Note: This is the 3rd article in a 5 part series
Introducing the Secret to Championship Basketball
On a large pad of paper resting on the easel next to him he writes “2 x 5 =” and asks, “Any math whizzes out there who can solve this one for me?”
Although the answer is obvious, no one answers, so the coach smiles and asks, “Anyone? Anyone?”
Then in a droning voice, the coach says, “Bueller? Bueller?”
The players smile and someone calls out, “Ten.”
“Yes!” the coach exclaims with playful enthusiasm, then he tosses the player a “fun size” Snickers bar. Suddenly all the young players perk up show a keen interest in the coach’s “chalk talk.”
“So,” says the coach, writing the number 10 on the pad, “In the game of basketball, at any given time, there are 10 players on the floor.”
Then with a wry smile he holds up the bag of Snickers bars and asks, “But how many basketballs?”
“One!” they all blurt.
In jest, the coach stumbles backward, pretending to be overwhelmed by the team’s eager participation, then he reaches into his candy bag and throws out candy as if from a parade float.
“Ten players and one ball,” he begins. “So if every player on the floor has the ball roughly the same amount of time, about what percentage of the time would each player have the ball?”
Someone with a mouthful mumbles, “Ten percent.”
The coach tosses out another treat, and writes the math on the pad.
The coach asks, “Did you guys ever realize that? That you only have the ball, on average, about 10% of the time you are playing basketball?”
The players chew on that — and on their Snickers bars of course.
Coach turns and writes a big “90%” on his pad.
“Think about it, guys: Ninety percent of the time you play the game of basketball, you don’t even have the ball! Ninety percent! And if you don’t like that, don’t even think of playing baseball or football, ’cause it’s even worse!”
The coach pauses to let his point sink in.
“In practices, in games, in books and on videos so much attention gets directed to what we do with the basketball: passing, dribbling, shooting — and we do need all that — but it still doesn’t change the fact that 90% of this game is played without the ball!”
“And you want to know a secret? Championship basketball is about the 90%.
“Shh… don’t tell anyone! Seriously, DON’T tell ANYone — I don’t want your friends and the other teams in our league figuring this out!
By the way, if you DO tell others, don’t take credit for it; do the honorable thing and attribute the source, me. 🙂
“Championship basketball really is about the 90%, it’s about what you do when you don’t have the ball that either helps or hurts your team.“
“Every team in our league has some high-skill players and some lesser-skilled players, so what makes some teams perennial championship contenders?”
“Cute cheerleaders?” quips one of the boys, and the room bursts into laughter.
“So you think your moms are cute do you?” the coach retorts with a smile.
“Standup everyone,” the coach says as he moves the tripod and pad to the sideline.
“Championship basketball is about the 90%, it is about the things you do to help or hurt your team when you don’t have the ball. “
The coach tells his starting point guard to get a ball and leads him to the top of the arc.
“Alex is what they call a ‘triple threat.’ What are the 3 things he can do from here?”
“Shoot, pass or drive,” someone answers.
“Right. So let’s say Alex elects to drive and the defense stops him just after he gets into the key. Now how many of his triple threat options does he have?”
“Two,” someone answers. “Shoot or pass.”
“Wrong,” the coach says with a straight face.
The players look at each other like coach has lost his mind. After all, his math was just fine a minute ago.
“Alex is only a single threat, because the defense that stopped his drive probably prevents him from getting a clean shot off as well,” the coach explains.
The players nod in agreement.
Mediocre Basketball“You guys play pickup basketball; you know what happens next. When a dribble penetration is stopped, suddenly all the teammates start to run to places where they think they can get a pass, and they start yelling, ‘Alex! Alex! ALEX!” and confuse the heck out of the poor guy.
“Meanwhile, the defense also knows that the ball handler has to pass, so they run about closing down any passing lanes.
“Eventually, if the refs don’t end up calling Alex for 3-in-the-key, Alex either makes a desperate, lucky pass to a teammate, or he makes a bad pass that gets stolen, and his opponents are off to the races for a nice, easy, high-percentage layup.”
“And you know what else a bad team does? They get after Alex for turning the ball over.”
Championship Basketball“However, do you know what a championship team does?”
The coach pauses for effect and to make the players squirm a bit.
“A championship team knows that it wasn’t Alex’s fault. A championship team knows that the real problem rests with the guys who didn’t have the ball; they really caused the turnover. A championship team apologizes to Alex, then recommits to playing their 90% right.”
“Guys, once a player starts a dribble penetration, open a window. Move!
“Don’t just stand there waiting to see how it goes, move as he moves, and move in a way so that you are always in a spot where he can get a pass to you. Open a passing window. You’d have done this anyway if he got stopped, just do it before that happens.
