Nitty-Gritty Basketball
Fundamentals In 2002 NBA Final

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On this page I detail right and wrong play in games that I watched.
The comments are dateless.

Fundamental Notes --2002 NBA Final

Thursday, June 13, 2002
Lakers -- Nets Final Thoughts
This NBA finals series was characterized by something unusual: team play. Nets fever caught on a little bit with the free lancing wild style of individual play of the Celtics for a game, or some part thereof, as well as with the Lakers. I noticed the Lakers passing better than usual. Maybe they were doing this before, but I did not notice.
I can't be positive enough about Byron Scott's attitude and the training of his players. As I said before, little kids and the inexperienced could watch the Nets, an NBA team, and still get the right idea about basketball. Basketball is a team game with one of the most important skills being LOOKING: for the open player, for the cutter, for an opportunity to take advantage of the defense. The antithesis of looking is dribbling, Alan Iveson style, to make a move only to pass off when stuck.
The Lakers were also no slouch on team play in the final series. To beat the Nets zone they passed more than normal without any dribbles in between, eventually hitting a player for an open shot or Shaq inside.
The great part of the play involved the smooth sailing no dribble pass, pass, pass, then shoot or drive. Unfortunately, while the Lakers took the best parts of the Nets game, the Nets did not play their best basketball. I sensed a frustration, not only due to losing close games, but also the refs allowed Shaq to knock players out of the way, the Bang Out of Here Move, then call the foul on bounced player. The biggest defensive mistake on the Nets part was reaching for Shaq's arms
on the shot. This is always a bad play, a great way to foul out of a game; a poor way to play defense. And you must teach players not to reach, not to hack. Arms go straight up. One in the line of view of the shooter, about 6 inches about eyes.
Here is a simple drill to prevent centers from hacking. The offensive player lines up 2 feet from the basket, ball overhead in shooting position. The defense lines up in front with one hand above the eyes, 6 inches from face, to block the vision and the other hand straight up to block the shot. The shooter shoots and then you, the coach, gotta get the defense excited. Yell, "block that shot", " get moving", "put out more effort". This is how you simulate a game situation. Younger kids will get all excited when you start yelling. Older college players will ignore you a bit more. Make sure that they are both excited and not hacking. You don't want any movement of the arms towards the ball. Arms remain straight up.
Another way the Nets showed frustration is that they got out of their normal team style offense. Kidd tried to do too much. Scott needed to tell them to continue their regular play, that they didn't need to do anything super special on offense. To win the game they needed to play great team defense. (He probably did.) On critical offensive possessions the Nets faltered time after time either taking bad shots or making tentative passes that went astray. This is a coaching mistake that I expect Scott will work on.
On the other hand, Jackson, as usual, prepared his players well for the game.
Few tentative plays in critical situations is more a compliment to the coaching than the playing.
How do you keep your players cool in tough situations? It's not a one step process involving a "let's do it for the Gipper" speech. Step one, is to stay cool yourself. You can't fake it! You gotta be cool, able to joke, able to look at what's going on. I can remember about 8 times during my first year coaching a women's team, that the game was lost 100% due to my behavior, uncool to say the least. After this first year, I learned to stay cool. During the next 6 years my teams only lost 10% of the close games.
Another way to prepare kids for tight games is to practice all drills at the game, high pressure level. Coach's always have a difficult time understanding this key to all practice.
Let me try to explain. All drills must be practiced at 3 levels. Lets talk about defense for instance. Level one, the technique level, involves working on defensive movement: jump steps and running in defensive position. Practice slowly on purpose, so players can get the steps together. Level two, the practice level, involves playing defense on a player moving moderately. Level three, the game level, is more intense than any game. With only 2 players on the court, allow the offense to move (without the ball) at full speed in any direction. The defense must stay within three yards in defensive position. You can repeat these 3 levels for every single skill and most drills.
All my books give the level of each drill. With this type of practice and preparation players do not get nervous in games as long as you stay cool as well.

