When You Evaluate, Be Sure To Evaluate What You Evaluate

By Don Kelbick

Here in the land of “LeBronica” (formerly know as Miami), a Miami Heat game is occasion to reinvent the game. Nowhere, in my memory, has a team been over-analyzed, over dissected, reconstructed and otherwise ridiculously evaluated.

Each loss is a reason to fire the coach and break up the team. Each win is a reason to cancel the rest of the season and hand them a championship.

The latest evaluation is the fact they are 5-14 (at this writing) in “close” games (decided by 5 points or less) and 1-19 when taking the last shot for the game (keep in mind that some of the games were tied and went into overtime).

While that statistic might be true, keep in mind that in this world there are 3 kinds of people, liars, damn liars and statisticians. Statistics like that are useless unless put in some type of context. As I listen to the radio every day, watch ESPN, NBATV and other analysts discuss their ideas, as usual, mine are different.

I have sat in countless coaching meetings, listening to coaches massage their egos with statistics, trying to find reasons for wins and losses. Usually the answer is not found in statistics. I remember Jim Valvano, the late great NC State coach and TV broadcaster telling me a story about the football team when he was the athletic director at NC State. Their team had just been beaten 44-3. In the press conference, the Head Football coach was answering questions about the loss in the press conference with, ”I don’t know. I have to look at the film.” Valvano stood up in the back of the room and said, “I’ll tell you what happened and I don’t have to watch the film.” The coach said, “Okay, what happened?” Valvano said, “You got your ass kicked!” Sometimes it is just that simple.

In evaluating teams, others will evaluate results. As coaches and players, we should evaluate process. Statistics (and score is a statistic), are meaningless unless we relate them to something. Is losing at the buzzer by missing a shot really losing a close game? Maybe you think that is a strange question. But, let’s look a little deeper.

In examining the Heat’s close losses look like this. Against the Knicks, they had a 23 point lead in the third quarter, lost by 3. Against Orlando, had a 24 point lead in the 3rd quarter, lost by 2. Against the Bulls, had a 12 point lead deep into the 4th quarter, lost by 2. Against Utah, had a 23 point lead in the 3rd quarter, lost by 4 in overtime. In fact, in 11 of their 14 loses, they had double digit leads deep in the 2nd half. Now you tell me, are those really close games?

I am not evaluating the Heat’s play, players, coaches or anything else. Nor am I criticizing the evaluators. What I am saying is you have to look beyond the final score to get at what the real problems are.

Last second shots are rare. Some go in, some don’t. Walk into a gym, pick up a ball and throw it at the basket. Some will go in, some won’t. It is not an indicator of talent or ability. But when you consistently have the same problem, and it is a bigger problem but not a bigger situation, true causes, effects and fixes are often hidden. It seems to me, if the Heat are able to get at the cause of losing such large leads consistently, what happens at the end of the game will straighten itself out.

In the Orlando game, they were outscored 41 – 19 over the last 14 minutes of the game. That is not very good play. So, was the fact that they missed the game tying jumper indicative of not being able to play in the last minute or was it just a continuation of the poor play over the last 14 minutes. Though we try, we really can’t isolate the last minute or 30 seconds or 10 seconds from the rest of the game. When you have missed 12 shots in a row, why do you expect you will hit number 13? Because it is the last one? When you have played poorly for 13 minutes and 50 seconds, why would you be surprised by playing poorly in the last 10 seconds?

I am not talking about the belief that the next shot will go in. We all have to have that belief or we can’t play. I am talking about evaluating the game and improving your team. If you have not screened well the whole game and you miss the last shot, don’t work on last second plays, work on screening. If you haven’t defended over the last 10 minutes of the game and miss the last shot, don’t fix your offense, fix your defense.

Here is the danger in evaluating the result instead of the game. I was listening to an interview with Chris Bosh after the Chicago lost. In this game, they missed a box out on a defensive foul shot and Mike Miller fouled on the rebound giving the Bulls 2 foul shots for the game. Bosh said it is difficult to get over the fact that they missed 1 box out and it cost them the game. No Chris! You lost because you lost a 12 point lead with 5 minutes to go by taking bad shots and turning the ball over. That is why the last play was significant. Not a bigger problem but a bigger situation. If they hadn’t lost the 12 point lead, the last play is incidental.

By focusing on the last play, the bigger, more consistently occurring issues will never get solved.

