Give a guard defensive responsibility against a potential fast break, and half the time or more you end up with only four players playing on offense, especially on rebounds. This is as true in college as it is in high school, and it shows that often even a so-called heady little guard isn’t thinking about what contribution he can make (in addition to merely doing his job).
Unless the defensive team is in the habit of releasing a sprinter/cherry picker without even waiting to see what the shot does, there is no reason for a guard on the shooting team to drop back in the mid-court area and watch the game. Guards everywhere do this, and basketball coaches often forget to correct them. But there are a lot of tipped balls and long rebounds that fall somewhere near the free throw line or a bit in front of it. These balls are easily scooped up by any alert guard who decides to hang around and see what happens instead of just drifting backward.
When the shot goes up, two guards can go to either corner of the free throw line and lean toward the basket while watching for any possible defenders wanting to leave early and score an easy layup after a long pass. Most teams do not automatically release someone, so the majority of the time it is possible for the guards to go to the free throw line corners, called the elbows, and wait. If the ball rebounds long, one or both can go for it; if the other team gets the rebound, they can get back.
Remember, no one is saying you should stay up at the elbow if a cutter has run down the court. Then it makes sense to go with him, and the rebounding situation is four against four. The stupid thing is drifting back for no reason, guarding no one and watching as four rebounders battle against five.
Guards can, and good guards do, wait and watch and decide according to the circumstances, not drop back and watch 50 feet from the basket. Just because you have been given back responsibility does not mean you have to be back. It simply means you have to be able to beat anyone else back.
Some players may ask, “What if I look for the rebound and decide I can get it, but I don’t, and the other team scores a layup?” The answer to that is simple. Stay back. If that happens to you consistently, you have poor judgment. That could only happen once a season to a good player, and it can certainly happen once a season from wherever he chooses to stand. It has happened enough times that a guard back by mid-court sees a ball batted out toward the top of the key or beyond and finally decides he should get that ball, then tries, fails, and the other team gets by for a layup. So the distance you are back is no assurance that the one exception won’t happen, unless you are committed never to try for any ball regardless of where it goes.
The intelligent thing for a good basketball player to do is to get himself in a position where he can be most useful and do the most possible things. As far as offensive rebounding is concerned, that position is on the elbows, very ready to get back with a sudden cutter and very ready to leap for a long rebound. In playing against a 2-3 zone, it is especially easy for the guards to slip in for long rebounds; you should seek them always and go for them when your judgment dictates.
—Excerpted from the book, “Stuff! Good Players Should Know.”
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