Recently I have been thinking a lot about using WHY questions to dig into analysis. In the past I have considered and used the Golden Circle concept quite often when analyzing situations related to basketball (among other things).
For instance in the case of a turnover you see when doing gametape --- The first level is WHAT HAPPENED?…..a turnover next HOW DID IT HAPPEN?…….let’s say a poor wing entry pass next level WHY DID IT HAPPEN?…..ball handler was off balance. It seems incomplete to stop there, although you certainly have gained valuable information. If you dig into the issue with another WHY then you really can uncover much more useful information. WHY WAS THE BALL HANDLER OFF BALANCE?…….poor core strength. It seems to me that using WHY as a tool to uncover issues can be very revealing. Not only does it help to eliminate bias, it also allows one to be very specific. If you never actually attack the root cause it will be hard to change. It is not nearly enough to just say "Stop Turning the Ball Over!" One has to be much more specific and understand the underlying causes.
This is definitely a concept I plan on expanding. See a Ricardo Semler TED talk below who I first heard his concept of “Three Why’s in a Row” while he was recently on the Tim Ferriss Show link also attached!
I listened to the Pure Sweat Basketball Podcast yesterday and caught up on an episode featuring University of Washington womens basketball head coach Mike Neighbors. In that episode Coach Neighbors discussed many things which coaches (often unknowingly) do wrong. He attempted to MYTH-BUST the age-old notion that "Defense Win's Championships." His argument was that it was Effective Field Goal % (eFG%) that wins championships. When you go back and study the metrics, it appears clear that offensive statistics correlated much more accurately with how teams finished in the playoffs and regular season in wins last year in the NBA.
When you take a look at Ken Pomeroy's site: www.kenpom.com you see a similar correlation between offense and defensive efficiency and how teams finished in NCAA Men's Basketball.
Final Four Teams are in BOLD:
You see many more of the perennial powerhouses populating that Top 10 in Offensive Rating, than you do Defensive Rating. Now this is not meant to make some grandiose point, the reading is simply to help readers question their assumptions and make people start to dig into cliche's or traditional statements. When you look a little further into the stats you see the winning teams are far from the bottom of the barrel when it comes to defense; they are typically very good. However the correlation (at least last season) seems to swing in favour of offensive metrics.
Thanks for reading, and check out the podcast with Coach Neighbors below!
Simon Sinek's book "Start with Why," is a must read for coaches (among many other people. Without going into a whole book review, Sinek discusses three concepts which boil down to: WHAT we do, HOW we do it, and ultimately WHY we do it (see TEDx talk below). There are so many avenues this can be applied but for this blog we are talking about basketball coaching.
The basics of this concept for this particular discussion are as follows:
If as a coach you can't "find your WHY," when structuring your offense/defense/drills in practice, etc, then you need to dig a little deeper, or just re-evaluate what you are doing altogether. There are many different philosophies and approaches, but the constant among successful coaches and programs would be they can tell you their WHY.
Jim Boeheim has used a 2-3 zone defense, pretty exclusively, for decades. He has the ability to recruit players to fit his style, not a luxury for the vast majority of coaches out there. I have no doubt he can tell you Syracuse's WHY.
Mike Krzyzewski takes the philosophy of going out and getting the best players and then tailoring his systems to fit the players. His WHY could be so he can get the most out of the individual talents of his players.
Someone who runs the Triangle or Princeton offense is looking for, or looking to develop universal players who can pass/dribble/shoot and can play all 5 positions on the floor, with many chances within each system to take advantage of individual talents. Again coaches can adhere to the various ways of playing the game, they just need to be able to say WHY.
Is a coach's WHY constant and unchanging?