Monday, June 3, 2002
Lakers -- Kings, Sunday
The Kings lost the game in the first quarter by missing half their foul shots. This predicted the inevitable horrendous foul shooting for the entire game.
On the other side, one of the leagues leading poor foul shooters, Shaq, continues to develop better technique making nearly all his shots. And there is no reason for Shaq or any other pro to shoot foul shots poorly.
Shaq's newest technique involves less arms and more use of the wrist. This gives a nice soft touch to the shot. As I have said on many occasions in many articles, Shaq's big problem has always been his wrists. Like most or many men his wrists simply are not loose and will not bend back the 90 degrees needed for a good shot. However, wrist work helps all players with stiff wrists.
Here are directions for wrist work: Start with the arms at the sides, palms facing backward. Flick the wrists upward keeping the arms and forearms at the side. This will be quite difficult for players, so you might just have them loosen up by shaking arms and wrists before doing the flicking.
Again, you want no arm movement, just the wrists. If you have wrist problems do this exercise 10-20 times a day for a minute at a time.
To complete his technique, Shaq needs to get his body into the shot a little. He needs to bend his needs and arc the shot a bit more.
I'll mention another very right part of Shaq's shot: the way he touches the ball. His fingers are spread apart, hand shaped like a claw. The ball only touches his fingertips or ends. The fingers and palm do not touch the ball. Of course, it should only take a few months to modify any grownups shot, not years.
Younger smaller players (jr high, elementary) have an additional problem at the foul line: they are not strong enough to shoot with proper technique, So, technique for these folks is a work in progress. Not so, for most high school, college and pro players. A few months, not seasons or years, of proper instruction will significantly improve any shot. With proper instruction for 2 months, instead of 7-10 years of sputtering, Shaq would be ahead of where he is now.
Another problem after technique is
developed is how to practice. Only shoot 2 shots in row, like in a game, then sprint up and down the court a few times to get out of breath before shooting another 2. This is game level shooting. Make sure to go through a routine involving these things before shooting each shot:
1- loosen up especially the wrists. Shake or flick wrists before shooting.
2- handle the ball with the fingertips. Either dribble or just flick the ball back and forth between hands.
3- bend the knees a few times. If you don't bend the knees allowing the body to get into the shot, a player will arm the ball up. The Kings are expert at not bending the legs.
4- take a breath before shooting to steady the shot.
Most importantly, don't try to be careful on the shot. Be careful before, then shoot the ball at normal speed.

Saturday, June 1, 2002
Nets -- Celtics, Friday Evening
The Celtics tried to emulate the Nets offensive team play with flashes of success. However, the Nets team defense kept all Celtics big guns quiet.
I want to say more about the attributes of the Nets offense as well as offenses in general. One key to beating any defense is to keep them off balance by moving the ball and cutting every which way: to the basket, down the lane, across the lane, to the ball. The biggest offense killer is a player dribbling in place attempting to make a move to the basket with other players standing around trying not to get in the way.
For the most part Net players do not dribble much, or at all, before passing as well as before making a move. Don't allow players to dribble on offense in practice. Kids should be told to just drive to the basket starting without a dribble. It's an easy effective move, one step and you are by the defense. Starting from a dribble is much more difficult and less effective because it takes more time to take the first step.
Another most important key to the offense as I said before is to look for open players. Looking along with communication and timing makes a
play work. And before you get the wrong idea about what a play is, I will explain. A play in essence is the effective execution of the aforementioned offensive skills. Big complicated diagrams are not needed. A give and go is a great play: a player passes to another, then cuts to the basket to receive the ball back.
Another more complicated play involves a pick and roll where the picker rolls off or around the defender to the basket, again to receive the ball. However, a play does not even need to be that complicated. An off ball player need only to fake one way and cut to he basket a half step ahead of the defense or just juke (fake) a defender in the low post to receive the ball.
The key to all these plays is not a diagram, but rather execution of the seldom taught offensive skills including passing, cutting, catching, faking, timing, communication, and of course looking.
The Nets offense compared to most other NBA teams involves more movement. The more offensive movement the more the chance of a defensive misstep, just one step is needed, that the offense takes advantage of.
Lakers -- Kings, Friday Evening
The Kings couldn't give the game away Tuesday night, but with a little help from the refs they did last night. The refs are people that I have the most respect for on the court, but sometimes the mistakes don't seem to even out. I can think of 2 or 3 big ones involving at least a 5-15 point turnaround. 1- Near the end of the game, Weber's charging foul on Horry should have been a 3 point play for the Kings. Horry clearly did the fouling. 2- Again near the end of the game, I forget who clearly snuffed Kobe on the right side, when a foul was called. 3- Bibby's last 3 point shot was off by a foot or two because Kobe banged his arms. 4- And all during the game they let Shaq do the Bang-Out-Of -Here move where he bangs into a player down low, gets him moving backward then continues the tidal wave forward usually knocking the defender out of bounds and also getting a foul shot to boot! Maybe someone will explain this to me someday, but the Kings or any other team is unlikely to win if Shaq is allowed to do the Bang-Out-Of-Here move.

