Pickup Pick-Me-Up

Part of Frank’s development program includes playing post-practice games

Pickup games during practice can benefit players come game time.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
The level of sophistication in the coaching of basketball that exists in today’s NBA was unimaginable as recently as the ’80s, when Jack McCloskey decided that Chuck Daly could use more than just Dick Harter at his side and added a second assistant coach.

Lawrence Frank’s Pistons staff today includes six assistant coaches plus a video coordinator, each with specific duties. Dee Brown is charged with heading up the player development program, in which all assistant coaches share responsibility and are assigned specific players to help hone their skills. They pore over videotape and statistical analysis to shape a set of drills designed to bring out the best in every player on the roster.

But they knew how to play basketball back before it became as complex as calculus, so it’s best to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Among the elements Lawrence Frank believe was critical to retain? Good old-fashioned pickup games.

“One of the things that gets lost is back in the ’70s and ’80s, guys used to play one on one, two on two and in the last probably five to 10 years, that’s gotten a little lost because there’s so much individual player development in terms of skills,” Frank said Thursday. “But there’s no better thing than playing one on one, two on two, three on three, to maintain your rhythm so you’re ready when your number is called.”

Frank builds those activities into practices and makes them a part of the pregame routine. They’re intended for players not regularly part of the rotation or those coming back from injury who need extra conditioning work. So guys like Will Bynum, Vernon Macklin, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva all were involved in a spirited three-on-three game after Wednesday’s practice.

“That’s how you maintain your rhythm,” Frank said. “We can do all the conditioning, we do all the individual skill work we do before practice, but the actual playing, that’s vital. You need to absorb hits, you need to guard live dribbles, you need to be able to make plays. Especially if you’re not playing a lot, that’s another substitute for making sure you’re staying sharp.”

Beyond sharpening skills and conditioning, the pickup games raise a team’s competitive edge and foster camaraderie. There were plenty of laughs and good-natured smack talk emanating from the Wednesday pickup match.

“Part of the culture is great team spirit and unity,” Frank said. “Work hard, enjoy what you do.”

It hasn’t been something the Pistons have had the luxury to do a lot of until recently, though, in part due to early-season injuries, a 13-man roster and – mostly – a schedule that simply didn’t allow it. But only three back-to-back sets of games are on the Pistons’ March schedule, when they have 15 games in 31 days compared to 19 in 31 in January and 14 in 24 in February, accounting for the five-day All-Star break.

“This has been such an ad hoc schedule,” Frank said. “With the space of things now and we have enough bodies that we can consistently do it. It’s part of our player development program.”