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A Peek into Avery Johnson's Coaching Philosophy

Looking around the internet, I stumbled across a preview for the book "NBA Coaches Playbook". In it was a chapter by Avery Johnson describing his attacking offense, and it seems like a plan our team is built to follow

If you research Avery, you'll see his entire philosophy revolves around being the attacker or aggressor...even on defense.  In his video, "Attacking Man-to-Man Defenses, Part I & I", the former Coach of the Year lays things out in more detail.  (click the link for a short video)

Here's a breakdown of what you can find in the chapter and the video:

Offense:

The system I wanted to implement sprang from my overall philosophy of being the aggressor, not a reactor, on the basketball court. 

After a missed shot by the opponents, with the ball in our possession, we want to go. Of course, the first and most important part of starting an offense is not to let the opponents grab the offensive rebound. This means every player must do whatever needs to be done to keep his man off the defensive board. The blocking-out technique can vary from coach to coach, but the must for each defender is to prevent his man from grabbing the offensive rebound.

Immediately after we get the rebound, the rebounder makes the outlet pass as we convert to our offense. We don't always want our point guard to come back to receive the outlet pass from the rebounder. We also want our shooting guard and small forward to be ready to receive the outlet pass in case the point guard is not in position.

So the first key concept for running in transition is to have multiple players ready to receive the ball and attack the basket. I always use the word "attack" on offense because this communicates to my players the aggressive style we're seeking on the court. Once the ball is to the outlet, our other big man (the one who didn't get the rebound) sprints to a position under the offensive rim. Two wings run the sidelines. The point guard pushes the ball hard down the floor.

Let's now go over what I call the three areas we have when we attack the man-to-man defense: the passing ahead area, the decision area, and the breaking area. 

Passing ahead area: If the player receiving the outlet pass sees an open teammate ahead of him, he immediately passes the ball to him. If he can't pass ahead, the ball handler quickly brings the ball downcourt, not too close to the sideline to avoid the trap. We want the ball to spend very little time in the passing ahead, so we push it forward quickly but with control.

Decision area: Once the ball crosses the midcourt line, whatever player has the ball must quickly decide what he's going to do with it. 

Say the ball is still in the ball handler's possession at the spot shown in figure 5.1 (Just above the midcourt line). At this point, the ball handler must determine instantly if it's the best to pass to the big man near the hoop, get the ball to the wing popping open, or hit a cutter breaking free toward the basket. Another possibility is to use a high screen for a pick-and-roll play. In any case, the ball handler must keep his dribble until he decides what to do with the ball. Whatever the choice, he must commit to it and force movement from the defense. 

Breaking area: As the ball advances forward, near the key, it's now in the area of the court where we break off to form our triangle...

...For my teams, it's crucial we don't keep the ball on the same side of the floor. If nothing positive develops, we reverse the ball to the other side of the half-court. We swing the ball to the other side in any possible way, swinging it through the post or via a pick-and-roll, but we must swing the ball. 

If we don't find a shot I call an "80 percent efficiency shot", which means a direct drive to the basket and a layup (very rare against good defenses), we must swing the ball to the other side of the court....

...This keeps the defense moving, thereby improving our percentage for getting a good shot.

I now want to discuss the situation in which the ball handler, who is trapped, picks up his dribble. We teach players in this situation that the ball handler must be in a strong position and look to break through the trap to pass the ball out, either stepping strongly between the two defenders or else pivoting away from the trap and passing the ball. The trapped player must never be in a surrender position, with the ball high overhead, or afraid of losing the ball. 

When the ballhandler starts a baseline drive, he must not "jump on the trampoline". That is, he shouldn't jump into his shot, especially against teams that like to take the charge. During the drive, the ball handler must avoid committing a charging foul or losing control of the ball.

Again, I put a lot of emphasis on fundamentals and particulars. One of these particulars is that my players must always play to minimize turnovers and lost possessions. I emphasize teaching them how to avoid losing the ball and different ways to pass the ball out of the trap on the baseline. 

Always suit your philosophy to your personnel, exploiting your players' strengths and limiting their weaknesses.