Thursday, May 30, 2002
Nets -- Celtics, Wednesday Evening
The Nets again were a pleasure to watch. The Celtics, as well as many other teams, have a lot more talent, but they just don't play as a team.
Where the Nets are zipping passes and looking for open players, the Celtics are happy to go one-on-one or shoot the 3 pointer. The zone defense by the Nets at the end of the game was very effective against one on one assaults.
And a zone defense is more difficult to teach than a person-to-person defense because you need to teach all the person-to-person skills as well as the zone shift. Players execute individual skill from the zone setup. So, if you
are a beginning or even more experienced coach, you gotta teach defense, not just let players graze in the lane.
Here are some of the most important defensive skills. Number one is movement. Movement involves jump steps and running in defensive position. Without fluid movement the offense will always beat the defense. Two drills you need to do are:
1- jump step drill. Just line players up and point in the direction you want them to jump step. change direction every few seconds. Don't allow sliding.
2- Sprinting in defensive position. Players sprint two steps in the direction
you point then pivot around to the original defensive position. Point left, right, up and back. Players start out slow increasing speed with agility.
Other critical defensive skills include off ball skills like overplaying, especially in the low post, fronting, and covering the cutter and boxing out. On-ball skills include forcing, covering the driver and shooter. Team skills include trapping and helping out. However, the key to good defense is proper movement.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Lakers -- Kings, Tuesday Evening
Despite a valiant effort on the foul line and offense, the Kings were not able to give the game away. Good defense along with an intermittent key goal raised it's ugly head time after time to save the day.
I'd hate to think of what the score would be if the Kings made a playoff percentage, 80% or more, from the foul line as well as regularly execute a few other offensive basics like:
1-Move the ball on offense with passes rather than dribbles.
2- Players constantly move on offense.
3- Go for rebounds on the offensive end. Even with a time-out to set up a play near the end of the game, only one player was under on Bibby's winning shot.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002 Before the evening game
Lakers -- Kings Series
Sacramento seems to outplay LA for 3 quarters only to fold as the Lakers come to life in the 4th quarter. A similar pattern appears in the other conference final series as well. I'll try to account for these shifts in momentum from quarter 1 to 4 keeping fundamentals in mind.
At the beginning of a game players are fresh, the defense is often not warmed up ready to bear down, so shooting and running plays on offense may be easier. As the game progresses the defense becomes sharper adapting to what the offense has previously done. So, finesse type plays do not work as well. More physical type plays continue to work. Near the end of the game a players can be slightly tired so defense and offense, including foul shooting with some players, can suffer. When an entire team slows down this could indicate either a general lack of conditioning or just lack of sleep or jet lag. This is one reason teams do better at home during the season: it's not as much home court advantage as the home and well rested advantage.
In both series the more physical team makes the comeback. When confronted with a press the Kings often stand around like a confused elementary school team. The Nets make lots of bad passes. Of course, these players have the ability to execute an offense against a press, but it appears that they have not practiced effectively.
Here are keys to practicing against the press for first graders as well as pros. Before I explain I want to say that young players, maybe 4th or even 6th grade and below, should not be allowed to full court press, maybe not even half court press, because kids this age lack the coordination to effectively perform most offensive skills. Nobody needs to win that much to employ a press either at that level.
Back to the point, keys to offense against a press:
1- No dribbling--a player with the ball needs to spend all their time looking to pass.
2- Look for the long pass first. Even the inbounder must look long before going short. Many presses simply bring all 5 players into the back court.
A long pass executed properly will yield a layup foiling the press.
3- All players without the ball, cut away then cut to the ball or the open area where they want to catch the pass. These movements must be repeated on each pass downcourt even though one or two good passes usually beats the press.
A good press exposes the lack of offensive skills taught. With pro caliber players a coach only needs to practice these every day for a few minutes. With younger players teaching an offense against the press is a major undertaking that should be the goal of all offensive practice.
Offensive skills include: all types of passes including baseball passes, cutting, faking, timing, communication, looking, catching and so on. The offensive setup can be described as a 1-2-2 with the one being the inbounder, the first two about 10 yards downcourt and the last two at midcourt. This is just where players start to execute offensive skills, this setup is not the solution to the press.

