After two good discussions concerning "defense at the point of attack" and "wing defense", we now move on to the topic of "defending the low post".
I'll discuss low post defensive concepts first.
When a coaching staff puts together a defensive plan conceptually for an entire season and for a specific game, they have many different options about how to best defend a premier post player trying to recieve the ball and score on the low block:
1. Do we PLAY BEHIND HIM, let him catch, and try and stop him one on one with little or no help?
2. Do we PLAY BEHIND HIM, let him catch, and "dig" from the ballside wing area (usually from the post feeder himself, as discussed in the last thread) hoping to force him to throw the ball back outside to who it came from originally?
3. Do we PLAY BEHIND HIM, and come with a "hard double" from somewhere else on the floor AFTER he catches the ball, or perhaps AFTER HE TAKES A DRIBBLE, or perhaps AS THE BALL IS IN MID AIR COMING TO HIM?
4. Do we play "3/4" denial defense to try and keep him from catching the ball in the first place, and if so, which side should the defender be on?
5. Do we choose to PLAY TOTALLY IN FRONT of the post, "flood" the help in behind the posted up player to prevent the lob, and then try to rotate outward as the ball as reversed?
6. If we choose to "hard double" the post player, should we:
------Double off a particular weak player, regardless of where he is on the floor?
------Double from a particular area/spot on the floor, IRREGARDLESS of who that player we are leaving is?
7. Is it possible for a defensive team to do multiple post defenses well, and should you change depending on who you are playing, or do the same things against everyone and force them to adjust to you?
As you can see, this is a complicated issue........let's discuss all of this from a Pacer-centric point of view.
PLAYING STRAIGHT UP
The first option is the best obviously, but it takes a tremendous defensive individual player to be able to handle it. But, when you can play straight even 1 on 1 defense in the low post area with no help, it is a tremendous value to your normal overall team defensive scheme.
More than anything else, this is why Peck and I loved Dale Davis so much I think. The Pacers simply haven't had a post player capable tough, strong, determined, or physical enough to handle this duty by himself since Dale Davis was here, and it is why he was so instrumental in the success our Pacers had when he was here.
Looking for a player strong enough to hold his ground, and not to let an offensive player catch the ball so deep inside near the rim, needs to be a high priority for the Pacers in the future. Without a player like this, it forces you to use different and more complex defensive schemes to try and defend great (or even good) back to the basket players.
Perhaps my biggest criticism of Jermaine O'neal was his inability to become this type of low post defender, capable of guarding the biggest and baddest post players in the league. JO made up for some of his lack of leg strength in holding position inside by being a superior shot blocker, but most of his defensive value came as a weakside defender, not guarding a guy posting him up personally. In fact, I often thought teams made major mistakes against us by not just attacking JO directly. JO was one of the best help defending bigs in basketball, but I thought he had a big and obvious deficiency in this area. JO also had extremely bad footwork in this area, often letting the player he was guarding inside drive a foot between his own, gaining leverage inside and forcing JO to make a "retreat step", letting the offensive player get even deeper position. This is post defensive play 101, and JO wasn't taught well in my view how to play with leverage, instead he got away with using great athleticism to compensate...an athleticism which fades over time as we can see now.
Likewise, Jeff Foster isn't this type of defender either. He lacks the size and strength to be able to muscle up against big strong post players. He does have some quickness, and I think his footwork is better than average, but he just lacks strength, and evidently always will. It was probably a good decision overall for the Pacers to not develop Jeff to be much stronger and heavier in his youth (thereby reducing his agility and quickness and burst), but as his athleticism fades I wonder Jeff might be more useful if he gained weight and got stronger. Maybe not, but I think it is something worth considering at least.
Now, I truly believe that Roy Hibbert may be able to be a long term solution for us in this key important role. He has the size, strength, and I think the tough guy attitude to be able to develop to be the man inside who lets us play more "straight up" in the low post. Obviously the game is always evolving, and Roy needs to shore up weaknesses in other areas of his game, but a guy who can play behind a guy in the low block and guard him without much help or a need to rotate your 4 other players is a huge advantage to have, and I am pretty sure that Roy Hibbert can be that guy for us for the next 10 years, if we have a coaching philosophy that values that as a skill/talent more highly than the current one does.
DIGGING FROM THE BALL SIDE
We discussed this in the last thread briefly, but let's go over it again.
