Way back in August of 2006, I started one of my favorite ever threads of my own creation on here about "overrated" things in basketball. Someone smarter than I am can link it if you wish, but here is a list of what my personal list was at the time:
1. "Off floor chemistry"
3. The offseason coaching phrase "playing uptempo"
4. "Time outs"
5. "Halftime motivational pep talks"
6. "Revenge" as a motivator.
7. A players "confidence"
8. Individual blocked shots.
9. Made 3 point shots early in the game.
10. The starting lineup.
I might change or add to that original list today, but that is not what this thread is going to be about. Instead, I want to write about things/fundamentals/traits that I consider to be UNDERRATED in individual players and in an overall team and organizational perspective. Just like the many opinions that eminated from that thread, I hope this one creates alot of great discussions among us all. Here is my list as of today, with explanations of my reasoning for all:
1. BEING A GREAT TEAMMATE
All the Ron Artest drama being brought back into the limelight after his trade to Houston has this famous coaching saying coming to my mind again: "Great players don't make great teams, great TEAMMATES do".
What makes a great teammate? Someone who leads by example, is professional, and who cares more about the team and his teammates than himself. Someone who cares for the group as a whole and the entire organization and its fanbase. Someone who defends his teammates in public and handles problems behind closed doors. Someone who takes pride in winning the right way, and who treats the game itself with dignity, honor, and respect. Someone who does his job consistently, who works hard and comes to play every night, and is reliable, steady, and can be counted upon.
In other words, everything Ron Artest is not.
I guess Houston becomes more INTERESTING with acquiring Ron-Ron, and they are unquestionably more talented. But Houston, nor anyone else, can form a championship nucleus when relying on a player so troubled, tone deaf, selfish, and untrustworthy as Ron Artest.
It is almost a sign of everything wrong with the world if a player who is a great teammate by all accounts (Shane Battier) loses playing time to the mercurial temperamental Artest. Of course, being the true pro that Battier is, he will no doubt continue to be the consummate role player for the Rockets, because he understands the right way to be on a winning team.
Want a prediction from me? Artest and the Rockets are winners early in the season, getting lots of attention and accolades. Artest in a contract year gets off to a great start on and off the floor......then the selfishness, attention starvation, and greed will set in, and whining about his contract or looking forward to free agency will set in, and the Rockets will be torn apart. "The disease of me" is the condition Pat Riley so eloquently wrote about all those years ago, and Ron Artest carries and spreads that virus every where he goes.
2. CREATING A WINNING ATMOSPHERE
Ive come to believe that there are many many ways to coach basketball from a strategic standpoint successfully. We all have our favorite drills, favorite schemes, favorite plays, and overall philosophy on how best to do things. But by far the most important thing an organization can do is to create a successful "atmosphere for achievement", where doing the right thing and achieving goals is encouraged and expected without distraction or problems getting in the way.
Great managers/coaches/business leaders do this instinctually. They weed out barriers their employees/players encounter, and make winning and success almost a natural occurance. This is done by having a singular purpose and belief system that filters down all through the organization.....the being able to get everyone to buy in to what you are trying to achieve and in the path to get there. It's imperative that your leaders set goals, set the agenda, and then give the players the tools and structure to get the job done.
This is sometimes done on the coaching level, sometimes the "culture change" must occur in an organizationa/school/franchise/city collective mindset. I had lunch with a long time college and professional football coach once who told me that, in regards to college football, that winning wasnt just up to the individual coaching staff or players, but that first an individual school and campus must DECIDE to be winners, and to make it a priority to do so. I believe that to be true.
Creating a positive winning atmosphere.....so crucial. This goes from the concept of how to fill the arena, to the music played, to the press coverage, to every single thing that occurs involving the team.
3. THE ABILITY FOR A PLAYER TO COMMUNICATE VERBALLY WITH HIS TEAMMATES.
This is one of the very best things that I like about Roy Hibbert being a Pacer, because when I watched him on film I thought defensively he talked to his teammates very well during play.
Communicating with one another on the floor is very difficult for many individual players and teams to do well, because it does not come naturally at all. Being a good communicator is a SKILL that must be practiced, just like dribbling, shooting, or ballhandling. A clever coach always works some form of communication into every drill or meeting he has, to practice this skill and to make his players speak to one another on the floor.
I always tell players and/or their parents that all day in school, teachers are trying to get their sons to be quiet and listen. But in my classroom (the gym floor) I want them to both be great at listening AND talking, sometimes at the same time.
But, it isnt enough to just be communicating with one another, you have to be communicating EFFECTIVELY!
From my vantagepoint watching the Pacers mostly on television but occasionally at the arena, I don't think they do communicate all that well with each other. I see some talking, but I also see resistance and confusion, especially defensively. Some basic communication skill practice might help our team more than we know.....things like the basic teaching principle of the "sandwich" method of influencing people: Encourage, correct/make your point, end on a positive.
I'll be watching T.J. Ford in particularly in October, to see how he communicates with his new teammates. I havent seen TJ enough to know yet if this is correct, but I have always had the impression that he was a quiet, non verbal type player. The Pacers lack a perimeter player with charisma and a talkative nature otherwise, so TJ will need to bring that communication leadership to the table.
The best teams always lead the league in chatter on the floor, as communicating positive things while the game is in progress is always a sign of a team that is in sync and "together", and this skill is one reason why I enjoyed the Celtics play so much this past season.
