View Full Version : Winning basketball: The strategy of "matching up." Smart or not so smart?
01-29-2007, 10:38 PM
This has always been, to a basketball coaching geek like me, one of the most interesting and complicated arguments about how to coach successfully and how to build a team. Since this has been a topic of conversation about RC regularly, I thought it might make for an interesting thread topic all into itself.
Basically, I think successful people have approached this different ways. For the purposes of this thread, I want to break down the choices something like this:
1. Do you play the same starters night after night, with the same basic player rotations and substitution patterns.....or do you change semi regularly depending on how your guys are performing and who you are playing? If you are a person who favors changing your personnel depending on the opponent, do you try and match up more for offensive advantages or for defensive advantages?
2. What philosophy do you have for an overall offensive structure? In other words, do you run the same plays against all opponents regardless of who you are playing, because thats what your team does best? Do you have an overall philosophy of getting your star players approximately the same shots each night, or do you like to ride the "hot hand" more than most, even though that isnt a guy you normally would go to? Do you run a patterned offense against everybody (Phil Jackson), or do you run wide open stuff against everyone (Mike D'Antoni), or do you adjust based on who you have and who the opponent is?
3. Do you basically treat everyone the same as far as rules and behavior, or do you have different rules and standards for different players? If you do have different ideas for different guys, what are those rules based on?
Think about these ideas based on how RC does things, and tell us how you percieve him to be in these categories, loosely interpreted as they are. My guess is, some of you will think RC is too stubborn, and some of you will think he is too quick to change. Some of you will think he doesnt match up often enough, and some of you will wish he worried more about what we do and force the opponent to match up with us. I'm interested to see what many of you really think, and how you percieve RC to be when viewed through this prism.
When I think about my own basketball past, I see things from both perspectives. I went to a high school which had 2 hall of fame coaches. They both were of the school of thought that you "do what you do", and give very little thought to the opponents substitutions or personnel, and simply play the way you believe is correct.
Then in college, I meet Coach Knight and others (hall of fame level coaches), and we learn about the importance of scouting and watching film, and changing your lineups and offensive strategy based on your own players strengths, and spending time trying to scout the opponents flaws and try and figure out who to guard who, and come up with different defensive strategies based on the opponent. (Who to lay off of, which player to force a certain direction, who can be pump faked, etc etc)
Then later in coaching in different school systems for coaches with different philosophies, I found myself having to coincide the good and the bad with both these ideas. Do you change who plays minutes depending on the opponent or how a particular kid practiced? Do you play the same players in a regular rotation so everyone gets comfortable with their "role"? Do you zone some teams and play man on others if you know the opponent has a weakness against one of them? What do you do if your game plan doesnt work....do you stick with it or do you adjust quickly? Sometime in this era Bird was hired to coach the Pacers, and I used to watch Chris Mullin get absolutely torched early in games by just about every small forward we played at that time, but Larry never wavered and never played him less, and usually it would work out in the end. Larry got points for leaving Mully in and letting the players have a steady role, but was that really smart to start Mullin against big time athletes he had no chance of stopping, often getting us in an early hole? It worked, so it must have been....or was it?
Basically, you know no matter what you do that you are going to be right some of the time, and wrong some of the time. Like Marv Levy and Bill Polian say, "if you have 2 choices, you try one that doesnt work, then you are an idiot for not doing the other thing."
Anyway, so thats what has my mind working tonight in the aftermath of a tough but expected road loss to Detroit. Maybe the next time we will try the same things but the result will be different, or we will try different things and get the same result. Its all part of what makes basketball the greatest game ever invented.
Just my opinion of course.
01-29-2007, 11:37 PM
I don't think there is a foolproof formula for the "just play our game" approach versus the "matchup" approach.
I know that I've always been infinitely peeved when we have the superior team and we play matchup against an inferior opponent. In such cases, I have always been a proponent of playing our best five and letting the opponent worry about matching up with us.
