Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Using video to take an opponent out of his comfort zone

The LA Times this morning has a great article about Kobe's pre-game ritual:

There are few things more important to Kobe Bryant before a game than his portable DVD player. It goes wherever he goes before tipoff. On the padded table in the trainer's room. On the floor for a pregame stretching routine. Perched in front of his locker. The Lakers' 10-time All-Star stares at his 10-inch screen, watching basketball clips of the players he'll be guarding. It is part of his longtime commitment to studying video, one of the foundations of a career still going strong in its 13th season.

The Lakers have had dozens of great players over the years, but according to the team's director of video services Chris Bodaken, "Hands down, he's the biggest video fiend we've ever had. I didn't know if it was possible to be more competitive than Magic was, but I think he might be. It carries over into his preparation, and this is part of that."

The Lakers' video staff goes "through an opponent's last few games and find key plays from the players Bryant will guard, presenting him with eight to 12 minutes of edited footage."

The goal is for Bryant to pick up tendencies of rival players. Have they added any new moves? Have they been aggressively driving to the basket or have they been satisfied to drift from the hoop and settle for outside jump shots?

Kobe's objective is "to find ways to take away comfort zones from opponents."

"It's a blueprint," said Bryant, an eight-time member of the NBA all-defensive team. "So if something goes down, it's not something you haven't seen before. Everybody's got tendencies. If he scores 40 on Monday, he's going to try to do it on Tuesday. You've got to take him out of his spots. That's the key."

Says Patrick O'Keefe, another member of the Lakers' video staff:

"It's like a straight-A student who still goes to all the extra study sessions."

The most physical three days of basketball

In the St. Paul paper this morning, DAL coach Rick Carlisle talked about going to camp with the Timberwolves in 1989, the team's inaugural season.

"It was the most physical three days of basketball I've ever been involved with," Carlisle said of the camp, mostly made up of CBA players and fringe NBA players. "The reason was that Bill Musselman (Minnesota's first coach, pictured here) had referees come in and (he) told them basically not to call any fouls. Bill wanted to find out who really wanted to play. ... It was extremely competitive. I got through it."

Doing things the right way

Attended the Tennessee State-Georgia Tech game last night here in ATL. Despite 21 TOs, Tech beat TSU, 63-58.

Coach Cy Alexander's TSU team is off to a slow start (3-9), but he's stressing to his team the importance of consistency, saying, "You have to do everything the right way. Not once every three times. Not once every four times. Every time."

In a recent game at Kentucky, Coach Alexander emphasized correcting three weaknesses for his Tigers:

  1. Better blocking out on rebounds.
  2. Playing with a greater sense of urgency on each and every possession.
  3. Getting a good shot rather than settling for a quick attempt. "You're not going to make every shot," the coach said, "but let's at least get a shot we want and live with that."

According to Coach Alexander, focusing on these areas will ensure " growth, win, lose or draw."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Golfing less, working more

Loved Sam Smith's article on about the Miami Heat's culture, one that really reflects the personality and values of Pat Riley.

According to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, "Pat created a culture with the Miami Heat. He works everybody hard and is a student of the game. It's not uncommon if you get to the office at 6:30 you might be the sixth or seventh person there."

In his article, Smith tells a story about how when Pat Riley is considering hiring someone, "he first checks the trunk of the applicant's car. If there are golf clubs in there, they're not hired. With Riley it's about work."

Smith writes that "when things go wrong [in Miami], Heat owner Mickey Arison doesn't begin looking for successors."

"I won 15 games," noted Riley. "There never was anything written I'd be fired. You take the good with the bad with a franchise and stay with it until you get back on track. In the league now, there's a chasm (too often) between the coach and GM. You have to be tied in some way. I feel it's important that me and Erik are almost one person.

One thing that stands out in all the years was [Erik's] someone you converse with about what you've done, who to trade, someone who has a lot of thoughts and not your typical thinking. He's someone who respectfully disagrees but after that we can unite on a situation.

He's one of those guys who apply their trade and don't look for recognition early, just work and learn. He wanted to learn before being recognized. You teach them and they take some of the culture and learn from a lot of people. I thought he was a guy ready a couple of years ago. You watch them grow, groom them to take your spot and that's the position I'm in."

Commitment is not a guarantee of anything, but it's a requirement of everything

Good article today about Red Wings coach Mike Babcock's high level of commitment, something that the writer contends all good coaches have:

Some make it to the pinnacle of their sport - the NHL, the NFL, a top-tier college basketball program - while others never quite reach the big time. And so, while that commitment is not a guarantee of anything, it is a requirement of everything.

Says Coach Babcock:

''That commitment is one of those things you've just got to have. I think of it as passion. You've got to have that passion to do a job like this, but then if you've got that passion, it's not a job.''

It's a time of year when teams separate themselves

TCU coach Jim Christian contends, for basketball teams, the winter break is a key time of the season.

That's because, as this article puts it, "it’s all basketball, all the time — no classes, no tests and no worries, just basketball."

For Coach Christian, the "extended practice time has helped the team improve and refocus."

"It’s a time where teams separate themselves and players separate themselves," Christian said. "Teams that want to get better, get better."

Chemistry built upon a foundation of trust

A key to CLE's success this season has been the team's chemistry. According to coach Mike Brown, Cavs players began jelling in training camp, "watching 'Monday Night Football' together, hanging out after practice and at games."

As described in this story, "James likes to refer to the Cavaliers as family because 'no one is isolated from the other.'"

"I've said this many times before: Watching this team come together, watching them interact with one another, it's some unusual stuff. They've found on their own that if they can trust one another, at the end of the day, that's what helps build chemistry and that carries over to the floor."

How statistics can be misleading

Wizards coach Ed Tapscott on how stats can be misleading:

"There are lies, big lies and statistics, and statistics can tell you whatever you want them to tell you," he said. "Seeing the chemistry of the team, that's like HD. If you just look at statistics, it's like watching black-and-white . . . [pause] . . . analog TV. If you just look at stats and think you know something about the team, you're watching analog television."

End-of-season meetings

Teams that didn't make the NFL playoffs are having their end-of-season meetings this week.

