Coach: Developing a Power Forward
This is the third part in a series of articles on offseason player development at the NBA level. Right about now, every year, players contact trainers and skill development coaches to help them take their games to the next level for the coming year. This may be even more prevalent in this “lockout-enhanced” offseason. The majority of players that contact us at the Pro Training Center are about to enter a contract year, and are looking to put themselves in the best position to maximize their value for future negotiations. For this series, I will examine how we might put together an offseason skill development plan for players at the five positions on the floor, utilizing players who will enter the free agent market in 2012 as examples. Let’s get to it…
Developing a Power Forward
In many ways, the role of a power forward has changed significantly in the last 15 years. The position has evolved to include the ability to do more and more away from the basket, and as players have gotten bigger, faster, and stronger, we’ve seen even more specialization at the four spot. The success of stars like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki has made skilled perimeter play valuable for power forwards, but it is their ability to retain the “power” moniker that helps a player stick in the league for a long time.
Two players coming into contract years for their respective teams are Ryan Anderson and Marreese Speights. In many ways they could not be more different from each other and still play the same position. However, similar to the way we approached the offseason development plans at the center and point guard positions, Anderson and Speights would go through a very similar progressive workout plan. The areas we emphasize may change for each, but the fundamental approach to playing the power forward position would remain the same.
One of the critical areas of focus for any player (regardless of position) who walks into our gym is improving their commitment to rebounding the basketball. It is a simple way to increase one’s value, because being a voracious rebounder is possible whether you are putting the ball in the basket or not. With players like Anderson or Speights, helping them recognize the value in devouring the glass would be huge for their careers.
While we want every player to work hard to get a hip on an opponent, locate the ball and release to retrieve it, smart scouts and coaches see the player who rebounds out of his own area. A great deal of time would be spent drilling the ability to track down balls outside of the six-foot radius a player occupies. We want rebounders to see a potential rebound on any shot, and to be selfish, greedy rebounders, taking it away even from teammates. A player should not assume his teammate will get the rebound – he should get it himself. This is a key trait good scouts look at when evaluating prospects: how well does he rebound when the shot caroms to the other side of the rim?
Going along with that idea, we would want players to value tracking down “orphaned rebounds.” Missed shots bouncing into dead areas of the floor and would stand a reasonable chance of going out of bounds should be tracked down and gathered. Imagine a player adding just one or two of those orphaned balls each game: it has a sizable impact on their box score stats, their rebound rate, and the way that additional position for their team is recorded. Over a season, this has a huge impact.
The easiest way to see this type of play at work is in the career of Udonis Haslem. Haslem finished his time at Florida as a big-time scorer, but had to change his body and the way he played to be a successful professional. The idea of dedicating himself to being the best possible rebounder was the ticket for him and he bought into it completely during his offseason preparation. Is it possible for a Marreese Speights to make the same transformation and commitment? We would find out.
In my last article on point guard development, I discussed the way we might approach teaching the ball screen from the perspective of the guy handling the ball. The screener would also have some pretty specific teaching points to take in. The first thing would be teaching the screener to “sprint to set.” In other words, we never want a screener to loaf or move slowly into position to screen. They should be sprinting into a position to set screens – putting pressure on the defense to adjust rapidly and giving them a chance to make an error in communication is huge.
Most power forwards are encouraged to look for pick & pop opportunities where they can get to an open area from which they can consistently make shots, though some are also encouraged to roll toward the rim for chances around the basket. We would work on both variables throughout the summer, but both Anderson and Speights would spend a lot of their shooting time with us in pick & pop situations. Our goal would be getting them to set the screen, providing an attack angle for the ball-handler to use. Then, they would sprint to a spot on the floor from which they are confident in shooting, and turn to receive. The real point of emphasis here (aside from running to a spot they are comfortable shooting from) is to gain separation from the ball-handler. The more separation they can gain, the more pressure they put on the entire defense, especially their defender who is typically asked to hedge and recover.
This emphasis would be particularly important for Anderson, who has been successful as a pick & pop player. The more it can become what he is known for offensively, the more valuable he becomes. Teaching a variety of options off the catch would be important, as well (and there will be more on face-up attack dynamics in a future article).
For Speights, while we would work on his ability to pick & pop, a separate area of emphasis would come to the forefront. His ability to be effective in the high post and pinch post areas (around the elbows and free throw line) is huge for his continued development. In many of today’s offenses he would be stationed on the weakside opposite the ball and called on to flash to the high post area when defenses dictate. From this area we would work on a lot of his rip and go game, his turn and face game, and a variety of ways to make plays with cutters who rub off his shoulder after he receives the ball. Many players do not use this area of the floor as well as they should – and since defenses are designed to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor, the better a player is at attacking from the middle of the floor, the more valuable he can be on the offensive end.
A final point of emphasis for both would go along with how I introduced the article on development of the center position. Both Anderson and Speights (along with at least a dozen other power forwards in the league) need to embrace the enforcer mentality. While power forwards have become more skilled over the last fifteen years, there has also been somewhat of a dropoff in the general “edginess” of the position. Centers need a disposition to dominate, and power forwards have to embrace the enforcer mentality to truly be successful. If Anderson and Speights were to focus on the major areas above, the results in their games would be enormous and very visible for the rest of their careers.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.