Improving your game in the mismatch

We had a league game earlier this week against a team that beat us earlier in the season. The team pretty much revolved around 2 players: one guy had sick handles and could finish off the drive, the other guy had a soft touch around the rim and was killing us down low. The two guys contributed to more than 75% of their team’s points. The other guys on the team would simply set up picks for these two guys or pass them the ball whenever they got in trouble.

I had the chance to guard both of the guys on defense, and at 6’4″ I was clearly slower than the guard (5’9″) and the forward (6’0″). I knew it was going to be a pain in the ass to guard them, but after being in the game a minute or two, this is what I found out:

  • I hustled a shit ton more. No one likes being beat, and when I play against quicker guards/forwards I lower my stance, get a wider base, and am just more into the game. I simply over-compensate for the fact that I know I would get beat in a foot race, and it forces me to play faster and be more attentive.
  • I become more aware of passing lanes. Since guards are usually distributing the ball more, I use my peripheral vision more to see where all the players are moving and it has resulted in steals and easy rebounds since I get a general idea of where the ball is going and when the shot is going off. If you think about the average guard and how he passes, there are some pretty consistent patterns to how the passes are made and who they go to. Once you pick up on those patterns (lob passes to post players, quick cross court passes to cutting players, wrap around passes when you’re up against your man), you almost feel like you’re playing outside the game watching all the players move around like in a chess match.
  • Fighting hard through screens. Players still set screens on me like I’m a little guard, but one of their forwards tried to set a blindside screen and I knocked him on his ass fighting through the screen. While this isn’t really what basketball is about, it is fun to be able to just knock someone over and never seeing them set a screen on you again. Granted, this has caused some fights in the past but it’s a lesson for all those guards out there, never set a screen on a big man.

Over the last year, I have developed more guard/forward skills and getting away from playing the PF/C position all the time. Making this switch mentally has opened up a whole new game for me in terms of ball handling, passing, and playmaking. I actually enjoy playing guards because I see how I get broken down on defense, and this is exactly the type of experience I need to break down other players in the open court when I have the ball.


Trusting in the 2-3 zone

Another loss this past Saturday, I think we lost by 30 or so. I ran my freaking guts out and put everything I had on the court, but still cane up short in the end. At the end of the day, I always struggle with knowing that I tried my best but not good enough to win the game.

We let up 76 freaking points. That’s a huge amount for a 40 minute game in a rec league. It basically means we played no defense whatsoever. On a separate note we also couldn’t get up enough shots because of turnovers, but that’s another story. The main thing I want to focus on is the 2-3 zone and how playing in the bottom 3 of the zone requires a bit of trust.

  • Committing to the d. The biggest hole in the 2-3 zone is when there are two wing men and one of them flashes to the middle. Being the guy in the middle, I need to step up and guard that guy leaving the bottom of the key open. I try to “straddle” my position by not fully committing to guarding the guy with the ball at the top of the key, but that ultimately means he gets a pretty easy shot and still has the opportunity to pass it to someone cutting down low. If you are going to step to the top of the key, really step up and guard as if you were playing man defense.
  • Calling out the cutters. I don’t know how many times I’ve rotated top the top of the key and one someone just cuts towards the basket and gets an easy pass from my man. Keeping your eyes on the peripheral cutters and calling them out to the other two guys at the bottom of the zone will ensure they can take care of those cutters. Maybe it’s too late, maybe the cutters are too fast, but if you don’t trust that they got your back, then the D you play at the top of the key is a meaningless endeavor. Can you trust that your guys will rotate and move the right position? Sometimes I don’t trust, and try to play more positions than one, and ultimately get spread to thin since you’re trying to be in two spots at once. Trust is the key.
You think back to these defensive sets to see where things broke down, and how the opponent got such an easy layup, and it comes down to being quick and sliding your feet.