If our first three bullet points were don’t just watch the ball, watch the feet, and watch the screens, then the final suggestion is watch the first step after. In today’s discussion on rebounding and transition offense, the dances begin the instant the shot leaves the shooter’s hand or the rebound is grabbed. Both rebounding and transition are more about effort and desire than about skill and athletic prowess.
Dateline: September 28, 2 days until the start of training camp.
When the ball goes up toward the basket, odds are that it isn’t going through the hoop (most teams shooting percentages are in the low forties), so there is a premium on capturing the loose ball. Usually the defense has an advantage since if they are in good defensive position, they are already between their man and the basket—the battle is to keep that orientation. Staying between your man and the basket is called boxing out. Think of a fierce combination of a tango and judo.
There was an exercise earlier where I asked you to stay facing your friend while moving to keep them from going out the door behind you. In rebounding you pivot to place your butt into their thigh and ride them along whichever way they try to go around you, keeping them on your back and on the other side of you from the door (basket). The action begins the moment a shot is released and continues until the ball comes down off the backboard or rim.
This is one of the most exciting three-second contests in basketball and it is repeated 150 times a game by two to four pairs of players each time. Or at least it should be, the lack of boxing out is one of the great failings of modern basketball players. Done well, you watch the defensive team build and maintain a wall around the basket assuring that one of their team will most likely be in the best position to capture the rebound. Watch the footwork. Watch the move, countermove, and counter-countermove as the offensive player tries to get around his defender and into an “inside” position. Sure, 40% of the time the ball goes in, sometimes it bounces out of bounds, and sometimes it bounces over the inner circle of players (especially on long shots); but in a game that is often decided by one or two baskets, there is an enormous advantage in having the ball more often than your opponent.
There is a similar first moment of action to secure an advantage in the second after a rebound is captured. If the offense grabs the rebound the continued action is usually instantaneous since the rebounder is already near his own goal and an immediate threat to shoot. On defensive rebounds, however, often there is a mini-stoppage in the action as players relax, take a deep breath, and begin to make their way to the other end of the court. Bad, bad, idea. There is a natural advantage here waiting to be seized.
Watch the first step after a defensive rebound is secured. If the players push off hard immediately, they often sieze a step ahead of their opposing player; and that step can translate into an uncontested layup at the other end. However this act of the drama never starts unless the rebounder immediately initiates the movement of the ball up the court. So watch the rebounder.
Sadly far too many of the current big men (and upon their shoulders falls the majority of the rebounding burden) stop, clutching the ball as if for photographers to record their mighty effort, and wait for a guard to come back to them before giving up the ball. The best rebounders have already spotted the teammate to whom they are going to get the ball. Sometimes they don’t even reach the floor with the ball in their hands; but rather launch a pass on the way down. This pass from the rebounder to a guard is called an outlet pass. Done with strength and alacrity, it can become the catalyst for a layup at the other end. Done late it only serves to let the other team retreat and set up their defense—making it much more difficult to score.
This action is taking place some 90 feet away from the goal. It seldom makes Sports Center’s highlights. It doesn’t always result in an uncontested layup, but even if this transition “only” leads to an advantage (2 players on 1 defender, 3 on 2, or an open three-point shot after the first surge stalls near the basket), the odds of scoring are much higher than against a defense set and ready.
This early offense was a potent weapon of the Celtics’ Championship teams of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. During this half decade of the Aging Big Three, their strength lay not in their athleticism and energy, but in their half-court acumen—so the fast break and early offense has been a rare commodity. This year however, the influx of young athletes will make this attacking offense a viable weapon. I, and hopefully you, will look forward to seeing the outlet pass feeding the pell-mell dash down court to attack a still-retreating defense not yet set up to present a strong front.
Please let me know how well, or poorly, these posts have served. None are short reads. They certainly are not comprehensive, as basketball is an onion with seemingly never-ending layers–if you’ve made it to my byline at the end of each piece, basketball I never outgrew. But you do have some playlets within the grand drama to feed your curiosity; and their outcomes wield an enormous influence on the final score. As one of my programmers posted in a sign on my door, “We may not have answered all your questions, but we hope we have raised your lack of understanding to a much higher level.”
Boston, and all points beyond