Monday, May 27, 2002
Celtics -- Nets Series
Finally you can allow the young and inexperienced to watch an NBA team without worrying that they will come away with the entirely wrong idea about the game. Stating this positively: you can watch the Nets. And "Yes", basketball is a team game.
Offensive players work together; four players don't run to the water cooler to watch the star du jour do his stuff.
I've only seen the Nets play several times this season, but here's what they are doing right, or at least righter than any other NBA team I've ever seen: One, players look to pass to teammates. Other teams just do not do this. Watch there heads or eyes closely. And one key to offense is looking.
Another key is moving without the ball. And the Nets do a spectacular job especially in the beginning of the game. Not sure why they slow down as the game progresses, maybe better defense or a conditioning problem. I also noticed that several players are usually in position to rebound each shot.
These are basic offensive skills. But, you will rarely find them executed in the NBA. And, you just can't just tell players to look, or move without the ball, or get in rebounding position. You must and can teach these skills.
Here's just one idea how you can practice looking: Assign each group of 2 players an area in the gym, maybe
15 x 20 feet. The player without the ball, the catcher or cutter, points or indicates in a non-verbal way where they are going to cut. The passer hits the cutter. The new passer now hits the new catcher wherever he/she wants. Make sure players stay in the designated area. Let this drill continue for 5 or so minutes till players get the idea.
This is just the start. Whenever you run any play in practice the catcher needs to look at every cutter, like a check off, before making a pass. This slows down the play a bit, but without looking a play is worthless. Passers must always hit the open player (hopefully under the basket), not a designated receiver.
Moving without the ball and rebounding are taught by running a simple play with 3 to 5 players, Three is always better because players get more practice in smaller groups. The play always ends with a layup with all players going for the rebound, then eventually making a transition. If you have the coaches manual Play 1, 2, or 3 work well.
Remember that offense involves a myriad of teachable skills including passing, catching, cutting, timing, looking, and communication. Running plays does not teach these skills: only coaches armed with the know-how can do this.
With a few seconds left Pierce from Boston had a chance to tie the game up if he could make 2 foul shots. There are a few things every player should do at the foul line to insure the best chance of making a foul shot especially in tight pressure packed situations.
1- Loosen up. Shake the arms and hands while walking to the foul line before receiving the ball. Do this for two reasons. First to relieve tension and two the shooter needs to be loose, especially the wrists.
2. Dribble the ball a few times or handle the ball with the fingertips. The shot goes off the fingertips. During the game most players don't handle the ball much. 3. Bend the knees a few times for several reasons. One this relieves tension. Two, players most often forget to bend the knees on the shot when they are tired or tight. The result on not bending the knees is an armed up shot.
4. Take a deep breath before shooting. This steadies the shot.
Probably, the main reason a player misses a foul shot in game deciding situation is that they slow down all movements attempting to be more careful. Unfortunately slowing down movement alters the shot. Each player needs to shoot the ball at normal speed. Prepare slowly, but shoot at normal speed.

The Nitty-Gritty Basketball™ Series
by Sidney Goldstein
website copyright 1995-2008 © Sidney Goldstein, Golden Aura Publishing