To view coaching products from Don Kelbick, go to Don Kelbick Products.

For more information on Don Kelbick, go to www.DonKelbickBasketball.com.

End Of Game Strategy Thoughts – SEC Final – Kentucky vs. Miss St.

By Don Kelbick

As I watched the end of the Kentucky – Mississippi State SEC Final game, my mind was flooded with thoughts. Not the least of which is how, in sports, we play the results rather than the action. We look at the outcome and the process in which we have arrived at that outcome becomes an absolute. There is no room for other opinions and certainly no consideration for the situation.

It reminds me of my time as an assistant coach. All of my decisions were correct. I was never wrong. I would make a suggestion. If there was a positive outcome, I was the hero. If there was a negative outcome, the head coach would be the fall guy.

Conjecture insulates you from mistakes and criticism. Action removes all doubt and the outcome is judged. Assistants are all conjecture, head coaches are all action.

What does that have to do with the game, you ask. When we watch games on TV, or from the stands for that matter, we are all assistants.

When the game ended, my thoughts wandered toward a number of comments made and articles that have been written (admittedly, mostly by me) on this website. For those that are not aware of the finish, it went like this:

MSU was up by a point when Kentucky shot and missed. On the ensuing rebound by MSU, the rebounder was fouled with 8.2 seconds to go. The MSU player went to the foul line for 2 shots. He made the first. Kentucky coach John Calipari called a time out. Returning to the foul line. The MSU player made the 2nd foul shot. MSU now led by 3 with 8.2 seconds left. UK inbounded the ball, advanced it a bit and took another timeout. UK inbounded the ball and the UK player was fouled with 4.9 seconds to go. The UK player made the first shot. He intentionally missed the second shot. UK controlled the rebound and scored at the buzzer to send the game into overtime and Kentucky was the game and the SEC championship.

That brings us back to my thoughts.

A couple of years ago around this time, coach Cal was taking a lot of criticism for not calling a time out at the end of regulation time in the National Championship game against Kansas while coaching Memphis. He was roasted. The critics came out and roasted him, “Calipari lost the game because he did not call a time out.” It was absolute. I wrote an article (Thoughts on the John Calipari Roast…) in which I said I don’t believe it made any difference. If Derrick Rose had made a couple of foul shots, it would not have mattered. He did not call a time out to ice a foul shooter. He was roasted for not fouling Mario Chalmers who made a 3 at the buzzer. Critics say, “You have to foul the guy so he gets 2 instead of 3.” I disagreed.

Let’s look at what happened in this situation. MSU on the foul line, Coach Cal tried to ice the shooter between the first and second shots. It didn’t matter, he hit the shot anyway.

Coach Cal took a time out after the foul shot, it didn’t matter because he took another timeout shortly thereafter. How much can a situation change in the 2 seconds that elapsed.

In a 3 point game, MSU fouled the ballhandler to give him 2 shots instead of a chance to make a game tying 3. It didn’t matter, they got 3 anyway. Now there are critics saying, “You can’t foul him, force him to make the shot.” Playing the results once again.

In basketball, the are no absolutes, only opinion and conjecture. For you “must call time out” people. Rick Stanbury called time out and lost, John Calipari called time out and it came down to an offensive foul shot off a free throw. MSU fouled so UK wouldn’t get a 3, they gave up 3 points anyway.

And for those of you that think that the offensive rebound play happened by chance should think again. Knowing Coach Cal as I do, I know that they have practiced this over and over again. He may have discussed it in his last timeout (along with the probability of getting fouled). But you didn’t see him call a timeout in between foul shots to set it up again.

The moral of this story that there are no givens, no musts, no ordinaries in basketball. There is only conjecture and result. As a coach, do what you do because YOU feel it is best for you, not because somebody else says so. Just because the results change doesn’t mean your philosophy does. It still comes down to the players.

I do not believe in calling time out at the end. I do not believe in fouling to prevent the 3 (I just don’t like to intentionally put the ball near the basket as you do on a foul shot). I would rather be down a point, with the ball with a chance to win, than be up 1 and have the other team with the ball. Those are my beliefs, they work for me and I won’t change them.

I also believe in preparation. I have not 1, but 2 offensive foul shot plays. I actually have a defense against a missed foul shot play at the end of a game. I have a “get out and go” play for the end of the game so I don’t have to call a time out.

