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What is a greater thing to do in basketball, I wonder all the time…to make a difficult shot go in, or, to put yourself in a position to have an easy scoring opportunity. In my search for the answer, the only conclusion I could get is that the greatness is in the eye of the beholder, and, everything is good as long as the basket goes through the rim. Video after video, game after game that I watched, one sentence started echoing in my mind, that back in my major league days my coach was preaching to me: “Use different basketball offensive alignments to cause confusion for the other team”, and it was followed by: “Son, you have 2 choices, either to know everything on mediocre level and be versatile, or develop two go to moves that will be unstoppable.”
10 years later, it will turn out that he was right.
In todays basketball, we have super star/all star caliber players with the skill sets of a swiss army knives, and we have supporting cast players that do 1 or 2 things good: 3 and D, pick and roll/rim runners, rim protector and screener…etc, etc.
Further analyzing the players and the way of how they play the game, and how they dominate their defenders 1 on 1, I divided them in to 6 category`s: Overpower type, Counter type, Handles type, Long-Range type, Mid-range type, Explosive type. If we talk about the best players in the NBA, and we will take them as the examples, we will come to a conclusion that the reason for their greatness is the fact that beside their main quality, all of their other basketball skills are on a very high level. Yes, LeBron James is big and strong, but he have handles, he have mid range shot developed, good 3 point shot…and we are not going to talk about his passing because we are focusing strictly on 1 on 1 basketball.
For the development of this article, I will use players who are still active, so the younger generations can relate and understand what am I talking about.
1. OverPower type: There were many strong players that played in the league. From Wilt Chamberlain and Darryl Dawkins from the old days, that were just much much stronger then really anybody in the league and make their plays buy leaning on raw power but without some finesse, through Karl Malone, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal that were both strong and crafty, to the LeBron James, that with the size of a Power Forward (6.8) and weight of a center (285 in one point of a carrier) is both agile and fast and has the handles, is playing a Point Guard position whole of his carrier. You all have to agree, we have newer seen anything like it.
If we take a closer look at how James is dominating his defenders, we will conclude that he is not using much of lateral dribbles, that he is using a change of pace more then the speed alone, that he is starting his attack with high dribble and then he goes low, that his first step is “on another level”, that after the drops that step he kind of bumps a defender with his shoulder and uses his strength and momentum do drive to the rim.
So what is the case here? James loves to dribble casually on the perimeter, and he likes to draw his defender on him close. After he makes a contact with his defender there is no stopping him.
Of course that this is not the only way the King is getting the buckets, but in a way this is his “way on the highway”. Everybody that is following James`s carrier needs to understand that this is his Core, but his biggest quality is his longevity and his ability and readiness to evolve as the game demands. As we leave James in this article, lets take a look at some of his best plays through carrier and try to answer this question: Name another athlete that became better in his 15th season?
2. Counter Type: Counter type players will always catch you on the “wrong” foot. These players have a greate feeling for space, movement, and above all, greate timing. There are two players that I love that play in this “you go this way but I will go that way” manner, and they are Hakeem Olajuwon and James Harden (and Dejan Bodiroga but he was playing in Europe and I do not know if people are familiar with him and his basketball).
As the “dream shake” is a thing of legend that we all love and respect, these days the Beard one is the story to be told.
Harden is a unique player that is not fast, not athletic, but he reads the movement of the defense so well, that no matter where you put him on the floor, he will find a way to draw his defender to go one way/do some thing, that will give him the opportunity to go different way. Defense is always on the “skates” when he is around. You want to guard him on the perimeter, he will go in and out, do that step back and drain a three. You try to touch the ball, he will draw foul…some people are letting him drive to the rim and try to block, he will do Euro step or double pump fake.
Let us take a look at this video.
First, Rubio try`s to touch Hardens ball, and there we have first counter move witch is dribble through the legs. In this steal attempt, Riki`s body is leaning one way and Harden is already going the other, so Rubio`s natural reaction is to try to reconnect with him, so he takes aggressive step in order to try to catch James. But, as in the first set of events, this Rubio`s move is read again, so Harden is making another inside outside dribble that leaves our defender laying on the ground. Even so the 1 on 1 play is over, James goes one step farther, and makes another dribble through the legs that is followed by his signature step back.
Here is a video of Hardens moves and counter moves. What is common for each and every of his actions is that there are no flashy steps and that there is no impression that anything is done with much speed. It seems almost that the man is psychic and that he knows what will happen 2 seconds before it actually happen.
