Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#013 The System

I thought it was time to start getting to some real sports talk, so let's start with a subject that I know pretty well.  If you followed my teams at Whitfield or Maryville or La Verne, you know that FAST is the name of the game...FASTBREAK that is.

I probably wasn't 10 or 11 before I fell in love with the coaching philosophies of Paul Westhead.  What's ironic is that my favorite Fastbreak point guard of all-time, Magic Johnson, did not care for him as a coach (he was Magic's first coach with the Lakers), but there is no arguing that his teams are fun to watch, and he gets the absolute max energy and commitment out of his players.  I truly became enamored with his Loyola Marymount teams in the late 80's and then watched him try the system at the NBA level to little success.  When Greg "Cadillac" Anderson is your go-to big (Coach loved him by the way), you are probably in trouble from the get-go.  What he did have with the Denver Nuggets that would have encouraged me to go for it, too, was a guy by the name of Chris Jackson (or later Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf ).  Abdul-Rauf was simply the best D1 college scoring guard I have ever seen.  He was lightning quick, had a perfect jumper, and could dominate a game in a dozen different ways.  When it comes to pure college scorers, he only ranks second to Pete Maravich in my eyes (Michael Jordan hadn't become his Airness until he got to the NBA).  Unfortunately, Abdul-Rauf's political and religious growth was greatly affecting his playing ability when he connected with Coach Westhead.  Neither of their true potential ever saw the light of day in the NBA.

But I digress.  My love for the system probably peaked after playing against it in college versus Grinnell College and Coach Dave Arseneault's version of the system.  Coach Arseneault was able to take marginal athletes and make them look like Olympians with their ability to create pace, speed, and pressure for 40 minutes.  The Grinnell system, like the Westhead system, is powerful because it relies on 5 players working in symmetry.  The 5 players on the floor rely on each other to make up for each other's weaknesses by focusing on their respective strengths and the strengths of the system.

Okay, so what is the system?  Most novice observers call it "run and gun" or "run and shoot," but that would be greatly underappreciating the depth of training, preparation, and fundamentals that go into executing it properly.  To truly understand the system, you have to accept that it is far from simply an offensive strategy where you shoot it as quickly as you can and everyone has a green light.  My teams that have struggled with the system could not get passed that very basic definition.  They failed to understand that there were basic characteristics and values of the system that had to be followed for it to work:

1.  Outlet/Route running.  I probably watch 25-30 high school practices per year, and before the majority of those practices, I ask the Head Coach about his or her offensive and defensive systems and philosophies.  Most coaches tell me that they "like to run."  My excitement for that phrase is quickly subdued when I watch that team scrimmage and run drills and there is ZERO emphasis on getting the ball out of bounds, and I see ZERO attempt at players running hard lanes to their basket's end-line.  The key to true fast-break basketball is teaching your players how to get the ball out of the net or off the rim, out-of-bounds, and up the floor.  Like a true Westheadian, I believe in a single player being responsible for getting the ball out of the net and getting out of bounds to inbound the ball as quickly as possible.  We practice the fundamentals of this daily.  You simply cannot call yourself a fast-breaking team if you disregard the seconds you lose by not knowing how to get the ball out of bounds to your lead guard as quickly as possible.

2.  Pace of the game.  If both teams are not being forced to attack the rim as quickly as possible each and every possession, the system breaks down.  Most college teams average about 70 offensive possessions per game.  With the system, it is imperative that you are averaging over 100 possessions per game.  Why?  The big-picture goal is to completely take your opponent out of their comfort zone and force them to play faster and deeper into their bench than they ever practice or prepare for.  For example, if you are a runner who every day runs 3 miles.  You run the same route every day.  You run at the same pace, and you like the fact that you have become very physically adept at that 3-mile run. Then all of a sudden, someone tells you that you have to run 4 miles today, and you have to run that 4 miles in the same amount of time that you ran the 3 miles...so longer and faster.  How would your body handle that?  The pace of the system makes a confident, well-conditioned athlete doubt everything they have been doing and what they've been taught because it is SOOO much harder to play against than what they see in practice every day of the week.  So, Coach, this means you have to put that 85 page playbook in a drawer and focus on your kids sprinting great routes and your point guards getting the ball out of their hands to your scorers faster and faster.  Oh yeah, you have to press the whole time too.  We will hit that in multiple blogs down the road.

3.  Offensive rebounding.  Westhead puts emphasis on the concept of offensive rebounding, but nobody teaches it like Dave Arsenault.  Coach Arsenault expects his teams to earn an offensive rebound for every 3 missed shots.  So, if you get your 100 shots up and make 40 of them, he expects his teams to get at least 20 offensive rebounds off the 60 misses.  This does a lot of things for your team, but it accomplishes two very important objectives that allows your team to prosper as a "run and gun" team:

First off, if you are going to shoot as many 3's as a Grinnell team shoots, you are losing 10-15% off your shooting percentage in relationship to a team who plays solid half-court in and out basketball.  Grinnell may take 75 three-pointers in a game compared to the national average of 20.  I read and hear a lot of coaches talk about that being too many bad shots, long rebounds for the defense, and not playing the odds.  Coach Arsenault believes, and so do I, that long rebounds should work in the offenses favor.  What do defenses do when long shots go up?  They follow the ball, of course.  Therefore, a long rebound tends to go over the defense's heads.  A team that religiously practices going after those rebounds and even having 3-4 players focused on going after those long rebounds will tend to have the advantage.  

Secondly, if you are not one of the 3-point shooters, and you want to score, offensive rebounding is the way to have a major impact on the team and in every game.  If you know who is going to shoot it and when, you have the jump on the person whose job it is to block you out.  Laziness, apathy, and a lack of preparation will quickly find you on the bench or off the team when running the system.  Rebounders must be taught to embrace their roles.  On the flip-side, my shooters traditionally shoot at a higher and higher clip as the season and their respective careers progress because they gain confidence in knowing 1.  It is their job to shoot, 2. It is 4 other guys jobs and passions to get the rebound when they miss, and 3.  The more shots they get, the hotter they get as the game progresses.

There was a great article on the correlation between offensive rebounding and transition defense that helps solidify this idea even at the professional level.  You can find that here:  "Was Doc Wrong?"

Okay, so why isn't every coach in the country doing this and having success with it?  Well, I have heard Coach Westhead say it a hundred times, "you are either going to win a lot or get fired if you run the system."  Most coaches simply don't like the sound of that.  What's truly hard about the system is getting your players to genuinely buy in.  If your shooters won't get out and sprint and shoot it when they're open each and every time they are open, no matter how many times they have missed that game, you will lose.  If your point guard refuses to push the ball, attack the rim, and pass the ball up the floor each and every possession, you will lose.  If your 3-4-5 refuse to attack the offensive glass with a reckless abandon, you will lose.  Scary!  However, when you get these groups to buy into their roles, watch out.  You end up breaking lots of records and winning championships and having more fun playing basketball than you ever could have imagined.  Also, once kids do buy in, they never want to go back to playing any other way.

If you want more details about the system or a push of confidence to go for it, let me know.  I'd love talking you through my philosophies and the philosophies of some of the great coaches under this umbrella of "run and gun."  Whatever you do, don't call me and tell me you don't have the talent, depth, or support.  Unless you only have 5 players on your roster and a boss who is dictating to you how your team needs to play, you have enough to make it happen.  And when you do, the support will come in groves!

Have a great day!
Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary