If You’re a Pro, You Get a Pass
I’m set on the lower block, my point guard Philip calls a play, and I trot up to the right elbow. I pull my defender and as I set a screen on his, he crosses over and our shoulders near as he maneuvers around me into a wide-open lane. Philip finishes soft off the glass. Coach looks down, shakes his head, raises back up with his whistle in his mouth, blows it twice, and everyone heads to the baseline for a pair of suicide’s. No explanation needed. Everyone knew why. Our teammates glared at us pissed and we were mad with ourselves too. We knew where we messed up. We didn’t touch shoulders on the pick-and-roll. As we start on our second suicide, coach disappointingly howls, “Brush shoulders on a pick-and-roll! There shouldn’t be any space!”
If may seem insignificant but this is just one example of the nuances that are ingrained into young ballplayers. Sports are all about attention to detail and one misstep can cost you a game. Football for example, as a defender, if you get caught offside, the offense you’re up against gets a “free play” where the quarterback can recklessly throw up a 75-yarder without consequence. This is different in that it’s an obvious mistake with a more measurable impact.
As a professional athlete you get away with doing things that would have set your middle school coach into a frenzy. Granted, I feel they’ve earned it. They are the best of the best of the bestest. Those little details are so second nature that they almost don’t have to do it because they’ve done it so many times in their life already. Below are just some of the few things that definitely would have earned you and your team some push ups, wall-sits, bleachers, or whatever other motivational tool your coach used to inspire you.
1. NOT TOUCHING SHOULDERS ON A PICK-AND-ROLL
As stated above, there were many a times when I ended up on the baseline for not shoulder jousting with my teammates on the most basic of coordinated movements in the history of basketball. Most of the time it was more because the screen was so good, the defender would run into the screen before I even got there or the defender would go under. But to a coach that’s not an excuse. Even in Steph Curry’s Masterclass, he goes over a proper pick-and-roll execution and clearly states that the ball-handler should be touching shoulders with the screen-setter, or getting low to reduce space and touching the screener’s hip or calf. To this day, when I brush shoulders with people on the street it gives me flashbacks of PnR drills.
2. NOT CALLING OUT SCREENS
Your neighborhood basketball court is usually where you’ll find the worst offenders of not calling out screens. At the same time those are probably the same offenders who complain when their teammates don’t call out screens for them. It’s mostly due to poor chemistry, generally speaking you’re running with strangers. Even if you do know everyone, you rarely play with the same five game-in and game-out on a pickup court. But on a team? If you don’t call out a screen, your teammates call you out. I’ve seen plenty of practices and huddles where teammates are at each others necks because they got eaten by a textbook screen. In the pros, the times it doesn’t happen some serious injuries can occur. These are grown men with a lot of weight behind those walls. If Andre Drummond is in my blindspot, I better hear my teammates yelling out like banshee’s.
3. FOULING TO STOP THE BREAK ON TURNOVERS
It sucks when you or your team turns the ball over. It’s a deflating feeling, especially in key moments. But sprint back even just to feign effort. Try and make a play on the ball. Something. But fouling at half or even three-quarter court on a live-ball turnover to stop the break is pitiful. You messed up, pay the price and feel the burden. Sure, there’s the clear-path foul that tries to reduce those instances, but that’s weak. That’s lazy. There’s three options when you turn the ball over. Give up and let the play run without you, that’s lazy. Immediately foul to stop the break, which can be a smart play. But let’s be honest, that’s lazy. Or sprint back and try to make a play on the ball. Whether or not it’s clean or a nice hard foul, at least your teammates will appreciate the effort and you won’t look like a total bum out there.
4. NOT BOXING OUT
In game 3 of this years Raptors vs. Bucks ECFs, I took note of a beautiful box out by Fred VanVleet on a man listed a full foot taller than him. The Greek Freak himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo. I grinned. I even giggled a bit while a shiver went down my spine. Check Draymond’s box out on Capela that was unjustly called a foul too, just because I like it and it’s pretty. From early on players are told proper technique can help close the gap between you and more physically talented players on the court. I’m not the tallest person, but I’m not short either. I missed the “at least six-feet” cut off by two inches. Boxing out is one such instance where no matter how small you are, if you can get clean, proper positioning, you can virtually take someone out of a play. In the NBA there are too many times I see players ball watching and forgetting there’s other players trying to snag the board on the court. I see a lot of players front guarding recently, that’s bush league. Turn around, bend those knees, stick your butt out, and extend those arms.
5. LETTING A MISSED SHOT TOUCH THE FLOOR
Speaking of ball watching, there’s nothing more infuriating than seeing a missed shot hit the floor before someone scoops up the rebound. I don’t think there’s any more lazy act in basketball, not even number three (above). It’s not only lazy, it’s careless. Who are you to say, “I don’t need to hustle to the single most important thing on the court that dictates the entirety of the game with every bounce, pass, and bucket.” That’s near sacrilegious. I’m up-in-arms when I see players let a ball roll up court and no one even fakes an attempt to snatch it, or when no one dives for a loose ball. Not hawking a missed shot and letting it take a bounce first? Disgusting. Get off the court. Slip on your slides. Walk home with your head hung and question whether or not you deserve to step foot back onto a basketball court. May Rodman have mercy on your soul.