Most importantly, I don’t think I am right, just right for me. I do not deal with conjecture or play the result. I do what I think will be best for my team. You can do everything right and still get a bad result. That does not mean your decision was wrong.

MSU coach Rick Stansbury did everything right, called timeouts, fouls to prevent the 3, they still lost.

New Article & Video: Bobby Knight Tips On Screens

By Joe Haefner

Check out this new article & video to learn more about implementing screens into your offense and why Bobby Knight dislikes down screens: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/bobbyknight-downscreens.html

NEW BLOB from Kansas State – Dayton Game

By Joe Haefner

Check out this new baseline out of bounds plays (BLOB) from the Kansas State – Dayton game:

What Is The Right Age To Focus On Wins and Losses and Start Playing Zone?

By Joe Haefner

On a page where we discuss defense at the youth & junior high level, I recently received these two questions from a junior high coach:

Do you believe there is an age where it is appropriate to play a zone?

Is there an age where you should start playing Win-Loss basketball?

These are very good questions and these are the conclusions I have come to:

Conclusion #1 – Zones should NOT be allowed until the second half of the Freshmen year in high school (typically 14 to 15 year olds).

Even at the junior high level (12 to 14 year olds), I’m very skeptical of playing zones for development purposes. Some coaches may argue this, but when I coached at the high school level, I dealt with so many kids that played zones at the lower levels that formed some terrible habits. We would spend entire seasons just trying to break bad habits that were formed by teams that trapped, played zones, junk defenses, and pressed when they were at the youth level. Sometimes, we never could break the habits.

When I was coaching a freshmen team, we scrimmaged against another team in the area that was in a league that did not allow teams to play zone until the second half of the season. I thought this was great.

  1. Coaches get to spend more time on the fundamentals and building the player’s foundation, because they don’t have to worry about preparing for zones, presses, junk defenses within the first 10 practices.  Without a solid foundation, it doesn’t matter what you do, you are not going to be as successful.  
  2. Coaches are forced to teach man to man principles before they go unto zone defense. So many coaches skip man to man principles and go straight to zone. As skill level and strength increases, these zones are ineffective because they don’t know man-ball principles, can’t stop the ball from dribbling by them, and some other bad habits (swarming the ball, going after every steal, etc.) that helped players get more turnovers at the youth level do not work anymore.

In other words, the zone that works at the youth level and junior high level won’t work at the high school level, because an effective zone defense at the youth level is not an effective zone defense at the varsity level for reasons listed above.

Conclusion #2 – I believe Win/Loss basketball should start around 7th grade (Age 13).

However, I think it’s a much lower emphasis on wins and losses than a high school varsity team. Your focus would still be on the developmental portion.

When you get to high school varsity, is when I believe that it truly becomes a win-loss philosophy. At the same time, some years you may be a better zone team, but it’s still a good idea to teach man to man defense, because you don’t want to have a player that doesn’t make it at the college level because he doesn’t know how to play man to man defense. It could literally cost them thousands of dollars through scholarships.

If you focus too much on the win-loss at youth and junior high level (and some would even say the junior varsity level), it could be detrimental for different reasons:

  1. Undeveloped kids don’t develop because they don’t get any playing time. That’s why it’s key to get everybody fairly equal playing time. You have no idea who is going to be the best when they get older. A 5’10 kid who already matured may dominate now, but the 5’8 skinny kid who hasn’t hit puberty yet and grows to 6’8 by the time he is a senior may be the best chance for success as they get older.  How is he going to get any better if he’s not playing?
  2. Tactics that work at this age (organized presses, zones, traps) won’t work at higher levels, because the foundation (fundamentals) has not been developed. On average, these presses are NOT run correctly. They just swarm the ball and the player that is 1 pass away, because the players are not strong enough to throw down the court and have not developed the ball handling skills to quickly react.

The truth is that COACHES and PARENTS are WAY more concerned about winning than kids under the age of 13. Most kids just want to play. They want to have fun. They are thinking about their own little world, not winning. And even if they think about winning, it’s not nearly as important to them as it is you. By the time, the game is over, they are just thinking about where they will get some pizza. Kids move on really fast. But parents and coaches dwell on the loss for days and hours. That’s too bad.

Trust me. A high school coach would much rather have you work on fundamentals and build a great foundation. If they have a great foundation, it’s relatively easy for them to throw in an effective trap, press, or zone. Not the other way around.

