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.