I do favor increasing a player's shooting opportunities if he has a particularly week defender guarding him. And, if somehow Jeff Foster started hitting one 15 footer after another, I wouldn't suddenly deprive Jeff of the ball just because we've inserted Jermaine back into the game.
But how many times have we done just the opposite? I think we've seen that it really doesn't matter who has the hot hand, when Jermaine re-enters the game, the hot hand suddenly doesn't see the ball nearly as much. Also, it's not uncommon to see the hot hand not get as many opportunities when a different PG is inserted onto the floor.
Conversely, if the opponent has a player that is absolutely on fire, I think that we are then compelled to play the matchup game by bringing in a defensive stopper.
But overall, the matchup game will be played... sometimes. But to know when to do so, you not only have to be smart, you have to be lucky.
It's hit and miss. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. You are bound to make a lot of mistakes. But with a well laid out set of parameters to help in making the decision when to play matchup, I think it can be successful more often than it will be a failure.
01-30-2007, 12:15 AM
I lot of it depends on the players you have. If you have Shaq playing for you then you should never take him out just to "matchup" with the opponent. I could boil it down to this. If the other team has more talent I tend to think you need to matchup with them
01-30-2007, 12:45 AM
I think that's a good rule of thumb. Well two rules:
1) If you have the better team, enforce your will and make them stop you. If you have the worse team, adjust as necessary to maximize your chances.
2) If a player or rotation of players is "on fire", ride them a bit longer than normal. If the other player or players is/are "hot", adjust to attempt to make life harder on them.
I think why small ball generally drives me crazy is usually when you have better size than the other team (or the ability to put superior size on the floor), and unless there's a major discrepancy in talent between your bigs and their not-so-bigs, I think you have to use what is almost always an advantage: Superior size and/or length in the front court. Your players are harder to stop, they can cover more ground defensively (at least in their immediate area unless they also have foot speed), and they have a higher chance of controlling the boards.
01-30-2007, 01:28 AM
To win a game, it seems to me that a coach always tinker during the game until he finds a formula that works. He then has to play that hand until the other team adjusts. I realize each team has a preferred way of playing (Pacers like to post up JO ) but if you are +10 w/o JO but by pick and rolling a Shaq led team to death with DA and Trophy, by all means they ought to stick with it until the other team stop them.
01-30-2007, 01:51 AM
IMO You have to have two different approaches..
1. regular season get your top 7-8 players playing as well as they can while trying to win as many games and not tinker as much game to game so your top players get a good feel working with each other in well designed rolls.
2. Playoffs... do what ever it takes to win... if that means making changes to take advantage of mismatches or prevent a mismatch then you do. In the playoffs I always feel defense is the most important so do what ever you need to do stop the other team that may mean changing your line up to stop them by matching up with them.
01-30-2007, 10:59 AM
The key word for this subject IMO is "initiative".
As the coach YOU have to take the initiative anywhere you can get it.
You must NEVER just react to the other team's initiative without adding something of your own.
It's the 1st rule of warfare. The side who has the initiative is the side who wins. It's the coaches job to do so, and ANYTHING that you do which surprises the other team or gives you a little edge is worth it.
A few examples:
- If an opposing player is on fire - go at him on offense, instead of inserting a "defensive stopper". Get him in foul trouble or make him work on D.
- If you're making a ton of 3s STOP SHOOTING and get to the line. Mix it up. Give the other team the sense that they dont know where it's coming from.
- If you get beat on the PnR a thousand times go to a zone for a few possessions
- If your offensive threat is struggling take him out for 2-3 possessions and insert him right back in
- If your starter picked up 2 quick cheap fouls in the 1st quarter leave him in but change assignments.
- Ride the hot hand, but dont over-do it. Take him out for a breather and put him back in.
- If the other team's too big for you go even smaller and press them full-court
- If the other team's too small for you go even bigger and pound them
- If you're on a run, feeling good - take a timeout. Get rest, give props - have fun.