“It’s like what the great philosopher, Tony Stark, said to his friend, Yinsen in the cave, ‘Come on, move with me. We got a plan, and we’re going to stick to it!'”
“This drives defenses nuts! Why? Because when a player drives the ball, every defender wants to watch him — they can’t help it — a dribble drive is somehow hypnotizing and just has to be watched. If you are just standing there watching the ball handler too, the defense can get away with it.
“However, if you go on the move when the ball handler moves, and if you open a window with your movement, then not only are you a thousand times more likely to get a pass (because the defense is preoccupied with watching the ball and has lost track of where you are and the seam you snuck into), but Alex is far more likely to break down the defense with his drive because the defense is under too much pressure everywhere on the floor to give help.”
“Do you see it now? It’s what you do without the ball that sets us apart from the other teams; it’s how we do the 90% that makes us champions.“
The coach smiles as he sees the light come on in the faces of all his players.
“It’s as the great philosopher, Tom Pittman of Basketballogy.com, always says, ‘Championship basketball is in the 90%; it’s in how you either help or hurt your team when you don’t have the ball. That’s the difference.‘”
“Now, if all we did was move into a passing window during a dribble penetration, that would be smart basketball. However, what if we all moved in an organized, orchestrated way? That’s just dead-ly,” the coach says with a wry smile.
The team all laughs in agreement.
“What do you say? Do you want to learn how to move without the ball and make dribble penetration deadly?”
The coach blows his whistle to inject energy back into the gym. “Black shirts on defense, white shirts 5-out. Alex, you have the ball at the arc on the right wing. Let’s go!”
There are two disclaimers I need to make at this point.
1. I’ve made some minor changes to the Read and React Offense. I’ve used this offense with teams of teenagers ages 12 to 15, and ages 16 to 18, and I need the offense to be simple enough for the youngest, yet effective enough for the oldest, so I’ve made a few changes to simplify it.
What kinds of changes?
Dribble-At. Well, for instance, I don’t care if you “power dribble” or “speed dribble” at a perimeter teammate. If you are dribbling at a teammate, then they have to cut. If we don’t do this, then instead of playing the Read and React offense, we end up playing the Read and Delayed Reaction offense, as my players stand there preoccupied with trying to figure out whether or not that is a power dribble coming at them.
Circle Reads. Sometimes players cannot clearly determine the direction of a dribble penetration, and the circle at the arc tries to rotate both directions at once, or the circle doesn’t turn at all as players stand there watching the ball handler, trying to figure out which way they are supposed to circle. We have a fix for this. Generally speaking a ball handler should protect the ball by dribbling with the hand furthest from his defender, which means his teammates can make a very quick read of the ball handler’s intended direction by observing which hand he is dribbling with. If the ball handler is dribbling primarily with his right hand, circle right.
Corner Cuts. Regardless the direction of a circle rotation along the arc, both corners initially cut, but then one doubles back to the arc in a v-cut to take the proper place in the circle rotation. I do this for two reasons. First, I get quicker cuts when they both cut, then one realizes he needs to go back to the arc. Second, I really like the attack behind the defense along the baseline that often results from both corners cutting. If the defense steps out to cover the corner who really wasn’t cutting all the way through anyway, the inside opens up for the drive. And if they don’t step out, often the ball handler can hit a teammate in either short corner for a wide open short jump shot. After a few of those, the defense starts to take the baseline threat more seriously, stretching the defense and softening it up inside.
Pick and Rolls. A reverse dribble always calls for a pick, and if there is a player in the high post, that player sets the screen because he is usually a big, and because bringing him out unclogs the key. However, we also use perimeter players to set screens. When there is no one in the high post, a reverse dribble calls for a screen from the arc position closest to his non-dribbling hand. Why? Because ball handlers typically like to use a crossover dribble in a pick and roll.
4-out Formation. 4-out is one of our favorite formations, but we no longer use the Read and React 4-out formation spacing; we play 4-out with the “5-out spacing.” Obviously it’s easier for players to learn spacing if there are not two different spot maps, but that is not why. We’ve just found playing 4-out from the 5-out spots to be more effective, especially against zone defenses. First, it counter matches many zones, putting pressure on perimeter defenders and drawing interior defenders out of their comfort zones. Second, in an instant a cutter can spontaneously reverse the floor balance, making swinging the ball side to side more deadly. Third, if you have ever defended a team with legit 3-point shooters, you know the corners can be devastating. Playing 4-out from the 5-out spots gives you corners, and at random times, a nightmare to defend.
2. This is simpler in real life than it sounds in writing. Putting this instruction in writing may make it seem complicated, however, if I were to teach this same stuff in short youtube videos, which I may do later, you would see this is in reality pretty simple, and that even young players will be able to grasp it in relatively short time.
Okay, on to teaching the reactions to dribbling.
