessions as they attempt to penetrate our defense?
- Do we try to beat the opponent in transition to get a shot before they set their defense?
- Do we try to use as much time as possible in the half court to get a good look-thereby creating a slower tempo at the offensive end?
- Do we try to go all out to stop our opponents from fast breaking or do we try hard to get to the offensive glass? What sacrifice (if any) do we make on the offensive glass to stop our opponents from scoring in transition. In a previous article on transition defense, we discussed the trend (even in the NBA and high levels of NCAA D1) of sending all 5 players back on defense on many shots.
- For which players do we try to maximize opportunities?
- Do we try to isolate certain players with perimeter clearouts or do we try to isolate certain players in post-up situations?
- With whom do we screen/roll or pop?
- Which players do we try to spot up for perimeter shots?
Coaches often say that imposing one’s will on an opponent is perhaps the real key to achieving victories and there’s really no clearer way of imposing one’s will than for every team member to be on the same page when it comes to understanding what the team needs to try to do to give itself the best chance to win consistently.