3. Handles type: Yes there was Pistol Pete Maravich, yes there was Jason Williams and Allen Iverson, and Chris Pall and Jamal Crawford are still playing, but Kyrie Irving is in the league of his own. There is not really much of explaining when we talk about this particular skill. It is a combination of talent, feel for the space and movement and years and years of dribbling that ball in every possible way you can imagine.
These guys always know where the ball is, and it seems that their main quality is to react on the movement of the defense without dropping the ball. In all these years of watching these kind of players, I never got an impression that they have a plan…or better say the plan was to go and act along the way.
The main difference between the Counter and the Handles type is that Handles drop 2 or 3 moves without thinking what is the reaction of the defense. Counter type is more read and react basketball, where the first move is most important and it dictates all that follows. Handle type players release a chain of moves and defense can not react because the sequence and the speed of the moves are so grate. How do you build good handles? You need to sleep with the ball and dribble it 24/7 until it becomes natural. Then, you need to practice it all while moving fast and super fast. It is not an easy thing to master, but in a good will and with the right training nothing is impossible.
4. The long range type: One of the ways that basketball has evolved is that it moved from under the basket and the paint area, to the 3 point line. Even thought the game has seen some phenomenal 3 point shooters, like Reggie Miller or Ray Allen, I have to say the “Splash” brothers are the games best shooters ever. The fact that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have made 2129 and 1557 three pointers in their carriers already is mind blowing. Let us see some of those shots go in.
The reason that this group has 2 protagonists is the fact that Curry is the best 3 point shooter who is making those dribble pull up shots, and Kley is best off dribble shooter that I have ever seen. Those two are the reason why it is so hard to beat Warriors because the defense has to guard them even 3 meters behind the ark. Their % are so high, they are so effective now days every team wants to play like them. And how are they such a grate shooters? Nobody really knows and everybody is trying to figure them out.
5. Mid range type: Best player in the history of the game , Michael Jordan, was a player who operated in the mid range area. His successor, Kobe Bryant was mid range player. Then came the era of advanced statistics who claimed that mid range shots are least effective and everybody stopped to take them.
And, actually, it is all truth. Mid range jumpers are less efficient because they are the hardest shots one player can take. All those shots are taken with or after a lot of contact, with a lot of pump fakes, step backs and step a sides, hands in the face, crowded drives. But, all of the things I`ve just mentioned makes a mid range jumper a thing of art. I have always thought of the guys who operate in mid range that they like to make things tougher for them selves. Kobe once told the press: “The real power is when they (the defenders) know what are you going to do, and they still cant stop you.”
In todays game, there are several mid range masters, like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant, but they have evolved in the spirit of the modern NBA age. The “last man standing”, the bastion of forgotten art of “one dribble shot” (Phil Jackson – The Zen Master called it “the single hardest shot in basketball”) is Carmelo Anthony.
Like I said, those shots are not easy, what ever you do you cant get an easy look but just enough space to make a shot. For this kind of basketball offense you need to practice the most, you need to master your body, and to master shots with your body off balance. For me personally, this the most beautiful that basketball has to offer.
6. Explosive type: Two players cross my mid when it comes to athleticism. Derrick Roze and Russel Westbrook .Both are not some freaks of nature but average height and built…normal persons. As I find Russ a little bit more of everything then the vintage Roze, I chose Derrick for avatar because I had an opportunity to watch two live games of MVP Roze in 2011. I could not believe my eyes what I saw in those two games, because all of the things that he was doing in full speed, I know it was hard to do in average running mode, because I used to play one major league in Europe.
Building up athleticism is a hard and a long process. Many hours in the gym with the program that is professional and build just for you, plus good eating habits, supplements, massages, recovery. And all of that must be supported by a good DNA. This kind of movement leaves consequences on ones body because the ligaments and muscles have its limits. We all know that both Russ and Roze have bad knees. It all comes with the price.
These groups that I`ve just described are all connected. We all know that Russ can make a mid range jumper or Harden has good handles. We, as a coaches need to notice what are the primary quality`s of our players and we need to learn how to develop skills that are good without neglecting the ones that are bad.
Good players want to be coached. Greate players want to hear the truth. Players with high character get better. Players with a serious approach get better. The fools never get better. Same goes for us coaches.
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