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Coach: Control the Middle of the Floor
Posted By Anthony Macri On April 7, 2012 @ 6:00 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Controlling the Middle Lane
A high priority in teaching great individual and team basketball is recognizing the value of the middle of the floor. Too often played on the fringes, basketball’s true “line-of-scrimmage” is in the middle of the floor, the space in the center that extends from one lane all the way through to the opposite end of the court. This 16’ wide area (the college area is 12’ wide) is the major determining factor in how good a team is offensively – in a number of ways.
One of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the game is the area directly in front of the rim: a 6’x6’ chunk of the paint. Both post players attacking toward the middle and perimeter players who are penetrating to the basket want to get right to the front of the rim for the finish. Both the action of getting there and the threat of going there at some point forces defenses to collapse, and being in front of the rim preserves fantastic passing angles to cutters and shooters.
Sometimes we call this area of the floor the “And-1 Zone.” Constantly getting shots here leads to certain opportunities to score the hoop while getting fouled, which is a fantastic result of any scoring possession. Because it is right in front of the rim, defenses are keen not to allow players to score there easily, and tend to be aggressive in a help posture, which can lead to more fouls for offensive players who value this piece of real estate more than others.
Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose are excellent examples of players who are constantly playing right at the front of the rim. Obviously, they get there in different ways—Dwight uses his strength and size to establish post position, and then hammers the middle of the floor on backdowns. For Derrick, he uses crossovers and quickness to set up middle drives where he eventually gets to the rim. Both options work, and both control that center lane right in front of the hoop.
Certain players do not seem to understand the value of this part of the floor. For all of Anthony Davis’ remarkable characteristics (and sure-fire #1 draft pick status), he tends to undervalue the middle of the floor, and on catches in the post he usually attacks baseline, limiting his options and making him appear rather pedestrian against great defensive teams. He is so young that this flaw may get cleaned up, but it is something he should definitely address. Brook Lopez has a different problem with middle control. He constantly posts-up too far from the lane to mount a credible attack on the middle of the floor, often settling for baby jumpshots. These are lower percentage, do not lead to foul shot opportunities, and put him out of offensive rebounding position.
As you get further away from the rim, the goal is not to control the middle of the floor by getting the ball there, but rather by using the middle to reverse the ball. One easy way a team can make their offense more efficient and productive is to start labeling “sides” of the floor. The first side is whatever side the offense is initiated in. The second side is after a ball reversal, the 3rd side is when the ball is reversed back to the original side, etc. In practices, coaches can impose rules like “the ball must get to the 3rd side of the floor before a shot.” This way of describing the floor helps players visualize and understand much better than simply requiring a certain number of passes.
Some of the best attack men in the game are actually best after a reversal (whether it be quick ball movement or a skip pass, or some combination). Two guys that immediately come to mind in this regard are Luol Deng with the Chicago Bulls and Kevin Durant with the OKC Thunder. For both, getting lower than the three throw line extended is a necessity, because their attack lanes are best created against closeout defenders. Any type of rapid ball movement can give them the ball in that lower wing area, and they put defenders at their mercy very quickly.
Quick ball reversals, especially once a team gets to at least the 3rd side of the floor, also benefit the post players if they are paying attention. On any skip, post players can look to seal right in the prime real estate location discussed before. This combines the way the perimeter players control the middle via ball reversal with the way good post players control the middle by establishing deep position in front of the rim. Both Kevin Love and Al Jefferson are excellent at this kind of manipulation.
Transition is the first place where an offensive team can assert control over the middle of the floor. The best guards in the game never stay only on one side of the floor in every transition situation. This becomes predictable and is easily guarded. Instead, great floor managers “change boxes”—that is, they look for a quick hit-ahead up the sideline, and if it isn’t available, they take the ball from one side of the floor, across the middle lane, and initiate their attack from the opposite side.
Guards who change boxes naturally (or at least ones who have adopted this principle as second nature) are as valuable to me as forwards who rebound out of area. It is a subtle signifier of an effective, thinking player: the kind of player I want on my team.
One of the reasons I like Kendall Marshall is because he has demonstrated the ability to change boxes early and often to put the defense to an early test. Ty Lawson also accomplishes this goal well – it is something that Roy Williams explicitly demands from his point guards, and it is a reason so many of them have success in the NBA.
Some players, especially younger players and guys who are converted into playing the point guard position without a lot of polish, tend to marry themselves to one side of the floor. This does not put the defense to a commitment decision, and that is the goal of any good offensive maneuver. By using the middle of the floor effectively, a player in transition shifts the defense ever so slightly, which leads to large gaps by the time the ball is in a prime operational area.
It is certainly possible to succeed without doing a great job of controlling the middle, at least in the short term. But long term all those that make a commitment to controlling the center lane have a chance to be significantly more successful on the offensive end. Imagine if a team as talented as the Lakers employed just the concepts listed above and started abusing the middle lane from the moment they gained possession: a scary team indeed!
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding and served as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), a consensus top 15 team in the nation this season. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
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