- I do not believe so....... If you run, for instance, a continuity offense without fail that was developed when the spacing of the floor and the shot-clock was longer or non-existent then perhaps you haven't considered WHY you are still playing that way. "This is the way we have always done it here...." does not suffice. Your WHY needs to be frequently reflected on, revised, and evolving. If you are playing FIBA rules and are running concepts based on a 30-35 second shot-clock then once again, your WHY should probably be revisited. IMPORTANT POINT - this does not mean what you are doing is necessarily wrong. It just means you need to be able to reflect and confirm you do
The concept and framework presented by Sinek speaks to thoughtful and reflective practice. The ability to self-evaluate the way you are running your basketball team is very important. This process can obviously be aided by having a strong coaching staff, or a mentor coach. People who will not just be 'Yes-People', always agreeing with what you say, but rather will challenge and seek explanations. The biggest trick and shift in attitude will be overcoming your own confirmation bias.
To conclude let's revisit Albert Einstein's definition of insanity....
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Simon Sinek's TEDx talk from 2009, which has been viewed over 28,000,000 times!
Offense is spacing, and spacing is offense. - Chuck Daly
The importance of spacing cannot be under-emphasized or overlooked when coaching the game of basketball. The dimensions of the court (and especially the FIBA Court) make spacing in your offense attack of paramount importance. What are ways you can think about spacing?
Above you can see examples of a: single gap, double gap, and triple gap. This is the terminology we use when talking about spacing on the floor. As you can see driving into a single is quite precarious, driving into double and triple gaps (especially towards the middle) is generally what we are looking for. Can you create an opportunity off the dribble and start to attack the second line of defense. Once you get the defense into rotation, can you pass the ball off to the appropriate teammate and keep or widen you advantage on that possession. This should be seriously emphasized in your team’s small-sided games (SSG’s) in practice, so players can get used to looking to beat their defender and get the ball into the heart of the defense.
If players cannot create the advantages on their own off the dribble there are things that can be done such as, providing a ball screen, attacking a long close-out, or getting the player coming to a spot on the floor by using an off-ball screen, again attacking a late close-out.
In this scenario, offense needs to be taught and drilled in terms of decision making, not remembering set patterns. Data chunking so that players recognize spacing and scenarios on the floor will allow them to make judgments and decisions based on: the ball, their teammates, and their defender.
The other side of this coin, is that the defense will be looking to shrink the floor. If you only create single gaps in your offense, the defense can out-number the offense and make the floor seem very small, choking off any opportunity at free movement. Offensively this is where skill development comes in, because you can space the floor all you want, but if you can’t create advantages or can’t makes shots, then the defense’s focus becomes very easy. Make the defense choose what they will take away and then exploit that decision.
When does your offensive possession begin? The connectedness of your offense and defense speaks to the fluid nature of basketball. In order to run good transition offense you must pressure the shooter and focus on keeping the other team off of the offensive glass. Some of your strategy needs to be a reaction to the other team’s philosophy in crashing the offensive glass. If your opponent consistently does not have safeties in place then you must attack that in early transition. It takes some experience and practice in coaching in real-time to see this and not just follow the ball with your eyes. The pressuring of the shooter, and having great person-on-person match-up defense so that your team does not find itself in rotation all the time is very important to running strong offense. If you are consistently allowing the other team to have a high OREB% then undoubtedly they will also potentially get to the foul line at a higher rate and then the climb up hill gets that much steeper. I believe that the best way to practice rebounding is to simply emphasize it in your 5v5 or your small-sided games in practice. You can put a strong emphasis on this by how you score your games. Take points off when the team gives up an offensive rebound, have assistants chart when there are no safeties in place; there are many approaches you can take--Track OREB% in practice (OREB/Total Rebounds).
Conversely speaking, your shot quality on offense directly affects your transition defense. If you average a high number of live-ball turnovers (not all turnovers are created equal) then inevitably your opponent will be able to get not only more possessions but more chances in advantage situations. When planning a philosophy, game-plan, right down to practice plan – we as coaches need to keep in mind that concepts don’t exist in a vacuum, everything is connected.
Today our women's basketball team came in on a Saturday morning at 8:30am to get in extra conditioning as we prepare for our preseason play starting next weekend. It was 8 degrees with a cool breeze but a beautiful morning.
