Friday, June 25, 2010

More on the intricacies of basketball strategy, or, eff convention

In the past, using my experience as an impartial scorer and scoreboard operator for some local basketball contests, I've advocated a "feed the best player no matter what" strategy. Quite frankly, bizarre basketball strategies intrigue the heck out of me, since I believe the game is based far too much on a rigid sort of "play the right way" philosophy that minimizes most teams' chances to win.

Therefore, I eagerly devoured a story from Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker that I just stumbled upon tonight. Basically, if a bad basketball team wants to win, it should press constantly, and especially the inbounds pass. (Note: This is a long read, but if you have an interest in basketball, military strategy or just good writing, then it is worth it.)

Gladwell's interviews backup a hunch I've had for a while - The press is the best defensive basketball strategy. Like Rick Pitino's story in the article, I've also seen David almost upset Goliath, although on a much, much smaller scale. When I was 10 or 11, the best player on my rec team fouled out, and we were down by 15 points with about six minutes to play. We were one of the better teams in the league, strictly because of him, so the chances of us winning were really bad. (How good was he? I was probably the second-best player, and I averaged something like six points a game. Yeah, I was a stat nerd even back then. On the plus side, I had more than 10 boards a game, I'd guess.)

Because the best player had fouled out, our coach basically decided to just let us play the rest of the game, so it was me and four bench players doing a full-court press. Lo and behold, we rapidly got back in the game, and probably could have won if not for the clock running out on us. I ended up with 18 points, pretty much all on putbacks and lay-ups after he had fouled out. (It remains a high for me in any game where score was kept. So ends Steve Greenwell Recreational Basketball Glory Days Storytime.)

So yes - Pressing for the entire game instinctively makes sense to me as a winning basketball strategy. On the college level, Division III school Grinnell uses a variation of what is described in the article. This eHow article provides a pretty good rundown of it, and Grinnell has used that to compile 73-46 record the past five years, even though 1) they don't recruit great basketball players and 2) everyone knows what they're going to run.

However, even Grinnell's methods leave something to be desired. First, they don't really play conventional defense - If someone beats their press, they've content to let them get a layup. Grinnell doesn't really try to create the Rush, as Pitino's teams try to do; Grinnell is playing its own game altogether and doesn't give a shit if you score, because frankly, you're just getting in the way.

Second, Grinnell teams work in shifts regardless of player quality. Pitino doesn't play all of his guys equally - He worked the hell out of his better players like Sosa and Antoine Walker. Yeah, because you play a certain style, it means that you won't get the elite basketball players looking to showcase their skills. (I was shocked that only one Pitino player, the aforementioned Walker, had made an all-star team, but that made sense.) However, this doesn't mean that you should be happy with inferior players taking shots away from more efficient options.

How would this translate to the high school level? I imagine that a coach in a weaker league, such as Rhode Island, could dominate the competition by just pressing all the time. Except in rare instances, most of the state does not have Division I basketball prospects, so pretty much all the teams have guards that would be rattled and worn down by a constant press. Personally, I'd love to try it out at some point, but I don't really have the means or ability to be a basketball coach at any level right now. Something to shoot for when I'm older, perhaps.

For an exhaustive description of Pitino's press, and a lot of other basketball strategy, check out this site. The rec basketball photo is from here, and before anyone asks, sorry, it isn't me. It is just a random Google Images thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Try not to be too much of an ass, unless completely necessary. You are subject to tyrannical moderation.


Related Posts with Thumbnails