I disagree with coaches who claim that defense is the number one ingredient in winning games.
I have no doubt that the most important ingredients are offensive ones. You could have a terrific defense, but if you lose the ball before getting a shot, your opponent will often have the opportunity to score against no defenders on a fast break before your great defense has a chance to form. (Most teams can be stopped nearly half the time if you just manage to get all your players standing in the lane with their hands up. I’m all for defense, but you just can’t pretend it’s as important as offense.)
Good offense comes first. Getting a good shot will nearly always assure that you have time to get back on defense. Bad shots ruin an offense. Unnecessary dribbles ruin an offense. The third thing that ruins an offense is bad passing, particularly “maybe” passes.
You cannot allow your players to throw maybe passes—passes that maybe will arrive and maybe they won’t. Your players must care about their passing and learn to throw the ball to each other with certainty. They must throw sure passes, not maybe passes.
If you aren’t sure you can get the ball to your teammate, hold the ball. Take a jump ball if necessary. Take a turnover and learn to set screens and come to the ball. But don’t throw the ball to the other team and let them get excited with fast break lay-ups. Throw the ball to each other, or don’t throw it at all.
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During your scrimmages, punish bad-pass turnovers uniquely. Traveling violations, three second violations, charges—these have none of the devastating effects of a pass to the other team.
Your team must learn to pass the ball to each other. Pressure, full court presses, traps, double-teams, rotations—I don’t care what defensive tactics are being used. Your team has to care about throwing the ball to each other and not throwing the ball up for grabs. A ball, up for grabs, that one of your starters manages to snare is no better than a bad shot that happens to go in. You have to punish maybe passes. Maybe they won’t hurt you in practice, but the habit of throwing them is sure to hurt you in big games.
I think you get the idea. I am not going to list here all the things I would hope to require of my team during the course of a season. Most of them are listed in my book, STUFF Good Players Should Know.
I do think it makes sense to build your list one at a time, perhaps not so much for the players’ sake as for your own. You need to make sure you will notice the errors that are on the list so that you don’t miss many glaring examples.
No one can see everything, but your punishments cannot become a matter of whimsy. Your players have to develop an expectation that they are unlikely to get away with a transgression of one of your crucial points. All of your players should be able to get good at doing—every single time—the things you think really matter.
—Excerpted from the book, “Running the Show.”
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