1The first thing players need to understand is that for the purposes of reading and reacting in a half court offense, there are 3 kinds of dribbling in a half court offense:
1. Dribble penetration – meant to position the ball inside the arc.
2. Perimeter dribbling – meant to position the ball along the outside of the arc.
3. Reverse dribbling – meant to signal a pick and role
Players need to be able to instantly recognize which is which in order to make quick and correct reads the moment the ball hits the floor, so we demonstrate each of the three and have players call out which is which. We purposely try to obfuscate the reads a bit to help players get consistent at all reading the same thing. Then we ask each of our players to be the ball handler while his teammates call out which dribbling he is doing.
2The second thing players need to understand is that the perimeter spots in the formation closest to the ball always need to be filled. That is the priority so that the ball handler always has a safe passing option available to him.
Remember: unlike other methods of teaching Read and React, I’ve already taught and drilled at least some of the Read and React formations. That means every player already gets where he is supposed to be, and where the “spots” are in the formations, so they understand the concept of making it a priority to fill spots near the ball.
3The third thing the players need to understand is that their reactions to the ball handler’s dribbling depend in large part on where they are positioned at the floor at the time dribbling takes place.
So at this point I teach the players that the formations we’ve learned break down into 3 components:
1. Post Positions
2. Corner Positions
3. Arc (Perimeter) Positions
When players read which dribbling is taking place (penetration, perimeter or reverse), they must then react according to where they are on the floor, not according to whether or not they are guards, bigs, etc.
Consequently, in the drills, I’m very careful to make sure every player learns the proper reaction at every position on the floor.
In a game, a post player may or may not find himself in a position along the arc, but he will definitely find himself in a situation where he has to make a snap decision in traffic, and should he elect to pass to the perimeter, it’s a good idea for him to really know where his teammates will be.
Likewise a perimeter player may not think of himself as a post player, but if he is making a cut when a dribble drive happens, he needs to know how to do the proper post slide.
In short, in the event of a dribble penetration, all players need to know the reactions of all three positions, so teach them to all and drill them with all players in every position.
Perimeter Dribble ReactionsPerimeter dribbles, a.k.a. “dribble-at,” are simple and teach the circle movement along the arc, so they are an ideal place to start teaching dribble reactions.
Reverse Dribble ReactionsThe player movement for a reverse dribble builds upon the “dribble-at” circle movement taught in the perimeter dribble. A reverse dribble is the ball handler’s call for a screen and roll. For us, the pick comes from a high post player if one is nearby, otherwise it comes from the arc position nearest the ball handler’s non-dribbling hand.
Penetration Dribble ReactionsPenetration is a good time to build on previous teachings and introduce the post slide.
The rules for “post players” are really quite simple.
1. If the ball comes in below you (between you and the basket), slide up to an elbow. Which elbow? Which elbow keeps you in a passing window and helps your team the most? And have your hands ready to catch a pass.
2. If the ball comes in above you (so that you find yourself between the ball and the basket), slide down to a short corner. Again, which short corner? The short corner that keeps you in a passing window and helps your team the most. And again, have your hands ready as you move to catch a pass.
3. If you come upon a corner player headed for the same spot as you on the baseline, try to set a pick for him as he passes you, then turn to face the ball with your hands ready.
4. Regardless where you are or may be headed, if a shot goes up, crash the boards.
Not only is the penetration dribble the most common of the 3 dribble actions, but it is the most disruptive. Unfortunately, that disruption cuts both ways. Without the ball handler’s teammates moving into passing windows as he moves, the ball handler could be headed for trouble and a turnover.
Please note that I define “open a window” more broadly than just moving into a place where you can receive a pass.
When the ball handler dribbles, how can you “open a window”?
1Move into a passing window
Open a window by moving to a place on the floor where you could receive a pass.
2Set a screen off the ball
Open a window for a teammate by screening away from the ball, so they can cut to the basket.
3Do a post slide
Open a lane for the dribble drive by sliding to another spot such as a short corner or elbow
4Pick and roll, pop, etc.
Open a lane for a dribble drive by setting a pick then popping, rolling, etc.
It is so important to open a passing or driving lane when the ball handler dribbles that I tell my players, “If you are not moving, I take that as a signal from you that you are exhausted and need to be benched.”
I hate to be that firm about it, but it’s like what the great philosopher, Pepper Potts, once said, “I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash.”
If players want to win, they have to do anything and everything Mr. Pittman requires, because Championship basketball really is in the 90%; it’s in how you either help or hurt your team when you don’t have the ball.
If you aren’t yet convinced that the 90% is that important, then keep an eye out for my coming book: Basketballogy’s Fundamentals of the Game: What every coach, player and parent should know about the game of basketball.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for part 4 in the RGB series: Passing and the Read and React Offense.