Sex and the Pick and Roll

Pacers - HeatNow that I have your attention, let’s talk hoops first and then consider the connection to life. As the NBA Conference Finals began, I stated that one of the things I would be watching closely is the Miami Heat attacking ballscreens. Ballscreens and how a team defends ballscreens have become crucial elements of the game.  Indiana is making a terrific attempt to take down the Heat in what has become an intensely physical chess match, but their reaction to Miami’s aggressive attack of the ballscreen has been a bit inconsistent.

Let’s take a closer look at aspects of both sides of the ballscreen and consider why in many cases, it may be better for the Pacers to simply avoid ballscreens and why avoiding similar situations in our lives, especially when it comes to things like sex, may be the best option as well.

BASKETBALL –  Let’s go to the video!

Let’s look first at defending the ballscreens.  Most NBA teams have a variety of tricks in their bag, but a common theme is to focus on keeping ballhandlers like Tony Parker and Chris Paul out of the paint.  Chad Iske from the Denver Nuggets explains it in Team Defense Against the Pick and Roll and Kevin Eastman, from the Boston Celtics, addresses the need to be physical in defending screens in Defending the Pick and Roll.  Miami takes it a step further. They’ll play very physically, but then will often use their screen defender to step up and trap.  This allows them to create turnovers or to force the Pacers to take mid-range jump shots.  If the Pacers aren’t hitting those, they’re in trouble!

The Pacers have plans to deal with Miami’s defense; however, they’ve been very inconsistent.  Three techniques they’ve attempted are:

1.  Splitting the trap, as demonstrated here by the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook:

2.  Utilizing the Replace Big (as outlined by NBA player development guru, Mike Procopio) & Shorting the Screen as demonstrated by Memphis:

3. Slipping the pick, which often leaves Indiana’s big men in situations like this:

Zach Lowe’s terrific preview on of the playoff series explains a lot of this, while NBA coach Mike D’Antoni, still regarded as the true innovator in using ballscreens, provides the basics of running the Unguardable Pick and Roll.

Quite honestly, the Pacers guards had trouble all year with turnovers, so splitting the trap against the Heat defenders is not wise.  By shorting the screen, the Pacers can get all the baseline jump shots they want, but they have to hit them and slipping the screens puts their big men in situations where they have to be great passers.  Indiana is an average scoring team, so they need to play to their greatest strengths – Roy Hibbard in the low post, curling their scorers off downscreens, and then crashing the glass.  I understand how engrained the ballscreen is in most NBA offenses, but the Pacers don’t need to use them for anything more than spacing and isolating Hibbard inside.  As a coach, I normally want my teams to Attack Pressure, but how wise is it to attack if your team is turnover prone and playing against LeBron and D-Wade? Anything else is just foolish!

LIFE – The opposite of foolishness is wisdom.

Do you ever find yourself in the same kind of situation?  You think you have a plan for handling an issue, you’ve worked out a strategy, and you build up your confidence only to find that you keep making the same mistakes and end up asking yourself, “Why did I do that?”  Certainly, when facing problems we need to develop skills and change habits, but sometimes, the best answer is to remove yourself before the problem ever develops.  That’s the difference between being foolish and being wise. Foolish people keep finding the wrong people to hang with.  Foolish people cut corners when they stay out late every night.  Foolish people keep going back to the credit card without having means to pay it back.  Why not be wise and avoid those issues all together?

FAITH – Stay away from this trap!