In WAS, coach Jim Zorn emphasized "the importance of taking a professional approach as everyone strives for improvement this offseason."

For the first time as head coach, "Zorn... addressed the team while wearing business attire instead of Redskins sweats and running sneakers. Owner Daniel Snyder contributed a burgundy-and-gold tie and cuff links with the Redskins' logo for Zorn's presentation."

According to Coach Zorn, the suit and tie was for effect:

"When I addressed our players, I wanted to address them in such a way that it had some purpose to it. What I really wanted to do was sort of set the stage.

I want to coach a team that is a playoff team, not just a team that gets to the playoffs. Do you see what I mean? I want these guys to be perennial. I don't want it to be a question of, 'Gosh, are we going to make it?' I just want us to say, 'Where are we going to be seeded?' But we've got a lot of work to do to get to that point.

As we evaluate our schemes and evaluate our players, that's where it's all going to take place. We're not going to make wholesale changes. My charge to all of our players is to get better. Even the guys that have been around for a lot of years, they can improve."

Discipline means learning everything that helps us achieve maximum performance

In his 2002 autobiography "Knight: My Story," Bobby Knight writes about how he'd bring in guests to speak with his teams. [The following is an excerpt from the book.]

"I've always had people come in and talk to my teams. I wanted them to hear from successful people their thoughts on why they were successful and what it took to be successful."

"One of my smartest invitations was to Janos Starker (pictured below), acclaimed worldwide as a cellist and a professor in Indiana's School of Music. What would a man critics around the world have called 'the king of cellists' have to say that young basketball players would benefit from?

Here's what:

I started playing the cello when I was six. At that time, I didn't choose it. My mother did. Eventually, three years later, I realized that, first of all, it was something that I loved. I realized that I couldn't go through a day without thinking, doing, making music.

This is one of the basic principles that I state: that anyone who can go through a day without wanting to be with music or hear music or make music is not supposed to be a musician.

I believe that to be valid for every single profession. If you can go through a day without wanting it or thinking it or living with professionalism in the profession that you are in, you are not supposed to be in it.

Discipline means concentration, and concentration means discipline. The practice is just as important as the moment when you are in front of everybody.

Whether the audience cheers or not, it does not mean anything. If I know that I have done well, whether they liked it or not is not important. Did I do the best I could under the circumstances, with total concentration and dedication to the cause at the moment?

Discipline means to learn everything that helps us to the maximum performance.

Where is the parallel, the musical parallel to basketball?

For a lifetime, we develop skills, so as to find the proper note. That's why you train for a lifetime, to find the basket.

As a cellist, when you are six years of age, eight, twelve, you have to practice three or four hours a day just to obtain the basic skills and the strength in your hand and your arms and muscles, because you do need considerable muscle power. We are hitting strings with the fingers sometimes at the speed of two thousand notes per minute.

There are people who can shoot successfully eight times out of ten in practice. To improve on the percentage, you must consciously know what part of the body functions how. This requires the thinking process. It doesn't mean just that you are following the instructions of the coach. Eventually, you must use your own brain: Why does it work? Why is the coach right?

Until the individual discovers it for himself, it is never going to result in consistency.

The word consistency is key. You have to do everything that we mean when we speak of professionalism. I'm not talking about being paid for something. The professional is the one who is consistent at a higher level than anybody else."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Recap of the UVA-Georgia Tech game

While visiting ATL this week, made it a point to get to the Virginia-Georgia Tech game last night. It was a great game as UVA won in OT, 88-84. Big road win for the Cavs, who hadn't won on the road this season, losing at Syracuse and at Minnesota.

UVA did a good job trapping the ball and rotating out. They mixed in some zone defense with their man to man.

Several NBA scouts were at the game, including CLE, MIN, MIL, and MIA.

As is the tradition with UVA, guard play is a key for the Cavs, who are led by 6-foot-6 frosh Sylven Landesberg, a McDonald's All-American last year from Queens.

He's a 2/3 man, but because of his ballhandling skills, can play some point when needed. Needs to work on becoming a more consistent shooter, but he's already earned Freshman of the Week honors three times.

Landesberg scored a lefty layup five seconds into game. He knows how to make backdoor cuts. Plays at a good pace. Can get in the lane and can really score in transition. Finishes well on floaters. He will improve as an outside shooter. Played unselfishly and with a lot of poise. Did not force shots. Has a nice crossover dribble. Draws contact off dribble-drive. Had 26 points in 41 minutes.

For Georgia Tech, Gani Lawal is a 6-foot-9 4-man who could be a late first-round or early second-round prospect if he improves his perimeter skills. At this point, he has limited range. [At the top of the key, UVA did not even guard him.]

Strong player who rebounds well and can finish inside. Lawal is very active and looks to post up and seal in the early transition. Has ability to draw fouls (he got to the FT line 14 times against UVA), but needs to work on his ball skills and his lateral quickness.

Finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds.

[I watched Lawal play last week against USC and he was outplayed by Taj Gibson, who scored 15 points and had 14 rebounds to Lawal's 3 points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers.)

UVA center Alade Aminu is an athletic player (he was a triple-jump star in high school), but struggled to finish inside, missing a couple of dunks. Not an offensive threat, though he scored on offensive tip-ins. [Had one offensive move he showed: From the right block, he shoots a jump-hook baseline off the glass.] He had 13 points and 12 boards before fouling out.

A senior, Aminu plays within his limitations and plays hard. He could be a low-level European League prospect.

Senior guard Lewis Clinch (who missed the first seven games of the season with academic issues) plays the off-guard, but with Mo Miller out with a broken nose, he's seeing some time at the PG spot.

At the 2-position against UVA, he was 3-10 from 3-point range and 3-7 from the line. Playing with confidence. Has the ability to get in the lane. Does not have NBA speed or quickness, though he might be a D-League prospect as a possible backup. His third three of the game was the go-ahead basket. Did a great job from the guard spot on the defensive glass with nine rebounds.

Georgia Tech's freshman PG Iman Shumpert has a scorer's mentality. At times he over-dribbles and can be careless with the ball (7 TOs vs UVA), but he has good size for a point guard. He was in foul trouble which affected his defense late in the game. A former McDonald's All-American, it will be interesting to see how he develops his PG skills. Finished with 18 pts, 6 assists, 5 rebs.

