Rise & Fire

If you’re shopping for a terrific last minute Christmas gift for your favorite basketball junkie (perhaps yourself?), look no further than Shawn Fury’s Rise and Fire, The Origins, Science, and Evolution of the Jump Shot – and How It Transformed Basketball Forever.

It’s a wonderful addition to any basketball fan’s bookcase.

As the book jacket reveals, Rise and Fire traces the history of how the jump shot revolutionized the game, “shedding light on all corners of the basketball world, from NBA arenas to the playgrounds of New York City and the barns of Indiana. Award-winning journalist, Shawn Fury, obsesses over the jump shot, explores its fundamentals, puzzles over it complexities, marvels at its simplicity, and honors some of basketball’s greatest moments.”

Fury’s exploration of the jump shot has special significance for readers of betterthanalayup.com.

When I launched the site in 2014 I outlined ten immutable laws or principles that define the nature of basketball and govern its play. These laws are fundamental to understanding, coaching, and playing basketball. Once mastered they form a prism through which one can “see” the game, appreciate its simplicity, and master its subtleties. At the center of the ten is the all-important Fifth Law: A jump shot is better than a layup. For me it’s the cornerstone on which modern basketball theory rests and why I named my site betterthanalayup.

Pick up a copy of Shawn Fury’s book. You’ll like it.

Revisiting the High Ball Screen

Several years ago I went on a rant about the high ball screen – an offensive scheme featuring one or more bigs near the top of the circle trying to free a dribbler for a long jumper or drive down the lane.

For a full-blown critique you can revisit my original post but basically I find it congests the court, takes too long too unfold, and seldom results in a basket.

A short time later I discovered a fantastic piece posted by another basketball blogger, Scott Ginn, over at betterbasketball.com. In a satirical piece entitled Dear High Ball Screen, Let’s Just Be Friends, Ginn questions the effectiveness of the maneuver and supports his claim with an interesting statistical analysis of the 2012 NCAA championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. Here’s what he discovered.

• Total number of High Ball Screens (HBS) attempted: 39

• Total number of direct baskets: 4

• Total number of indirect baskets: 2

• Total number of non-related baskets on a HBS possession: 2

In short, according to Ginn the HBS created six baskets the entire game. It was successful (directly and indirectly) only 15% of the time.

I was intrigued by Ginn’s analysis and decided to go a step further. I charted the 2014 and 2015 Final Fours, six games involving six schools – Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Florida, Connecticut, and Michigan State – using Ginn’s statistical categories and adding a few of my own.

• High Ball Screen followed by another HBS: No FGA

• High Ball Screen followed by a turnover: No FGA

• High Ball Screen followed by a foul: No FGA

• Direct Baskets: a score by either the ball handler receiving the screen or the screener (rolling, popping, etc.) after setting the screen.

• Indirect Baskets: a score by any player as a result of the screen, but not directly related to it. This happens when the screen creates turmoil in the defense and a score results. Or, if the ball handler uses the screen, then pitches for a shot. Or, even if the screener gets the pass and finds an open shooter once help arrives.

•Non-Related Baskets: those scores on any possession where a HBS was used, but had nothing to do with the score. For example, a HBS is set, the defense stops it, the offense resets (calls a play, runs a motion, etc.), and scores. That basket had nothing to do with the HBS except that it occurred on the same possession.

And the results?

high-ball-screen-analysis

In six games at the highest level of competition the high ball screen produced direct and indirect field goals only 17% of the time – not significantly different than what Ginn discovered. That’s a lot of work to generate 35 field goals in 240 minutes of competition.

I’m reminded of an old basketball adage: Don’t drive into a loaded defense. The high ball screen does exactly that. With the screener comes a second defender and because the maneuver occurs so far from the basket the defense can load up with additional defenders from the help side. Unless you have a Steve Nash or Steph Curry on your squad, complimented by a big man who can move and shoot, you’re likely to generate lots of dribbling and not much scoring.

