The other day I was enjoying one of my favorite activities during my down-time in between practices: thinking. Particularly on this day, I was thinking about how I made it this far as a basketball player, because let’s be honest, it isn’t my unmatched athletic and physical prowess that got me here. I like to think that I’ve made it to this level because of the way I think about the game, a mentality I started learning under my first basketball coach, really started to understand during my one year at Saint Joe’s, and continued to apply and hone in on during my time at TCNJ.
While I was home during Christmas break, a former NBA player, my agent, and I got into a discussion about what type of game basketball is. The argument laid out there was that basketball is a game of speed, and whoever is the quickest would end up winning games - the rationale being that if the defense can’t catch them, the defense can’t stop them. Since I think that players and coaches tend to over-analyze the game, and since that premise was simplistic enough to make a lot of sense in my mind, I wanted really badly to agree. I thought about that idea for a while and eventually came to the conclusion that realistically, if that were the case and basketball was a game of speed I’d be screwed out of a job. That’s when I stopped wanting to agree. Then I remembered that basketball is a team sport, and thank God for it, because that’s why I’m still working, and is also why it makes that argument null and void. Even if you are fast than your one defender, are you faster than a collective five? Most likely, chances are no, you’re not; not unless you’re Carmelita Jeter, and even then, I’m just not sure. Our conversation definitely got me thinking about what basketball was a game of, and here’s what I came up with…
Arguably, I think THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the game of basketball are timing and spacing. Even in a basic transition set (for non basketball players, this is the time when you run really, really fast down the floor and try to score on the other team before they have time to set up their defense), if you don’t have good spacing and know where your teammates are or where they are headed, you can easily throw the ball to the bench, your own coach, the other team’s coach, or what I think is the funniest mistake you can make while executing a play, run into your own teammate (essentially doing the defense’s job for them). I actually did run into a teammate once in fifth grade, and I ran into her HARD. I vividly remember the noise she made when I knocked the wind right out of her (it sounded like a cross between a mouse’s squeak and a cat crying in a vet’s office). Honestly, I was scared out of my mind that I’d broken my best friend’s sternum and killed her…now I’m not so sure why I think this is funny…I digress.
There are probably millions of offensive sets out there, but I like to think 10-15 feet between players is a good basic rule of thumb (unless someone is setting a screen) when it comes to spacing. Those 10-15 feet give each other enough space to react to one another if someone starts driving to the basket, making a cut, setting up their defensive player to make them look like an idiot out of position when the ball gets skip-passed, and so on and so forth. Spacing is so important and, MY GOSH, when someone comes into my space and brings their defense with them, it takes just about every ounce of self restraint for me not to yell, “GO FIND YOUR OWN SPACE,” at them. Maybe I should start doing that; it would probably be pretty effective.
Of course then there’s the timing bit to this complicated puzzle we call basketball. Let’s say you’re player B. If it takes two seconds for player A to set a screen for you, player B, on the wing, and it takes four seconds for player C to set a screen for player D in the corner, and the two screens are supposed to happen simultaneously in order for player B, to have a pass/drive option, at what time should player C leave to set the screen for player D? It seems like it should be easy enough right? Player C should start two second before player A so that you, player B, and player D are coming off the screens at the same time. Unfortunately it isn’t quite that simple! A lot of timing success depends on reading how the defense is playing screens. Are they hedging? Are they switching? Are they bumping and recovering? Is it different for ball-screens than for off-the-ball screens? Then, when you finally think you know how to read exactly what the defense is doing and how much time reading the defense will take, player E beings to feel left out and starts to pinch in from the decoy position, essentially messing up all the spacing of the play. After you yell at player E to “GO FIND YOUR OWN SPACE,” and try to run the play again, player C’s shoelace becomes untied, she bends down to tie it, and once again you, player B, are throwing the ball to the bench, your coach, or the other team’s coach.
All jokes aside, I have seen teams who execute offenses perfectly using spacing and timing. Teams who work together to get one another open are my absolute favorite teams to watch (*cough cough* Stanford, Tennessee, *cough cough*). Also, to be honest, I like saying that basketball is a game of timing and spacing because somehow and someway, I became quite good at using timing and spacing to my advantage and understanding how powerful both are on the court. Timing and spacing are probably the reasons I still have a job (oh, and I guess it helps that I’m 6’3”).