- If you've lost momentum - play it out without a timeout (Phil Jackson...)
- Dont always do "the right thing", but sometimes take chances and gamble.
The main point is to take the initiative. To make the other team react to you, and once they do - surprise them yet again. It's an art, and it's based on knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses along with your opponent's, on fast recognition of what's going on, on emotions and intuition, and an extreme amount of self confidence and charisma.
I think Rick Carlisle is light years away from coaching like that. He coaches more like a computer would, given the set of rules. He's always reacting, and almost never initiating.
01-30-2007, 11:20 AM
I think that RC subscribes mainly to the coaching style that quiller put forth in his post. That is using a regular rotation during the season and then pulling out all the stops in the playoffs (e.g. playing Croshere at C against the Pistons).
I like Carlisle and I think he's a very good coach, but I don't think he gameplans as much as other coaches in the NBA. The last Pistons game is a clear example. Detroit obviously had made a decision before the game to use Wallace and go after Troy Murphy. If Murphy had been guarding Webber, they would have gone after him with Webber. It seems many teams that play the Pacers choose to exploit Tinsley. The Pacers, however, seem to do the same thing regardless of the opponent. If JO's being guarded by Ben Wallace, throw it to JO. If JO's being guarded by Marcus Camby, throw it to JO. If JO's being guarded by [insert terrible defensive big man], throw it to JO. I like JO, especially this year's version, but I think that Rick leans too heavily on him, and that he is too slow to pass out of double teams. Rick seems to be more creative offensively when JO is not in the game. An example is last year when JO was out and he posted Jax all the time. He'd do the same thing with Artest when JO wasn't in the game.
This is my only criticism of Carlisle at this point. I wish he was more creative when JO was out there. Why doesn't he tell JO, "I'll call 15-18 plays for you every game, if you want more shots, get some offensive boards." It seems like that style works well for Elton Brand, and I see no reason why JO shouldn't be just as good of a rebounder as Brand.
01-30-2007, 03:24 PM
2. What philosophy do you have for an overall offensive structure? In other words, do you run the same plays against all opponents regardless of who you are playing, because thats what your team does best?
Yes, but to do so means that first you create a playbook with options for every situation.
You don't "force" the ball to JO even though he's tripled, but you do have a counter play/pass in which it goes to JO like normal specifically ready for a triple to come so you can score elsewhere.
A good playbook that balances the various problems a team will face over the course of a normal schedule will work far better than trying to constantly change how you approach the game.
Besides that, if you are busy changing what you are doing then what is the other team doing? Sitting in their comfort zone letting you come to them.
ALWAYS fight the battle in the setting/style that favors you, or that you are at the least disadvantage if no options favor you. Usually that's going to be playing your style, and should be even more so if the other team is not that type of team.
If they are so good that their imposing their will on the style of play then it means your team isn't as talented. That's the only time gimmicks should be turned to, when straight up isn't close to good enough. And by doing so you are admitting that in the long run your team isn't talented enough to win (say a 7 game series).
Between strategy and preparation, preparation destroys strategy. And yet I think every coach feels the allure of strategy, the idea that they can get more involved in how the game is actually played. More often than not this undoes the preparation work you've already put in.
01-30-2007, 03:54 PM
1. I think that you go with the same basic starting lineup/rotation and you match up with it. So Jermaine gets the better post scorer of the 4-5 and Danny gets the better perminter player of the 2-3. I would rotate Jeff and Troy or Marquis and Mike though in and out of the starting lineups depending on matchups. Keep it fairly the same.
2. I think that first of all you have to run an offense that players to your teams strengths. For example, Rick Aldeman's Princeton offense would not be nearly as good with this Sacramento Kings team as it was a few years back, and Mike D'Antoni's wide open pick and roll offense would not be as good with the Pistons as it is with the Suns. I think that this Pacers team would be best running something along the lines of a flex offense where all guys are on the move.