As you can read here, free throws had a huge impact on this game. GT did a good job getting to line (33 FTA), but only made 16 (48%). They came into game with a 59.9 free throw percent (last in the ACC). On the other side, UVA hit on 17-22 of their FTs (77%).

Many thanks to UVA assistant Rick Brunson for his hospitality at the game.

People make the best decisions when they feel they have the freedom to screw up

Terrific Q&A in today's USA Today with Terry Wood, the president of creative affairs and development for CBS.

Wood contends that rather than asking yourself what you want to be famous for, people should ask themselves, "What do I want to be known for? What makes me different?" Says Wood: "It's a good exercise to think about how you want to be remembered. You want to think about how you impact the people around you: 'What did I do with the time that I had?'"

She believes that "famous can be overrated, but if I'm known for something, and that defines who I am, I can take it to the bank."

When asked how much luck has to do with success, Wood says that "timing helps, but I'm a big believer in what you do with the opportunities that are given."

Wood, who is credited with helping to discover stars like Rachael Ray, accepts that there are better chefs out there than Ray, but she adds that "what I love about Rachael is it's never just about the recipe. It's how she connects the food to her passion. Your idea can't be complicated. Explain it in a sentence. Make it you and deliver it with a passion."

According to Wood, a key to excelling is understanding how "to fit in and connect with the people around you." Her advice is to "be a sponge. Try to know as much as you can. What makes the office or the company run successfully? I notice people who add something to the mix. Personality stands out. You never know when an opportunity will come your way. You can't sit with your head down in a cubicle and expect to grow. You need to do the job well and also learn to create the opportunities for success."

But it's not all about charisma, says Wood:

"Personality is about balance. You have to know when to dial it up and when to pull back. That's about reading the room and figuring out how to fit in. It is important that people understand what you're bringing to the table, whether you're the quiet person or the loud person. Your boss needs to be able to look at the room and say, 'I get what he or she does.' Maybe it's humor. Maybe it's new ideas. Think about what you bring to the table and do it appropriately.

Personality can be a lot of different things. It doesn't mean someone who is just loud or gets all of the attention. Personality means that you add something. I like the quiet soldier who gets it done, and I like the hard-chargers who will take on anything I throw at them. It's my job to balance having all of that in the mix. When doing a job interview, I'm not looking for a type, but for a team, to have the right player in every position.

As for leaders, Wood recommends giving people freedom to make mistakes:

"The best decisions will be made when people feel they have the freedom to screw up. I never like to operate by fear. You really have to have confidence in them, let them soar."

Every defense has a weakness

DEN coach George Karl, after the Nuggets beat the Knicks recently, on what Mike D'Antoni brings to NY:

"I know that defense is extremely important. But deep down inside, every defense has a weakness. Every defense gives you something. Now can the team on the court, the players on the court, find what it gives you?

That's what Mike teaches. He makes it fairly simple, fairly easy to read. Even though we won, watching them on film, I knew that we would have moments of frustration. Because of their intensity to play the way they like to play, you never totally control them.

My recollection of New York is the city game, the street game, the playground game. And he plays as fast and free as any coach I've ever played against. I know the Knick (teams) have been based on defense. But I was kidding with one of my assistants that I would like to see Mike D'Antoni get a Carolina or Kentucky or Kansas job, because people don't think (his style) can win. People don't think it can win championships. And I think that's crazy.

I think if you get the best players, [Coach D's] style will be incredibly difficult to play against –- impossible, maybe, to play against. But we have so many experts who think that you have to play defense, you have to rebound, you have to be a possession coach, you have to execute. I just laugh. Explosive offense is not as intimidating as dominant defense. But it is scary when you don't know how to stop someone.

My feeling is, when you give up a lot of points, nobody's going to think you're defending. Last year in our halfcourt defense, we were a pretty good defensive team. But no one would ever write that, because we were awful in transition and we were awful in giving up a lot of numbers. So I don't know that anybody is ever going to give the due."

The virus of higher personal expectations

Loved this excerpt from the late David Halberstam in his book "The Education of a Coach," about Bill Belichick (whose 11-5 team, despite winning its fourth straight today, including three on the road, failed to make the playoffs).

Here's the passage (pp. 247-249):

In 2004, after the Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three seasons, NE coach Bill Belichick "went to Florida to visit with Jimmy Johnson, who he thought was the one coach out there who knew the most about what would happen once a team had shown itself able to play at so lofty a level, Johnson's Cowboys having won the Super Bowl after the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

The two men were friends in the delicate sense of friendship that football coaches are allowed -- in the we-may-be-on-opposite-sides-of-the-field-but-we-have-similar-problems-and-similar-enemies-and-we-may-need-each-other-yet-you-coaching-for-me-or-you-coaching-for-you kind of friendship.

[Over the years], they had stayed in touch. They had talked about getting together, and after the [Super Bowl], Belichick took Johnson up on his invitation to come down to Miami and talk, and they spent a day and a half going over the problems that accrue to the victorious.

Johnson was the perfect person to visit with, Belichick thought -- he was very smart, as smart as anyone in the game, and more than anyone else he had been through what Belichick was now just beginning to go through, the ordeal that came with success.

Some of the issues were technical. The Patriots had a lot of draft choices in the coming draft, ten picks, and yet he already had a good team. Belichick wanted to know what to do -- use them all, trade some away for futures, or what.

Johnson told him to make a list of players he genuinely wanted, and draft them, but not to spedn the picks just to use them, that it would be easy to trade picks now for higher picks next year.

"Stay with your list," Johnson said, "and don't be tempted to pick up players outside of it just because you can." But if there were a player that Belichick thought could help them right then, go for him.

Belichick ended up using eight of the picks.

The most difficult thing, Johnson said, would be the pressure that would come with winning. When you win, everyone wants more, he said. Everything would be different. Every player and every player's agent would perceive the player as being better. The pressure to renegotiate would be immense, even for players with three years left on their contracts.

Wait until the final year of the contract if at all possible, Johnson advised.

