Nathan Cooper-Brown is the High Performance Coach – Country Men for Basketball Victoria and is also an assistant coach on the Australian Under 17 men’s team. We asked Nathan to give his thoughts on the concept of “on the catch” decision making and how coaches can adopt some of these elements.
In 2019 basketball has never been more popular, and that popularity is closely tied to a brand of basketball that is athletic, dynamic and fast paced. Therefore, it’s incredibly important that here in Australia we stay curious and enthusiastic about the latest trends that will see success in the modern game. And passionately share those trends with athletes and coaches alike.
One concept that has quickly become antiquated is the notion of catching then pivoting, squaring up, getting into triple-threat position, then making a decision based on the defence. Then if there wasn’t an advantage, using a series fakes (jab/shot), to try and create one.
My coaches (not too long ago) along with many others were simply following their coaches and the ones before them, in teaching what was thought to be technically sound, and best practice. What we are seeing now is that, majority of time, players are never more open, or have the best advantage, than when they first catch the ball (this is where they have created the most separation or advantage).
Catching, then taking the time to pivot, square up, fake, or just create space to be able to read the defence, is just giving defenders the advantage back. In that valuable time, back in the day, whilst we were pivoting and jab stepping, the defence was loading up, on and behind the ball, making creating a split infinitely more difficult.
Defenders nowadays are smarter, faster, stronger and longer than ever, so closeouts are quicker (and more disruptive), athletes are harder to get around or shoot over, so time and space becomes even more valuable. Consistently preparing the body and mind to shoot, attack or pass prior to landing with the ball provides that offensive player back with some of the advantage created on the lead/cut.
So, in 2019 it is vital we are teaching our athletes the ability to prepare (catch) and read their primary defender in the air, then position themselves to make a decision, and execute, once their feet hit the floor.
In a daily competitive training environment working on catch & shoot, catch & throwdown, and catch & pass, will still provide athletes with the three options out of the traditional ‘triple threat,’ but help them execute with more time/space, create more scoring opportunities (for themselves and others), and play with a pace and cognition more conducive to today’s game. Scaffolding the skills into the decision making, from on air building blocks to get preparation (footwork) correct, then games approach to teaching (mini-sided games, advantage/disadvantage), will help athletes on their way to mastering this concept.
Catch & Shoot;
So much of our basketball (particularly U12-18) is predicated on dribble penetration. Representative basketball is inundated with athletes catching, driving to collapse the defence, kicking out, then repenetrating, over and over and over, ending up in the spin cycle, inevitably leading to a poor shot over numerous collapsed defenders.
The ability to catch and shoot is the cornerstone of quick decision making in the modern era. Catch & shoot athletes become impactful players without the ball in their hands; provide spacing/movement, have to be closely defended in screening action, and closed out harder and longer, all aspects of offence we want maximised.
But to create catch & shoot athletes, we as coaches, need to make sure we are teaching/emphasising speed, preparation (such as “skipping through the catch/creating energy off the floor, not through the floor”), and mindset (“next shot is going in”). One of the best ways to help our athletes get better at catching and shooting, is to keep the game scenarios but remove the dribble all together. 2 v 1 or 2 v 2 wide pin down drill where the player has to make the right read, come off a screen (with separation), and knock their shot.
Without the dribble athletes are forced to instinctively prepare their feet to get squared, have hips down for power, and present hungry hands for a passing target and shot pocket. And this is exactly the kind of quick information processing, preparation, and shot first mindset that we want all our players to have whenever they are without the ball on offence.
Catch & Throwdown;
If on the catch the shot is taken away. Or the athlete has created early separation/advantage (into a driving situation), another technique we as coaches should be teaching is the ‘throwdown.’ This manoeuvre was designed for our National athletes who were getting called for travel at International events, when squaring up and then ‘ripping through’.
The throwdown provides a number of positives for the modern-day athlete; eliminates travels, allows players to be quick/decisive drivers off the catch, and allows for more dynamic movement with the body (to shift defenders). 1 v 1 scenarios should be daily practice and providing opportunities where athletes lead/cut/separate into space (creating distance between themselves and their defender), then catching, throwdown and attacking. Is a great way to create a game like scenario.
A good follow up is to add a weakside defender (1 v 2), this will advance the drill to an even more game like situation, where they’ll need fast feet to create the split (throwdown), then slow feet and finishing package to beat the help.
Catch & Pass;
Removing the natural inclination for players to catch then get into position, or importantly catch then dribble (aimlessly), is how teams like the Spurs got to the ‘beautiful basketball’ we love today. Pass or shoot advantage drills are a great way to help mould the mindset of athletes on the perimeter.
That we are always looking to move the ball from ‘good shots’ to ‘great shots.’ 2 v 1 and 3 v 2 scenarios where players start with no dribble, and limited number of passes (1 pass in 2 v 1), but the opportunity to shoot at any time, is an enjoyable and game like drill for any aged athlete. Progressions include adding the dribble, fakes and extra passes. The by-product of this area of the concept is unselfishness.
Basketball today is at its most exciting. Athletic, intelligent, passionate players all around the world are making the quality of the game outstanding, and the ability to succeed the most difficult. Helping provide Australian athletes with the offensive ability to prepare themselves on the flight of pass, make quicker reads on the defence, and therefore maximise smaller amounts of time and space will certainly lead to more productive possessions and future on court success.