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The How, not the What


During a time out the cameras during the NBA Finals, first game, focused on Cleveland’s huddle. The Coach was reassuring, then told his time what needed to be done. However, he did not tell them, in any manner, HOW to do what he acknowledged as the need. Let’s hope that, perhaps, they had covered the how in practice such that the players already knew it, or were at least exposed to it. Here’s the thing, the body language and the performance after the time out showed that they did not understand the how.

Maybe you can’t teach the how. Yep, that is a weird thought for me, but as I age I have discerned that not everyone can learn the how. They can learn a specific how for a specific set of circumstance, but not the how that has to be the result of being in a circumstance that has not been “up on the board” before. (The classic, easy to follow example here is accounting. They teach how to put all the numbers in the right place in accounting class. However, they also realize that “new” situations will arise and they have generally acceptable procedures for addressing any out of the box situations. Those are called GAP in the parlance. But the accountants can apply those a bunch of different ways and that is when the variable comes into play.) Let’s stay with basketball because it is such a visible example of the process of which I speak.

There are certain fundamentals in basketball, and the teaching of those usually starts when the kid is less than ten years old. For instance, when shooting a right hand layup, you go off your left foot; on defense, set your feet such that the other player has a harder time going the direction of his “good” hand; don’t cock the ball back on one side of your body to prepare to pass, as that limits the directions that the ball can go when you pass. If a person has these fundamentals and many others, then the rest of the game is built on that foundation. If they don’t have the fundamentals, but merely great talent that can overwhelm the kids in their age group such that it appears they don’t need the fundamentals, then they built their house of basketball knowledge on the talent foundation and when they meet equal or close talent, opps.

I am going to make ONE example from the last game in the Finals.

Love’s concussion came from a lack of fundamentals in failing to locate the guy he should be blocking out. I was a skinny tall kid that played underneath. Blocking out fundamentals were taught to me early on and as soon as a shot went up I looked for the guy behind me upon whom I “put a body”. Watch the replay. Love saw the shot and never looked over his shoulder for a guy to block out. The guy was out on the wing – it was his guy in the defensive scheme – and Love just turned around, waiting for the rebound to come to him. Had he cut the path of the guy coming in, the guy would have run into his body. If he had backed up a step, and a step to his right, he would have taken the space the guy needed to make the leap that he eventually made, and which resulted in only his arm hitting Love’s head. No ref saw that “incidental” contact. Love could have made sure that any contact that allowed that guy to get to the ball would have been more than incidental. Did Love not learn this fundamental because the only fundamentals he picked up were for offense?

This would be a hard “how” to teach in a huddle, but it is emblematic of the deficiency that the Cavs have, and which the Thunder had, when the Warriors are playing their game. (The Warriors did not play their game for some of the series against the Thunder, perhaps they were looking ahead, or had started to take “it” for granted.) What is their game? What is their how?

They, as a team, get the spot that the other team needs, before the other team can get it – on defense. On offense, they are not married to a particular spot. They read the footwork of the other team to see what spot they give up, then they go to that spot. Is it amazing that they shoot so many shots real quick? Not just Curry and Thompson, but everyone. When you practice with those players, and if you are an intuitive learner, you can’t help but pick up on the technique. Perhaps it can’t be taught on a blackboard, but it can be conveyed by immersion. (If I was going to create a great basketball team I would try to get only intuitive learners, such that they could learn on their own. A sensor learner can only learn what they are taught. That is fine, if you want them to be chess pieces, but I believe, at the highest level, the game is too fast for the piece not to make his own choices.)

Anyway, that is the “how” that the coach did not convey to his team, and may never be able to. You must, as a team, dictate the space that you will not allow them to have. Not on a chalk board, but with your footwork on the court. Cleveland’s offense is nice when they dictate the space, as they did much of the Eastern conference, but if you take their space, they are not completely lost, but they do hesitate. When they hesitate they show the ball in an unprotected way. Have you ever seen as many balls hit out of the hands as with Cleveland in these games? It particularly shows up with LeBron. He is used to dictating the space he will get and when Iguodala takes his intended space, his whole rhythm is off, resulting in bad handling near the basket. Truly, he cannot exercise his power when his feet are off and his foot work has never been a true fundamental for him. Last night (game 2) there was a clear play that showed this: Thompson, on defense, beats LeBron to an early needed space, no worries, LeBron powers around him and goes over him, but Bogot, in the classic team defense mode, sees the last step LeBron must take and times his jump to easily block the shot. That is what I am talking about. Team space taking.

Dictating foot space is the key to TEAM defense and that is why the Warriors make this look easy. They probably take it for granted, but when you are the “little” guy growing up, or when your dad played the game at a high level, you learn footwork as a child and it comes to you naturally. I figure that Izzo taught this principle to Green through repetition. I know that the block out that Love did not do is something that Green would never be caught in, cause Izzo focuses on that such that his players do it without thinking of it – sort of intuitively!

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