A few days after their meeting, one of the players began talking publicly about his need for a bigger contract, and the fact this his contract reflected an essential disrespect for him as a player, and it brought home Johnson's lesson.

The virus of higher personal expectations, Belichick called it.

The final thing Johson mentioned was the danger of going back and trying to do the same things in the same way as before with your players. They would, Johnson warned, tune out. Football practice was built on repetition, and there was a strength and a danger in that.

You've got to keep doing what you're doing, but you've go to find different ways of doing it, and you've got to find ways of making it fun.

That, Belichick decided, would be easier said than done.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A college coach's obligation to his players

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt on his recruiting pitch:

"When I recruit, I’ve never said to a player, 'Come help us win.' I tell them to come here to get a great education. Come here and hopefully you can be a good enough basketball player that you can earn a living. I know from experience that winning games for these guys in the long run really means nothing. You have a degree. You have a skill. Our job is to try to help them make the most of those two things."

A locker room linchpin

Good article in the Boston Globe about 32-year-old Miami QB Chad Pennington, who the writer describes as "a locker-room transformer."

According to the story, those within the MIA organization say that "Pennington's presence in the diverse, complex locker room that binds 53 players has probably been his greatest contribution. He's a locker-room linchpin."

Here's a good excerpt from the article:

It starts in the locker room, the underrated place that probably doesn't receive enough attention from football scribes. A football locker room is a fascinating place, bringing players together at different points in their careers, from different backgrounds, with varied salaries and personal agendas, in a testosterone-filled environment.

If only it were so easy to order up good locker-room chemistry, it would be one of the first items on a coach's to-do list each year, because a bad mix can quickly sink a season.

Usually that chemistry must evolve over time. With Pennington, however, the culture of the Dolphins' room changed almost immediately.

Said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano:

"When you have people like Chad in the locker room, I think it's a calming influence. I think it's critical, and it certainly was for us when we started this whole [rebuilding process] because we had so many players in from different places. I think we've changed 50 players since the time we started here.

He's been through this, so it's not the first time he's seen people come and go in locker rooms and those type of things. He can help spread the message, and is very good at spreading the message that the head coach sends and that the organization wants to send.

He's a tremendous leader, and has done an awful lot for our young players - he's taught them a lot about how to study this game and what it takes to prepare. It's just been his leadership skills and the way he goes about his business. He's a true professional. The guy's work ethic is unmatched from anyone I've been around."

Veteran Dolphins LB Joey Porter said this about Pennington:

"From day one he was doing stuff that the [players] weren't doing before. He was meeting with the offensive linemen and the receivers, [things] that leaders and captains are supposed to do. He passed that on to our young guys, so he has them working harder. Everything he brought to the team is what we needed."

Putting players in the best position to succeed

Portland coach Eric Reveno (pictured here), who played for Mike Montgomery at Stanford, then worked on Coach Montgomery's staff, on what he learned from his mentor:

"The thing that struck me the most and had the biggest impact on me was he viewed the coach's job as putting players in position to be successful," Reveno said. "I was a 6-8, 250-pound center who was good around the basket. He put me in position to be successful, and he made that role important. The simplicity of focus on that was really striking..."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The pick-and-roll is universal

In an LA Times story a few days ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson agreed that "nearly every [NBA] team has problems defending" the pick-and-roll.

According to Hornets coach Byron Scott, "all 30 teams have that problem. The biggest thing we tell our guys is that it's hard work [defending] it. You've got to be committed to do it."

There was a note on recently that described how at the Olympics this past summer Chris Bosh "dedicated himself to plugging the defensive gap that Team USA has long had in stopping pick-and-roll plays."

In a game last week against the Bulls, BOS center Kendrick Perkins had a career-best 25 points, hitting 12 of his 15 shots from the field, a "direct benefit of mastering the pick-and-roll."

After the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he'd been emphasizing the importance of the pick-and-roll with Perkins:

"I talked to him about setting picks and doing his job. [Against Chicago], Perk came out and did his job. Completely. He set picks. And by him setting picks, now they have to help on Ray (Allen). And who got all the shots, it was Perk."

Said Perkins: "I was trying to make it my business to go out and get guys open, and the ball ended up getting in my hands anyway."

As WAS guard Mike James put it recently:

"Pick-and-roll is universal. Every team in the NBA understands that."

The pick-and-roll is a late-game and need-to-score play run by most NBA teams, which have perfected it's execution. Think Stockton-Malone (or Kevin Johnson-Tom Chambers or Isiah Thomas-Bill Laimbeer).

As the coaches above point out, the PNR is difficult to defend because it's a bread-and-butter play that's usually run with a team's two best offensive weapons. The idea is to keep/get the ball into the hands of your best scorer(s):

-- Parker-Duncan
-- Nash-Stoudemire
-- Paul-West
-- Bryant-Gasol
-- James-Ilgauskas
-- McGrady-Ming
-- Terry-Nowitzki (see picture above)
-- Williams-Okur/Boozer
-- Nelson-Howard/Lewis (underrated)

The list is long...

[In the D League, veteran guard Mateen Cleaves and center Nick Lewis run the PNR as well as any combo in the NBDL.]

Guys like Baron Davis, Brandon Roy, Billups, and Wade are excellent handlers on the PNR because they're a threat to not only finish at the rim, but shoot the ball, and make plays in traffic.

It's when the picker can pick-and-pop and has the size to roll and finish in traffic that the PNR is the most difficult to defend (Nowitzki does both well).

When a team's PG works the PNR, there are three basic options: First, he can get in the lane and turn the corner off the pick. He can shoot the 3-ball behind the pick and, with good court vision, he can read the defense and get the ball to the picker on the roll or the pop back.

Mike D'Antoni really changed the geography of the court by changing the spacing. He used the corners and opened up the floor. Coach D's pickers don't set picks. Instead, he'd have guys like Stoudemire and Marion slip the pick.

He also showed how the PNR opens up the floor for the other three players on the court as teams often devote more than two players involved in defending the 2-man PNR action.

When defending it, the man guarding the ball must be physical. He can't lay on the screen or die on it. He's got to fight through it.

