Coach: Attacking Tips For Batum, Gallinari
In the previous five editions of the Coach’s Notebook, Coach Macri looked at player development in the offseason by position, breaking down how the Pro Training Center might approach a workout plan and goals for centers, point guards, power forwards, shooting guards, and small forwards. This week, Coach Macri will examine one particular skill that transcends most positions on the court: attacking from the perimeter after the catch.
Catch & Face: Attacking from the Perimeter
One of the first things players are taught when they first step on the floor is the value of “triple threat position.” The idea is to catch the ball, square your body to the basket with the ball in a protected position near the body, keep knees bent (hips low), and eyes up to survey the floor. Entering this position allows a player to take any of three options: dribble, shoot, or pass (hence the name “triple threat”). In many offensive systems, players are taught to catch the ball, face the basket in triple threat, and pause to allow a play to develop.
While this approach is still common (and taught) at the NBA level, the size and speed of defenders makes it impossible to teach a one-size fit-all approach to catch & face situations. Instead, the goal in offseason development would focus on helping the player to recognize opportunities to take advantage of weaknesses in the defense.
If we had players like 2012 restricted free agents Danilo Gallinari or Nicolas Batum in our gym, one of the techniques we would spend time on is understanding the dynamics of quick attack. Since players have spent so much time in triple threat, we want to condition them to find opportunities to attack immediately off the catch, whether it be by continuing their original direction or ripping through to go opposite. The idea is that the defense is most unprepared to stop an attack right at the point of the catch. By receiving the pass and pausing to survey the floor, an offensive player gives the on-ball defender a chance to get on balance and gives help defenders a better opportunity to get into position.
The operative phrase for quick attack opportunities is that players should strike with “speed and violence.” It is absolutely critical that players explode to the basket and put themselves in a position to get either into the lane within a dribble or two or get to the rim if they should go baseline. Both Gallinari and Batum could use work in the area of quick attack, as they tend to spend a little too much time floating after the catch. In Gallinari’s case especially, his ability to shoot and underrated athleticism mean defenders are often unbalanced on closeouts which should give him a chance to blow-by through quick attack.
On catches where a quick attack is either not possible or not ideal, we want players to go into a jab series. Batum makes two common mistakes on the occasion he jabs: first, he has a tendency to overextend on jab steps, so one of our first priorities would be to help him shorten the jab; and second, his jabs tend to be lateral instead of diagonal / vertical. In addition, Batum does not utilize a jab anywhere near as much as he could or probably should. So, part of our focus would be in getting him confident in his execution and developing his awareness of when to use it.
To the first point, we want players on the basketball court to think like a boxer in the ring: the point of a jab is not to knockout or even really impact an opponent. Instead, it’s purpose is to stun. So our teaching points would include keeping the foot in a very quick, short striking motion, with a very small and subtle movement of the ball toward the attacking side, while keeping the ball tight to the body for protection. On the second, while we don’t want players to jab directly at a defender (remember, a jab should be like a freeze fake, to cause a defender to be stunned), we do want them jabbing in the direction that they would attack. The jab, therefore, should be at the defenders outside foot, which is where the offensive player would attack if he were going to put the ball on the deck.
In combination with the jab series, we would work on shot fake technique as well. Near the end of the article on shooting guard development, I discussed the notion of freeze fakes. Shot fakes are fakes where the ball extends beyond the chin, usually to the area around the forehead, while keeping the hips down and loaded. Ultimately, the idea here is for the move to look like a shot that the player doesn’t shoot. Some schools of thought allow players to raise up during the shot fake, but we prefer players to stay loaded so they can explode into an attack if the opportunity presents itself.
Once we’ve taught the two skills (jab steps and shot fakes), the key is for players to combine the techniques into a complete attack. After the catch and face, looking for chances to go shot fake, jab, shot or jab, jab, shot fake, drive are the kinds of combinations that really give defenders problems. This series of combinations are known as a “rocker step,” – the idea that a player is able to rock back and forth and get the defender to match his movements, then use the defender’s lack of balance against him when an attack move is finally made.
Another situation that will come up (and in some cases, the kind of spot that some players want to create) is when an offensive player catches the ball, moves to a face up, but opts out of either quick attack or triple threat for the jab / shot fake series. Here, the player enters a stationary dribble for a potential opportunity to break the defender down off the dribble. If you have noticed one thing about our approach to offensive basketball through the series, a lot is based on changing tempo and flow. Using the dribble to change tempo is right in line with this philosophy.
Once a player puts the ball on the deck in a stationary posture, the idea again is to put the defender off balance by flirting. This means to stunt or fake an attack once or twice (or more) before finally committing, and occasionally mixing in an attack that happens without any jukes. Again, the goal is to move past the defender’s hip, low and tight, which gives the offensive player a chance to lock the defender in position and prevent a reaction. This would be one of the final things we would discuss, and it would often lead directly into teaching attacking with the ball in an on-ball screen situation (since flirting and committing are a big part of that discussion as well).
Ultimately, the plan for the actual attack would be simple, and the strongest emphasis would be on assaulting the middle of the floor. Time and time again, the goal would be to find ways to hit the softest part of the defense, attacking the lane by going over the top side of the defender whenever possible. By going middle, we have the most options if the lane is cut off, and it also gives much better vision on potential passes and kickouts. Occasionally, players will attack baseline. This is really where we continually employ the phrase “speed and violence.” Attacks toward the baseline must be with one goal in mind: get to the rim quickly before any defenders can react. In fact, our simple rule is that if you go baseline and can’t get to the rim without being blocked or bothered, you shouldn’t be going baseline at all.
Of course, basketball is not about being able to predict the future, and sometimes circumstances change on the way to the rim. For both Gallinari and Batum a critical point of their education is recognizing when it is time to change plans on the fly. For example, let’s say they catch on the wing and utilize the quick attack by ripping and going to the baseline in an attempt to go to the rim. However, either their defender anticipates well or a help defender steps up to prevent a finish at the bucket. In this spot, too many players pick up the basketball and look for a kickout – effectively neutering their play (and confirming why we use the phrase “baseline is death” constantly with players). Instead, we will teach our guys to change status to a slide, pulling the ball back behind their back leg and backing back out to the perimeter. This means they now have their full complement of attack moves at the store again – they can begin to flirt for another attack, or even go into a back-down post-up from the foul line. The ability to reassess defenders and change plans when one course of action is blocked is an advanced offensive skill, and it’s one that many players never evolve to.
Another example of changing plans is when a player attacks middle and the lane is closed off. We now want the player to be able to go into a series of counters toward the baseline – usually by way of one of two types of spin moves. One is a power spin, where the player drops low and spins wide, typically jumping off of two feet, anticipating contact on the way to the rim. The other is a quick spin, where we teach players to spin so fast that they are nearly off-balance, and typically to alight off of one leg going to the rim as fast as possible. The former is used against smaller defenders, and the latter against larger opponents.
A final aspect of catch and face attack that we would focus on with both Gallinari and Batum is the ability to draw fouls at the end of their penetration. In fact, we would spend a fair amount of time having players practice making shots after getting fouled – imagining the contact from a defender, changing the position of the ball and still attempting to make shots in spite of it all. It might look funny in our gym, with players simulating contact as they fly through the air and throwing off-balance junk at the rim, but the value when they get on the court is real. Finishing plays while getting hit is a great value to players, and if they can practice it in our gym they have a better chance of finishing the play when it actually matters.
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.
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. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.