2017 NBA Playoffs: The Attitude of Monks


I listened to a recent Hardwood Hustle podcast on analytics during which Steve Shea from Shot Tracker discussed his study on whether teams with balanced scorers were more successful than teams with one or two dominant scorers.  I thought I knew the obvious answer, mostly because it lines up more with my “ball view” of unselfish team basketball, but did a double take as Shea mentioned that the teams with superstar scorers often win more than teams with total balance.  I’m going to ponder that for a while – after all a coach can always keep learning new ideas – but as I watched the Spurs dispatch the James Harden-led Rockets, I remain skeptical and once again, I have to give Pop (San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich) his props.  The man can coach and he certainly knows how to build a culture of team unselfishness.  It’s an attitude similar to Christian monks and has relevance for each of us.

BASKETBALL – Team Culture


San Antonio lost veteran leader Tony Parker in Game 2 and then lost MVP candidate and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard near the end of a tight Game 5, but found a way to collectively persevere against the Rockets to win in overtime and then completely ran away with Game 6 to win the series. Houston had “do-everything” Harden who did nothing, while San Antonio had reserves, aging veterans, and a unified team approach that methodically dismantled the full throttle offense of the Rockets.  The Spurs overcame losing Parker and Leonard with unheralded Dejounte Murray and Jonathon Simmons posting off-the-chart plus-minus stats, a slow-footed Paul Gasol protecting the rim against Houston’s relentless drives, and the aging Manu Ginobli taking over in crunch time of Game 5 – all made possible by Pop’s team culture (Fox Business outlined four aspects of Pop’s culture).  While he takes heat for resting players in February, his bench players solidify their roles.  While he’s considered crotchety with the media, his players learn from his example of caring for them and showing interest in their lives.  And while the Spurs strictly adhere to the discipline of his system or face his wrath, Pop listens to and invites their observations and input. (Read more in The Business Insider and take a look at Pop speaking at a clinic on The Spurs Philosophy).

For most of us, the image of a monk conjures up images of a solitary, lonesome figure living a highly sacrificial and penitential life.  But the Spurs players are like monks in that not only are they disciplined, but they know their roles because Pop has simplified it.  The monk’s life is simple – depend on God.  For the Spurs, their simplified rules are to work hard to care for and support each other, placing the focus on their teammates rather than on themselves.  While they hold each other accountable, they don’t expect teammates to carry their load or do things they cannot do.  The Spurs keep it simple and because they care about each other and know that their coach cares about them, they do all they can to help and support each other.  They know it’s not about “me.”  It’s about the team.

LIFE – Marriage Expectations

I actually read the idea of having a monk’s attitude in a devotion from Gary Thomas about marriage.  How much better would my marriage be if I didn’t place unrealistic expectations on my wife to meet all of my needs? Wait a minute, isn’t that what marriage is all about – meeting each other’s needs and expectations?  In strong marriages spouses know exactly what each other needs even without them saying anything, right?  Uh, no, it’s not.  While the goal of the Spurs is admirable, it’s not completely possible.  No one can meet expectations – none of us.  In basketball, in marriage, and in this life each of us fails.  The only one who can truly meet all of my needs and truly love me is God.  And, that’s not a knock on my wife.  It’s simply a reminder that I shouldn’t place unrealistic expectations and my burdens on her.   But what I can do is accept God’s perfect love for me and allow it to help me serve her and support her as best as I humanly can.  Rather than resent her when she doesn’t respond as I would want, I can be overwhelmed by every act of love she expresses.  A monk’s attitude in marriage expects nothing, depends on God for everything, and is sincerely grateful for whatever a spouse chooses to share. And as a result, one is free to focus on the other person rather than one’s self.  Just imagine how that can improve a marriage!

FAITH – A Monk’s Attitude

I continue to see God working in my life through what I learn through basketball.  If my life, as a coach, teammate, husband, and father needs to be validated by others, I will be continually disappointed.  Some may say that is pessimistic, but why would I expect others to do things we as mere humans are incapable of doing?  We cannot rely on and expect that other people will validate our purpose and existence,  Last year I shared a bit about Robert McGee’s classic book, The Search for Significance, as we considered Damian Lillard and the Search for Respect.  A major takeaway that has stuck with me is the concept that we should never put complete faith and expectations in other people because they will only let us down.  And when we do, we give all the power to other people – spouses, teammates, and colleagues – to direct our outlook in life.  Why would we do that?  Only God can meet those expectations:

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.  (Psalm 146:3 NLT)

I don’t want to run off to a monastery and I don’t want to teach players to live solitary lives, but I do think we could all use a little more monk in our attitudes – depend on God to meet your needs and lighten up our expectations for others by getting the focus off ourselves and putting the focus into showing appreciation for God’s love for us by how we treat each others.  It’s starts with me, but it can’t be about me.


