Coach: Evaluating Player Skill Levels
In this multi-part series on evaluating potential NBA talent, Coach Macri will explain a typical process for the breakdown of players and what kinds of things the average fan should consider watching college games with an eye on who their team might select. In this week’s article, he provides considers how to judge a player’s skills and talents.
Last article, I gave examples of things to look for when it came to evaluating a prospect’s offensive and defensive game understanding. In today’s article it’s time to look at specific skills to look for when judging how good a player can be. Next week, the focus will be on physical gifts.
Skills & Talents
Judging skills and talents often has a lot more to do with how a player can fit a particular system than any other part of evaluation. A player’s skillset can be built for playing a very specific way, and that player might be much less effective when asked to insert themselves into a different situation.
Evaluating a skillset is more than just seeing a player can shoot, finish in the lane, or has the ability to dribble in traffic. There are specific markers I use for judging both what skills a player has and how good a player is at those skills. Since a discussion of these kinds of talents could extend to book length, I will explore just a few of them with some depth, really trying to find things that the average fan can look for when they watch potential prospects this year.
Shooting: There are many different facets to evaluating shooting ability. When looking at a shooter, one of the first things to observe is if their motion is compact, efficient, and repeatable. Compact shooting motion means they start with the ball close to the body, keep it in that spot, and do not have extraneous motion as they bring it from the shooting pocket (the area where they start the motion) to their release point.
Efficient may sound like a word that means the same thing, but I look at that more as “energy efficiency.” One of the things we teach players in shooting is great shooters start the motion low and shoot in one smooth motion from low to high. Too many shooters play higher than they should, forcing them to take two separate motions: down to load, then up as they shoot. Instead, better shooters are very low prior to their motion starting, which allows them to transfer the energy all the way from the floor, through their feet, knees, hips, shoulders and wrist as they shoot.
Repeatable motion means how well a player keeps the motion consistent from shot to shot. In the NBA, a great example of a player who does not keep their motion repeatable is O.J. Mayo – the inconsistency of his motion is a real drawback to how good a shooter he can be.
Another aspect of shooting to evaluate is how effective a shooter a player is in different situations. A player can be an excellent shooter in catch & shoot situations out of drive and kick, but poor when shooting off the dribble or when sprinting off screens for shots. In fact, their motion can be compact, efficient, and repeatable in all situations, but they are simply better from certain spots on the floor than others.
Offensive moves: While it is nice for a player to possess a large quantity of moves, it is not having the moves that makes a player great, but rather how they use the moves they possess. This idea applies both to dribble moves and post moves – far too many players experience paralysis by analysis because they have way too many possibilities in their offensive repertoire. Instead, players who are exceptionally effective with a go-to move and maybe a single counter or two are much more attractive to me.
In dribble situations, the central goal is the ability of the offensive player to keep control while advancing past defenders, penetrating and causing multiple defenders to guard the ball (opening up teammates and causing defenders to make mistakes). The best way to have this effect is not through a plethora of moves, but rather the ability to of the offensive player to change speed and status. When I watch a guard in the open court, or a player attack the rim off the bounce, I’m not looking for complicated moves or shiftiness, but rather how well they go from slow to fast, or how they speed up, then put the breaks on, only to explode in a burst again. Those types of skills are much more transferable to the NBA game and really make a difference.
Moves in the post are even easier. Having a single go-to post move, from which a few counters are built, are much more attractive than a player who can showcase every move ever created but isn’t terribly effective with any single one of them. I find it a little funny when someone asks me if a player needs to develop more moves because “they always go to a right hand hook.” While I agree that they may need a counter, I often ask if it is effective for that player, and if it is, why they should show off anything else when they simply don’t have to. If a player is consistently effective going over one shoulder for a baby hook in the middle of the lane, and has the understanding to keep doing it (and makes shots with it), how is that a negative remark on that player? Obviously if they are getting stopped and have no counter that would be a problem, but that isn’t the first thing to look for when evaluating a player’s post moves.
Toughness: One thing we are adamant about as skill development coaches at the Pro Training Center is that toughness is a talent. It is one that can be improved on over time, and it is one we believe players can be good at or not so good at. The best way to judge a player’s toughness level when observing games is to look for if and when they initiate contact. Many players initiate contact at the rim defensively – which is actually a bad time to do it as it is often called a foul. Instead, I like to look for a player to initiate contact at the rim as the offensive player. Do they shy away from contact or do they look to hit the defender in the chest and chin?
Another place to look for toughness is off the ball defensively. Does a help-side defender bump the cutter when their matchup flashes toward an open area? Do they move to initiate contact when a shot goes up before releasing to the rebound? At what point does a post defender start preventing the offensive player from gaining good position? Toughness is a skill that is displayed all over the court, often away from the ball. It’s easy to see toughness when a guy takes a charge or dives on the floor for a loose ball, but that can be faked. Real toughness happens when most aren’t watching.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about skills and talents like the ones explained above is that they can be improved through smart offseason work. The ability to project a player’s skill set given a certain amount of time spent working is a real challenge, but one that can provide great benefit for the teams that do it well.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 3PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri opens his notebook and offers 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. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.