A jump shot is better than a layup

When I launched my blog 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 better than a layup. Over the next few weeks, I’ll unpack this law in a series of three posts. Here’s Part I.

Continue reading…

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.

Decline & Fall

So far, so good.

The twenty-five rule changes implemented this season – especially those intended to increase pace and enhance “freedom of movement” – seem to be working. We ended last season with only five teams averaging 80 or more points per game, none scoring more than 85. By mid-December this season, seventy teams were averaging 80 or more, seven of them in the 90’s.

Still, I have my doubts. You don’t reverse a forty-year decline in one season.

Just how deep is the hole we’ve dug? Continue reading…

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…