Winning Without Height On The Basketball Court

I stopped talking to coaches at summer camps because every coach spent the summer bemoaning their misfortune because they lacked a dominant inside presence. Every coach believes “You can’t teach height,” so they covet a tall player they can turn into a basketball player. However, height is unneeded. Sure it is nice, but it is a luxury successful team can do without. Coaching requires developing a system to maximize the team’s talent, whether that includes a dominant inside player or a diminutive unit. The Phoenix Suns led the league in wins in 2005 without a true center, and the 2005-06 Mavericks may use Dirk Nowitski as a center to get the best five players on the floor, rather than simply playing a center for the sake of having someone tall on the floor.

Visit the link here and see why teams need post players to rebound defensively, block shots, and provide some inside offensive presence. Height does not grab a rebound; physical, aggressive players rebound well. Ben Wallace is the NBA’s best rebounder and he stands only 6’8 (maybe); big, but not by NBA standards. His toughness and tenacity compensate for his lack of size.

Rebounding is a skill predicated on positioning and toughness. If the defender is in a proper defensive position (between the offensive player and the basket), the defender has an advantage (unless it is a long rebound). By establishing and maintaining contact with the offensive player, the defender keeps the offensive player away from the basket and the ball. This requires toughness, a willingness to be physical, and desire. A forearm to the sternum slows the offensive player’s path to the basket, and the defensive player can reverse pivot in a traditional box out or hold her position and go get the ball. Either way, the physical presence, positioning, and toughness eliminate the height disadvantage.

On the offensive boards, the keys are quickness and anticipation (not height). The offensive player must get around the defensive player and not allow the defender to establish and maintain contact. By anticipating the ball’s carom, the offensive player can avoid the defender. Most rebounds occur below the rim, especially with the proliferation of the three-point shot which produces longer rebounds, so quickness and toughness, not height and jumping ability, determine most rebounds.

Blocked shots are fool’s gold. Nearly seventy percent of blocked shots go back to the offensive team, either because they bounce to an offensive player or because they are swatted out of bounds. They may build momentum or seem like a great play, but they are overrated. One study suggested that for every clean blocked shot, the player commits three fouls attempting to block a shot. An inside presence is useful to deter players from taking the ball to the basket at will. However, solid team defense can provide the same deterrence. If a team is known for its help-side defense and taking charges (Duke University with Shane Battier), offensive players enter the lane tentatively, especially when elevating for a shot, as they are wary of a defender taking a charge. Not as exciting as a blocked shot, the prospect of a charge puts equal doubt into the minds of the offensive players.

When playing a great offensive post player, teams can harass, help, and prevent the player from receiving the ball in a dangerous position. By applying ball pressure, a quick defender makes a post entry pass difficult. With a quick leaper in the post and smart help-side defenders, fronting the post player and forcing the lob, invites a sloppy lob pass and steal for the help defender. If the post defender plays behind, a guard doubles down and takes the ball out of the post player’s hand. Because most great post players play with their back to the basket and are stationary targets, they are easier to prepare to face than a lightning-quick, penetrating guard or even a shooter who uses screens well.

Offensively, teams compensate for deficient post play with dribble penetration, better three-point shooting, or transition offense. With a small team who shoots well, the opponent’s big must honor a perimeter shot, leaving the lane open for penetration or the smallish post player open for jump shots. If the small post player is fast, she can beat a bigger player down the court for easy baskets in transition, compensating for the true inside presence every coach desires. Teams create more free throw opportunities by breaking down the defense and through offensive rebounds, which are increased when teams shoot threes and leave the defense scrambling in transition or after dribble penetration. Most players are not the only players who can score inside; Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, and Allen Iverson are the NBA examples of players who get to the foul line off the dribble and create open shots for teammates as well as offensive rebounding opportunities through their dribble penetration.

Height is nice; but, it is a luxury. Teams do not lose games because they are too small. Teams lose because they fail to adjust to their perceived disadvantages. I took a small, guard-oriented team to AAU Nationals one year; we lost because we failed to block out and we missed some open jump shots we normally make. When I coached professionally, it was a lack of toughness that hurt us on the boards. Size is an excuse; and, once a team has an excuse, they are more likely to lose, as they have a reason to lose. Never use height as an excuse and never give yourself a reason to lose. Learn to adjust and compensate for perceived disadvantages and capitalize on your advantages.