Submitted by Coach John Kimble
Retired high school and college coach
Follow him on Twitter @CoachJohnKimble
This article was originally written for Winning Hoops
CPR: Complete Practice with Repetitions
How many basketball games have you observed where the outcome of a close game is determined by just a matter of a couple plays? In your observation, it may have appeared that both basketball teams have similar talent-levels and that the critical reason for one team having a better chance to win might be just a matter of one or two key possessions of the basketball.
Does one of these teams have a decided edge in preparation of unique scenarios that can easily happen during the game? It is even possible that one of the teams could possibly even have been out-prepared, out-hustled, and simply out-played by the other team, but because of just one or two plays, that is the team that can come out the victor of the game. But unless this team is prepared and can achieve an edge in these situations that can easily take place in a game, all of the hard work and effort put forth by both players and coaches (both during the actual game and in practices) will have gone for naught.
If various offensive and defensive scenarios have not been carefully thought out, analyzed and then practiced many different times, a basketball team must to win this type of close game by relying solely by executing a play they have just had diagrammed to them for the first time in a frenzied timeout. If winning a game is so important, are you as a coach going to go with an offensive play that you draw up during the excitement of a last second timeout—a play that you and your players are not necessarily familiar or are you going to run a play that has been carefully thought out, discussed, taught, and practiced repeatedly during the season?
I have often thought that if a coaching staff and a basketball team that has spent hours and hours on the fundamentals and skills of the game and also countless hours on plays, offenses, and defenses; shouldn’t “one-play scenarios” that may be the actual deciding factor in determining the winner/loser of the game be practiced for a few minutes frequently? Instead of a coach drawing up a play that his team has never seen or practiced, why not have the plays already drawn up, seen and understood by his team and also specifically practiced.
This would give that team an opportunity to be as prepared for these last second situations as they are for everything else that takes place in the games’ first 31 minutes.
From all of my coaching experiences throughout the years; I have tried to devise a philosophy and specific plan to meet these various types of ultimate game-deciding situations.
There are many different ways to “skin the cat.” And there doesn’t have to be a “right or a wrong” method, as long as the method has been thought out, agreed upon (by the coaching staff), and then taught and sold to the players. Instead of giving a coaching staff specific answers to all the many scenarios that exist, I would like to challenge each reader to be prepared for those situations by simply asking them if they have a sound idea and philosophy to the many different offensive and defensive situations that could easily come up in games.
Before late-game decisions that could determine the outcome of the game are made, there are other ideas and philosophies that must to be developed. Does a defensive team use a particular type of defense when defending “baseline out-of-bounds plays?” Does an offensive team have “baseline out-of-bounds plays” that will be successful against man-to-man defenses and/or against zone defenses? Does a defensive team change its defense late in the first half or at the end of the first, second, or third quarters when the opposition is holding the ball for the last shot in the period?
When your team is going for the last shot of the time period, do you have a predetermined defense that your team should use (even if it is a defensive change) when the opposition gains possession of the ball (after your score or turnover in the last few seconds of the time period)? For example, do you have your team change to a token full court pressure defense (to burn time off of the clock) and a man-to-man defense (to prevent an uncontested three-point shot at the buzzer)?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy on whether they want players early in the game to call a timeout to protect the possession of the ball as they are about to fall out of bounds or about to get tied up after a loose ball on the floor? Or does the coaching staff want to save those timeouts for late game situations? If the coaching staff does not have a set philosophy and has not taught their players, those decisions will then be left up to the players.
One of the most important decisions a coaching staff should decide on and then convey to all players is what they should do in the last seconds of a game after the opposition scores to tie the game or put the opposition into the lead. The amount of the lead should also affect the coaching staff’s philosophy. Do players have a grasp on how many seconds it actually takes to dribble full court for a driving lay-up for either themselves or the opposition. Does each player know who realistically are the three-point shooters that should take that last second shot? Has the team practiced those “buzzer beater” shots?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy and have they taught a type of man-to-man defense that could be used in late game situations where your primary objective is to defend the opposition from shooting “3’s” and you would sacrifice giving up an inside shot for “2?” If the coaching staff has taught that to his/her players, do the players know when to use that defense and when not to use it?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy for late game situations where the thought of deliberately fouling an opponent to prevent them for shooting (and making a “3” to ultimately tie the score)? If so, has the staff thoroughly taught the players the proper techniques and methods to be successful? Do the players know when and when not to use that technique?