The man defending pick must be willing and able to get out and help stop the ball and recover to his man. Agility helps here, but more important is communication. The screener man is a "conductor" -- he must let the man defending ball hear that the screen is coming.

There are several ways to defend the PNR. Those who defend it the best (Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy come to mind) work hard on getting good at stopping it in at least one way (e.g., a hard show with their rotations on the backside).

As a team, it's important to be good at defending the PNR one way before you have multiple ways to stop it. Many teams have 3-4 options for defending it -- trapping on the PNR, a hard show, forcing the pick down, going under the pick, going over the pick with a contact show, etc.
Adding to the complexity is that it will be defended differently depending on where on the floor it's run.

Chuck Daly was exceptional at coaching the PNR, running it from various angles on the floor. He'd break it down -- from 2-on-2 up to 5-on-5 -- drilling it until it was perfect. He really revolutionized the PNR game in modern basketball.

Coach Daly would script PNRs to see how opponents would react or defend them. Calling it the "windshield wiper" technique (a philosophy he'd borrowed from former Niners coach Bill Walsh), Coach Daly would run them all over the court, searching for an opponent's weakness and forcing them to make a decision.

Mike Fratello did a great job of devising a shell defense (4-on-4 and 5-on-5).

Flip Saunders also does a great job with PNRs. His system was so effective with Marbury and Cassell as handlers in MIN and Kevin Garnett as a picker. In DET, he used Billups with the ball and Rasheed Wallace as the setter.

College teams aren't at the point where they can execute the PNR like the pros can, but it's quickly becoming much more prevalent in the college game. St. Mary's, for example, runs it frequently with their PG Patty Mills.

Coach Mike Montgomery at Cal runs it well, as does Billy Donovan at Florida, Jim Boylen at Utah, and Lon Kruger at UNLV. You can see the NBA influence when their teams play. Ron Hunter at IUPUI also does a good job with the PNR.

At the Olympics, Coach K has worked with two of the best PNR coaches in Chuck Daly and Mike D'Antoni so it's not surprising that Duke does a good job on the PNR, too. On the other hand, USC's Tim Floyd does a great job defending the PNR. Again, his pro experience is key.

Bill Self at KU does a great job of setting continuous PNRs. Their bigs do a great job of posting up for about two seconds, then sprinting to set the screens. They also change sides at the last moment, making it difficult for the defense to know which side it is going to be set on.

Last year, Kent State's Jim Christian (now at TCU) did a nice job of spreading the floor and having their active and mobile center set screens and roll hard to the rim. Very few teams actually hit the roll guy, but they were good at it.

Coach Kruger at UNLV uses a lot of ballscreens. The Rebs have three guys who can make plays. Vegas also has a big who can really shoot, so he'll often set the screen and pop, or another player will set it, allowing the big to receive off-ball screens on the weakside.

At UCLA, coach Ben Howland runs the PNR in a bunch of different looks, something he's able to do with a good guard like Darren Collison, who has perfected the PNR.

Wyoming's Brandon Ewing, and Zona's Nic Wise and Chase Budinger are among the best PNR players that I've seen at the college level. OU's Blake Griffin and UNC's Tyler Hansborough will be solid pickers at the NBA level. As a handler, Stephen Curry should be one of the best.

Marquette's combo of Dom James and Lazar Haywood, as well as Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris at Syracuse are also excellent PNR players.

Allowing a team to take ownership of its goals

Last week, a friend sent me a copy of Tom Osborne's book "Faith in the Game."

I've had a chance to get through the first five chapters of the book, including Chapter 5, in which Coach Osborne discusses goals and goal setting.

The following is an excerpt from that chapter:

Goals create a sense of focus and direction. A team without goals often is interested only in getting the season over with. There is no excitement or anticipation.

A team with a strong desire to achieve specific goals generates a sense of purpose, mission, and energy.

Until the early 1990s, our team goals were generally set by the coaching staff. We assumed that the coaches knew better than the players what our team was capable of accomplishing and what our priorities should be.

After three consecutive disappointing seasons in 1989, 1990, and 1991, I decided that major adjustments were necessary. It wasn't so much that our record was bad in those seasons; we finished 10-2 in 1989, and won nine games in each of the 1990 and 1991 seasons.

The disturbing thing was that we tailed off at the end of each season and did not display the drive and focus in bowl games that we needed.

As a staff, we decided that part of the problem might be related to our goal-setting procedures. We recognized that having the coaching staff set team goals gave the players the impression they were being asked to accomplish objectives that were important to the coaching staff but had little to do with what the athletes wanted to achieve.

As a result, there was less accountability on the part of players.

In 1992, in an effort to have the players take ownership of their objectives, we let the players set team goals. As the season began, we asked each player to list in order of importance five goals he felt were critical to the success of the team. We then compiled the goals listed and ranked them according to the frequency each goal was mentioned.

This discussion of goals relates to most organizations involved in competitive endeavors. The objectives and approaches presented may serve as a model for incorporating both long-term and short-term goals.

Experience taught our organization the importance of empowering the individuals who must accomplish goals by involving them in the goal-setting process. Having clearly stated this, specific goals contribute to effective performance.

It is important to have short-term goals broken down into components that enable one to see a clear relationship between daily activities and organizational objectives.

As we reviewed our goals each Monday, our players could see what they specifically needed to work on during... practice. The more players took ownership of short-term and long-term goals, the more effective our team became.

Making every decision about improving the team

ATL general manager Thomas Dimitroff (pictured here with owner Arthur Blank) says he's followed a blueprint similar to that of the Patriots in building the Falcons:

"There's no question that we've tried to emulate here what the New England organization has done in terms of making every decision and move about improving their team," Dimitroff said. "Coach (Bill) Belichick and (vice president) Scott Pioli have built a culture that's all about the sum of the parts."

In his first season as a GM, Dimitroff, 42, is being mentioned as a top candidate for NFL Executive of the Year.

“I gave Thomas years to rebuild our team,” [Falcons owner Arthur] Blank said, “and he did it in months. He’s a special guy.”

Playing with the same intensity all of the time

Good post on Jonathan Feigen's Rockets blog about Ron Artest.

