How to Improve Big Man Post Play
Few positions on the basketball court are as pivotal to a basketball team as the post player. A player at any position can have impact, but no other position can change the game like a post player. Many of the rules we play by today are the result of post play. The foul lane was widened from 6 feet to 12 feet due to the play of Bill Russell. The rule that the ball cannot pass over the backboard came about as a reaction to Wilt Chamberlain. The no dunk rule (now in effect only in warm-ups) was a result of the dominating presence of Lew Alcindor (no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
The Miami Heat went from out of the playoffs to NBA Champs and the L. A. Lakers went the other way with the trading of Shaquille O'Neal. Bill Russell anchored the most dominating dynasty in NBA history, the Boston Celtics of the late 1950's and 1960's. A dynasty that started with his arrival and ended with his departure.
What is a good post player?
A post player has to be something other than tall. Many tall players should not be in the post (Kevin Garnett). By the same token, a post player does not have to be tall (Zach Randolph). A post player is a player who is comfortable playing with his back to the basket. He is not afraid of contact and will come back play after play despite getting hit even when he doesn't have the ball. A post player is willing to go to the boards on every play and if he can't get the rebound, makes sure that his man won't.
A post player, by virtue of his physical position on the court, has to be willing to run endline to endline even though he won't get the ball most of the time. He must be willing to defend on every play and make up for his teammate's shortcomings. He is the goalie, the last person that can protect the basket. He must be willing to sacrifice his body on every play.
Because of these unique abilities, post players must be evaluated on their teams a little differently than other players. I have heard things like, "The only thing Shaq has is size. He can't dribble or shoot outside of 5 feet," and "Matumbo is so tall but with his offensive skills he wouldn't even make a HS team if he were 6-6." The fact is Matumbo is 7-3 and Shaq is a giant. They bring different things to the table that smaller players can't bring. With his shot blocking and rebounding ability, Mutumbo must save 15-20 points per game over his career. And if Shaq were on your team, would you even WANT him to dribble or shoot from 15 feet. Think about what they bring to the game and then evaluate them.
How do you build a post player?
A lot of effective post play is instinctual. It is difficult to play with your back to the basket. It takes a feel and a comfort level that comes from hours and hours on the court. We can teach the skills but we cannot force our players to be comfortable. I think too many coaches make the mistake of taking players and just throwing them on the block and then complaining when the player can't adapt. I have always believed in finding out which players are comfortable down there and then deciding who is the post player. It may not be the tallest player but it will be the ones that are most comfortable playing down low.
Once you identify who your post players will be, what do you do next? What do you teach him to make him better?
Without question, I believe the most important and the most under-taught skill is footwork. One common thing that all great post players have is great footwork. Look at the greatest post players in history. They may have different games, Shaq (power), Olajuwan (speed), Kareem (finesse), but they all have great footwork.
There are only a certain number of things you can do with your feet. There are a finite number of pivots, but an infinite number of things you can do with those pivots
The pivots are:
- Front Pivot
- Inside Pivot
- Drop Step
- Step Through
Players should be equally adept at performing pivots on either foot.
I have learned to teach offensive moves based on pivots (Right foot, inside pivot, jump shot) rather than names ("Sikma Shot"). This allows the player to use his imagination when creating his game. In addition, the footwork is common to performing other skills on the floor. We teach our players to "Sikma" inside, "Step Out" on the perimeter and "Reverse Pivot" to box out, the player has to learn 3 things. In reality, all three post moves are "inside pivots" and presented as such, it is much easier for the players to learn and they are more confident in performing them.
Just like pivots, there are only a certain number of shots you can shoot. Combine them with different pivots, or combination of pivots, you come up with an array of offensive post moves.
The shots I believe post players should have are:
- Jump Shot
- Jump Hook
Players should be equally adept at each shot with either hand.
On the block, you may have a "Turn around jump shot," at the elbow you may have a "Face up jumper," catch a pass on the wing - face the basket and shoot you may have a "catch and shot jumper." Or, on all three shots, you have a "front pivot jumper."
Common names for common moves are very important teaching tools. Using pivots and shots also allows you to use the same language for all your players, regardless of position.
A counter is a pivot that is used when your initial pivot or shot is defended. It should flow smoothly from the initial move into the counter. Because of his proximity to the basket, counter moves are very effective for post players who don't have to finish with long shots. They are done in close quarters so they are quick and will often get your post player to the foul line.
Let's say your player is effective at right foot, front pivot, jump shots (turn around jumpers). He gets the ball in the post, makes his right foot, front pivot and finds his jumper defended. He then counters by making a right foot pivot, step through (using his right foot as his pivot foot, he takes his left foot and steps across his right foot) and takes a layup. The result is called an "Up and Under" move. However, you did not have to teach him the move because you have taught him the footwork. He can use it in the post or on the outside.
When playing in the post, positioning is of the utmost importance. A foot or two can mean the difference in the effectiveness of your post play. If you set too high, you might find the need to execute skills that you're not comfortable with, set to low, you might find your options limited.
I like to have post players straddle the first marker above the block on the lane. This allows them the freedom to turn both ways, without going behind the backboard. More importantly, it gives passers more room and better angles to get the ball into the post. It also provides more room for cutters and better angles for screens.
Locating your defense BEFORE you receive the ball is critical to effective post play. Once you find your defense, only allow him to play you one way. If he is playing on your low side, work to keep him low, if on your high side, work to keep him high. Your perimeter players should be taught to pass away from the defense. If so, pivot with the pass. For example, if your post player is in the right post and the defense is low, the perimeter player should pass the ball to the post's right hand and the post player should use a pivot that will open him to the middle (right foot pivot). This will help your post player to be more assertive. If, after making the pivot, he fids his shot defended, he can go immediately to a counter, still using his right foot pivot (sweep, step-through).
By positioning properly on the court and using the body to position against defense, the post player becomes quicker, more aggressive and has more offensive options.
There is no question that post players must be mentally tougher than the other positions on the court. To start with, the game and the court are longer for post players than for the other players. Perimeter players may go long stretches of time without ever going past the foul line yet post players must run every play endline to endline. Perimeter players can avoid contact, especially when they don't have the ball. Post players are physical on every play, whether they have the ball or not. Perimeter players have the ball, post players must get the ball.
It all adds up to what could be a frustrating time, especially when your post player is not getting enough touches. Regardless, he has to be tough enough to play every play, regardless of the situation. He must do it again and again, play after play, game after game.
Coaches must take this aspect of the game and give it special attention. Pete Gillen, the great former coach at Virginia has a phrase he would use over and over again, "Let the big dog eat!" Other wise you run the risk of coaching a "bagel" (plenty of stuff outside and a hole in the middle).
Videos of Skills & Fundamentals
More Basketball DrillsCoaches, go here for more Basketball Drills
Players, go here for more Basketball Drills
Book - How To Develop Post PlayersIf you would like to learn more about developing post players, take a look at Don Kelbick's simplified process that he uses to train pro players in the book
How To Develop High Scoring and Highly Skilled Post Players.
If you are interested to see what other people are saying about the book, view the bottom of this page for reviews.
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