Basketball is a game of inches. Championships have been won and lost by the slimmest of margins. One of the most famous NCAA championship games was in 1983 when NC State beat the University of Houston on a last second tip-in by Lorenzo Charles. Derek Wittenberg, NC State’s shooting guard, had taken a 40 foot shot that missed the rim by inches. Charles ended up catching the ball and putting it in the hoop as if it were planned.
On the replay you can see the Houston players expecting the ball to hit the rim. Wittenberg was one of the best shooters in the country and hadn’t missed that badly all season so why would this happen now? Basketball is a game of inches. If that ball hits the rim, the game would have gone into over-time and Houston would have more than likely won. In this article I will go over three facets of the game of basketball that don’t get talked about a lot and seem trivial but have a huge impact on the outcome of a game.
There are few things more important than balance in a basketball game. Try and think of a basketball move that doesn’t involve proper balance. You can’t. Feet should be about shoulder width apart with the weight evenly dispersed. I have often heard coaches talk about keeping that weight on the balls of your feet, and I haven’t found anything to dispute that.
Ball handlers need good balance to be in control and to be able to stop or start with relative ease. When I was young I made the mistake of driving around the defender off-balance and I wasn’t in a position to stop or shoot or anything. I was only in the position to keep going forward. As a shooter, you need to have good balance. If a player you are guarding shoots an off- balance contested jump shot you are doing a good job. Very few basketball players can hit those shots.
Not all of us are named Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and can hit those types of shots. Good shooters maintain balance by going straight up on their jump shot and don’t drift from side to side. When my shot is off, it is typically improper balance in my feet. Defensive balance is also important. All good defenders maintain balance in their stance and in their ability to move quickly. When you pay attention to it you will notice it making all the difference in the world.
I go crazy watching young kids play sometimes. They are not taught correctly how to pivot. It drives me nuts. Here’s what happens, the player stops his dribble and holds the ball. The defender gets up on him and the offensive player stands there and just leans back until he falls over or gets tied up.
If you are a coach working with young players make sure they learn how to pivot. Demonstrate for them how to turn away from the defense by pivoting. Have them pivot in all directions without traveling or changing pivot feet. This is such a minor fundamental but something that makes all the difference in the world. With young teams, the key is preparation and it isn’t shooting drills as much as it performing correct fundamentals. Pivoting is one of those fundamentals kids need to learn as early as possible.
- Positioning & Spacing
Players need to be taught where they should be on the floor. They need to understand why they shouldn’t look like a bunch of 5 year old soccer players that just herd after the ball. It doesn’t work well in basketball at all. When I coach young players on positioning I teach them the purpose of offense – to get an open shot as close as possible to the basket.
A good shot to me is one that is not contested. When a shot goes up, who has the responsibility to get back and stop the other team from getting a layup? When the point guard has that job ends up taking the shot, then what? When a point guard drives in and a defender comes from someone else to help out, then what? These are positioning questions that need to have answers. When someone is dribbling or driving to the basket, don’t run in after the guy unless you have a lane.
Don’t drag your man into the play as that will only cause problems for your man. Stay away because an ideal situation for the defense is one player guarding two offensive players. Practice these drills as coaches and as players. Watch games and understand what players are trying to do. You will begin to really understand how things work by paying attention to some of these details that often get overlooked.