Coaching From the Bleachers



While I was hoping for better results, last Saturday was a hoopfest in my family.  My team lost a heartbreaking one-point decision to a team ahead of us in the standings, and my son’s high school team had a chance for their first win of the season only to lose to their biggest rival in overtime. However our hometown Milwaukee Bucks pulled off a stunner when they snapped Golden State’s amazing win streak at 24 with a 108-95 victory at the Bradley Center.  As I switched hats from coach to parent to fan, I took in some of what I was seeing and hearing around me. As usual, it seems that everyone has an opinion of what should be happening on the floor. But as I considered that, I also realized that while I easily get frustrated with the comments and behaviors of those not directly involved in a game, and while I’ve seen so many disturbing examples over the years, I’ve also been impacted by tremendous examples of proper parent perspective.

BASKETBALL – Know Your Role

Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford made news when he was ejected from a basketball game – a high school basketball game; his son’s high school basketball game. It sounds like it was an overreaction on the part of an official, but it reminded me again of how difficult it can be for many of us to remember our roles when it comes to a basketball game. Players play, coaches coach, officials administer, and parents should support.  Problems inevitably arise when parents confuse their roles with their kids taking on the brunt of that decision.  Long time NBA assistant coach, Kevin Eastman has this wonderful perspective:

As Eastman’s suggestion illustrates, parents and fans who insist on coaching and instructing from the stands rarely have a positive effect on their kids and as Travis Ford considered after his ejection, rarely have a positive effect on the officials.  Ford’s official statement says it all:CV-e4KeUsAAsxWD

I’m going to assume that his apology was also directed to his son.  As much as I want so badly for our son’s team to win, for him to play well, and for the officials to be fair, it’s not my job as a parent to influence the game on the court.  It’s my job to raise and support our son, which can and often does lead to many discussions and suggestions for him to improve as a player.  When I do, I take the same approach that I use with our team and do all I can to prepare him before he ever hits the floor for a game.  I figure that if I’ve done my job correctly, our son will work well with his coach and can handle all of the uncertainties that can arise during the heat of a game. For our youngest, there’s still plenty of work to do

LIFE – Embrace Your Role

11222122_10156262806815065_4242815544180809524_nPrior to our son’s tough loss that day, our Concordia team lost a nail-biter as well.  We are blessed to have some wonderful parents, including a few coaches.  One is Pete Kittel, who was just selected to the Wisconsin High School Coaches Hall of Fame after coaching at Brillion High School where his son Eric played.   Another is Brian Krizenesky, who has coached with Pete at all levels at Brillion and also helped coach his son, Trevor.  Eric and Trevor play vital roles on our team as their fathers have taught them so well. And while both fathers are experienced, competitive coaches, they are impeccably respectful in their roles as parents.  It’s a helpful reminder to me as I observe them support and counsel their sons.  Both Eric and Trevor have grown as players because their parents laid a foundation that not only taught them the fundamentals of basketball, but taught them how to be young men who crave instruction, compete with integrity, and positively impact their teammates.  As their sons have moved on to play college basketball, these dads have easily transitioned to the role of fan.  Rather than shouting out instructions or criticisms of their sons or their coaches and rather than hunting down staff members or officials to voice their opinions, Pete and Brian take pride and comfort in the confidence that the training of their sons has positioned them for success.  I’m thankful for their example!

FAITH – Influence

I realize that not every parent in every sport situation can select the coaches who will instruct their children, but I have always felt that if I instruct and influence my children as God intends, they will be able to handle the ups and downs of the coaching they receive and will learn to handle the emotions of officials’ calls and the pressure moments of the game.  King Solomon encourages us:

 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  (Proverbs 22:6)  

FullSizeRenderThe influence we have as parents will be displayed in all aspects of our children’s lives in the same way that coaches influence their players.  In the heat of competition, players play and coaches coach, but ultimately the performance of players is determined by the training they’ve received prior to any game they play – or in other words, train up a player in the way he should play:  and when he competes, he will not depart from it.


