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Growing up, I was always tall for my age. So, naturally, when I played basketball I was either a 4 or a 5. Unsurprisingly, when I took my first assistant coaching job I volunteered to work with the bigs, since that’s what I knew best. However, I had to figure out how to get a bunch of 6th and 7th graders enamored with LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, to get excited about playing down on the block.
To do so, I had to think of why post players are important to the success of the team.
First, I thought that if you can score down low you’re able to get high percentage shots regularly, instead of constantly settling for jumpers.
Secondly, I realized (good) post players rebound. Offensively, this enables them to get easy second chance buckets at the rim, and their team’s shooters can shoot freely knowing they don’t have to make every shot because someone will bail them out. Defensively, a good rebounding 4 or 5 can take away those second chance points and initiate the break, increasing the chance of easier high-percentage shots.
Third, I remember watching dominate defensive bigs and recalling that just their presence in the lane forces teams to shoot further away from the basket than they would against defensively inferior teams. In other words, you can force the other team to take low percentage shots because your presence is threatening enough.
And finally, being physical down low by boxing out, posting up, or setting screens wears down the opponent over the course of the game, and makes your life that much easier. You can’t tell me that a well placed screen that gets the ball handler an extra foot of space to shoot isn’t a good assist, even though it won’t show up in the box score. I found it especially important to – cliché alert — set the tone early and often. When I told the players that most players don’t start playing physical regularly until college (If ever…) and then asked if there would be an advantage if they began to do it now, they all unanimously agreed.
So what if you weren’t born to be an Iso monster, taking fools off of the dribble regularly, because being a post player isn’t just awesome, it’s essential.
The thing about being a good or a great post player isn’t even about being the most skilled player on the court. It’s about smarts, awareness and resourcefulness by knowing how to leverage your body to do what you want. It’s why guys like Charles Barkley and Kevin Love are great big men even though they are/weren’t the most athletically gifted. They understand how to use their body weight as leverage to toss their opponents around the block to get in rebounding position, and knew how to time their jumps to snatch that rebound over greater leapers. In fact, I had one player who was smart enough to understand that he couldn’t get the ball, but he was smart enough to push his opponent underneath the basket so he couldn’t make a play either; rebounding 4-on-4 is much easier than 4-on-5.
(In Chris Ballard’s book, Art of a Beautiful Game, he talks about rebounders who box out by essentially sitting on their opponents knees and driving them back to get position. )
It works the same way defensively if you’re undersized. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had bigger players try to post me up only to be denied. It’s simple: 1) Get tough. Oh, you caught the entry pass and are trying to pick up your dribble. Too bad I’m going to use my hips to push you off of the block with my body weight; 2) Get big. An altered shot is as good as a blocked shot, so get your hands up; 3) Get disruptive. If you think you can make a play on the ball, poke it away with an underhanded swipe. Whether you force a turnover, or a pass, your work is done.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much effort you’re willing to exert to do this, but you absolutely do not need to be an especially skilled player to be an asset down low. You just can’t be afraid to get hit, and this is where a lot of players go wrong.
I’m going to save the offensive portion for Kevin McHale in this video that NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk dug up. Watching McHale demonstrate his technique is truly something great to watch, and listening to his theory on post play as he does so is equally as great. I highly recommend you watch the video and read the article- I’ll even embed the video below, but read the article as well.
McHale talks about things like posting about not too far away for the basket (Rightfully calling it a wing ISO.), making sure your moves take you to the basket, and not away from it, as well as how to use your body to get the positioning you want. Again, this is where the effort thing comes into play. Aside from the physical side, he talks about awareness (Great coaches preach the importance of on-court awareness as well.), and doing things like using the rim to get open.
One of the very important things he mentions is that you don’t need a full palette of post-moves, but a few basic moves to allow you to create your shot. From experience, I’ve found that it helps to be able to move both ways, dribble with both hands, and have an ambidextrous hook shot. Combined with good footwork, smarts, and awareness, this is what makes a good post player so hard to defend.
McHale goes on to reiterate my point above about physical play when he asks, “How many teams have big men? You all raise your hands”, before adding that “Now, how many like to hit? Oh, only a couple of you raised your hands.”
Before the video cuts out he talks about working with Kevin Love to develop his hook shot and how Love uses his size to compensate for not being the biggest power forward in the game. It’s too bad that’s where the video ends, because I could listen to McHale talk about low-post theory all day long.
Now we know why good post play is so important, and why teams take chances or overpay these types of players. Aside from the point guard, they are the most important players in the game. I can recall talking to Grizzlies fans in Love’s second year who lamented the Mayo-Love trade by saying, “Scoring wings are a dime a dozen, and you can get one in every draft. Big men who can post double-doubles regularly are much harder to come by.”
This is why teams do things like take chances on draft day like Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Sure, there’s a pretty good chance Durant makes the next 15 All-Star teams, and another few scoring titles, but if you have the chance at a dominant once-in-a-generation center, you take that chance. I know, there are a few geniuses who predicted Durant’s ascension precisely, and I’m impressed by your clairvoyance, but teams understand that big men with Oden’s potential come along far less often than players of Durant’s caliber.
This is also why teams will overpay a guy like Kwame Brown, Andris Biedrins, or less egregiously, Al Jefferson. Take Big Al into consideration. He’s one of the few players in the league who can draw double and triple teams in the league as a 20-10 player. Opponents have to respect his low-post moves, and now they have to respect the pass so they don’t leave open shooters wide open. Now, Utah’s opponents have to debate defending Al one-on-one down low or leaving one, or two, shooters open.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll leave you here.