As Feigen puts it: "Artest just plays. Starting or off the bench, healthy or limping, he shows up and goes to work."

Artest's mantra is simple:

"Just play hard. If you lose, you lose, but I like to lose with dignity. If you lose, lose with dignity. I'm happy when I win, I'm emotional and still playing hard. I try to play the same way all the time."

The gift of a book

Read where MIA coach Erik Spoelstra gave Heat rookie Michael Beasley a couple of books recently.

One was Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" (see post here); the other was "The Last Lecture" by the late Randy Pausch.

The idea is that Beasley might crack one open on a plane sometime.

Does Coach Spo expect Beasley to read the books from cover to cover?

Probably not. If that happens, it's wonderful, but it's not the point.

The point is that if he reads even three pages and is able to get one nugget from those pages that he finds interesting or valuable or changes the way he thinks, then it's been worth the investment.

And Beasley might not read the book today or tomorrow or next week. He might pick it up this summer or next season. That's okay.

It also demonstrates that Coach Spoelstra is thinking about his guys, looking for ways to help them improve, both on and off the basketball court.

What do you plan on doing in 10 years?

In the book "Cane Mutiny" about the University of Miami's college football program, there's a passage describing something that UM coach Jimmy Johnson, who led Miami to a 1987 national title, would do each week during the football season:

Johnson created weekly 9 p.m. Thursday-night meetings, when he would go around the room to each player and make him tell Johnson what he planned on doing in 10 years.

Some guys would do imitations. Some guys would crack jokes. Johnson's only caveat was the the player wasn't allowed to just say, "Football."

Then Johnson would press them about what they were doing to work toward that goal.

Teaching by breaking down the game

Vince Carter on why some players have a hard time learning from Larry Brown, "arguably the game's greatest teacher":

"Sometimes it's tough for a lot of the guys, because you go through the stages of being taught; and then on this level, you kind of want to fine-tune. But he wants to break down the game -- that's the way he's been. And if you haven't been around him and don't know him well, you don't understand. That's why it can be tough."

The first thing kids want to do is play offense

Coach Silver referenced a note from the Waco paper in his email today about Texas Tech coach Pat Knight, who's unhappy with the way his team has played defense recently.

So he turned to Tech's former coach, Pat's father Bobby Knight, for some insight.

“I talked to my dad about it, and I realize the first thing kids want to do is play offense,” Pat Knight said. “Defense is the hardest thing to get across to them. It’s got to become urgent for them. You’ve got to hammer it into them every day. When you get in our league, everybody has firepower. We’re not talented enough to get into a shootout. That’s why there’s going to be a huge emphasis on defense. You probably never thought you’d hear a Knight say this, but I’ve been pleased with our zone defense. I’m just not pleased with our man-to-man defense.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tex Winter's seven princicples of a sound offense

Re-reading Phil Jackson's 1995 book "Sacred Hoops" today on a flight to ATL and came across Tex Winter's "seven principles of a sound offense," which I've listed below.

As Coach Jackson writes in the book:

"The basic idea [of the triangle offense] is to orchestrate the flow of movement in order to lure the defense off balance and create a myriad of openings on the floor. The point is not to go head-to-head with the defense, but to toy with defenders and trick them into overextending themselves. Executed properly, the system is virtually unstoppable because there are no set plays and the defense can't predict what's going to happen next."

Here are Coach Winter's principles:

1. The offense must penetrate the defense. In order to run the system, the first step is to break through the perimeter of the defense, usually around the three-point line, with a drive, a pass, or a shot. The number-one option is to pass the ball into the post and go for a three-point power play.

2. The offense must involve a full-court game. Transition offense starts on defense. The players must be able to play end-to-end and perform skills at fast-break pace.

3. The offense must provide proper spacing. This is critical. As they move around the court, players should maintain a distance of 15-18 feet from one another. That gives everybody room to operate and prevents the defense from being able to cover two players with one man.

4. The offense must ensure player and ball movement with a purpose. All things being equal, each player will spend around eighty percent of his time without the ball. In the triangle offense, the players have prescribed routes to follow in those situations, so that they're all moving in harmony toward a common goal.

5. The offense must provide strong rebounding position and good defensive balance on all shots. With the triangle offense, everyone knows where to go when a shot goes up to put themselves in a position to pick off the rebound or protect against the fast break. Location is everything, especially when playing the boards.

6. The offense must give the player with the ball an opportunity to pass the ball to any of his teammates. The players move in such a way so that the ballhandler can see them with a pass. That sets up the counterpoint effect. As the defense increases the pressure on one point on the floor, an opening is inevitably created somewhere else that the defenders can't see. If the players are lined up properly, the ballhandler should be able to find someone in the spot.

7. The offense must utilize the players' individual skills. The system requires everybody to become an offensive threat. That means they have to find what they do best within the context of the team.

As John Paxson puts it:

"You can find a way to fit into the offense, no matter what your strengths are. I wasn't a creative player. I wasn't going to take the ball and beat the other guys to the basket. But I was a good shooter, and the system played to my strength. It helped me understand what I did well and find the areas on the court where I could thrive."

Moving out of the trees to see the forest

As Cal coach Jeff Tedford has demonstrated this season, giving up play-calling doesn't mean giving up control.

An article from yesterday describes how Coach Tedford "gave up play-calling duties during the offseason so he could ensure he has a better grasp of all aspects of his program. It's helped the Bears become a more cohesive team, with clear leadership, player camaraderie and individual accountability flourishing."

According to one Cal player:

"I think this year he's been a little more overlooking the team. Last year he said he was so focused on the X's and O's. This time, he has other guys taking care of that. He's making sure the team as a whole is a little more focused and concentrating on what we need to focus on."

Coach Tedford believes that taking a step back from the tactics has enabled him to better see the big picture:

"It kind of lets me keep more of a pulse of the whole team, especially during the game," Tedford said. "A lot of times when I was calling every play, even in between series, I had my face buried in the play chart trying to figure out what we're going to do next series. It just gives you a better perspective of the whole game and how things are going instead of just focusing on one thing. It frees me up to do things more later in the week with team oriented things."

