Before each NBA game, teams meet to discuss game strategies for that day's opponent. However, some main rules remain the same regardless of opponent, and these chalkboard principles are reinforced to the players before every game.
Most teams focus on defensive principles first. Though teams may be tired or shooting poorly, if they can defend, score off transition and get to the foul line, they can remain competitive and have a chance to win. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls rode their team defences to NBA championships.
These are some of the most important chalkboard principles.
Teams try to avoid allowing the opposition to penetrate through the middle of the key, where an offensive player has a number of options: attempting a basket, passing to the post or passing to the open three-point shooters. Instead, defensive players try to force offensive players to the baseline. On the baseline, defenders can receive help from teammates and there are fewer options for the offensive players. For Miami Heat opponents, keeping forward Lamar Odom out of the middle of the key is important due to his ability to pass, drive and shoot.
Cutters are players that try to make a quick move or "cut" to the basket without the ball in order to receive a pass for a layup or short jump shot. Defenders may be advised to delay the offensive player's progress by slightly bumping him in order to make the pass more difficult to complete.
In the NBA, the players are such great shooters that if you leave them unguarded they will make the shot. Coaches advise their players to "close out" as defenders, keeping themselves between an offensive player and the basket. Coaches also remind their players to "get a hand in the face" of shooters, meaning to place their hand in the shooter's line of vision. This is also known as "contesting the shot." As shooters begin to miss shots, their confidence may waver. Conversely, if a player hits his first couple of shots, the defender may be in for a long night.
Teams do not want their opposition to score "easy" buckets such as layups for a number of reasons. Shots taken close to the basket are considered high-percentage shots, meaning they have a high-percentage chance of going in. Also, after a player scores a layup, he may have more confidence to shoot and score from the perimeter. A layup or dunk will often excite the crowd, and energize the opposing team to play hard and play well.
To combat this, coaches urge their players to aggressively "attack the basket", driving to the hole attempting to score or be fouled. Jerry Stackhouse of the Washington Wizards is one of the league's best at drawing the foul and getting to the free-throw line. By driving to the basket, not only does Stackhouse create scoring opportunities for himself, he is able to draw the defence and look to unguarded teammates for open shots. The opposing team's key players may start to play more tentatively because they don't want to foul out. This also puts the offensive team in the bonus early. Foul shooting becomes so important because it is a chance to take undefended shots at the basket without taking time off the clock. It also allows players short breaks to rest while free throws are being shot.
This is how a team runs and defends the fast break. Coaches encourage their defensive rebounders to look for a quick outlet pass to a guard after a missed shot. This pass may result in an offensive advantage, such as a three-on-two fast break, where there are three offensive players but only two defenders, leaving one offensive player open. On the fast break, the ball-handler (usually a guard) should be in the middle of the court, while the two players "filling the wings" should be spaced far apart on either side of him. The guard in the middle should decide what he will do by the time he reaches the defender's foul line. If neither defender "commits", meaning neither of the defenders is guarding him, he should take the ball to the basket for a score. If the ball-handler and one of the players on the wings are being defended, he should pass to the open player who is not being defended.
Defensively, coaches encourage their players to get back, running to stop fast-break transition baskets.
Work Players Handling the Ball All the Way Up the Court
Dale Davis is one of the league's best pick-setters.
By guarding the team's primary ball-handlers the length of the floor, defensive teams slow the transition game while tiring the opposing team's point guard. Fatigued players may become careless and throw lazy passes, causing turnovers. Teams often have their backup point guard pressure the opposing point guard up the court.
Great on-the-ball defenders, such as Los Angeles Lakers guard Gary Payton, use their quick hands and feet to beat the offensive player to the spot they want to get to, getting in front of him so he has no place to go. Once the offensive player picks up his dribble, the defender "jabs" at the ball, trying to rip it free to force a turnover. Forced turnovers that result in easy layups for teammates confirm the basketball adage that "defence creates offence."
Step with Pass
"Stepping with the pass" means to extend your body past the defender and come to "meet" the ball (stepping toward the pass) rather than waiting for it to arrive at you. This is important because there are many long-armed perimeter defenders, such as the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen, who keep their arms outstretched by their sides to make themselves seem bigger and cover more space. Using his seven-foot wingspan, Pippen can go for the steal or deflection if a player tries to throw a pass to either side of him.
There is an unwritten basketball rule that you should never forget about the passer on an in-bounds play. On December 9, 2001, Penny Hardaway of the Phoenix Suns beat the Toronto Raptors on a give-and-go out-of-bounds play from Rodney Rogers, scoring on a left-handed layup at the buzzer for a 91-90 win.
Players who set good screens create opportunities for their teammates and themselves. Not surprisingly, some of the league's best pick-setters have played with the NBA's top scorers, such as Charles Oakley (who played with Michael Jordan and Vince Carter) and Dale Davis (who played with Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose). Often, players who set good screens will be open and get the ball back for a shot.
Rebounding is arguably the most important part of the game. Offensive rebounds create second opportunities to score, while defensive rebounds end the possession for the offensive team. Teams who out-rebound opponents by 10 boards or more usually win the game.
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