Now I think that with any team you should always look for fast break chances. When a player gets a defenseive rebound their next move should be to look for an open player on the other side of the court. I think though that it is to often that the ball is handed to the point guard and no fast break is even attemped.
So you look for fast break chances and if it is there, great, and if not then you move into your half court set.
Now I would go to the player with the hot hand, yes, but i'd still go to the main guy to (in our case Jermaine.) A great example is agianst Detroit the other night. Danny had the hot hand in the first half. I think he only took a couple of shots in the second. You have to get him more shots when he is shooting well. At the same time you have to still get Jermaine touches too.
3. You have the same rules for everyone, but you motivate everyone differently. So say that you have a rule that no one can have an ipod on the bench, that would go for everyone. However, you will have to motivate each player a little differently so you might say you treat players differently, only you still have to make sure no team rules are broken.
01-30-2007, 04:26 PM
I've always been an advocate of putting your best 5 position players out there and work the matchup, ala, "adjustments", in as the game progresses.
The Suns, for example, are a run-n-gun team. The love to get up and down the court as quickly as possible, as often as possible. Their one weakness IMO is strong half-court teams. If you pressure the ball and force them into half-court situations and not allow them to run, you can beat them. Problem is, most teams can't do that for 48 minutes, and even the teams that are good at it, i.e., Pistons, Pacers, Bulls, can't always get the stops they need even in pressure defense situations. The Suns just spread the floor too good and have too many players who can hit open jump shots. But you still have to start off with your best players and adjust to them defensively. That said, you still have to game plan.
Using the example provided above w/Mullins, he might have been the smaller, weaker defender, but's a situation like what we see in the Lakers (Kobe), Heat (Wade), Cavs (LeBron) and use to see in the 76ers (AI); you pretty much accept that that one player will get his points, but you defend everyone else and see if the "One-Man Show" can beat you on his own, ala, "MJ Style". You see, if you game plan to double the better player, odds are you forget about the other four players and you wind up getting burned by one of them, and it's usually some guy who generally has a bad game, but you let him explode to score 25 on you. And then you're left scratching your head wondering, "What happened?" Can't tell you how often I've seen it happen with the Pacers.
So, to answer each question:
1. You stick with a fixed lineup and rotate/sub players as the game progresses working matchups as the game/opposing players dictate.
2. You run your same set plays until the situation on the floor dictates otherwise. Run a few designed plays for individuals as necessary, again depending on the situation on the floor at the moment. If you find that a player - be he a starter or reserve - has the hot hand then you ride it until the well runs dry. (That doesn't mean he plays for 48 mins., just that you don't sit him in favor of a starter who hasn't been nearly as effective.) That might mean you have a rookie out on the floor in the closing seconds of a chapionship game, but if he's the hot hand and he's shown he can score the ball and the opponent can't guard him on this night, that's what you go with!
3. Every player should be held to the same overall rules and standards. Certain players might get certain perks, i.e., team captain might get to offer his suggestion on what to do coming out of half-time or what offense to run against this team or that, but as a whole, everyone should be treated the same. Show no favorites and there's no discention among the ranks.
01-30-2007, 05:18 PM
Personally, I think you try to go for the same rotation for most of the game - use the guys who are used to playing with each other. Hopefully they'll know each other's strengths and weaknesses, how to play together, and will make a better unit. You have to have a team where you've looked at your strengths and weaknesses and decided what combinations of players gives you the best chance of winning.
However there are plenty of situations to make exceptions - a player's having a dog of a game, an opposing player's on fire and you want to switch defenders, or in crunch time when teams generally go to their stars and you may have a player who is a better fit for negating him.
But for most of the game, I like having units and telling those units that if they play their game the best they can, they'll be successful, whatever the other team does. Isn't always true but I certainly prefer it to swapping your lineup every game based on your opponent - that's an extremely reactionary approach to the game.
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