Putting young players through the workout of a Navy SEAL

Over the holiday, while at home in San Diego, had a chance to take my boys to the Poinsettia Bowl, where TCU beat Boise State, 17-16, in what was a great game.

The Monday before the game, BSU coach Chris Petersen "took his redshirt players to a Navy training base Monday morning for a taste of life as a SEAL. About 25 Broncos went through a 45-minute training session at Naval Base Coronado on Coronado Island, not far from the team hotel."

According to this article, "the workout started with the SEALs sending the players into the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean [which is about 55 degrees this time of year], then rolling them in sand. After that, the group did pushups, situps and other exercises on the blacktop."

“It was a piece of what those guys do for six months all day long,” said Petersen. “I think it puts things in perspective when we think we work really hard. That’s a whole different level. It’s equivalent to kind of our 5:45 training, but you know it’s six months, it’s more intense, it’s longer, it just really tells you how many special people there are in this country to have the mental toughness to go through that — the love of this country, to fight for us.”

As a side note, TCU coach Gary Patterson "visited Boise State a few years ago after the Broncos beat TCU in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl. College coaches often visit each other’s programs to see what they can learn."

"You’ve got to drop your egos and say, ‘How do these guys get it done?’" Patterson said. "It was not those guys just coming out to figure out what we’re doing. It was a two-way street and there was information passed back and forth."

Coaching, like acting, is a "collaborative adventure"

Dustin Hoffman, one of the greatest actors of the last 50 years and one of my favorite actors, describes his craft as "a collaborative adventure."

[Sounds a lot like coaching and how a staff works together to build a team. For that matter, the team's players and coaches collaborate as they work toward a goal for the season.]

In this article, he talks about struggling to land acting roles early in his career, even though he believed he had the talent:

"You're saying to yourself that you think that you have talent and maybe people that you respect are echoing this, like your teacher. But you haven't painted anything, so people can't look at your painting. And you are living in a kind of private insane asylum, wondering, 'Am I deluding myself?"

[Again, it sounds a lot like what many coaches go through early in their careers.]

You'll never see a man coach with as much passion and energy

Seventy-four-year-old Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger is 5-0 in bowl games during his career.

He goes for his sixth win tonight against Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.

If you recall, Coach Schnellenberger led the University of Miami to a "stunning 31-30 victory over Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl Classic that propelled the University of Miami to its first national championship."

He "credits his bowl savvy to his days as an assistant coach under Bear Bryant at Alabama in the early 1960s."

"Those days that I was helping him prepare his teams for the bowls and saw what he did, I probably patterned a lot of the stuff after that," he said. "He got us ready physically, mentally, emotionally and technically and let the game become the motivator."

FAU assistant coch Gary Nord, who's been with Coach Schnellenberger for 16 years, says the key to Coach Schnellenberger's bowl success are "detailed, demanding practices leading up to the games and a philosophy that a victory in late December or early January can be a springboard into the next season."

"We really work harder than we do in the regular season. Most people kind of use it as an extracurricular activity in practice, but we run gassers. You're not going to see another team in the country that runs gassers in bowl preparation."

Lloyd Carr, the former Michigan coach who was an assistant coach to the late legendary Bo Schembechler, remembers watching Coach Schnellenberger when he was coaching at Louisville.

According to Coach Carr, preparation and hard work are only part of Coach Schnellenberger's formula for success:

"You'll never see a man coach with as much passion, as much energy."

Staying focused while on the bench

Thanks to coach Kyle Brown at SNC for passing along a good story about MIL guard Tyronn Lue.

Now in his 11th NBA season, Ty Lue has been with three teams over the last three seasons, starting three games during that span.

Now with MIL, Lue comes off the bench for coach Scott Skiles, who relies on the 6-foot guard to produce despite sporadic minutes.

As an example, take this five-game road swing that MIL just wrapped up:

Against the Lakers (for whom Lue played his first three seasons in the league), Lue played 21 minutes. Two nights later at PHX, Lue played two minutes. The next game, against the Warriors, he logged 14 minutes.

Then against MIA, he played just one minute. Against the NYK in the final game of the Bucks' five-game road trip game, he saw 20 minutes of action.

Lue is able to do something that many players can't: Get into the flow quickly.

"It's very difficult because you can't get in a rhythm," he said. "If you know you come in at the 2-minute mark of the first quarter, you can get your body and mind right and be mentally prepared. Just get in a rhythm throughout the course of the season, when you know when you're going to go in and know when you're going to play. It's difficult, but I've been able to produce so far in playing that role.

I just stay focused on the bench, watching the flow of the game and seeing what the team needs so if I get a chance to play I know exactly what I need to bring for the team to be successful. So I just try to tune in and stay focused and stay watching the game. I just stay ready."

I'm never discouraged. I know how to play the game and I never lose confidence. I try to play the same way all the time."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Establishing a culture of work

Saw the Spurs beat PHX just now, despite being down by five heading into the fourth quarter. Roger Mason hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it. [Here's a recap of what was a great game.]

According to GMs from around the league, the Spurs' ability to find ways to win is a credit to the team's culture, which is driven is large part by head coach Gregg Popovich:

"Their system has proven to be the best in the business," Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard said. "They have such a strong culture and belief system. That means everything. They do a great job of communicating, from staff to Pop to (GM) R.C. (Buford), what they are about. There are processes in place. They make sure they are very thorough with everything."

Says Suns GM Steve Kerr:

"There is a culture of work, like, 'Nobody owes us anything.' Pop sustains it because he demands it, but also because he's such a great guy. The familiarity over the years is really important. Pop has done a great job of creating the culture. He did that in the first year, and it almost runs itself."

As this article puts it: "Popovich plugs well-identified parts into a precise system and imparts his pound-the-rock motto."

These Jacob Riis words are posted by a locker room door: "When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow, it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it. But all that had gone before."

Doing just enough not to get yelled at

Just watched ORL-CHA game, in which the Magic led by 30 at halftime and never trailed, but scored just 27 points in the second half.

Loved Stan Van Gundy's quote after the game, when asked about his team's poor second half:

"When my wife wants me to do things around the house, I do just just enough of a job not to get yelled at. That's human nature."

