Before every basketball game I coach, I write six battles on the board that will determine the outcome of the game. I believe that these six battles transcend tactics and talent, though both if properly applied, contribute to winning each of them.
1. Free Throws – This battle is two-fold. You must SHOOT and MAKE more free throws than you opponent. Creating free throw attempts is a function of aggressive offensive play getting the ball in the post and penetrating the lane of the dribble. Limiting free throws of you opponent is borne of disciplined defense, moving your feet and not grabbing and holding because your out of position or beaten. Making the free throws is a product of practice, repetition and poise.
2. Lay ups – Ostensibly the easiest shot in basketball during open play, but not so easy to get. Lay ups come from creating transition and running the floor, running sets that attack the basket, cutting off the ball to the rim and making the extra pass. The opportunity to shoot a lay up is the reward of positive play leading up to that moment, and thus the lay up must be made. There is a geometrical negative effect to the missed lay up. By the same token, denying your opponent lay ups is good defensively.
3. Turnovers – The goal of every possession is to get a good shot and make it. When you turn the ball over you do not meet that goal, and often create a lay up or easy shot for your opponent. I find aggressive turnovers that result in the ball out of bounds far more palatable than soft turnovers, like being ripped on the dribble or having a pass intercepted, because at least you get a chance to defend as a five man unit.
4. Transition – Defensively I believe the single most important objective is to stop the ball. You are not defending if you don’t stop the ball. By stopping the ball you allow your team to get back and defend as a five man unit in man or zone, and the opponents scoring efficiency will drop. My goal defensively is to make the offense attack a five man defense as often as possible. Conversely, your offensive efficency goes up when you create transition from turnovers, running the floor and pushing the ball vertical with the pass. This creates numerical advantage and easy shots. You must create and score more points in transition than you opponent.
5. Rebounding- A toughness category. Box out, pursue and secure the ball. Defensively limit the opponent to one shot, and on offense create extra possession.
6. Loose Balls – By definition a loose ball is 50/50, but to win you need to tip the percentages in your favor. First playet to ground wins the loose ball. Secure it with two hands. Don’t dribble into or through traffic. Winning this battle creates extra possessions, often against an unsettled defense, and evidences a perpetual level of alertness necessary to win.