Top 10 Qualities of Good Offense

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

Good offense is like a well built house. It’s not enough just to have good players or a good plan. It’s just like having a good plan but builders who can’t drive a nail, or maybe the builders are great, but the plan isn’t.  Teams who play good offense are a combination of good offensive players and the systems they play in. It’s not enough to have good plays; and good players can be limited in the systems that don’t fit them. Granted great players can fit in a lot of different systems. Most of us don’t coach great players. Let’s be honest, only a small percentage of players play professionally. Most of us coach average players. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, in order for us to run good offense, our systems should have the following qualities.

  1. Good Spacing
    In my opinion, it’s the foundation to efficient offensive basketball. If your spacing is bad, the rest doesn’t really matter.
  2. Ball movement
    Here’s where you build your house. Ball movement is the structure. If you can move the ball with good spacing, you’re 75% of the way there.
  3. Player movement
    This is your floor plan. What’s the layout? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? How big is your kitchen?  Do you have a garage?   I don’t think it’s as important as the first two, but you have to make good choices to have a functional house. Keep in mind, the more rooms you have, the more there is to take care of.
  4. Takes advantage of players’ strengths
    What kind of floors do you like? What color are you painting your walls? Recessed lighting and ceiling fans? Do these things fit the room that they are going in? In other words, does your offense fit your personnel?
  5. Hides players’ weaknesses
    Similar to the previous point, if your return duct for your HVAC has to be in a certain area of the house, can you hide it with a closet? Where do you put your water heater so it’s not an eye sore and so that it doesn’t use valuable square footage?  Not all of us can afford a tankless water system right?
  6. Flexible and adaptable to personnel
    You know when you get your furniture arranged a certain way, and then you want to change things around? Isn’t that similar to when one player leaves a team and a new one joins?  Maybe you want a different type of player or maybe it’s hard to find one like you had. Let’s be honest, no two players are exactly alike.
  7. Simple so that players can play more and think less
    We don’t want 7 different light switches on the wall where we have to figure out what goes where. We don’t want to have to use 5 different remotes just to watch our favorite sitcom. If we can’t hit one button to pop the popcorn in the microwave, it’s probably too complicated.
  8. Organized
    A messy home is a sign of character. At least that’s what somebody said once. I think it’s easy to agree that it is important for offense be organized. The trick is everyone has a different definition of organization.
  9. Difficult to scout
    We want to know our house inside out. We don’t care if other people know about our house, but even if they know about our house, they could never copy our house, and they definitely can’t stop us.
  10. Enable the ball handler to be a threat on every catch
    Get rid of the clutter. Ever been in a house that’s so overly “decorated” that it looks like the clearance section at a flea market? There’s so much extra junk that you lose sight of what’s really happening.

Each of these qualities is mentioned in different articles on this blog. I will follow-up this post with a description of each of them and how each of these in inherent in the R&R.


10 Habits of Great Defenders

Great defenders are hard to find these days. There are good ones and bad ones, but I don’t know how many great ones there are. Good defenders exhibit a lot of these qualities. Great defenders exhibit all of them.