Does your staff have a philosophy (and a plan and a play) to react to the opposition’s last second score that puts you behind by four points with more than 10 seconds left and less than 10 seconds? Or what do you want to do if you now trail by three points with more than or less than 10 seconds? What does your team do if you trail by two points with more than 10 seconds or less than 10 seconds, or trailing by one point, or when the score is tied (with more than 10 seconds or less than 10 seconds remaining? A coaching staff might not have practiced all of the various scenarios that could actually play out in a game, but he/she at least should have a mental plan on what he/she wants to do in that situation.
After the opposition scores late in the game, does the coaching staff want his/her team to automatically call a timeout and set up a play? Many coaches adhere to that practice because they feel they then can organize their team for a planned (and hopefully practiced) play? This is sound reasoning, but the timeout also gives the opposition an opportunity to organize and possibly substitute better defensive players into the game, set up a full court press, or change half-court defenses. Without a timeout, the opposition would be able to make none of these adjustments. Who will benefit more from the timeout, your offense or the opposition’s defense? Does the coaching staff have a sound philosophy for their decision?
A philosophy opposite of automatically calling a timeout after the opposition scores is for the offensive team to push the ball quickly down the court and already have a plan and a play (that has been practiced repeatedly) to execute. The defensive team obviously could not substitute better defenders in the game, could not probably set up full court pressure and probably not effectively set up a different half court defense. In fact, not calling a timeout sometimes could catch the opposition off balance and allow for better offensive match-ups and give the offensive team a high percentage shot. The question that must be asked is “Is your offensive team prepared enough to execute a last second play in a pressure packed situation? Does your team fully understand what type of shot and who the coaching staff wants to take the last shot?”
Does your team know your philosophy if you are the team that just scored to either tie the score or put your team up (by one or two or three points)? Does every player know what defense you expect them to be in? Do they know whether they are supposed to be in a full court press and what specific half court defense they are to be in to protect the lead and ultimately the game? Do you have a set philosophy to teach your players so that they will be successful?
The next situation a team must recognize is the actual score and what type of shot do they need to take and what types of shots should not be taken. Coaches should not expect his/her players to read the coaching staff’s mind and know exactly what kind of shot the staff wants. One line of thought is that if the score is tied or your team is down by as much as two, a high percentage shot or a shot that could draw a foul should be taken and not a “3” (in the lane). Other coaches believe in taking the “3” immediately.
Obviously, if your team is down by three points, your team needs the best possible three-point shooter to take as good of a three-point shot as he can get and the play should be designed to allow that. If your team is down by four points, the coaching staff must determine whether they want a three point shot or a two point shot to be taken followed by a press (and ultimately a foul). A definite philosophy should be agreed upon by the coaching staff in the preseason and then thoroughly taught to all players in the program, so that there is no doubt or hesitation in anyone’s mind as to what to do during that intense situation.
When your team calls a timeout and your offensive team must travel the length of the court, there are two important factors that can change the philosophy. One is that the offensive team may be or possibly not allowed to run the baseline. Not being able to run the baseline takes away very important options that an offensive team can incorporate into their “Last Second Shot” philosophy. The second scenario is determining whether the offensive team has any remaining timeouts left to use. If timeouts still exist, any offensive pass receiver that catches the ball in the frontcourt could possibly call an immediate timeout. This would allow the offensive team to reorganize and run a “Sideline Out-of-Bounds” play that starts much closer to the basket.
