Coach: Three Lessons From Lakers-Celtics
Watching some games can be thrilling, exciting, and entertaining. Other games are so painful in terms of effort and execution, with poor decision-making and a lack of high level thinking, they can be difficult to sit through.
However, Thursday evening’s game between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers gave fans plenty to be engaged in, provided they were constantly watching for the right things. Both teams are chalk full of experienced, savvy talent and that makes the game a virtual smorgasbord of teaching points for the interested observer.
1 – Change-of-speed drives
In other Notebooks I have exalted the value of changing speeds constantly: in the fullcourt with the ball, without the ball cutting off screens, or running the floor as a center. Another place to start using a consistently random and variable change of speed is on drives to the rim against traffic. A very common (and very correct) thing to teach young players is to get the basket as with speed and violence in two dribbles or less – basically an explosion and race to the rim.
Sophisticated players, however, will mix in these kind of quick attacks from the perimeter to the lane with some more subtle and brilliant change-of-speed drives. This is where a player takes a quick first step, slows down and forces the defender to hesitate for a step or two before exploding forward again. It also might involve a slow-to-quick dribble move followed by another slow-down.
In a lot of cases, the offensive player will also get into the body of the defender as they change speeds, attempting to draw a foul at best or at least to keep them off balance further at worst.
There might not be a better change-of-speed drive guard than Kobe Bryant. Bryant constantly shifts not only his direction but also his gear, in order to put his defender in perpetual hell. His ability to set up his own defender, occupying him completely, couples with the way he keeps help defenders on a string like marionettes. When a player constantly uses just one speed on drives, help defenders can position themselves perfectly, aware of the offensive player’s intention from the beginning. With Kobe-style shiftiness, however, defenders are more apt to make mistakes.
In the same way, Rajon Rondo uses a constant change of speed to set up misdirection. He pokes and prods the defense, constantly probing with varying attack angles and speeds, and keeps his body directed in the opposite direction of his true intention. This is completely disorienting to defenders in the midst of the action, but anticipated and even expected by his teammates. They are able to remain open constantly as a result and Rondo also uses this technique to get high percentage scoring opportunities as well.
2 – Turn and face in the post
Andrew Bynum struggled from the floor against the Celtics, unable to get on track at any point in the game. Boston’s physical defense and ability to constantly change their position frustrated Bynum and made it very hard on him. A player who relies on his ability to feel defenders with his hip will always struggle when teams constantly shift and change their approach throughout a possession.
One lesson Bynum should learn when he confronts this tactic can come from teammate Pau Gasol. Gasol does an excellent job of keeping the defender at bay by constantly turning and facing the basket in the post after a catch. Gasol catches and open or reverse pivots on more than half of his post catches. Since many post defenders are not used to defending this posture, they betray their own intentions when it happens, either backing off (and ceding space) or crowding the offense, allowing blow-bys.
While Gasol uses this technique to access his impressively versatile face-up game, Bynum could merely use it to see his defender, force that player into a commitment decision, observe the help, and then go right back into a back-down move middle. Mixing in a fair number of catch, turn and face actions in the post will keep Bynum’s options much more open and make his sheer power game all the more effective over time.
3 – Shot fakes in pull-up areas
Many players around the world are adept at using shot fakes in one of two areas: (1) on the catch to set up a drive, or (2) at the end of drive near the rim to get shotblockers up in the air or at least to freeze them. However, the Los Angeles at Boston game featured some of the best shot fakers in the mid-range pull-up areas in the entire world.
Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are masters of using shot fakes after one or two dribbles into the middle of the floor and then getting their bodies loaded for a balanced shot. The best thing each of these players do is make the move deliberately, without rushing the play. Their shot fakes truly are shots they don’t shoot – and that makes it impossible for the defense to know exactly when they will go up with the ball.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 11AM 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 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 serves as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), currently ranked in the top 25 in the country by USA Today. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.