By Request

During the last couple of weeks, in response to a series of posts on the decline of scoring in college basketball and my attempt to trace the reasons for this disturbing trend by probing Austin Carr’s record-setting performance in the early 1970’s, several readers have requested information on the Stack or Isolation Offense. Over the weekend I was flattered to hear from basketball aficionado, Herb Welling.

Coach Welling, as you may know, has been called the “minister of information” in coaching circles and has been featured several times in the media, most prominently in Grant Wahl’s 2008 Sports Illustrated article on the evolution of the Dribble Drive Motion offense.

Herb first became acquainted with betterthanalayup.com when researching the matching zone defense and discovered my piece on coach Gene Sullivan’s strategy. In recent days we’ve shared several emails and phone calls, discussing the origins of Sullivan’s equally interesting Stack offense.

I promised him that I would provide a deeper dive into the subject and am pleased to offer it now in a “quick and dirty,” Q & A format. In the future I’ll post a more comprehensive and polished essay.

In the meantime, I hope this initial piece proves helpful and prompts further questions and commentary.

Click here to read Stack Offense Q & A

How Many Passes?

Remember those early scenes in Hoosiers when Coach Norman Dale drills his Hickory High team in his offensive philosophy?

“How many passes?” he implores.

“Four!”

And several scenes later, “How many times are we gonna pass off? How many?”

“Four!”

And then just before their first game, “Guys, remember what we worked on in practice. I wanna see it on the court! How many times are we gonna pass before we shoot? How many?

“Four!”

And then early in the game, Rade, the team’s self-centered hothead, challenges Dale, jacking up several long jumpers without once passing the ball. Dale immediately benches him and even after losing another player to fouls, refuses to reinsert him, content to finish the game with only four players on the floor.

It’s the film’s defining moment because it reveals Coach Dale’s character – his insistence on team work and discipline and selflessness, his belief that there’s a “right way” to play the game that is more important than the outcome. At that point we’re not sure why, but for Norman Dale, this is his last chance, the end of the line. He’s willing to lose the game, infuriate his team and its fans, and risk his job, all for principle. If he retreats now, he knows he will lose everything.

Twenty-nine years since its debut I’m not surprised by the film’s enduring fascination. It’s got everything – the David versus Goliath story line, the celebration of small town virtues, the quiet insistence on integrity, second chances, and the possibility of redemption no matter the depth of personal failing.

But I’m forever amused by how much importance Hoosiers’ fans continue to place on coach Dale’s dictum: four passes. Continue reading…

Advice to a Young Player

At the tail end of last season, one of my clients asked me to take a look at some YouTube footage of his high school junior in action and to offer advice for his development. The video featured the young man’s ball handling and shooting routine – jukes and drives to the rim, step-back jump shots and lots of threes. I don’t think he missed a single shot during the entire video clip. It was impressive.

Here’s the response I emailed to the dad. (I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent!)

“Bob, just watched the footage of Tim in action — very neat!

I’ve been out of the game for a long time… and obviously I haven’t seen Tim in an actual game. But here are a couple of ideas to consider in his development:

• Beware of “game stoppers” — I want a dribbler to go somewhere with the ball as quickly and simply as possible; a lot of kids waste the possession with an array of dribbling motion that actually contributes little or nothing to the offensive attack. They effectively “stop the game.”

 Develop skills without the ball — cutting, moving, creating space; using angles, change of direction, and quickness to become un-guardable; playing defense with your feet and heart.

 Develop a midrange jumper, particularly the 8-12’ pull-up jumper. The college three-point line will eventually be moved back — better get ready for it. AAU coaches and ESPN glamorize dramatic dunks and corner threes but the best players remain those who are offensive threats from multiple spots on the floor.

Finally, watch this video of Austin Carr setting the NCAA tournament record of 61 points — without the advantage of the three-pointer. At 6’3” he averaged 38 points per game and shot 52% from the field. Never a wasted movement. He kept everything simple and epitomized the advice offered above.

Good luck!”