This couldn't help but make me think about people's perceptions of doing: “hard work, putting in extra time, pushing outside one’s comfort-zone,” and just generally doing what’s needed to succeed in a given venture.
I would really like to help dispel the notion of SACRIFICE – the idea of sacrificing to succeed. I think in 2016 the negative connotation of this is ineffective. Instead of thinking of commitment as a sacrifice, it is more useful to simply think of it as a CHOICE. Every day we make hundreds of choices, which can send our life in many different directions. When someone MAKES A DECISION, and chooses they will do what it takes to commit and be successful; it puts the onus onto the individual and allows them to take ownership of their choices.
Thinking about sacrificing to succeed essentially puts things in terms of opportunity cost; and resembles a deficit model. This deficit model of giving up things in order to do other things, leads inevitably to some form of regret or thinking “what-if,” – what if I wasn’t doing this and was doing that. Having people understand it as a personal (and in a team – collective) choice, puts a more positive and less cognitively taxing framework around the concept of going the extra mile, or taking on great challenges on a journey to success.
It’s a powerful thing when you can get a group mentality of moving forward and choosing to succeed. So to conclude in the same way as this began….I’m happy to say our group of student-athletes took positive steps this morning on their journey.
The concept of Kaizen was brought to North America from Japan in the 1980’s. The term signifies continual improvement. Essentially there is no end destination as there are always iterations and changes for the better that can be made. Kai - stands for CHANGE and Zen means GOOD. Adopting the philosophy of Kaizen means you are fully committed to a journey of development.
There is no magic end-point in one’s search for excellence. To fully embrace this is to fall in love with the process and the iteration involved with continual improvement. This is why you see coaches who have one heaps of national titles, or people in business who have risen to the top of their industry - still striving to be better. You must indeed be humble in order to adopt such a philosophy. There is no secret code, you never truly “beat the game,” each new season, each new quarter is a chance to make changes for the better. The humble nature needed and wisdom that there is not one formula for success is an essential element in adopting this philosophy. Put the joy into the journey, never be satisfied, always be striving!
Basketball is all about opportunities.
In spending the last 4-5 years deeply immersed studying and coaching, I have come to believe that controlling the first ⅓ of the shot-clock is essential. Bobby Knight has spoken at length about the importance of “conversion,” - that is the transition between offense and defense and vice-versa. The ability to attack a disorganized defense and see an advantage as it’s presented to you, is essential for winning basketball. Players must be developed to create, and see, opportunities that arise in a possession. Key foundational pieces of this are: spacing, movement off the ball, and reading the different layers of defense.
The goal of all teams should be to move seamlessly between offense and defense. Spatial awareness in running the floor is of the utmost importance. Teams cannot simply run as if they are doing a 5-on-0 drill in practice. Players must be taught to read gaps, and where the ball, themselves, and their defenders are in relation to each other. If you are able to score in the first ⅓ (8 seconds) of the shot clock, that means the offense has seen an opportunity and taken advantage of it.
Opportunity Cost is the foregone value of something you give up by not acting or rather by choosing against it. The opportunity cost of not being able to take advantage of situations early in the shot clock is a tough possession in which the defense dictates the play-- over a 40 minute game this significantly strains a team. In FIBA with a 24 second shot clock the best chance on the offensive end is not to swing the ball back and forth waiting for the defense to break down. The offense needs to quickly create and the seize their opportunity to get a great shot.
On the flip side, defensively, teams should look to control the first 8 seconds by keeping the other team from scoring in that first ⅓ (duh!). That is done by taking away their initial actions. If you can take away the other team’s primary option and make them go to Plan B, it goes a long way to controlling each possession. If the other team’s offense always begins with a wing entry, then take that away, and see if they can adjust. Obviously in this day and age with video-analysis the way it is, teams will all have each other well-scouted.
