The most important thing in the game of basketball is the basketball itself. Seems like a simple concept, right? The only guy who can score is the guy with the basketball. Nobody else can hurt you. Coaches are constantly teaching their players to see the basketball or to “see both” their man and the ball. The approach makes sense, without a doubt, but I’m not sure it goes far enough. It would be interesting to get the perspective of an NBA player on this hot topic. I may have to book one of the NBA speakers available for an event to find out!
One of the most important concepts of our defensive system is to have all 5 guys “playing the basketball.” We are constantly stressing the importance of the basketball. We don’t play screens, we don’t play our man, we are always playing the ball. Hopefully this gets our guys a little more invested than someone who just “sees both.” Yes, I saw the ball. I saw him drive it right by his man and lay it in while I was guarding my man. If you see the ball and see your man, you can do what is asked of you without actually helping your team the way you need you to. We want to immediately get our guys out of the “I had my man” mentality on defense.
It’s a difficult concept to teach and it takes a lot of time and trust to really get it right. Most players think about defense in terms of stopping their man. But I think it’s really important to a great defensive system. We never talk to our guys in terms of “he scored on you,” rather “they scored on us.” When someone gets an open look or an easy basket we have had a team breakdown, not an individual one.
Get away from your man when he doesn’t have the ball. This is one concept in simple terms that is a big part of 5 guys playing the basketball. You shouldn’t be able to touch your mans city edition jersey when he doesn’t have the ball, and I think this concept is pretty different from what most players are taught growing up. Watch your guys when their man goes to use a screen, and almost naturally they get closer to him and put their hands on him. Not only does this make it harder for them to beat the screen – because now their man can run them into it – but it also keeps them from playing the basketball. They are taught man-to-man defense, to guard one guy, and not let him score. If all 5 guys do that, no one is going to score right? If you have 5 guys who are quicker, faster and better than the guy they are guarding, that might work. But the guy with the ball knows which way he wants to go, knows what move he is going to make. That’s a pretty significant advantage when it comes to one-on-one play. Give me five guys that aren’t going
Another great way to establish the concept with your players is to define where they should be in help side. Wherever it is you want them – one foot in the paint, two feet in the paint, middle of the floor, etc… – make sure you define it for them. Don’t just tell them to be in help side, tell them where they need to go. This will make them more comfortable getting away from their man, and establish a comfort level with playing the ball and not playing their man.
Regardless of the defense you play, your philosophy on help side positioning or the system you like to teach, establishing the concept of playing the basketball can make your defense better. You can establish a feel for the offense that they are playing against 5 guys, not just one-on-one. You also create a scenario where they have to make a really good basketball play to beat you – great ball movement, inside-out play, really good execution. I’m confident that the toughest defenses to score against are the ones where all 5 guys are playing the ball.