  1. Know what they are protecting
    Playing defense is about keeping the ball from going in the basket. The most obvious goal is to keep the ball from getting to the rim so that players can’t get easy lay-ups. The easiest way to do that is to stay between the player with the ball and the basket. Now this isn’t the only way of defending the ball. The goal could be to keep the ball handler to a certain area of the court or to keep the ball handler out of a certain area. The goal could be to keep the ball from being passed to a certain part of the court or to a certain area. In any case, defenders must know what they are protecting at all times. If they don’t know and understand their purpose their purpose at all times, it becomes more difficult for them to defend well.
  2. Fight to protect it
    Once a defender knows what they are protecting, it has to be a constant mental and physical effort to protect it. Of course defenders must be taught the techniques and concepts of how to defend individually and within the team structure, but it is a constant fight to defend.
  3. Are always ready to move
    Defense is a journey. It’s never a destination. A defender who has arrived is about to get beat. Great defenders are always ready to move. They can’t always predict where they are going to have to move, but when it’s time they are ready. If a player’s feet stop moving, It’s probable that they aren’t ready to react. This is on ball and off ball. We have to be careful when we’re teaching defensive positioning that players know that they are only in the right spot for a split second. The ability to succeed in one brief moment is short lived. As soon as the ball or a player moves, their positioning should probably change.
  4. Move when the ball moves
    There are a lot of defenses and defensive philosophies out there, but all of them start on players moving when the ball moves. If players are late, they are probably going to be out of position, no matter how athletic they are. Players who can learn to move when the ball moves can be great defenders.
  5. Talk with a purpose
    Good defenders talk. Great defenders talk with a purpose. Good defenders call screens. Great defenders tell their teammate what to do when the screen is set. Good defenders see a play develop. Great defenders let everyone else know what’s about to happen. It’s one thing to talk on defense. It’s another thing to talk purposefully.
  6. Go after loose balls with 2 hands
    How many times is there a deflection and a player tries to reach for the ball with one hand to dribble it while losing control of the ball? Whether it’s a loose ball from a deflection or a rebound, great defenders pursue the ball with two hands. It’s not enough for them to touch the ball. They want to have the ball. There may be some instances when players can only get one hand on the ball, and yes one is better than none. We’re talking about GREAT defenders. They find a way to get two hands on loose balls.
  7. Recognize personnel quickly and react appropriately
    The scouting report says that #23 is a 45% 3 point shooter. A great defender closes out and doesn’t give up a shot or a drive. #24 checks in for #23. The scouting report says #24 is 0 for 15 for the year from the 3 point line. A great defender doesn’t closeout on this player if their teammate needs help in the lane.
  8. Help when they are supposed to
    It’s nearly impossible to play good on ball defense every time. There are times when we will have to help. The key is to help with the right person in the right place at the right time. When two people help the defense is in trouble. If the wrong person helps, the rest of the team is forced to rotate in a way that is unexpected. If a player “helps” when they aren’t supposed to, it will force rotations when they aren’t necessary. Great defenders know when not to help as much as they know when to help.
  9. Know how to rebound
    Rebounding is about effort, positioning and then more effort. It’s amazing how players who might not be in position to rebound initially can get themselves in position with just a little effort. Then how many players get position, but then they don’t go for the ball. It’s not enough to just get position. Rebounding requires pursuit of the ball. I’ve coached a lot of players who just want the ball. It’s not complicated, they just like having the ball, and they will do whatever it takes to get it.
  10. Foul When They Want To
    Sometimes players need to foul. Maybe you’re trying to make a last-minute comeback. Maybe you don’t want to give up an easy lay-up and fouling is the only option. Maybe you aren’t in the bonus and you want to make a team inbound the ball against the end of the quarter or half. Great defenders know these situations and know how to foul in these situations. They don’t give up “and 1s.” They don’t hurt themselves or the other team. They don’t get intentional fouls called on them. However, they also have fouls to give because they haven’t fouled unnecessarily in other parts of the game. They know when to try to block a shot and when to stay on the ground. They don’t foul in the opponents back court, just because they missed a lay-up and are trying to get the rebound when they don’t have a chance at it. They move their feet to stay in front of ball handlers and don’t put their hands on them.

Skill Development

Skill development is one of the most critical areas of any basketball program. Even the best players in the game have skills they can improve on.  Some players may have more room to improve than others, but every player can improve.

So then how do you develop a player’s skills?

Well to me it’s like learning how to do math.  You have to master the basics first.  If you can’t do 2+2, you’re going to have a difficult time doing calculus.

However, once you know the basics, you have to learn how to do the basics better or move on to harder problems. You can’t just stay with 2+2 because it makes you feel good.

As you progress from the most basic skills to the more difficult ones, there must be a component of failure involved.  That is not to say that the skills should be so difficult that they can’t be executed.

However, they must get more difficult to the point that players do not succeed every time.  Then when they fail, they  must learn how to succeed. As important as developing the physical skill might be, developing the mental skill of overcoming failure is just as important.

We must constantly challenge players to execute the skill with higher levels of intensity, speed, and precision if we want them to truly develop. When they fail, we must continue to hold them accountable to executing the skill correctly, even if the cards are stacked against them.

Executing a skill on one level two days in a row is good, but executing it at a higher level from day to day is great. We must teach players to be confident where they are, but always looking to take the next step.

Making Second Most Important

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Practice

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right?

You might be thinking…

“Coach, you talk about defense being most important, but you don’t start with it. It doesn’t matter what we think in our minds as coaches, if our players don’t think we are serious about defense they won’t play it. How can your offense be good if your defense isn’t? How can you make defense most important if you don’t start with it?”

