Saturday, February 23, 2013

Now THAT'S defense!

68 FGAs
32 Threes
38% ORBs
24 TOs
+7 Shots

Our season ends vs. #24 Carthage in what turned out to be one of our better performances of the year, though as our formula goals above indicate, basically unSystemlike.  Still, we played as a team, took good shots, and played hard. 

Unfortunately, the game was marred by what passes for good defense in this day and age:  pushing, shoving, and grabbing.  I can understand when a System team gets a little off balance, reaches too much, or fouls a shooter going up for a layup.  That's a predictable consequence of playing a fast, full-court trapping game.  But we don't teach our players to push and hack... that stuff just comes naturally to them.  On the other hand, "normal" defense (especially as played in DickBennettland) is focused on preventing any sort of penetration inside the arc.  So a team like ours that wants to drive to the rim is going to get bodied-up.  And a post player cutting across the lane is going to be checked and pushed. 

That's defense in the modern era, and I have no problem with that.  Defensive philosophy--like every other aspect of basketball--is all about tradeoffs:  System D involves the willingness to give up easier shots for the sake of forcing turnovers.  What I do take issue with is the unquestioning belief by basketball "purists" that the conventional approach (preventing easy shots at all costs) is the right and only way to play defense, the assertion that their tradeoffs are better than our tradeoffs.  But consider one telling stat:  both teams shot 26 freethrows... in the second half alone!  Our fouls throughout this season have typically been the result of a young team not yet being able to execute their defense cleanly.   On the other hand, the conventional "pack" defenses we've seen this year actually seem to have been taught to hold cutters, body-check drivers, and arm-bar post players.

The older I get, the more I agree with John Wooden that basketball's inherent beauty and grace has been corrupted, replaced in this day and age with a game based on ugly brute strength.  Basketball as mudwrestling.  Yes, System teams can hack a lot, but that's not the essence of the style... quite the contrary.  The System, when it is played correctly, is a finesse game.  The problem being that it's tougher to teach someone how to be a pickpocket than a mugger. 

But when defenders learn to have "larceny in their souls" (as Gary Smith puts it), when they master the System pickpocket's sleight-of-hand, the result is beautiful:  a knifing steal, a blind-side back-tap, a clean solid trap and well-timed rotation/ interception. These anticipation skills are what we try to teach our defenders.  In the end, to each his own.  But that does not include the right to define conventional defense as "good" and System defense as "flawed."  

[Oh, by the way, our defensive plan worked well for most of the game, giving us a 10 point lead late in the first half, and keeping the game close for 37 minutes.  All we did was run our "Back" press, moving the on-ball defender to half-court, rotating our weakside wing defender as usual to cover the lag after the inbound pass while the interceptor picked up the open cutter, then waiting to trap until the opponent dribbled the ball... a variation of the "Stay" press.  A little safer, a few less turnovers forced, a few less layups given up... a tradeoff.]

In the end, Carthage adjusted as good teams do, but the Back press variation gave us a shot.  Maybe next year we'll learn how to play defense the "right" way.

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