Playing Rotation Thoughts for Coaches

In a past article, “The Realities of Playing Rotations”, we shared some thoughts for players who were either totally left out of their playing rotations or believed they deserved expanded roles.  We clearly gave coaches the benefit of the doubt.  Today, we’ll examine some thoughts for coaches and give players the benefit of the doubt.

Unless one is coaching in a school system or a league where “participation” is the buzzword, you’re probably both interested in and expected to win.  With that, playing players who help you win is obviously foremost on your mind.  So, you generally construct a playing rotation with winning games as your primary objective.

The conflict, of course, is that a former player yourself, you know that playing time is important to everyone and that in a perfect world, you would win all of your games and everyone would be happy.  That thought lasts about two seconds and reality sets in.  Quite simply, the objective has to be that winning comes first and the rotation becomes a means to the end- and not an end itself.

Coaches devise rotations based on many factors. The 160 and 200 minutes of high school and college games respectively can be divvied up in an infinite variety of ways.  Coaching philosophies and systems vary tremendously. One might assume that a pressing, fast-breaking team which uses a high number of possessions might very well need a deeper rotation but that’s just an assumption.  If 7 well-conditioned athletes can pull that off, who’s to argue?

So, other than the most conventional rotation of choosing two guards, two forwards and center as one’s starting five- and one guard, one forward and a center as backups, what other ways can coaches utilize their rosters?  After all, when the team was selected or recruited, each player was deemed to have assets that would help the team.  Let’s examine roster analysis:

  • We all think we know after 3-4 weeks of practice who we are inclined to play and why.  Let’s assume that we’re totally correct as we begin our seasons.   However, determining that our 8-player rotation (for example) is how we’ll necessarily go through our entire season seems a little short-sighted.  There are many things that can go wrong with the players in our original rotation and many good things that can happen with the players outside the rotation.
  • Keeping players 9-15 ready to play and motivated is a highly desirable coaching skill.  Those who do this successfully keep the “carrot” out there all the time.  There has to be a desirable reward (what the player wants-not what the coach thinks the player wants) for each player.  For most, it has to be an opportunity to play in the current season or a future season.  For others, it might be an opportunity to play on an achieving team or earning a letter or practical experience for someone who wants to eventually coach themselves.  Whatever the reason, it has to be player-centric.
  • Instead of deciding on a number first (8 for instance), list each player and have the entire staff decide what each player brings to the table.  Perhaps there’s an asset that player possesses that no one else on the roster does.  The term “special situations” might be another way to look at this particular angle. One example would be “tall” situations.  I’ve seen coaches start a player to win the opening tap.  That alone can lead to one extra possession in a game (which could mean the difference).  Another way to use the tall player situationally is defending key baseline and sideline inbounds plays.  There are many other specializations.
  • In the 1970’s, Dean Smith at North Carolina basically played players 11-15 as a unit.  He gave them a special name and they received some notoriety.  They pressed and blitzed and played with a very high level of energy.  They generally played in 2-4 minute shifts.  They were more motivated to practice and contribute than they otherwise would have been.
  • Use analytics to evaluate players.  You might find players who don’t play a lot to have a high per minute rate for points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks.  High rates can easily get overlooked.  Also, using analytics from charting practices might reveal players achieving at a higher level than previously noticed by the “eye test”.
  • Some coaches don’t want to mess with a rotation after it’s established.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who specifically make the start of each week a totally new evaluation period for those who play in games that week.  Then, there are coaches who occasionally have a week when they shake things up for effect.
  • Position-less basketball or “Small Ball” is another way to play players who might otherwise might be buried in a conventional 2 or 3 deep listing.  The thinking here is simple.  Why play two #4 men and perhaps two #5 men, if they’re not effective?  That opens up the rotation for up to four true perimeter players who might be worthy of playing time.  Coaches using “effective” players have opened up their rotations to their full rosters.  

Like any other phase of the game that changes over time, deciding playing rotations shouldn’t be any different.  Keeping an open mind might prove beneficial.






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