Have you ever wondered what it's like to be an assistant coach? Hopefully, this will give you a glimpse into that kind of life.
I've tried to synthesize the day of an assistant coach based on my time working with a few different teams in the league. Everyone does things a little differently, so this should not be accepted as universal. Still, hopefully this provides an overview of what kind of hours coaches put in on non-gamedays.
Arrive at practice facility. Chances are the video coordinators have already been at work for a while. Those gentlemen put in the real work.
If you are a player development coach, now is the time to get your own individual conditioning done. The weight room and exercise equipment will be all yours. Otherwise, it's time to grab a coffee or another caffeinated beverage of choice and either fire up your laptop or the flat-screen TV in your office. Most teams now preload the coaches' laptops or tablets with the previous night's game and the various teams the assistant is responsible for advance scouting. (Teams generally assign a handful of the 29 other teams in the league to the different assistants.) The video coordinators will also supply individual edits of upcoming teams' sets and actions and clips of your own players that you can review with them later in the day.
Each coach also has his own portable hard drive loaded with previous games or whatever else the coach needs. Big video data files are at their immediate disposal. And to think that 10 years ago, some teams were still using edited VHS tapes.
Time for a little breakfast. Some places look like the continental breakfast at your local Marriott: danishes, bagels, cereals, fruit, yogurt, etc. But some teams have a dining room, complete with chefs who will make you whatever your heart desires. That is a good thing, both for the time-crunched coaches and the players who might not make wise nutritional decisions if left to their own devices. From Mark Cuban hiring a nutritionist for the Mavericks over 12 years ago to the Lakers' recent dietary forays chronicled by CBS Sports' Ken Berger, healthy food has become a bigger consideration for all teams.
Watch more video. Take notes. Diagram actions. After that, watch even more video.
It is now time for the most entertaining part of your day: the coaches' meeting. This is a unique combination of a classroom, locker room, bar stool (alas, without the beverages), psychotherapy group, gossip session and day at the movies.
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The coaches' meeting usually involves the head coach, the four assistant coaches, a player development coach or coaches, one of the video coordinators and sometimes an advance scout if they aren't on an endless road trip. There will usually be a special guest appearance from either the athletic trainer or the athletic performance specialist. His job is to update everyone on the status of injured players.
Before the coaches' Algonquin roundtable gets going for real, the video coordinator will have provided a small ream of paperwork for the coaches' perusal that includes last night's box scores, standings and the upcoming schedule. They'd also provide the advanced statistical package on their team and the league in general, whether from a service or your own basketball operations analytics staff. This would normally include adjusted plus/minus data, lineup combination stats, shooting charts and more complex individual numbers such as effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, rebounding percentage and more. Different staffs deal with all of these numbers in different ways, but most teams, even the biggest Luddites, still look at them in one way or another.
At this point, the coaches will get in their NBA gossip. Who is playing well? Who is in a tough situation? Did you see that crazy play in game X last night? Which players might be available down the road? Who did something really dumb? The NBA water cooler resides inside the coaching boardroom.
This is also the time to get your best good-natured jabs in at the other coaches. Busting chops is a valuable talent in any coaches' room. The single coach who had a date last night? You're commenting on that situation. Alma mater didn't look good in a college game? You're definitely hearing about that result. Golf game in the dumps? You're getting called Charles Barkley, or worse. All the chatter relieves tension and develops chemistry ... well, most of the time. All coaches know their X's and O's; being a good guy and a loyal assistant goes a long way towards being a successful coach and staff member.
The meeting gets going for real. Coaches will usually go over the video from their previous game. Everyone has notes they've taken at the last game of various highlights, lowlights or points of emphasis. They log what they want to see again and especially what they want to show the players at their team video meeting later that morning. Usually, there will be four or five offensive and defensive possessions that'll be singled out for the team to see. Some of them are critical, and some of them are worthy of praise.
Finding that delicate balance between praise and criticism is always difficult. To be honest, coaches kill their own guys every day watching the video during the privacy of their meeting. It's not malicious or mean-spirited, but the tape never lies. The coaches' meeting video review gives everyone time to vent. You can point out the low IQ of your players while simultaneously trying to maximize the talents they do have. But when coaches transmit the same message to the players, they can't be abrasive. They must find the right way to get the message through without insulting the player.