A NOTE ON VISION AND DECISION MAKING - One thing I have been studying recently is the rim-runner in transition. I believe a team’s ability to take advantage of the defense depends on knowing where their teammates are. Defensive rebounding will leave players in various positions as they convert to offense. It is not realistic that there will always be a forward out ahead of the pack. If a team stalls waiting for that forward, many times they have given up an opportunity to score. Sometimes the forwards will lag behind if they were battling down low for a rebound, in that case the early-offense needs to adjust to that. Perhaps it is an early spread ball screen with everyone else spaced outside the 3pt line (ala Classic Phoenix Suns with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire) or any other host of creative entries.
The ability to have flow in your transition offense and not freeze the ball is often the difference between a coach keeping their hair colour or greying very early!!!
The video posted above is one of my favourite sound bites I've heard in a very long time. The coach from Wisconsin is voicing a common gripe of many coaches, and of course many people who are looking at this younger generation and wondering how to relate and get through to them.
I am currently 28 years old, and likely one of the youngest college coach's in the country. Now when I graduated high school in 2005, the smart phones weren't quite as smart. Flip phones were still in, and Blackberry's were the magical smart phone. iPhone's hadn't arrived yet, Facebook hadn't arrived yet, and of course Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram were not around. The biggest element of internet addiction to this point was internet chat, MSN Messenger, previously ICQ (really dating myself now). The amount that technology and specifically for this conversation SOCIAL MEDIA have taken over people's lives in the last decade is truly mind-blowing. Sitting with your thoughts seems a thing of the past, and unfortunately that means true self-reflection may go into extinction as well with the younger generation. No one ever has to be bored any more. It is so easy to spend hours and hours, just distracting one-self.
Further to the point, I wonder how much social media, cell phones, etc, have impacted people's competitive nature. Specific to my demographic, student-athletes, I feel that the ability to be somewhere without being invested in anything but the screen in front of your face has a massive impact. As an athlete, I didn't take well to losing, I would replay actions over and over and over in my head about how things could have been done differently. I would typically blame myself (and still do) for whatever loss was incurred. I would sit and stew for hours. My gripe echoes Coach Bobbi Kelsey's in the video above about work ethic but I am going to hypothesize a step further that technology in its current form has made athlete's less competitive. Pre and post-game preparation and subsequent reflection have been hijacked by stupid videos, pointless following of celebrities and everyone hunting for "likes" "retweets" "shares," etc by trying to be a comedian all the time. It would be very hard to believe ten years ago these are the types of things coaches would be up against. Can an athlete just go to the gym, without having to post on some social media site that they are there and hope people see how "hard they are working?" There is a whole other conversation about player-development, hours of practice vs. too many games, helicopter athlete-parents who suddenly become experts in a given sport when their child is old enough to play.......and those all have very negative consequences as well for athletic development as well.
This season, I have really made it a focus to stay on top of all of our statistics (league stats are never accurate unfortunately) and it has really paid dividends for the team and for the focus of our teaching. We are using Hudl for our video storage and editing, GameChanger for keeping track of our season stats, and I have created a few different Excel spreadsheets (see below) that track everything from total possessions, to Dean Oliver's Four Factors, as well as /40 minute stats (which may up to this point be the most revealing on an individual player level). These Excel sheets don't convert well formatting-wise below but if you take a look you can at least get an idea of the types of things we are doing.
What is working?
I really find the Four Factors (Rb%, FT%, eFG% or TrSh%, and TO%) have worked well in a goal setting standpoint as it has hammered out for us some specific goals we want to reach each night ---ie: get to the FT line at least 20x a game and keep our turnovers below a certain number.
Individually I find that the per-40 minute metrics have really helped to make it clear how effective a player is on the court and what they are really contributing while they are out there. There have been some clear things come out in the data regarding players who have a average number of minute but turn the ball over at a high rate, and those who may need more minutes because they rebound so productively. I find it really helps to cut through the natural bias and typical lens through which we see the game as coaches.
If you got this far thanks for reading!