A coaching staff must know which scenario exists and not only know beforehand how he is going to handle these critical decisions, but convincingly sell his philosophy to every player and then have his players repetitively practice that play in game-realistic situations. The coaching staff must devise a play that could also handle the surprise defensive change by the opposition. Each play should have a primary and a secondary shooter in case the primary shooter is taken out of the play defensively.
Defensively, all of the same questions must be asked with the same scenarios. What do you want your team to do when your team has just scored to put your team up by the designated number of points with more than or less than 10 seconds?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy and a plan and a play for offensive “Sideline Out-of-Bounds” situations and also “Underneath Baseline Out-of-Bounds” situations when your team needs a “quick” shot, a “3-pointer,” and a “quick 3-pointer?” Conversely do you have a philosophy and a defensive plan to guard against the opposition’s shots when they are in the same type of situation?
Does the coaching staff have a definite plan and philosophy on defending the opposition in (most likely) their last possession of the game and your defensive team is ahead by one point? By two points? By three points or more? Do you play “normal defense” or do you deliberately foul the opposition?
Does the coaching staff have a philosophy and a special play to fit the needs of your free-throw shooting team late in a game where the score is tied, or you are up (or down) by 1 point, 2 points, 3 points or more. Does the coaching staff have any special “rebounding stunts” and intentionally miss specific free throws to get the offensive rebound? Does the staff know how to slow the opposition down from in-bounding the ball after your team has made the last free throw, so a full court press can be set up?
Does the staff have an organized plan of action when the opposition is the team that is shooting the free throws? Does the coaching staff have a plan in “icing” the opposition’s free throw shooter late in a close game? If so, how do you do so?
Does the staff have a philosophy and a value for how important “last shots” at the end of a time period really are? If your team succeeds before the buzzer, do you have a “Buzzer Prevent Defense”
Does the coaching staff have a defensive philosophy dependent upon the time and score of when to start fouling the opposition to make the last possessions a “free throw shooting contest?”
Does the coaching staff have a plan of action when they want their offensive team to simply “milk” the clock and not be fully committed to “letting the air out?” Does the staff have an offensive philosophy dependent upon the time and score of when to make the full commitment to “stall?” Does the staff have an offense (or two) designed to achieve that purpose? Does the staff have a complementary defense that corresponds to the offense that they are implementing in that particular situation?
All of these situations and scenarios can and often do take place in games. Several of these could actually take place in the same game. Winning and losing that game sometimes is just the difference of one decision or of one (correctly or incorrectly executed technique). Winning just two games that could have been losses can drastically turn the outcome of an entire season around, especially if those close games were tournament games. A team that ends up with a 16-10 record seemingly has a totally different season when they could have had a 18-8 record. A team that ended up 19-7 that could have changed three close game losses into wins would have then had a 22-4 record.
Preparation for all of these scenarios takes a great deal of time and effort, but it can be much more productive and effective when it is done in the off-season and not in the “heat of battle,” during an actual game. During the season, the appropriate techniques can then be explained, taught, sold, and practiced with the players. This makes everyone more confident and prepared. Remember the saying that Coach John Wooden used, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
About the Author
Coach Kimble was the Head Basketball Coaching position at Deland-Weldon (IL) High School for five years (91-43) that included 2 Regional Championships, 2 Regional Runner-Ups and 1 Sectional Tournament Runner-up. He then moved to Dunlap (IL) High School (90-45) with 2 Regional Runners-up, 1 Regional, 1 Sectional and 1 Super-Sectional Championship and a final 2nd Place Finish in the Illinois Class A State Tournament. He was an Assistant Basketball Coach at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, FL for 1 year before becoming Offensive Coordinator and then Associate Head Coach for 3 additional years He then was the Head Basketball Coach at Crestview (FL) High School for 10 years, averaging over 16 wins per season.
He has had articles published in the following publications such as: The Basketball Bulletin of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Scholastic Coach and Athletic Journal, Winning Hoops, Basketball Sense, and American Basketball Quarterly. He has also written and has had five books published along with over 25 different DVDs by Coaches Choice and Fever River Sports Production.