High school coaches please leave your comments on this as well, so youth coaches understand your perspective as well.

Why It is Good to be a Salesman When Coaching Basketball

By Joe Haefner

If you have ever coached, you know that if the team doesn’t believe in what you’re trying to teach them, you’ll never be successful.

You have to convince your team and SELL to your team the coaching tactics and philosophies that you are trying to incorporate.

For example, I’m a big believer in rebounding and lowering turnovers. When trying to stress the importance of rebounding and lowering turnovers, I take my players to chalk board.

First, I put up on the board.

44 to 38.

Assume all shots are worth two points.

Team A – 35% Field Goal Percentage.

Team B – 45% Field Goal Percentage.

Then, I ask the team, “Which team do you think won?”

Usually, the team will respond with Team B. Some may say Team A. I don’t reveal my answer yet and continue on.

Next, I write on the board:

Team A – 15 offensive rebounds & 9 turnovers

Team B – 3 offensive rebounds & 17 turnovers

Team A – 32 extra possessions (15 offensive rebounds & 17 forced turnovers)

Team B – 12 extra possessions (3 offensive rebounds & 9 forced turnovers)

I pause for a second, then write on the board: “32 – 12 = 20 extra possessions for Team A in which they got a shot.” Then, I begin to write the following.

Team A took 62 shots.

Team B took 42 shots.

Team A – 62 shots X 35% FG = 22 made shots & 22 x 2 points = 44

Team B – 42 shots X 45% FG = 19 made shots & 19 x 2 points = 38

Then, I circle Team A and say, “Even on a bad shooting night, Team A won the game, because they rebounded the ball and took care of the ball.

Of course, there are other factors such as fouling, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting, and so on, but you want to simplify things to get the point across to your players.

If you can use examples like this and sell your tactics and philosophies to your players, they will be more like to work hard at the things you focus on, because they understand why you emphasize the things you do.

Motion Offense – Getting Post Player Touches

By Joe Haefner

In our recent teleseminar for the people who purchased the Motion Offense eBooks, there was a question that I really wanted to share.

Here is an edited version of the question and answer between the listener and Don Kelbick.

Guest: I’ve got a 6’9″ kid actually that’s going Division 1 next year. I want to make sure that our number one rule is that every third, fourth touch is a post touch. Does this rule sound like a good rule for the motion offense?

Don Kelbick: Right. I used to do that, and that might work for you, because it worked for me sometimes. What I found with this rule is that it shows how much kids want to please you. A lot of times, they’d get concerned about how many passes were thrown.

So a kid would stand out on the wing, and somebody would be wide open. They wouldn’t throw it to them because they would say, “You know, I thought we were on the fourth pass, so I have to throw it into the post.”

I actually went away from that rule and used this rule instead, “We’re not taking any jump shots until the post man touches the ball.”

And if you have a real good post player, then let him touch the ball twice. And then you teach your post player that when the ball goes into the post, the defense is going to collapse. At the very least, the defense is going to turn around to try and find the ball.

Teach your shooters, when the ball goes into the post, here’s where you go. And then you teach the post guy that if he doesn’t have a post play, this is where you look.

By throwing the ball into the post and having the post guy throw the ball back out, the number of open shots that you will get will stagger you.

Do You Make This Mistake? Basketball Stats Can be Deceiving…

By Don Kelbick

I was watching the Mets tank another one last night (yes, cut me I bleed blue and orange though I don’t readily admit it any more) on ESPN and Rick Sutcliffe, whom I am not a big fan of, made a great comment. As David “MVP” Wright came to bat, Sutcliffe commented that even though Wright has 123 RBIs, he has hit under .250 with runners in scoring position. What that means is that Wright must have a huge number of opportunities to hit in that situation. You have to think about the “quality” of his RBIs. By batting under .250, the number of runs he leaves on base may have turned the pennant race into a laugher.

That comment started me thinking. After I read the book “Moneyball” (highly recommended) I look at statistics very differently. I started applying Sutcliffe’s comment to basketball. Think about some of the statistics we use as benchmarks. A big man has a lot of “blocked shots.” Does that make him a great defender or are your perimeter players allowing too much penetration? You have a player who has a lot of steals. Does that make him a great defender or does he take too many chances?