Only a matter of time before he was going to be a superstar

SLAM magazine's Matt Caputo has a good Q&A with Ced Ceballos, who averaged 21 ppg for the Lakers back in the mid 1990s.

Here's what Ceballos had to say about a young Kobe Bryant, his teammate in 1996-97:

His rookie year... he comes out and doesn't realize he's a pro now. He just loved the game of basketball and wanted to play damn near everywhere. He went down to Venice Beach and broke his hand in some pick-up game on a Sunday afternoon.

When he started to practice with us—a Lakers team that had Shaq and All-Stars like Nick Van Exel, Eddie Johnson and Cedric Ceballos, and with Jerry West mentoring him—he would finish practice with us and then drive to a local high school and practice with them.

When everyone else was hanging out and playing video games, he was watching high school games, pro games, playing with high schoolers, pros, college cats over at UCLA. I don't think he rested at all his first year.

He would do some stuff in practice that was unbelievable, but he couldn't finish them because maybe his weight or strength wasn't quite there yet. It was special to watch him; he was just so eager. It was only a matter of time before he was going to be a superstar.

"Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning."

Merry Christmas! Enjoy the day with your families.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If mistakes are made, the teaching process is the only answer

Chuck Knox was an NFL head coach for more than 20 years with the Rams, Bills, and Seahawks, leading his teams to seven division titles.

In the book "The Game-Makers," he outlined his "principles of coaching," which I've listed here:

Inspire learning: "Create within the player a desire to do what is demanded, regardless of what technique is being taught. Enthusiasm is a must."

Concentration: "Learning [a sport] is not a matter of intelligence. It's a question of concentration. Any... player can learn if a coach gets him to concentrate and when a coach finds the secret of how that's done, he'll be a great coach."

Belief: "Knox... teaches with conviction. A player must understand the depth of that conviction." According to Coach Knox, "My... coaches have got to believe strongly in what they teach. Every great moment in the history of mankind occurred because someone had a belief."

Evaluate: A coach should be "totally honest with himself in what he sees. Looking at the scoreboard is one way, but not enough." According to Coach Knox, it's necessary to "look beyond that scoreboard and see that all the things the players are taught are being performed in a game that way. If I spent time in practice teaching a certain technique and then looked at the game films and saw the technique not being followed, I must be doing a damn poor job of teaching. Or maybe the technique is wrong and I should stick with what the player is doing in the game."

Never forget the basics: A game plan is only of value if a team is "fundamentally sound enough to execute it."

Sell skill: As is the case with all sports, "football is a skill game and all its elements -- blocking, tackling, catching the ball -- are skills that can be improved upon. The improvement must come from concentration on the basic fundamentals. The individual improvement will have a collective effect."

Don't demonstrate: "It is scientifically wrong... for a coach to demonstrate a technique to a player. Most of the time, the technique you're trying to demonstrate doesn't come out as you picture it in your mind." Instead, Coach Knox recommends using a player to demonstrate, making "sure that he did everything the way I wanted it done. Then everyone could follow a perfect model."

Teach, don't holler: "Enthusiasm is great and should be distinguished from ranting and raving. If mistakes are made, the teaching process is the only answer. A player won't understand what he's being taught if all he gets is hollering."

Said Coach Knox, "Take those factors, add the key element of communication, and that is my idea of how you can improve a player. But communication is the key. You must reduce an action to its simplest components, then hammer at it with repetition."

Mutual respect between player and coach

Good story in the NY Times about the interesting dynamic between Alex Ovechkin, one of the NHL's brightest stars, and his 53-year-old coach, Bruce Boudreau.

According to the article, Coach Boudreau "was quick to embrace Ovechkin, his enthusiastic superstar, who offered to do whatever was necessary to win. And it worked wonders. The Capitals charged from 14th place into a playoff berth, their 37-17-7 record under Boudreau earning him the N.H.L.’s Coach of the Year award."

As for the 23-year-old Ovechkin, he says his coach knows and trusts his team:

"He brings the team energy, and he brings the team trust. He trusts players, and he knows what situations for us to play. It’s really good when a coach knows you.”

NY Rangers coach Tom Renney believes the relationship between Ovechkin and Boudreau is built on "mutual respect":

As a coach, we don’t know it all. We shouldn’t pretend we do. Bruce is very much like that. But at the same time, he knows where to draw the line. I think his athletes know that, even his star people.”

To get on the court, you have to defend

Twelve games into the season, Steve Fisher's 9-3 San Diego State team has one of the top scoring defenses in the country.

That's the result of Coach Fisher and his staff doing more than simply emphasizing defense.

They've linked defensive effort to playing time.

“The nice thing about our team is that if a person doesn't compete hard, we've got somebody else that we can put in. I don't want anybody playing out of fear or afraid to make a mistake, but I want them on edge to the point if where they don't play hard, there's going to be a reason they'll be playing fewer minutes.”

As this article puts it, "Fail to play defense and you can be rest assured of taking a seat."

According to sophomore guard D.J. Gay, one of the nation's leading scorers as a high school senior:

Everybody has bought into what we're doing defensively and everybody wants to play. But to get on the court, you have to defend; if you don't, you're coming out. Guys are playing their hardest to stay on the court.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Steve Nash's 20-Minute Workout

Thanks to coach Creighton Burns and Jamie Angeli for passing along this PDF of Steve Nash's 20-minute workout. Click here to download the PDF document.

To get on Coach Burns' email list, visit his website. [His email is at the bottom of the home page.]

Sometimes a player's impact on the game doesn't show up in the box score

On a post earlier today, I mentioned Antonio Gates, a five-time Pro Bowl TE for the Chargers.

Then I come across a story here in the San Diego paper about how Gates, who is almost always double-teamed, deals with teams game-planning to take him out of the game.

“When it first happened, I was kind of frustrated. As I matured as a player, I (came to) understand that sometimes your impact on the game doesn't necessarily come statistically. The fact that you get double-teamed and that they take you out of the game has just as big an impact as a guy catching a pass.

Patience now, for me, is real important. There are going to be times when I go without getting an attempt and I have to be patient, understanding that as long as we hit other areas offensively, eventually this thing will open up and I can make a play. And when my number is called, be ready to make a play.”