“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience.” Unknown
For all you high school coaches out there, please accept my apology for lumping you all together. I know for certain that some of the most innovative coaches out there are at the high school level. With that said, I unfortunately keep finding myself in high school gyms where I continue to see an epidemic of poorly taught spacing principles. I'd like to tell you that it is the girls' game or boys' game only, but I see it on both sides. This is what coaches often tell me:
Coach, my players are just not strong enough to make that skip pass. That is why I have the weak-side players stand at least one full step inside the three point line...to make that pass shorter.
For those of you who played for me, you know that my ears bleed profusely whenever I hear anything close to those sentiments. I usually just nod my head in agreement because I am honestly afraid of coming off condescendingly with any question I might ask. For instance:
Coach, do you do any daily drills to help improve technique and strength for those passes?
Coach, doesn't that make it easier for the defense to steal those passes?
You know...that type of question. I was a high school coach at one time, so I get what a lot of these coaches are going through. They teach all day and then have maybe two hours with a group of kids they don't get very much time with outside of practice. Instead of working on ways to improve player skills, they often develop ways to work around their deficiencies. I can't blame them. Well, yes I can, but I'm empathetic to a point. If you are reading this or passing it on to a high school coach, I encourage you to raise your expectations of yourself and your players. To be a great coach or a great team, expectations should never be tempered. You may have to live with disappointments for a while, but you should never lessen what you expect of each other.
Spacing? It is truly like punctuation for a writer. If there are no periods, capitalization, or commas in a paragraph, how do you ever know when something begins or ends? Spacing is like that in basketball.
Let's say you are playing against a standard 2-3 zone where the four perimeter defenders extend to a step inside the three-point line in the shape of a rhombus...a rectangle with two points further apart than the other two points. Would it be smart to put 4 offensive players on the perimeter just outside the three-point line in the same position as the 4 defenders? No, of course not. The key to beating a zone is making the parts of the zone work to space on the floor that is not necessarily their responsibility. That's why most offenses attack a 2-3 zone with a 1-man or 3-man front splitting those top two defenders.
The same concepts work against man-to-man. The tighter the 5 offensive players are together and the closer they all are to the rim, the less space the defense has to cover. When the 5 offensive players are at or inside the three-point line, there is also less room to screen, cut, and make reactionary decisions and makes the defense have to work a lot less to cover that ground.
Here's some quick principles to teach during your first week of practice:
1. 22 Foot Rule: All perimeter players should start at least a full step outside of the three point line to begin any offense, and when they finish screening or cutting through, they should always end up back outside to that space. The only reason they would stay inside the arc is if they screened a big out or they play in an offense (say the Flex) where they may screen a post out to become the post.
2. The Corners Are Your Friend: The corners are the hardest spot on the floor to guard for any defense. Players should know how to flare, drift, or simply stay in the corners in order to open up driving lanes and drives and kicks for their teammates. If a defender is in help-side while guarding the corner, that close out on a kick or skip pass is the furthest close-out on the floor for them to make. Use the corners, and your offense will become more efficient.
3. Break the Man-Me-Rim line: Most defensive players are taught at a young age to always keep themselves between the person they are guarding and the rim. Whether you have the ball in your hands or are playing off the ball, you should always be conscious of where your defender is in-relation to you and the rim. A good offensive player will always be trying to get the defender to either move outside of that line or to move themselves away from that line. When you see a great ball-handler make a great move that breaks a defenders ankles, you see the offensive player all of a sudden have a direct line to the rim. Whatever you are teaching offensively, make sure your players grasp that concept.
I've got a lot of simple drills to help you with teaching all of this. Please e-mail me if I can help.
Just like the three counter post move series, teaching these three simple offensive spacing components will change your team's efficiency and make lesser skilled players that much more dynamic and capable. Spacing=Time=Opportunity
Just don't let me catch you teaching your weak-side players to stand inside the arc...unless you want to see me bleed from the ears. Yes, I am talking to you youth (7-8-9-10 year old) coaches, too.
Make offense fun! Make sure you have fun! Space will make that all so-much easier.
Have a great day!