Check out Practice Plan #1. This practice was all about playing with the ball and guarding the ball. There are lots of opportunities to play 1 on 1 without it being just 1 on 1. There are lots of opportunities to closeout and help in a more game like environment. Defense is emphasized in almost every segment. Even more importantly, we’re creating a mindset of offensive aggressiveness without having to say it. The players are put in situations where they have to make plays. They can’t hide and let their teammates do the work for them. It’s obvious that they should be aggressive which puts pressure on the defense right away.

You are what you emphasize right? Not only is there a lot of defense being played in this practice, there are lots of opportunities to make defense important. There are a lots of opportunities to critique and correct defense. We might have started with offense, but by the time practice was over, we had the opportunity to make defense most important.

Look at Practice Plan #2. Practice #2 builds off of the first one. There aren’t many new offensive concepts being introduced in this practice, but we are emphasizing good defense on the ball and good team defense if we have to help. Again the same aggressive mindset is being established offensively, but we don’t have to worry about the offense being aggressive. They don’t have much of a choice. We do have to worry about how we’re defending, and it will become very clear who our best defenders are and who really needs to improve.

Keep in mind these practices are a result of the environment I was in. The first day of practice resulted from the team having no skill development sessions in the preseason. We had no on court time with players before this practice. Of course we had some players who returning from the previous season, but we had players who had never played for this team before. From year to year, we couldn’t take things for granted and so we started from the beginning.

Even if we were having an individual or small group workout, we would make sure that we introduced the “WHOLE” part before we did the smaller parts. They might not understand it completely, and we might not be able to go 5 on 5, but when we reference the bigger picture, they will have something to go back to in their minds.

If we could have had 2 hours per week per player on the court, we would have worked on a lot of these skills and concepts then. Our first day of practice would have looked much different. However, our first workout would have been had a similar idea. Learn how to play with the ball and defend it. Once you can do that, the rest becomes a lot easier.

Technology in Our Game

Technology is part of our world. Some of the most successful businesses are the ones that are creating new technologies or who are taking existing technologies and combining them in ways that change people’s lives.

Basketball has been around since 1891. Any idea when the first computer was made? Not many of you would say 1822, would you? Computers have been around longer than basketball. Now that computer was very different from the computers we use today, but the game in 1891 was very different from the game now as well.

If you want to be good in this game either as a player or a coach, you have to learn to be comfortable with technology. This is not a question of age. There are young people who aren’t very technically savvy and there are older people who very experienced with technology. It is a situation where the ability to read a webpage isn’t good enough.

Can you make a highlight video? It’s not hard to learn how. They can be great recruiting tools or motivational tools.

Can you perform a mail merge? The software makes it easy and it allows you to personalize things quickly and easily.

Can you run a blog? People are on the phones and computers all the time. What a great way to connect with them and it’s pretty easy to do. You just have to be willing to try.

Can you make a spreadsheet to keep track of your stats? Even if you have sports information people to do some stats work, there may be stats that they don’t keep that might be important to you?

Do you know how to use social media? It’s such an important part of our world. It’s important for communication and marketing.

Can you manipulate film in ways to share with others? Film is such a great teaching tool. There are lots of free tools out there for taking film and breaking it up in to the segments that you want to watch. You don’t have to worry about watching a whole game just for a few possessions.

Do you have a way to track the shots that you or your players shoot?  It’s really not that hard. Not to mention, it’s good feedback when a player can see that they have shot 600 shots and their teammate has shot 2500.

Do you know what’s possible? Do you know how much easier technology can make our lives?

Granted, technology is not the answer for everything. However, if we fail to use technology, we are failing to be as good as we could be. A big part of using technology is just being willing to try.



First is Not Necessarily Most Important

This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series Practice

My experience is that a lot of people think “first” and “most important” mean the same thing. While in some situations that is true, I think there are many situations where those two things are very different. One of those is coaching the game of basketball. A lot of what I’ve written about on this blog has to do with offense. Since that is what I’ve spent most of my time writing about, you probably think that’s what’s most important to me. You might think that all I want to do is out score teams. You might think that getting stops is not very important to me.

Let me make this clear, defense is much more important to me than offense. I believe good offense starts with good defense. If you can’t defend, you can’t win championships. Offense is easier when the other team doesn’t score. Whether it’s a missed shot or a turnover, it is much easier to play offense when you just got a stop. In my opinion, the most important characteristic of a point guard is the ability to defend, not the ability to create offense or score. Defending is so much more important to me than scoring. That doesn’t mean I think defense comes first when it comes to teaching the game.

