Keep It Binary, Stupid

Basketball unfolds as a series of choices, one leading to the next. No matter how controlled or patterned a team attempts to be, the offensive scheme will inevitably break down requiring the attackers to improvise. 

Effective coaching exploits this reality by placing players in spots where their natural freelance abilities come to the fore and where the choices are binary – “either/or” situations where it is relatively easy for the offense to read the defense and act quickly.

Complicated offensive schemes that congest the floor, obscure the choices, and attempt to control too many variables reward the defense by creating uncertainty and indecisiveness. Too many moving parts complicate the reads, granting the defense time to react.

Conversely, offenses that create quick, binary decision-making are built around actions and maneuvers that shorten defensive reaction time. Effective offense reduces the number of choices by forcing defenders into “no-win” situations where a choice to respond in one way renders them vulnerable in another way. This makes it easier for offensive players to see or read the defense and seize the initiative quickly.

Basketball’s fourth law – Keep It Binary, Stupid – explores these principles.

Click here to read.

The Basket is True North

When I launched better than a layup in 2014, I outlined ten laws or principles that undergird the game and define its nature. Since then, I’ve presented detailed essays on the first two.

Time Trumps Territory is appropriately basketball’s first law for it is the cornerstone upon which the remaining laws are built. We learned that basketball is fundamentally a game governed by time, not by the space in which it takes place. We play within the dimensions of the court and are constrained by its boundaries, but we don’t capture territory. Instead, we pass through it and must assault the basket according to timelines established by various clocks: the game clock, the shot clock, and the various “countdowns” employed by the officials to govern different situations of play – inbounding the ball, crossing the half court line, etc. Additionally, we must contend with other forms of time that are not governed by an actual clock: tempo or pace, reaction time or long it takes for one player to react to the movement another player, and rhythm or how well the moving parts of the game are “timed” or in sync with one another.

There are no static lines or fronts in basketball. It’s not a stop-start-stop game during which the offense and defense align across from one another, snap the ball to initiate play, then, do it all over again in a contest to seize territory. Instead, the action is continuous and fluid, the teams seesawing back and forth between offense and defense, the position of the players constantly shifting in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the movement of one another.

And, it is in the midst of that continuous and fluid action that we discovered basketball’s second law, Space Shapes Time. One’s ever-shifting position on the floor in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the other players shapes time, either shrinking or stretching it. Identifying and reacting properly to the angular and spatial relationships between these elements minimizes the disadvantages of the slower players and maximizes the opportunities of the quicker ones. Spacing between players creates avenues to the basket or chokes them off.

In a game of time, characterized by ever changing spatial relationships, coaches and players need a set of navigation tools to help them recognize and make choices quickly. What are the principles by which you read or “see” the game and its myriad of choices? How does one plot the game’s “latitudes and longitudes” accurately? How does one develop “court sense”?

Understanding basketball’s third law – The Basket is True North – provides the navigation tools needed to answer these questions.

Click here to read Basketball’s Third Law

Space Shapes Time

In a post several years ago – Time Trumps Territory – we explored basketball’s first law. We learned that basketball is fundamentally a game governed by time, not by the space in which it takes place. We play within the dimensions of the court and are constrained by its boundaries, but we don’t capture territory. Instead, we pass through it and must assault the basket according to timelines established by various clocks: the game clock, the shot clock, and the various “countdowns” employed by the officials to govern different situations of play – inbounding the ball, crossing the half court line, etc.

Success in a game like football rests on seizing territory and improving your team’s field position even if you are unable to score during a particular possession. You take control of the field in ten-yard chunks. As you advance the ball across the field toward the goal line you “control” that portion of the field that you have crossed – it’s “behind” you; you “own” it. To improve your position on the field, you may even turn the ball over to your opponent by punting. In effect, you trade a difficult position and an unlikely chance to score for a more favorable location, biding your time until you can regain possession. Football is a chess match over territory.

In basketball there are no static lines or fronts. It’s not a stop-start-stop game during which the offense and defense align across from one another, snap the ball to initiate play, then, do it all over again in a contest to seize territory. Instead, the action is continuous and fluid, the teams seesawing back and forth between offense and defense, the position of the players constantly shifting in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the movement of one another.

And, it is in the midst of that continuous and fluid action that we discover basketball’s second law: Space Shapes Time.

Click here to read Basketball’s Second Law

… Consequences

In my last post we explored the law of unintended consequences – that strange phenomenon that often occurs when we take an established routine or “way of doing things” – cutting the grass, driving to work, drafting a memo, playing a game, virtually anything – and change the routine or rules or circumstances under which the activity takes place.

Sometimes the change produces the outcome we desire; in other instances, the opposite occurs, often because the participants shift their behavior in unexpected ways in response to the initial change in routine. The well-intended result in one area often ripples into an unintended consequence in another.

I promised to explore how the law of unintended consequences has played out in the world of college basketball. Here goes. Continue reading…

Unintended…

Imagine waking up tomorrow to discover that you’ve been named head coach of a new franchise in a newly formed professional league called the North American Basketball Association. Like their counterparts in the NBA, your squad will play on a traditional sized basketball court outlined with the same markings and using a basket suspended ten feet from floor. For all practical purposes you’ll be coaching the same game under the same rules… but with one, critically important difference.

There’s no game clock.

The first team to reach 50 points determines half time. The first team to reach 100 is the victor. Game over. Continue reading…