For statistics to be relevant, you have to link them to the game in some manner. If a player makes 4 steals in a game (a lot) but gives up 4 layups on steal attempts that weren’t successful. Was that really good defense? Shooting over 50% does not necessarily mean great shooting, it might mean a lot of layups (not bad but not good shooting)

My favorite example was a meeting we had after we lost a game in double overtime. We looked at the stat sheet which said we had 51 offensive rebounds (that’s right – 51 offensive rebounds). Since it was an emphasis for our season, the other coaches were ecstatic about the stat. I, as usual being the sideways thinker, thought we should try to become better shooters (if the ball goes in more, there are less offensive rebounds. If the ball went in 1 more time, we win!).

Just something to think about.

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

Breatkhrough Stats App – Track Stats on Your iPad
Basketball Statistics – Using Stats
Tracking Your Defensive Statistics And Performance

Offensive Tips For Coaches With Shooters & Post Players

By Joe Haefner

Don Kelbick recently answered a question about offense from one of our email subscribers.  It has some great information about utilizing post players and shooters within your offense.  Here it is:


I have one good shooter and two good post players. I need an offense for my team. Anything would help out would be great.

Don’s Response:

If only the answers were easy, we would all be undefeated.

I would need more information to give you an answer but I can give you some concepts.  Then you trust yourself and your instincts, keep it simple, use a little trial and error and I am sure you can come up with an offense of your own.

First, you say you have 2 post players. Most teams don’t have any so you are blessed. However, if they both posses the same skill set or have to occupy the same area, they will get in each other’s way and cancel each other out. That is why the “Twin Tower” experiments (Houston’s Sampson & Olajuon, NY’s Ewing & Cartright) didn’t work out too well.

Next, you say you have a good shooter. The effect of shooters with good post players is profound. If you use him wisely, he will open up many and varied options. Good shooters strip post help. If the shooter and the post player are on the same side, the shooter’s man cannot drop down to help in the post. If the shooter is on the other side, your players will be able to penetrate due to the fact that the shooter’s man cannot help. If his man does help, it will open penetrate and kick opportunities.

Lastly, an old concept but a very effective one. This is what most offenses are based on. The offense, with 5 players, is divided into a 3 man game on one side, and a 2 man game on the other side. Screen-downs with shooters and posts are very effective. Ball screens with kick opportunities are also very effective. You need to have someone to handle the ball though.

Keep your shooter moving, as much as possible. Use your post players to screen for him so the post defender has to make adjustments and that will open the post.

As I said, try and to keep it simple and experiment. Most of all, let the players do what they are good at in areas in which they can be successful.

I don’t know if this helps but hopefully it will at least be a start. Let me know if I can help you any further.


Win More Games With This End of Game Defensive Tip for Players & Coaches

By Joe Haefner

In our Man to Man Defense System, we discuss situations and options when playing with the lead at the end of the game.

One of the options we discuss is to overplay the outside shot and force the players to dribble penetrate when you are winning by 3 points with minimal time remaining.

When doing this, it is important to have no help defense from teammates! All of the defensive players stay around the 3-point arc in the area of the offensive player they are guarding. Even if the player gets an uncontested lay up, you are still winning the game.

Here is the tip that can dramatically increase your chances of winning the game:

When forcing the player to dribble penetrate, force them to the direction of their non-shooting hand. If they shoot with their right hand, force them to dribble to the left.

Now, let me tell you why. If an offensive player is covered and can not attempt a 3-point shot, the player will often take one hard dribble and pull up for the 3-point jump shot or dribble inside the arc and use a step-back move to create separation to get the 3-point shot off. If you have forced the player to his weak hand, you are on the shooting side of the offensive player. Now, you are in great position to take away or disrupt the offensive player’s shot.

This can result in:

- A deflected or blocked shot.

- A shot where the offensive player hitches or double-clutches, which dramatically decreases the chance of the shot going in.

By johntrainor

- An offensive player panics and turns the ball over.If you are not on the shooting side, you have to reach across the player’s body to disrupt the player’s shot which can often lead to a foul.

As a coach, if you do not feel comfortable with your players’ decision-making, have them put their arms straight up instead of trying to block the shot.

There are times that players will make miraculous shots, but this approach will help you win more games in the long run!

A great way to get your players to perform in the clutch is to use this End of Game Drill.  This drill is great for all levels, because it is also a fun way to end practice.

If you are a youth coach, I would NOT bother covering this situation in depth.  There are more important things to cover!