For example, let’s say you’re working on one of the most basic defensive fundamentals: the closeout. If the offensive player doesn’t have the full complement of skills, the closeout becomes easier to execute. If the player can’t shoot and attack off the dribble, then that player becomes very easy to defend. Then when the offensive player has to closeout against a player who can do both, they are at a huge disadvantage.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that you can work on a player’s individual skills for a few days or a couple of weeks and make them proficient at their weaknesses. I understand that developing and mastering skills takes time. It’s not easy to guard an average player one on one. The offense has almost every advantage. However, if your players are closing out on players who offensively limited, they are going to struggle defending players who aren’t.

Let’s take this to a larger topic: defending screens. I believe that you have to teach players how to set and use screens before you can work on defending them. If the offensive players don’t understand the concept of screening, the defense isn’t going to get a good feel for how to defend them. When we’re running a defensive drill, I don’t want to take the time to coach the offense. I want the offense to know what they are doing. If I have to take time to coach offense in a defensive drill, then it does seem like offense is more important than defense.

Finally, in a very broad sense, I believe that teaching the game of basketball needs to be done in a very progressive way. It’s interesting that “progressive” has a couple different definitions and both apply in this case. The game starts with the ball. Offenses and defenses are all predicated on who has the ball, where they have the ball, and where the other players are relative to the ball. It only makes sense to me that teaching players what to do when they have the ball comes before teaching players how to defend.

I have spent a lot of time talking about offense, because I think the offensive side of the game needs to evolve. Isn’t it interesting how football teams are playing more like basketball teams?  They are simplifying their playbook. They are letting players make plays. Our game shouldn’t look like football. I don’t believe it was ever meant to be that way. I believe we should teach players how to play and let them play. Basketball is a beautiful game when players can be creative when they play it.

Additionally, I think a lot has been written about defense and how to teach it. The reason teams don’t play good defense has more to do with a lack of emphasis than a lack of sharing of ideas. I think there are some coaches that have every intention of making defense most important, but end up making decisions based on a player’s ability to score instead. I think a lot of coaches teach offense first and make offense most important.

I want to make it clear that I don’t subscribe to that philosophy at all. I believe defense is most important, but I think you have to teach offense first.



Coaching with the Phrase “I Need”

This entry is part 22 of 28 in the series Leadership

The need in the picture is pretty obvious. This guy needs to go to the bathroom.Need

One phrase that I hear a lot from coaches is “I need…”

“I need more from you.”

“I need you to be on time.”

“I need you to make your time.”

“I need you to get in the gym.”

“I need you to work harder.”

“I need you to set a better screen.”

“I need you to make a good pass.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot. You may have even said it yourself.  Honestly, it gets on my nerves when I catch myself saying it. It rubs me the wrong way. What we say matters. Our words are so powerful. I suggest we stop using these two words together.

It’s only two words, but they are two words that hold a lot of weight. Let’s break it down.

The phrase starts with “I.” Last time I checked, we coach for the athletes not for ourselves. Last time I checked, we were in it to make them better, to help them learn and to give them a good experience. It isn’t about us; it’s about them. Right? Starting a sentence with “I,” immediately makes our statement self-centered. What we say is no longer about them. It has become about us. Are we servants or dictators? Are we leaders or bosses?

The second word is “need.” We all “need” air, water, and food. We all “need” safety, love and security.  Going through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would be overkill, but those are needs. I need to get a good night’s sleep every night. A player needs to work harder for themselves and for the team, not for me. Players need to be on time because it’s a good lesson for them to learn, not because I said so. A player needs to eat a healthy diet, not because it helps me, but because it’s good for their mind and body.

Trust me, being on time is important. Working hard is important. Eating a healthy diet is important, but not because I need them to do that. Those things are important because it’s what’s best for them. It is also what’s best for the team.

We are all about helping people be better people, right? I don’t need them to be better people. I want them to be better, but more importantly they have to want it for themselves. They aren’t on our teams forever. We aren’t going to follow them around through their lives to make sure they are making all the right decisions. They need to learn to do these things for themselves and for each other.

Being part of a team is a privilege, not a right. If they continue to make poor decisions and do things that are detrimental to themselves or the team, then maybe they don’t need to be part of the team. No player, no matter how talented, is more important than the other players on the roster. We don’t need any one that badly.

If you ever hear me say “I need” to a player I coach, you have the right to tell me “You need to stop.”