Friday, December 12, 2008

It's a chess match

Good story this morning in the LA paper about how the Lakers handle game prep.

As is the case with most NBA teams, "each season Lakers Coach Phil Jackson passes out scouting assignments for the other 29 NBA teams to his assistants: [Frank] Hamblen (second from left), Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons (second from right) and Brian Shaw (third from right). Then it's their job to scout the teams on their list."

Says Coach Cleamons: "We all pride ourselves in having our teams down cold."

According to the article, "each assistant is responsible for tracking their assigned teams throughout the season, even if there is a prolonged period when the Lakers don't play them."

"I have to keep watching all of my teams play because there's going to be a time where I'll have to scout three or four in a row and if I try to wait until the last minute to watch them, then I'll be letting everybody down," Shaw said.

The article outlines how the game plan is presented:

Before each game an assistant coach diagrams plays in the Lakers' locker room to outline offensive sets and schemes for that night's opponent. Rambis says the idea is to present the players with the strengths and weaknesses of a team and likely sequences of plays.

The assistants give a lecture about their scouting reports the day before a game, at shootaround the morning of a game, and then half an hour before tip-off. They also show videos before practice.

"I've seen some [scouting] reports that are a half-inch thick" from other coaches, said Rambis, now in his seventh season as Jackson's assistant. "You can't show a team that many plays. You probably get about a half-dozen . . . that they are going to be able to pay attention to or they are going to be able to understand."

Jackson's assistant coaches go through a checklist: they break down where a rival player likes to shoot from on the court, if he drives left or right, is better at working off screens and on which side of the court suits him best. They study if a player uses one or two dribbles before shooting.

"It actually is a chess match," said Cleamons, who spent seven seasons on Jackson's bench in Chicago and is in his eighth with the Lakers. "It's all set up based on the [opposing] coach, the team personalities within the scheme and how defensively you're geared to stop people."

Coach Shaw contends the key to clearly communicating the plan for that night's game is keeping the players "engaged."

"What you do is turn the table and ask them a question. So now they are like, 'If I start daydreaming or something, I know when Brian does the board, he may call me out so I better pay attention.'"

As described in the article, "During a game the Lakers' assistants open their notebooks to pull out pieces of paper with their scouting reports, with bullet points to remind players about an opponent's shooting percentage, his free-throw skills, stats on that team's last game against the Lakers, and various diagrams of plays.

"I also try to get into the [opposing] coach, what he's thinking, what [play] he's going to run out of timeouts," said Hamblen, the longest-tenured assistant coach in the NBA with 40 years of experience. "If there is a pattern -- you've watched five or six games -- to what they are doing, then you go to Phil. You're guessing obviously. 'This is probably what they are going to run out of this timeout. This is what they are going to run at the end of the game.' So you want to tell the players to be aware of this."