Making the Most of the New 30 Second Shot Clock

(Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Changes are coming to college basketball this season.  And while shortening the shot clock by five seconds doesn’t seem like that big of deal, many basketball observers have been calling for the change in hopes that it will have dramatic impact on the game.  While many will debate how it will affect the game (see USA Today), as a coach I need to be more pragmatic and be prepared to make adjustments so that our team effectively responds to the new rule. Many will simply ignore the change and some will complain, but by taking a responsible, planned approach, I hope to have our team prepared to make the most out of the new rule. And as I’ve prepared and considered the reduction in time, I found myself considering how we can better respond as the shot clocks of our lives are exhausted.

Basketball – Adjustments To Make

As the season approaches, I tend to make a lot of lists.  It helps me stay organized as I juggle the caps of different jobs.  When I first heard college basketball was officially shortening the shot clock, I didn’t think much of it. After all, we’re an uptempo team and we preach getting good shots as early as we can in any possession and rarely over the last few years have we had shot clock violations. However, early in the summer I devoted a page in my notebook for considering how we can and should address the change, at least from an offensive standpoint.  Here’s what I plan to address and drill with our team throughout preseason practices:

Dirk Nowitzki, Basketballprofi,Arena Trier ,D 29.7. 2004

Dirk Nowitzki, Basketballprofi,Arena Trier ,D 29.7. 2004

  1. Zone Offense – Some teams will believe they can shrink the clock by playing more zone in an attempt to force time-consuming offense.  It will be helpful to have our team prepared with quick-hitting sets and actions to use against zones, which in general we don’t see very often.
  2. Under 7 Actions – In anticipation of having more urgent situations in the final seconds, I want our team prepared to do more than clear out, set a ball screen or isolate a post player. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, who I think is one of the best analysts in the business, suggests that this is an area we can improve by watching the European game, and I agree.  Developing plans for the end of the clock is an element we will add to our offense this year.
  3. Develop More Playmakers – As the clock winds down, good defenses can take away your best playmaker.  We want to have mulitple guys on the floor who can create shots for themselves and their teammates as the clock winds down.  Playing “positionless” basketball will become more of a necessity.
  4. http://collegebasketball.nbcsports.com/


    Attacking Pressure – Teams, even traditional man to man teams like Michigan State, will be utilizing more “slow down” pressure defenses (see NBC Sports).  Having a plan to attack presses quickly will become more important.  We’ll work more on scoring or flowing out of our press break.

  5. Understand Efficiency – I don’t want the shot clock to simply speed our team up and give them free rein to take quick shots.  It will be important to help our players see when we are being most effective in our offense.  Fraschilla breaks a possession into 7-16- 7, or seven seconds of transition flow, sixteen seconds of structured offense, and the final seven seconds of conclusion.  I want our team to understand when we are at our best. If you’re into stats, 82games.com has a good summary from the NBA a few years ago breaking down how teams do with the 24 second clock. Golden State has been every effective in the first part of possessions, while teams like the Spurs tend to be better in the second part.  I want our team to quickly assess and learn what will work best for us.  From there, we’ll adjust accordingly.

LIFE – The Parent Clock

There’s no more important shot clock in my life right now than the parent clock.  We have our oldest graduating from college this year, our second graduating from high school, and the youngest not far behind.  The clock is ticking.  Have I made the most of the possession that I have with my kids before turning them loose in the world?  I feel the urgency of the clock as we prepare them for life on their own.  There certainly are the practical skills like handling money, social skills, and wearing clean underwear, but I focus a lot on spiritual skills and developing an awareness of the word we live in.  Even though my son will move on from college, I found these points from 8 Ways to Ruin Your Life in College are the things I need to address before the clock expires!

FAITH – Number Our Days

As I consider the shot clock, Psalm 90:12 has been running in my brain like a commercial jingle:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The shot clock WILL expire.  How are you spending your time?  Are you ready for the buzzer to sound?  That’s reality.  You can ignore it and just chuck up shots or you can develop a plan to use the time you have.  As I make another list, here are five of my adjustments:

  1. Spend more time in God’s word.
  2. Pray what’s truly on my heart, not what I think is supposed to be.
  3. Unconditionally love my wife and family.
  4. Intentionally show God’s love every day.
  5. Find good in everything and everyone that God has created.

For me, that’s a start.  You’ve got next!