Tuesday, September 24, 2013

#016 The Evolution of Post Play, Part 2

In Part I of the Evolution of Post Play, I examined the greatness of Olajuwon, McHale, Jordan and now Bryant in regard to their ability to control and off-balance a defender with their footwork in the post.  For about the past 10 years, I have worked tirelessly to convince young players that "post play" can happen anywhere on the floor.  It is not necessarily defined by a ball entry to the right block or left block.  Post play, in the modern definition, is the use of a basketball move with the ball-handler catching the ball with his or her back to the basket.  I would assume that the player in the NBA, today, who gets the most touches with his back to the basket is NOT Dwight Howard or the Gasol brothers or any other true center.  I would guess that it is Paul Pierce followed closely by Kobe Bryant.

If you have watched a Celtics game in the last 10+ years (and soon to be Nets game), you will often see Paul Pierce coming up the floor from the baseline to catch the ball on the perimeter (outside the three-point arc) with his back to the basket.  If you think about it, it may seem odd that you would want a great scorer like Paul Pierce to catch the ball moving away from the basket with his back to the basket and the defender directly between him the basket.  In a two-dimensional world, that type of offensive entry just doesn't make sense.  In reality, it is the most innovative and creative and productive entry point in the Doc Rivers' designed Celtics offense.

Let's slow the play down and break down the specifics.  Above, I spoke of two-dimensional basketball.  What?  You know, imagine drawing a court on a piece of paper and drawing up a play.  That's two-dimensional.  Wherever the line is drawn, the player or ball is moving in that direction.  We don't know how the player caught the ball.  We don't know what they did when they caught it.  And, we are entirely unsure of how the defender is playing the now-ball-handler.  This is where most coaching begins and ends.  Run here.  Throw there.  Screen over there, etc.  Think back to your youth basketball or high school playing days.  Did your coach teach you how to catch the ball?  Did he or she teach you to catch it on a jump stop or right pivot or left pivot or curl or flare?  Probably to some levels, but they probably didn't teach you to be a journalist in doing so.  What?

You remember junior high language arts when the teacher spoke about the journalistic questions OR critical questions OR interview questions:  what, how, why, when, where.  As a coach, it is imperative that you are answering all of these questions while you are teaching a drill, a play, and especially, a fundamental.

What is Paul Pierce doing?  He's catching the ball.

How is Paul Pierce doing it?  He's catching with a jump stop with his back to the basket.

Why is Paul Pierce doing that?  He doesn't want the defender to know which way he is going to go.

When is Paul Pierce doing this?  Any time he wants to get his defender off-balance.

Where is Paul Pierce doing this?  Any where on the floor when his defender is on his back or trailing.

Coach, for crying out loud!  The angels were singing in your last blog after the phrase "back-pivot."  You haven't used that phrase once today.  You are correct!  I couldn't talk about back-pivots until I got your mind wrapped around learning in a three-dimensional way.  Instead of thinking about post moves on a piece of paper, you are now watching with the angels from above the floor.  Now that you are thinking about the game from that perspective, you have already become a better teacher or player.

Now imagine that Pierce has caught the ball 25-feet from the rim with his back to the basket and the defender on him and directly between Paul and the basket.  Paul has now given himself a 360 degree opportunity to beat his man or drive into his man or back-down his man.  He may not be on the block or mid-post, but he will be using a post move to beat his man.  The majority of the time, Pierce will use a back-pivot (heal of foot moving toward the basket/defender) to open up and face his defender.  In doing so, he automatically backs up his defender creating space for himself.  As you could see in the Olajuwon/Jordan/McHale/Bryant clips on YouTube, that back-pivot (or reverse pivot) is just the starting point to the possibilities a respective post player can use.  The back-pivot can turn into an immediate front pivot jumper like Jordan and Bryant use a lot.  It can turn into a full-square-up to the basket for a jumper that Mr. Tim Duncan, and Jack Sikma before him, made famous.  It can turn into a front pivot, pump-fake, up-and-under (or Slipper Eel) that Kevin McHale used to dominate.  Or, you can use all of the above to get the defender completely off-balance like Olajuwon and Jordan used ultimately to make them un-guardable one-on-one.

So, how do we teach it?  We start with a simple post-series foundation.  You shouldn't teach post-moves like they are separate tools in a tool box. 

I'm going to use the hammer on this play, and the next play, I'll throw the old screw-driver at 'em.

Post moves should be taught as counter moves as you would learn in a Tae Kwon Do or Karate or Boxing class. 

If the defender does this, I do that.  If the defender does that, I do this.

My great frustration with high school coaches is that they tend to teach one or two post moves to a player and that's it:  drop-step and up-and-under.  They rarely teach them why, how, or when, so when they get to college, coaches often have to start over from scratch because the player has no idea why they were taught it, how to use it, or when to use it.

Instead of starting with the drop-step, start with the back-pivot with the baseline foot being the pivot foot (the foot that stays down).  Limit your players to open up this way as they are first learning, so they learn that there is more to post play than just memorizing the footwork.  When you open up (on the block) with the high foot as the pivot, the post-player will only see baseline out-of-bounds, then the side of the back-board, and then their defender.  When you open up with your baseline foot as the pivot, the post player sees the passer, the help defender, the perimeter teammates, the skip pass, and any double-team from any point on the floor.  Grab a pillow.  Pretend you are on the block and try it.  One way, you are absolutely blind.  The other, you own the floor because you see everyone and everything.

Now, teach your player to open up on that back-pivot with a "violent sweep":  low, balanced, and aggressive showing your defender that you can and will attack without taking a dribble or picking up your pivot.  Now that you have backed up your defender, you are ready to read and react using your counter moves:

1.  The defender jumps back giving you space:  Jump shot or bank shot (Tim Duncan-style)
2.  The defender jumps baseline to protect the easy basket:  Step back through with that same swing foot looking to power dribble to the middle of the floor for a power hook (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-style)
3.  The defender slides to the middle to take away the power dribble middle:  Drop-step off of the power dribble pinning the defender away from the rim for an easy lay-up or dunk (Shaq O'Neal-style)

Give me an hour with any post player aged 12+, and I'll show them how to be a master of post offense.  Any kid with a basic skill set and playing experience can learn these three counter-moves off the initial back-pivot and become the most dominant offensive player on the floor.  Watch a Division I or NBA game, and you will see these three moves lead to 90% of post scores.

And, as I explained in-full about Paul Pierce above, this doesn't only work on the blocks and 8-feet from the basket.  Try these 3 moves off the back-pivot from 25-feet, and you will see that they are just as valuable and functional.

Like most things that evolve, they do not get more complicated.  They get more efficient.  Post play should be something that all coaches take great pride in teaching because it will make all of your players more capable, more confident, and more skilled.  Even as a point guard like I was, these moves would have made me twice the player.  What's frustrating is that I had the greatest point guard of all-time, Magic Johnson, on TV demonstrating this every game I watched.  I didn't really pay attention to what made him so skillful.  Yes, he was big, but it was his footwork, ball-fakes, and eyes that made the defense clueless to what he was thinking or about to do.  Just watch those clips of Jordan and Olajuwon and McHale.  You can see on their defender's faces how utterly lost and hopeless they were.

I hope this helps you get excited about teaching the post and watching a bit more closely at where post play is happening the next time you watch basketball on TV. 

I hope you all start evolving today!  Have great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary