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Steve Aschburner

Erik Spoelstra
Miami's Erik Spoelstra, a former video coordinator, is relying on video more than ever this season.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

No time to practice? NBA teams put their feet up, hit 'play'

Posted Feb 3 2012 11:33AM

Video killed the radio star, The Buggles assured us with their synth-pop/New Wave arrival some three decades ago. But video probably deserves some credit for building a few basketball stars along the way. And for salvaging what we've seen already, and can still expect to see, in this NBA season.

Sitting, watching, replaying and studying has taken on a greater priority through six weeks of this hectic 2011-12 schedule because, let's face it, there's been such little time for anything else. No time for a full-scale practice or often a shootaround in the middle of back-to-backs on the road. No bounce-back from actual games.

Time has been on no one's side. You want to pause for anything, really, you'd better have a remote control in your hand. NBA players have their noses stuck in video games at a rate that would alarm their teachers and parents, if these guys were all 15 or 20 years young.

"We're on video all the time," the Chicago Bulls' Kyle Korver said. "When you have time off, you're not doing anything. I'm not walking the dog, I'm not doing anything like that. When I've got time off, I'm on the couch."

Said New York rookie Iman Shumpert: "I watch it on my phone, my iPad ... I just know I'm watching a lot. Especially with us losing all those games, I bet you everybody's been watching a lot of film."

Dallas' DeShawn Stevenson studies at his locker during The Finals last year.
Andrew D.Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The appeal is obvious. Practice days were the first casualties when the lockout ended, with 66 games squeezed into a four-month bag. The total hours and the late-night logistics of travel have made even morning shootarounds tricky.

Yet teams need to prepare. Players need to make that mental break from last night's opponent to tonight's. Coaches ache to teach, correct, prepare, improve.

Their best and sometimes only option? Video.

The format changed over time, from actual film to tape to DVDs to downloads. The platforms changed as well, from projectors to VCRs to laptops to tablets and smartphones. Plenty of players curl up with a copy of that night's game as they're jetting from, say, Charlotte to San Antonio. Then again, corralling the whole team in a darkened room for a session of review-instruct-and-humiliate still has it advantages too.

"You see things you probably would not see," Miami's Chris Bosh said. "It's always different from how you remembered it -- it feels different playing in the game, from watching it and seeing your mistakes."

Some teams are better equipped than others for this video season. Oh, they all have the equipment and the personnel to get it done. But coaches such as Indiana's Frank Vogel and Miami's Erik Spoelstra entered the NBA as video coordinators. They not only believed in video's value, they helped to sell their bosses and teams on its use. Or they ran it with their head coaches' blessings.

"My video background has helped this year, no question," Vogel said after his team beat Chicago at United Center Jan. 25. "Working for Jim O'Brien and Rick Pitino has helped, because they're two of the best at dissecting a game and teaching it in a film session. That's critical in this lockout-shortened season where there's just absolutely no practices."

Vogel also leaned on video last winter, because taking over for O'Brien after 44 games was post-lockout-like enough: no training camp, few off-days and games, games, games. The Pacers played their first 21 under Vogel in 40 days a year ago; they packed 21 into 38 days to start this season.

Veteran Shane Battier, who signed with Miami as a free agent in December, had an inkling of what he was in for with Spoelstra. "That's how Spo cut his teeth, in the video room, so I knew we were going to watch a lot of video. That's the best you can do, given the circumstances of time and energy this year."

You might expect a former video geek to be the guy with a hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail. But a cross-section of coaches this week reveals a similar, more-heated embrace of watching in lieu of doing:

Tyrone Corbin, Utah: "It's been great for the guys to see what we're trying to get to, see what we have success doing and see where the openings are in improving areas. Guys have been really responsive in the film sessions, talking about the things they see, listening ... and when we go on the floor we have a better chance of correcting faster."

Alvin Gentry, Phoenix: "Obviously nothing takes the place of being on the floor and going through the reps and things like that. Nowadays, the only thing that we can do is take tonight's game tomorrow and we can sit down and pull out all of these clips, and we can show guys exactly what we did wrong and what we did right. It's not like being out on the court and having them actually go through it."

Kevin McHale, Houston: "There are three ways of using video. You show the players video. Then you walk through it, and then you pound it home with practice and as close to getting to game speed as you can. That drives the nail all the way home. You can only do two of those three this season. You don't have time to do the third."

Monty Williams, New Orleans: "We're trying to take a little bit from the football teams in the NFL -- they watch so much video it's unreal. I haven't compared it [to last season] but ... our coaches watch a ton of individual video with players at shootarounds, practices, meetings and so on. You have to make due with what you have, and this season this is what we have."

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: "We're probably showing less video. There's just no time."

OK, so not everyone is embracing the concept. Popovich raises a good point, too. While practices can be physically draining, an overdose of video can be mentally fatiguing. This stuff isn't Spielberg -- Spoelstra said he might push what would have been a half-hour session to 45 minutes now but, "there's a point of diminishing returns. If you do it for two hours, the last hour you're probably not getting a great focus."

Said Boston coach Doc Rivers: "The players are probably bored to heck [with video]. I was when I was a player. I liked it in five-minute increments. Right now we are watching a lot of tape and I'm careful with it, too. I've cut it off in the middle of many [sessions] already this year."

As Milwaukee navigated a January schedule of 11 road games out of 17, coach Scott Skiles put a premium on rest, more so than even video. The Bucks came through it 7-11 and Skiles had plenty of moments when he saw things on the court that could have been cleaned up in practice or through a film session. Playing point guards Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih together, for instance. That was a lineup that got short shrift in the blink-and-it-was-over preseason.

But this week, after a solid practice Tuesday, Skiles called off shootaround in the hours before his team faced Miami on Wednesday. "The guys had an energy," he said. "I elected to get them off their legs this morning. Now I'll be judged on whether it worked or not."

That night, the Bucks dug out of an 18-point hole and upset the Heat 105-97. Out of such circumstances, trends are born in a copycat league.

Video figures to remain one of them. It's fast, it's clean, it's portable, it saves both time and legs. And it has enough true believers to be a staple even in ordinary times.

"The eye in the sky never lies," Battier said, smiling and parroting what he has heard from multiple coaches.

That eye is always watching them. This season, a lot of people around the NBA are watching back.

Several of's correspondents contributed to this report

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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