Negative but with a sense of humor and optimism in the coaches' room. Positive and nurturing in the team room. That helps keep even the best staffs mentally balanced.
Once you've finished venting about your own team's never-ending flaws, it's time to look at video of your next opponent. Again, most of this video will have been reviewed by both the advance scout and the assistant coach responsible for that team. A quick look at your next opponent also sets the table for the next day's shootaround or walk-through.
But the never-ending rush of games makes it difficult to go too in-depth at practice about your next opponent. There is just not enough time for extensive "scout" team preparation.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Now, it's time to put together an actual practice plan. Teams will have a template of what they normally include in their practices, but there is always daily input from the coaches. In some cases, teams will have assistants who are responsible for either offense or defense. The head coach will solicit his views on what drills, schemes or actions he would like plugged in that day. Additionally, one coach will normally be responsible for coming up with a series of team and individual drills to open and close the practice.
Time is so valuable and there is usually not enough of it for an NBA team to focus on too much individual work during the formal practice setting. Usually, those skills are pinpointed either before or after practice.
Once the practice plan has been finalized, the video coordinator will usually get the plan typed up and photocopied for all of the coaches. I prefer colored paper or index cards, but that's just me.
The team will gather for its video session, either with a portable projection unit at the practice court or, more likely, in a theater-style video room equipped with big screens and usually a touch-sensitive video board. If you're the Houston Rockets, you board a terrestrial space craft with millions of dollars of audio and video equipment. (That's a little hyperbolic but not too far from the truth.)
After reviewing the video clips chosen earlier at the coaches' meeting, the head coach will go over the points of emphasis for the day's practice. NBA players are creatures of habit, so most coaches throw a little humor into their review and then hit the guys with the serious voice. They mix it up just enough so that the players will tune in instead of spacing out.
Practice lengths vary throughout the league. Some teams keep things short and sweet, running as much of the practice at game speed as possible. Other teams grind it out over a few hours. Think Pat Riley in the '90s. Obviously, different strokes for different folks, but nobody enjoys a talk-fest of stopping and starting that's spaced over a few hours.
With the increased research into rest and recovery, it's just as important to watch players' minutes in practice as it is in games. Many teams use individual GPS units to track the players' mileage and speeds. This is helpful in determining exactly how much stress players are putting on their bodies over the course of the year.
When practice officially ends, many players float over to take care of media responsibilities or wander off to receive treatment. Other players -- superstars, youngsters and/or end-of-the-bench guys alike -- stay to put in more individual work. This is the one time that coaches can truly teach individual skills or experiment with new drills. This is my favorite time of practice (or post-practice). Now, let's work on that floater!
Lunch. I hope stir-fried flank steak and vegetables are on the menu.
Video. Always more video.
Head home. Attempt to have a semblance of a normal life. Think about the changed angle on the side pick-and-roll and wonder exactly how the defense will defend this new wrinkle.
Coaches usually end up watching games at home as well. Bloggers aren't the only ones who worship at the altar of NBA League Pass.
If tomorrow is a game day, start getting excited. If tomorrow's opponent is your scouting assignment, start getting worried. If tomorrow is another practice day? Wash, rinse, repeat.
And that's a day in the life of an assistant coach.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
"ATO" of the Week
At this point of the NBA season, you will often hear fans bemoaning the state of the game. Not enough effort. Guys aren't playing hard. They're all just going through the motions.
While this is sometimes true, it's usually a function of the NBA season being a grind. Three and half games a week will do that to you. But for the most part, you still expect both professional play and execution out of the majority of NBA rosters, even in the direst of circumstances.
Two legendary franchises that are bad, but continue to give good effort and stay competitive in games: the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Aaaah, 2010 is so long ago. While both teams are heading for a potential top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the existing teams continue to play hard and get something done.
So, this "ATO of the Week" comes from a meaningless game between two also-ran teams who just happen to have a storied rivalry and legendary past. The ATO is not a special one, nor is it a time-sensitive, need-a-three or end-of-game situation. It is just solid execution coming out of an early-game timeout.