A very underrated skill in an individual player and an overall team. Like communication, this must be practiced and learned and maintained. What good does a player do for your team if he plays well for 90% of the time, but drifts off and loses focus for the other 10%? Your team must learn to play the entire game, they must not let fatigue or other distractions get to them, and they must do this all the time. Concentration is a form of discipline, and it wanders in all of us from time to time. But teams must learn that concentration is a talent that can help them defeat more naturally talented opponents, and how crucial it is to not give away games or plays or end of quarter situations etc. You can't win with people who do the right thing most of the time, you need guys who concentrate and care enough to do it every time, or at least as close to that as humanly possible.
5. BEING RELENTLESS
This probably goes hand in hand with the others. Most individuals and teams will crack under heavy pressure or stress or for some other reason. One of the very best compliments one of my teams can get from opposing coaches is being relentless in our effort, or desire, or execution, or whatever. I also love hearing a player of mine or my entire team being referred to as "cold blooded". Maybe that isnt a great term to be known as a human being, but for a TEAM trying to achieve something, that is an awesome personality to have on your side.
6. SCREEN ANGLES
Getting into the bread and butter startegy sessions with younger coaches is always a fun thing for me to do. I've found that almost no one coaching at younger levels puts enough emphasis on this small yet critical aspect of successful offense. The angle that you set a screen at on a defender (does your screeners back face the ball or away from the ball?) often determines whether a cutter will get open or not. Lots of coaches teach the "setting" of the screen (stance, opening up to the ball, etc etc) but leave out where the screener should be facing and his feet positioning to be the utmost effective.
The Pacers really struggled from a screen angle standpoint under Rick Carlisle, particularly in his last season. When we had great talent individually it wasnt as much of an issue, but as his talent pool dried up, his lack of attention to these tiny details finally did creep up. Many of his set offensive plays created bad screen angles for cutters to come off of, which (if any one reading this wants to search for) was criticized on ESPN.com by Dr Jack Ramsey during that period.
I think the poor screen angle teaching is very widespread by the way, and it is all over the NBA, college, high school, and youth coaching communities. I'm looking forward to the Olympic games next week to see some of the European teams try and combat our superior talent and athleticism with superior strategic moves.....and one of those moves will be to costantly make themselves harder to guard by being better screeners than our defenders are used to playing against.
7. INDIVIDUAL PERIMETER DEFENSE
Forgetting team defense for a moment (which I consider to be a bit overrated), a singular dominant individual defender along the perimeter affects the game so many ways it is unbelievable!
Think about how many hidden ways a great point guard defender can help you. You can pressure the ball up court, causing extra fatigue for your opponent, limiting communication between the ballhandler and his coach, making teams run simply and less complex plays against you. You cause them to waste time getting into their sets, which eventually may lead to them having to make one less pass per possession. On a more mental level, it sets your identity as a team as one being tough minded, "relentless" (as I said before, an awesome thing to be known as), and unyielding.
A great wing defender can deny a teams first pass, which almost all team offense originates from. A great wing defender can stop or slow down the opponents best player, freeing your other 4 guys to not to have to do that task collectively. A great wing defender wins you close games in the closing seconds more than a great scorer will, because great defenders don't have off nights. On a mental level, an awesome shutdown wingman can frustrate the opponents top gun, causing the other players on the floor to lose their rhythm and spirit, and to try and fill roles they are incapable of filling.....which often leads to dissension in the ranks, creating chaos and making the atmosphere of winning difficult to maintain for the opponent.
8. PLAYING EVERY NIGHT
It is one thing to be hurt, unable to play until you heal. That is part of sports, and it is something every team deals with. But you cannot be successful relying on guys who play, then sit, then play for a few games, then sit a couple, etc etc.
No team can be win that way. You can have guys miss time, but it is impossible for your coaching staff and team to develop any thoughts of cohesion when your entire strategy and rotations change from game to game because who is available is always in doubt.
This is where talent loses against reliability in my view. 80 games of a "B" level player is more conducive to winning than an on/off again performance of an "A" player. Someone once said that 50% of success in life is showing up.......your guys have to show up consistently and actually PLAY if you are going to go anywhere.
Guys with nagging injuries constantly being nursed? It is very difficult to win with players like that, no matter how good they may be when they play for you.
9. FREE THROW ATTEMPTS DIFFERENTIAL
While occasionally at younger levels it is actually a positive coaching trait to have your team foul the opponent more than they foul you (it shows a tendency to be aggressive defensively usually), at the pro level, one of the easiest ways to win games is to get to the foul line more than your opponents. I think you can achieve this from either direction.....either concentrate on getting to the line alot YOURSELF, or to prevent your opponent from going.
Our Pacers lost this category alot last season, which negated some of the other things they did well. In particularly, a point of emphasis for us this season needs to be to not get so many defensive three second calls, which cost us quite a few points last year........and had other disadvantages too, such as the stoppage of play allowing our opponents coach to call a better play, to be able to sub against us, to rest slightly, etc etc.
10. HARD FOULS
I am not advocating anything dirty or even close to it, but the Pacers could relaly use a dose of toughness and physicality inside. We lack an enforcer, a bruiser, who can set bonecrushing screens and can take a hard foul when necessary. We could use a LaSalle Thompson, Dale Davis, Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley type guy to play occasionally in situations where needed.
Teams have no one to fear physically on the Pacers roster.....that needs to change somehow, and we shouldn't be shy about admitting it or doing something about it.
I'd love to hear all of your thoughts of this list, and to see what additions you all would make to it.
As always, the above was just my opinion.