When the ball is swung,you as the coach must tell the player who received the ball not to hold it. He must catch and shoot, catch and drive, catch and pass--anything but hold it. He can't allow his defender to catch up to him. 

Your star player must not give in to weak double-teams because this gives your opponent an opportunity to steal the pass; he must try to split the double team and go for a score. 

When you're experiencing tough stretches and accompanying fatigue, it can be easy to slack off during practice. Guard against that. The lack of aggressiveness might carry over to games. I've been known to turn a light shoot-around on game day into a highly intense competitive practice. Only players with an attacking attitude can be effective in my system, and if they're going to be attacking in games, I want them attacking in practice, too.

An attacking offense takes time and commitment to run, but if you stick with it, the rewards are well worth the effort. Before we conclude, let's review the concepts we've discussed in this chapter:

 

  • From a broad philosophy of play, isolate a system and its individual components. Master those essential components and then work on each detail, such as specific plays and situation-specific tactics.
  • The key offensive principle is to attack. Players can't be passive or hold the ball. The more pressure applied against a defense, the more likely it will crack.
  • A fast pass beats the fastest dribbler every time, so find ways to move the ball as quickly as possible via the pass, especially to the weak side, where the shooting percentage should be higher. 
  • Stretch the defense by squaring the floor.
  • On the pick-and-roll, the screener must separate from the pick.
  • The other four players on the floor must always be ready to help the ball handler

Every player and coach is accountable to the offensive system - no exceptions. Good and bad days come and go during the course of a season but a system and the commitment to its success should never waiver. Trust in your system and make it work. 

Defense:

The first part of this presentation is attacking Man-to-Man defense from a defensive standpoint. Johnson lists several benefits for this style of play: It will disrupt the timing of your opponent's offense, it wears out the opponent and it turns up aggressiveness. 

After a made basket, Johnson shows some opportunities to jam the in-bound passer and slow down the possession. This defense philosophy looks to trap near the half court area and rotate with interceptors to force turnovers. This attack can be done at the full-court, _ court, or half court. In the half court, specific techniques and strategies are demonstrated and explained. Building a wall against penetration is crucial for good defensive teams. Once trapped, this defense makes it hard for the offense to pass. 

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Ramifications:

every player must do whatever needs to be done to keep his man off the defensive board

We will no longer be a bottom 3 rebounding team. 

Once the ball is to the outlet, our other big man (the one who didn't get the rebound) sprints to a position under the offensive rim. 

Might Favors start after all? Neither Brook nor Murphy can do this, how much will they be playing together? Will we go small on occasion with Outlaw or James as the other big man?

We also want our shooting guard and small forward to be ready to receive the outlet pass in case the point guard is not in position.

TWill is an important cog in the team, with his ball handling abilities at the wing position. Our objective will be to get the ball from the rebound to our basket as quickly as possible. The point guard will not always be in position to bring it up, so our wing players need to be able to assume his role. But TWill won't be an important part of the team if he doesn't get his head in order -> 

Once the ball crosses the midcourt line, whatever player has the ball must quickly decide what he's going to do with it. 

At this point, the ball handler must determine instantly

The fast break will involve a lot of decision making. A lot of quick decision making. A lot of quick decision making that needs to be correct. Twill can't play wild and risky because...

 I put a lot of emphasis on fundamentals and particulars. One of these particulars is that my players must always play to minimize turnovers and lost possessions.

Avery hates turnovers. That behind the head 20 foot pass you wanna do? Not gonna fly. In relation with this you can what you can expect from our team next year is

If we don't find a shot I call an "80 percent efficiency shot", which means a direct drive to the basket and a layup (very rare against good defenses), we must swing the ball to the other side of the court

I emphasize teaching them how to avoid losing the ball

Efficiency. Avery doesn't like low percentage shots or losing the ball. We will push the break, but in the half court, we will be patient for high percentage shots. 

Lastly, our players better be in great shape and ready to bring it every day because Avery doesn't look like a guy who's gonna lift his foot from the pedal

I've been known to turn a light shoot-around on game day into a highly intense competitive practice.

Every player and coach is accountable to the offensive system - no exceptions. Good and bad days come and go during the course of a season but a system and the commitment to its success should never waiver. 

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