February 21: Celtics 44, Lakers 36, 3:07 left in second quarter. Lakers ball
Following two poorly executed offensive possessions and a Gerald Wallace score off an easy transition bucket, Los Angeles calls timeout. Coming out of the TO, Pau Gasol inbounds the ball to Kendall Marshall from the backcourt baseline and Lakers prepare for their ATO action. There is no special situation that needs addressing, with plenty of time left in the game and no mismatch that needs to be immediately attacked. The Lakers just need a score.
As mentioned numerous times in this space, the best ATO actions usually come from what your team already does well. As Marshall advances into the frontcourt, Gasol trails, setting up for either a drag screen (which is a staple of Mike D'Antoni's offensive attack) or a "Delay" action (a set MDA ran with great frequency with David Lee in New York). In either case, Gasol hangs back on the perimeter, either to come up to screen Marshall or be available as an outlet.
As Marshall (covered by Rajon Rondo) approaches the wing spot, he reverses the ball to the trailing Gasol (being shadowed by Kelly Olynyk). Wes Johnson (marked by Brandon Bass) takes up a spot at the opposite side slot. New Laker Kent Bazemore (covered by Uncle Jeff Green) and Jodie Meeks (Wallace) take the corner spots on offense.
Upon catching the ball, Gasol makes a tiny, almost undetectable pass fake to Johnson. At this point, the defense also adjusts with Jeff Green and Brandon Bass moving to the edge of the paint and into help positions.
After reversing the ball to Gasol, Marshall moves to set a pindown screen for Meeks. Meeks curls off the initial screen and provides a second "body in the way" quasi-screen for Kendall. Gerald Wallace stays inside and attached to Meeks, while Rondo trails Marshall.
At this point in the action with the curling screen, Los Angeles is running a version of a play called "Delay Inside."
With Marshall coming off of Meeks, Pau now initiates the meat of the "Delay" ATO entree. The Spaniard dribbles towards Marshall on the wing for a "DHO," an acronym for "dribble handoff." Gasol angles himself to execute the play and Marshall stays tight enough that Rondo needs to fight over the top of the screen to stay with him. In a perfect world, Gasol's screen would be more parallel to the sideline, which would really force Rajon to have to come over the top. Doing that requires the defending big man to step up and deal with the ball handler.
With Pau going DHO, Olynyk is in pretty good defensive position. He is not jumping out too high and is in a pretty good position to deal with either the ball or the now rolling to the hoop Gasol. However, his eyes are fully on the driving Marshall.
With Pau rolling hard to the hoop (something he definitely doesn't do all of the time), Wallace has moved off Meeks and "sunk" to the low block area to "jam" the rolling Gasol. But this opens up just what MDA was looking for on this "Delay" action. As Wallace rotates to touch off on Pau, Meeks moves up the sideline into the "back" position. Essentially, it means "back behind the defense," or, more accurately, "back where the ball just came from."
Truth be told, Boston is playing pretty good D on the action. Green and Bass are both in solid position on the opposite side, Rondo is doing the best he can trailing the penetrating Marshall, Olynyk is looking to contain the pick-and-roll and Wallace has sunk to the block, as he has been taught.
But in this case, making this particular decision will kill Wallace's attempt at closing out on Meeks, who is now at the wing spot. As Marshall takes his third dribble, he makes a perfect hook pass to Meeks in the "back" position. In fact, he makes the pass before he even has one foot in the paint.
This forces Wallace to close out from the mid-post area to the wing three-point line. That's two big steps and a contest taking off from approximately 10 feet away from the sweet-shooting Meeks. It's way too far to bother the shot, and Meeks drains the three. Game, set, match, at least on this meaningless, midseason, second-quarter ATO action.
I know I've repeated this before, but the best offenses force the defense to make many decisions on every single possession. In this case, Boston had to answer these questions in only a few seconds:
- How do we position ourselves on the reversal pass, especially now that the ball is in the middle of the floor?
- How do we play the initial pindown screen?
- How do we play the DHO action?
- How do we play the pick-and-roll action off the DHO?
- How do we contain the penetration off the handoff?
- Who picks up the man rolling hard to the hoop?
- How do we close out on a 40 percent three-point shooter who specifically shoots 46 percent from the right wing?
That's a lot of decisions for Brad Stevens' team to make. That's a lot going on for one simple ATO during a game in February.
If you have an ATO to suggest, please email or tweet me with #ebeATO