The other day, in full ‘complaining mode,’ I lamented the decline, if not the demise, of the traditional organized fast break, saying that the idea of ‘attack the rim’ had led to way too many fast breaks winding up in disasters due to (a) bad spacing and (b) bad geometry. The result of this is that the point guard, in ignoring the play the defense gives him to drive to the basket often ends up making one of four major mistakes: (a) missed shot; (b) blocked shot; (c) charging foul; (d) turnover. On top of that, he runs two other risks: (a) an injury, being slammed to the floor by bigger defenders; (b) giving up a fast break because he’s not back on defense.
But there is another thing I don’t like in all that: THE DUMBING-DOWN OF POINT GUARDS. That’s only logical! They no longer have to think! Their coach has done all their thinking for them! That is, on the fast break, “Attack the rim!” All other decisions are no longer valid: (a) the dribble-pickup jump shot; (b) the pass to the cutter coming from the right; (c) the pass to the cutter coming from the left; (d) the pass to the trailer at the opposite elbow; (e) giving up the fast break options to run a play. There is a sixth option: yes, attack the rim … if the three second lane is empty! But all those options require reading and deciding.
A disclaimer. I should mention that I based my entire coaching career on having at least one great point guard on my team, often two: Art Schwarm and Rick Markoff (Evanston YMCA); Tom Wheeler and Wally Tyndorf (McKendree JVs); Steve Rymal and John Bailey (Michigan State Freshmen); Steve Kaplan and Charles Provini (Navy Plebes); Vic Orth and Ken Helfand (Delaware); Kiko Valenzuela and Manuel Herrera (Chile); Charley Caglieris (Virtus Bologna); and the incomparable Mike D’Antoni (Olympia Milan). I not only did not tell them to “Attack the rim," I told them, all brilliant guys, to "Stay out of the lane."
Today, instead of keeping their most precious commodity out of trouble, coaches are sending them toward technical disaster and physical harm. Worse, they have stripped them of leadership! Even worse, they have taken away their ability to show how well they can read a defense and make the right decision based on that incoming information. Before every game we played in nine seasons, just before going out for the jump ball to start the game, I’d say to Mike D’Antoni, “Mike, read the defense.” No one did that better! He kept the geometry. He saw the play. He kept spacing. He made the play. I never recall him botching a fast break!
What’s more, Mike was never injured in a game! He missed five games my first year with a stress fracture in his left foot. He missed three games in 1983-84 with a pulled hamstring during a practice in ice-cold San Siro Arena. My fault, not his. I have a hundred photos of Mike and a number of CDs of our games. No photo has him in the 3” lane. I have yet to see a clip of him going over the free throw line on the break. On the other hand, I have lots of footage of him taking the shot or making the play on the fast break. Of course, I could have ruined all that by saying, “Mike, no matter what is there … attack the rim!” Complaint filed!