Just like it makes sense for the Pacers to stay away from using ballscreens too much and allowing the Heat to get energized, the Bible clearly tells us about an issue to avoid – sexual immorality, in any form – sex outside of marriage, alternative lifestyles, internet porn, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  The world tells us these things are permissible – excuses are made and we’re encouraged to “live freely.”  We’re told that it’s our right  But God has a wiser plan for each of us – Stay away!  Don’t even mess with it!  Paul clearly explained:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  (1 Corinthians 6:18)

As the Monty Python comedy crew once screamed,  “Run away!”  And, that’s exactly what Joseph did in Egypt.  You may remember that Joseph overcame terrible family circumstances after being sold into slavery (Genesis 39: 6-12).  We’re told he was good-looking, charismatic, and a leader on the rise.  By today’s standards. if anyone deserved to have his physical drives answered, it was him.  Who could blame him? He deserved it!  But when presented with the seduction of a Potiphar’s wife, Joe simply ran from the situation.  Which is as wise a decision as the Pacers running away from the traps the Heat will use whenever they run ballscreens!  Let’s see if they’re wise or foolish – and, if your still with me and are wondering more about this wisdom, check out Pastor Pete Wilson’s view of The Morning After.

Let’s talk about it!  I love talking hoops and the Pick and Roll and I love to discuss living the Christian life.  Contact me on FaceBook or send your comments to


It All Started Back in Training Camp

As the NBA Playoffs move toward conclusion, the rest of the basketball world is anticipating the draft, welcoming new players to college campuses for summer school and individual workouts, and developing standards for summer teams, camps, and training.  It’s a time to focus on getting better and one of the best ways to get better is to stretch your mind.  Once again, the wisdom of Coach John Wooden rings true,

“Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.” 

Training CampOne author making an impact within the sports world, but more importantly inspiring all of us through many of the lessons in sports, is Jon Gordon.  His book, Training Camp, encourages each of us, athletes or not, to be the best that we can be.  It serves as a playbook of sorts for striving for excellence.

BASKETBALL – How can you help your players grow?

Gordon wrote Training Camp after speaking to the Atlanta Falcons in their first training camp under head coach Mike Smith.  Written as a fable, Training Camp follows an undrafted free agent rookie trying to earn a roster spot.  The lessons he learns are directly related to what all athletes, in any sport and at any level, experience.  This is an outstanding resource to use for team studies or to inspire any athlete or coach. The discussion of these principles can help teams and is well worth the investment of time.  In fact, I’m proud of my son for picking it up, reading it in a day, and then using Gordon’s 11 Traits of the Best of the Best for the basis of team talks with the JV summer team he’s coaching.  Sure, all Caleb needs to do is organize a substitution pattern in a summer league, but he already sees value in sharing principles with the young people following behind him.  It will help him develop as a coach, if that’s what he wants to do, but will also leave an impact.  Isn’t that what coaching is really about?

LIFE –  Find time to read!

A few years ago, I was talking with a former Marquette player who was playing in the NBA.  As a shot-blocking, defensive specialist he landed a big contract, but never seemed too enamored with playing professionally.  He was grateful, but he found the life very difficult.  For one thing, he was a deep thinker and well-read scholar.  He found life in the league difficult because he rarely found teammates who invested time to grow through reading.  And for as much as he tried, he just couldn’t influence others to stretch their minds.  Without the opportunity to have meaningful conversations, he found life on the road to be a lonely experience.  That’s left an impression on me.  Even if you don’t read for entertainment, why wouldn’t people in any profession look to improve themselves and stretch their minds?  Today, we have even made the process simpler with the tech boom – tablet readers, blogs, and websites make it so easy to expand your mind.  Coach Wooden had it right, what you achieve and what you will become will be determined, in part, by what you read.  It doesn’t have to be much, so find the time.

FAITH – If you read anything, read this!

Many coaches right now are preparing for their next training camp and many will be revising playbooks and picking out required reading materials.  As Christians, too many of us avoid going back to camp and fail to read the playbook God has prepared for us to use as a guide for daily training ( see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

In 2007, the  mega-church in Chicago, Willow Creek, conducted an extensive study of the people they reach.  The study divided church attendees into groups according to their level of spiritual formation: those who are “exploring Christianity,” those who are “growing in Christ,” those who are “close to Christ,” and those who are “Christ-centered.”  (Read more about the findings of the study and what it can mean for your church in Reveal.)  One of the important findings came from asking each of these groups what actions have had the most impact at moving believers from one level to the next.  The clear-cut winner was reading the Bible on a daily basis.  Through reading God’s word, we receive all that we need for navigating our way in a difficult world.  Do you want to get to know God better?  Do you wonder what the Christian life is all about?  Do you have fears and doubts?  Do you want to truly be the best of the best?  God speaks to us when we consistently read His word.  Try it for yourself – just take 15 minutes a day.  Choose a time that works best.  Find a quiet, comfortable place.  Grab a cup of coffee and let God speak to you.  Just like a well-run training camp, it will change your life!


