It’s a Running Game

The 4th quarter is where you find yourself. If you’ve been playing the whole 40+ minutes, chances are you are pretty gassed by the time the 4th quarter rolls around. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. You know what you are capable of, you know what crossovers work to beat your guy, and you know playing weak-side defense on the block puts you in a position to block the shit out of that one guy with the soft floater. Despite this knowledge, your legs burn with acid, your legs yearn for more air, and your stomach clenches into a knot.

“It’s running game” an old high school coach admonished upon my teammates and I. Before even trying out for the team, you go through 3 days of conditioning  so the coaches can see who is actually fit enough to play a whole game of basketball. I remember all the suicides and shuffling drills and how I dreaded practices where you just conditioned. Now, I wish I had teammates and a coach for the motivation to get mind and body on the right page.

No matter how fancy your dribbling is or how smooth your passing is, basketball at its core is still a game of running, cutting, and change of speed. Last summer, as I started to play in more leagues, I quickly realized my endurance and conditioning are nowhere near what I had in my days of infinite energy and metabolism. In the rec leagues, I’ll end up playing the whole game, and while I’m building more muscle and gaining weight through the gym, these attributes don’t help me with finishing that 4th quarter with the same intensity as the 1st. Without conditioning, you are like a sushi knife that is only sharp enough to slice watermelon. A guitar wildly out of tune.

When you’re fatigued, you obviously move slower and take a longer time to recover from a play. Your decision-making and court awareness begin to dwindle as well. In the 1st quarter, you “feel” where the opponents are running as your mind plays the angles and looks for the cutting players. By the end of the game, I try to maintain that same level of awareness and I begin to overwhelm myself, and resort to focusing my efforts on the one guy I’m supposed to guard.  Everyone is tired, both you and your opponents. But I find that I remember how I played in the 4th quarter more than any other time in the game, and I mentally tell myself to step it up since this is when your opponent is most weakest as well.

Instead of lifting all the time, I have started running suicides and sprints along the West Side highway. It’s easy to just jog up and down the highway and sweat a little and say you’ve done “cardio”, but to really simulate what it’s like in the 4th quarter, I run until I feel dizzy and my lungs are about to implode. It’s sadistic in a way, but this is also when I feel most alive and vulnerable to the limits of what my body can do, and what my mind says I can do.

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.

Meaningful stats to determine a basketball player’s value

Have you ever been told you’re a good “hustle” player? No leagues, however, keep track of how good a player “hustles.” How do you keep track of how many steals were a result of someone sprinting at full speed down the court to get in the passing lane? How do  you track good defense that disrupts an offensive play? Unfortunately, these type of stats are not tracked and, in my opinion, measure the true value a player brings to a game outside of the normal stats: hustle, heart, and creativity.

I’ve played in many games where I knew one or two guys that changed the game based on how many times they helped on weak-side defense, pushed the ball up the court with good outlet passes, or simply just hustled to get at loose balls. These stats are never tracked among the typical ppg, reb, and stl.  When the game’s over and I check out the stats for the game, I am baffled by how little these players apparently contributed to the game in terms of the stats we normally track.

I think basketball is a sport where the “subjective” stats are measured the least relative to other sports. After reading Moneyball, I realized that there are many stats in baseball that deliver more meaning that just hits and runs. OBP and slugging % are just two stats that use numbers from the game but when calculated for many players, brings new insights into the game. Where are these type of stats in basketball?