This is the preference for the more old fashioned coaches, who didn't want to complicate man to man defense with fancier rotations, and it is by far the most common at the high school or college level. Doing this doesn't require any switiching, any "rotating" from the weakside, and doesn't require your entire defense to move in unison.
But, it is a fairly easy defensive tactic to beat by an intelligent offense, for a few different reasons. The main one being that is a very easy pass for a big man to make to throw it right back to the man who gave him the ball originally. Big men are often poor decision makers with the ball, but this tactic eliminates that issue for the offense.
It also is very easy for the post player to throw the ball back out, "re-post" even better and deeper, and recieve a return pass right back inside to him. By doubling this way, the defense is allowing that situation to frequently occur.
Lastly, if the offensive team has any coaching intelligence at all, they will put their best outside shooter as a post feeder to counter this "digging" tactic. This is why Reggie Miller was used by Indiana coaches as a primary post feeder, because if a team stupidly turned their head on Reggie to "dig" in the low block, Miller would just "relocate" to a slightly different spot, recieve an easy to make pass from our post player, and have a reasonably wide open shot.
PLAYING BEHIND, FIGHTING FOR POSITION, THEN COMING WITH A HARD DOUBLE
I mentioned the three different doubling options above: Doubling on the catch, doubling on the first dribble, and doubling as the ball is mid air.
Almost anyone would tell you that you shouldn't do any of these every single time...instead, you need to put doubt in the post players mind to make him hesitate at least before making a play. This is where you need to be unpredictable. It all basically depends on how dominate the post player may be, and how desperate you are for him to be forced to get rid of it.
Generally, coaches will have this in as a defensive call from the bench. A coach may use colors for example: "Red" meaning hard immediate double, "White" meaning double after the catch, "blue" meaning double only after the first dribble. Some teams may even have signs held up by assistant coaches, although that is normally a college tactic not used in the pros.
Coaches are notorius control freaks we know, and to my knowledge no NBA coach currently does this, but does anyone think this might work?: Not calling the "double scheme" from the bench at all, but to instead let the players react on their own on when and how hard to double?
THE CONCEPT OF "3/4" DENIAL
This is really to be used in concert with other strategies. In the above examples when I talk about playing behind a man posting up, I don't mean just to let him catch it wherever he wants. Too many weak defensive players don't play defense UNTIL their man has the ball, when instead good defenders play defense BEFORE their man has the ball.
The coaching decision here comes from WHICH SIDE of the post player do you want to try and deny. In other words, do you try and defend the "High Side" (side nearest the foul line) or "Low Side" (side nearest the baseline)? Obviously, if you can steal a pass as it is in mid air you teach your player to do that, and if they can't you teach them to slide their feet and play behind, to be between their man with the ball and the basket.
There is no coaching consensus on this point. Some teach to always deny the high side (which is how my high school hall of fame coach taught it)...but that can leave you vulnerable to a lob occasionally, a drop step occasionally, and out of position to defend against a baseline drive. In fact, that little nugget of info is something I look for when scouting, so I can take advantage of a team who defends that way all the time.
Others teach to always defend the low side. That can solve the above problems, but a clever team on offense can then adjust to that by attacking you with dump down passes from the high post, since you are easily sealed off playing that way. This is another scouting point, and a reason why a team should always if possible have "high/low" offensive sets in a game plan. You play my low post guy on his low side, you'll see lots of post feeds from the elbow by my teams!
Still others teach to play either side depending on where they are in relation to the ball. In other words, play high side when the ball is above the foul line extended, low side when it is below the foul line extended. This takes more movement and work by your post player, and leaves him vulnerable at times as he is trying to shift from one position to the other.
Those of you with an opinion or preference in this matter, feel free to give it. I've coached a long time, heard lots of discussion between us coaching geeks, and no one really agrees on how to teach it best.
TOTALLY FRONT THE POST, FLOOD THE WEAKSIDE, AND RECOVER
This is primarily what our current staff believes in, and is primarily the tactic our Pacers try each and every night, more than the other methods.
It's design is to prevent a post player who is very good from recieving the basketball in the first place....which in theory isn't a bad idea. Also, by doing it against every opponent, theoretically your rotations out of it should get more steady and consistent.
But this defensive concept has a lot of problems with it, as we see almost every night.