For Ray Allen It’s Still About Shooting

With Stephen Curry on his heels, Ray Allen continues to lead the way as the premier shooter in the NBA.  Soon to be 38, the current 3-point record holder has built a reputation as one of the hardest working shooters to ever play the game.   This year, Allen has found an opportunity to claim another championship as he blends perfectly with the Big Three in Miami.  Even when he’s not the primary option, as in Miami’s thrilling last second win over Indiana in Game 1, Allen’s reputation influenced the outcome.  Pacer’s coach, Frank Vogel has taken a lot of criticism for not having his big man on the floor, but part of that was due to feeling his team needed to switch screens to cover options like Allen as the best perimeter threat.  That helped clear the lane for LeBron’s buzzer beater:

Allen’s shooting ability reminds us that what’s most important in basketball is to put the ball in the basket and that the focus on a core fundamental is sound advice for the rest of us in our lives and in faith.

BASKETBALL – The Process of Shooting

Let’s take a closer look at how Ray Allen addresses the art of shooting:

When Allen breaks it down, shooting is the heart of his game  Sure, he’s learned to attack the rim and shoot the mid-range jumper and he’s worked hard to become a good defender, but the heart of his game continues to be his shooting.  As a coach, I’m going to address more than shooting in practice and I’m going to expect players to work on all facets of the game, but  the old saying,  “coaches can always use another shooter” often holds true.  We need players who can shoot.

The internet is loaded with great ideas to improve shooting.  Check out drills like 10 Spot Celtic Drill from for more ideas.  I also like 8 Keys to Quality Shooting Workouts from NBA assistant coach, Kevin Eastman, for wisdom in designing workouts.  Eastman worked with Allen when he played for the Celtics and along with Brendan Suhr,  has created a terrific program for passing on coaching knowledge through Coaching U Live.

LIFE – Love is all you need.

The Beatles told us a while back, “All you need is love.”  In fact, love is to life as shooting is to basketball.  If you want to improve your life, learn how to love. The problem, though, is that most of us get bogged down by thinking that love is simply a romantic condition or a family component.  We think that loving our spouse or loving our kids and other family members is all there is to love.  Love, though, is more extensive than that.  It’s really an approach to dealing with other people – any people.  It’s a decision to treat any people you meet as important and valuable, whether they deserve it or not.  That core value makes a dramatic difference in life.  I can easily look back in my life to events and relationships that would have turned out differently if I was committed to showing love to other people.  When I see Ray Allen working tirelessly on his shot, I realize that I can put the same effort into showing love to those around me!

FAITH – Jesus is in the building!

Ray Allen played for the Milwaukee Bucks when I coached at Marquette and would occasionally visit MU’s Old Gym looking for pick-up games.  On one specific occasion just after the release of the movie He Got Game in which Allen played the role of Jesus Shuttlesworth, some of our players ran into our offices screaming “Jesus is in the building!”  Obviously, there are differences between Ray Allen and the one true Jesus.  But Allen can remind us of our Lord Jesus’ single minded focus on one thing – love, as in a discussion He had with his disciples:

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”             Matthew 22:36-40

 Jesus, as any good coach would do, kept it very simple.  If you boiled down all the teaching commands from Jesus it would focus on love.  Love your God and love your neighbors.  So, as Ray stays focused on shooting, I urge you to stay focused on loving others!  Have a terrific weekend!