First, many post players arent good enough to worry about this much. Many times I think we overreact to a post guy who doesnt deserve such respect. I distinctly remember a game against Philadelephia, where we seemed determined to keep the ball from Samuel Dalembert. Why? Dalembert is no real threat!
Secondly, this leaves you vulnerable to quick ball reversals. Skip passes from one side to the other kill you, as does any penetration from the wing areas. The reason this is a problem is that your help defenders are SAGGED TOO LOW on the floor, having to get behind a post player. It is a small thing, but the 2 steps or so lower that the Pacer helpers have to sag vs playing it in a more conventional way means our slower guys have a larger area to try and recover to.
Thirdly, because it requires more moving parts and more movement, you are even more open to be attacked by pass FAKES to the post. Often, just the threat of a post pass causes us to sag too deep, leaving us scrambling to defend a shooter to no avail.
Fourth, you are severely weakened against a high post flash cut to the elbow area. Our sagging helpers cannot both sag behind a posted up player and simultaneously stop their own man cutting to the high post. This man cutting to the high post is a particularly effective tactic against Troy Murphy, who gets beat by this 5 times a game or more, and against Roy Hibbert, who is too slow to get there to defend the flasher and often ends up fouling him. On top of that, sometimes flash this guy to the high post, not only to feed him the ball there but to have him streak to the ballhandler for a "screen/roll" or "screen/pop" situation, leaving our bigs to have to scramble and move even more. Any team with a big man who can shoot from the perimeter can kill us with this tactic, such as Utah did with Mehmet Okur.
Lastly, this is so physically demanding on our bigs that their minutes must be rationed. Combine this with our quick paced offense (which has been very effective admittedly) and your bigs are dragging late in games. You can either try and live with this as coaches or you can play more people, but that leaves you playing deeper and deeper into your bench using inferior players for too many minutes.
There are specific teams that this works against better than other teams. I think this can work against teams that don't improvise well, who are inexperienced, or are selfish, or who have easy to guard personnel or systems. Theoretically, New Jersey, Oklahoma City, and perhaps tonight's opponent Charlotte are teams that this may have more success against than others, such as Utah, San Antonio, or Denver.
IF YOU "HARD DOUBLE", HOW DO YOU DO IT?
Your choices are to double of a specific player, no matter where he is on the floor, or double from a specific area on the floor, no matter who happens to be there.
There are obvious problems with each, and a mixture is probably the smartest way to go about it. But, in general, when I am coaching and decide I have to double team someone in the low post due to an obvious mismatch, I personally like to double team from a specific area, usually for me at the high school level I choose the top of the key.
Now, obviously this has issues. Leave the top of the key area consistently for very long, and a smart coach puts a big time shooter there, hoping you continue to rotate down from that area. But usually you can recover to that spot easier (its closer to your helpers in the lane area) and you can force that guy to make an extra pass to the weakside....and then you just have to hope you can scramble and recover well enough to get there to defend a shooter and not get broken down off the dribble if you "close out" out of control.....that's a coaching point you have to work on to get right.
For years this is how most NBA teams defended the low post. Later on, Steve Fisher at Michigan began doing this at the college level, as the game began to evolve. As offenses got more proficient at defeating this all over, coaches got more creative and started doubling from exotic areas of the floor. I give Pat Riley and Chuck Daly credit for this, as they had to get creative to try and figure out ways to defend the triangle offense and Michael Jordan in particular, and then they adapted the "Jordan Rules" to everyday defensive concepts and planning.
HOW MANY MULTIPLE THINGS CAN A TEAM DO WELL, AND HOW MANY DIFFERENT THINGS SHOULD YOU TRY AND DO, AND FOR WHAT REASONS?
This is the central decision coaches have to make about everything. What are my priorites, and what do I believe I need to do most of all?
It is in this last question where experience, playing together for long stretches of time, and long term stability are so important.
In general, I believe coaches do tend to complicate the game way too much. I think this was and is an issue for Rick Carlisle (offensively for him) and I think it is an issue for Jim O'Brien defensively.
However, I can also tell you that players are smarter than the general public gives them credit for in my opinion. So what a particular team can handle has to be figured out by the coaching staff. I know I have had teams I gave very detailed scouting reports to, and I've had others who I gave very boiled down and simple plans to. This is an area where coaching becomes an art form, and not a science.
I know this was a typical and long T-bird thread, but I hope it continues the long, in depth conversation we are having about our Pacers man to man defensive issues.
As always, the above is just my opinion.