These days, the shootaround is a staple of a team's pregame preparation. But where did the practice start?
The modern-day NBA shootaround was the coaching invention of Hall of Fame coach Bill Sharman, who first introduced it with the Cleveland Pipers of the forgotten American Basketball League. He brought the concept and practice with him during championship coaching stints in both the ABA and NBA, most famously with the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Sharman introduced the shootaround as a way to burn off nervous energy on game days and begin focusing on the task at hand. With the '72 Lakers, the primary purpose was to try to curb Wilt Chamberlain's nocturnal lifestyle. That failed, but the other veteran Lakers took to the routine. When LA ripped off a 33-game winning streak and won the title that year, the majority of NBA teams added the practice.
But what actually happens during a shootaround?
For this column, we'll focus on a gameday shootaround on the road. Thanks to back-to-backs and other physically draining travel situations, teams often forego these, but this is how the day normally goes down if there is indeed a shootaround.
Like everything in a coach's life, the day starts with a meeting and video. Usually, the meeting will be held in the head coach's suite or a small conference room at the hotel. The video coordinator will hand out a condensed advance scouting report, a stats package and usually a team analysis showing where the opponent is ranked in a variety of statistical categories, both traditional and advanced.
As the meeting begins, the head coach will usually go over the starting lineups and the defensive assignments. Sometimes, the matchups are pretty straightforward. Other times, the head coach isn't 100 percent sure and is looking for feedback from the assistants.
The assistant coach responsible for preparing advance work on that night's opponent speaks next. Close scouting of the league's 29 other teams will usually be divided equally among the three full assistant coaches, with any leftovers going to a junior assistant or a player development coordinator. Now is the time for the assistant assigned to the night's opponent to give a general overview of its style of play, general tendencies, personnel quirks, streaking and slumping players and more.
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In addition to the general review, you'll also be responsible for explaining the opponent's top 15 or so offensive sets and actions with the rest of the coaching staff. The video coordinator will already have all of the film queued up on his trusty laptop. As the coaches watch, the staff will also be deciding which clips to show the team before the shootaround begins. It is also important to go over any special situation or unique action your opponent might run. After all, you never want to show up as the defensive victim on "ATO of the Week."
The coaches' meeting concludes when everyone heads down to the bus. This is not a minor step in the shootaround day. Someone will be dispatched to the local Starbucks to secure caffeine before the bus leaves. Plus, you cannot underestimate the consequences of accidentally sitting in the wrong seat on the bus. The bus ride to shootaround is part of a greater routine, and NBA personnel live off of routine. Never sit in someone else's seat.
Once you arrive at the arena, a rookie will be dispatched to the ball rack to fetch Adam Silver's leather bounty and the preparation begins. After a few minutes of light shooting and fooling around, it's time to get down to business. Teams all travel with a portable screen and projection unit that is then hooked up to the video coordinator's computer. Once this is hooked up, it's go time.
After a few remarks from the head coach, the assistant responsible for scouting that specific opponent will go over the predetermined video clips with the team. All of the primary offensive sets and actions off those plays will be showcased, noting what the opposition is looking to get and how to stop them from getting it. It is best to keep the video clips down to a reasonable number. While you never want to be unprepared, you also don't want to overwhelm the players with too much information, because they'll overthink on the court. Like many other aspects of game preparation, finding that fine line is difficult. Most teams will highlight five or six sets, each with a variety of possible actions.
After going over the video, it's time to practice what was just viewed. Everyone is up and ready to walk (or run about half-speed) through the opponent's plays. While you are not going full speed in the half court, players are strongly encouraged to talk to each other just like it's a game. The best teams communicate defensively all of the time. Shootaround is an ideal time to reinforce these good habits.
Once both units have run through the opposition's offensive and defensive sets, it's time to put the "shoot" into shootaround. Normally, this is where teams pick up the pace and review their own offensive sets. Five players will run through the many different actions against no defenders on one end, then run to the other end and do the same. This goes on for about 10 minutes and covers about six to eight different sets.
Then, it's time to get individual shots up. Most teams will break into two groups, with guards at one end and big men at the other. The idea is to run through shots that will come out of your plays; old-time teachers call this "part method." An example would be the guards catching at the wing and coming off a drag screen (see point No. 2 of this for an explanation of a "drag screen") for a jumper. On the other side of the floor, the guard is passing to the wing and cutting through to be ready to catch and shoot a corner 3. The big men are setting high screen and rolls and finishing at the rim or popping out and practicing elbow jumpers.
It must be stressed again: everything is a result of a smaller piece of your overall offense. Go off a pindown screen quick to the corner and pop back for a jumper. Catch in the low block for a jump hook. Next time, kick it out and follow for a step-up screen. These are the same kind of shots every team hopes to produce during the game that evening.
The hour-long session finishes with more individual spot shooting, free throws and any questions (and hopefully answers) with the coaches. The media is also allowed in for the last 15 minutes of the shootaround. The head coach always talks and some of the players do as well.
As individual players finish with their shooting, it is time to go. The bus waits for no man, depending on how strict your security personnel are that day. Rookies will help grab equipment and bags to put on the bus, and then it's back to the hotel. Time for a delicious lunch buffet in one of the conference rooms or dining lounges of the five-star accommodations.
Nervous energy gone, routine followed and preparations over. Time to relax and get ready for that night's game. Thanks, Coach Sharman.
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
ATO OF THE WEEK
I'm not sure how much evidence we need for something to be a trend, but I've definitely noticed a new wrinkle in NBA after-timeout philosophy. It may just be my highly selective memory, but I'm convinced more teams are making use of what I'll call "the pre-mandatory timeout." Since you can't carry more than one full timeout past the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, coaches are using up their "extra" full timeouts to get a better look before waiting on the mandatory under nine-, six- or three-minute stoppage in the fourth quarter.
New Hawks head man Mike Budenholzer is definitely a coach who uses this practice. Following a Utah Jazz score with 3:47 remaining in Monday's game, Coach Bud took a full timeout and drew up one of the best ATOs of the season. We're talking a Mona Lisa of play design here. Budenholzer takes a familiar Atlanta set and paints a new smile on the canvas. Or non-smile, in the case of Lisa del Giocondo.
The ball is inbounded on the baseline to Jeff Teague, with DeMarre Carroll trailing. As Teague crosses into the frontcourt, Trey Burke picks him up. Gordon Hayward checks Carroll.
Once Teague gets to the frontcourt, Atlanta's offense is set as follows: Paul Millsap at the right mid-post covered by Marvin Williams, Pero Antic at the opposite high post checked by Derrick Favors, and Kyle Korver stationed on the left low block, marked by Alec Burks. The canvas is ready, Coach Da Vinci.
Teague reaches the right wing and reverses the ball to the trailing Carroll, which is a common way to start many sets. But as one veteran head and assistant coach told me recently: "You've got to play the action, not the set." As Teague reverses the ball, Millsap steps up to the wing and provides a little back screen for the cutting Demon Deacon. Burke does a good job splitting the screen and his own teammate to stay with Teague as he settles into the low post area. After the little brush screen, Millsap pops to the wing.
As Millsap hits the three-point line, Carroll passes the ball back to the wing. As Carroll makes the pass, Antic moves up to the top of the key to set a nice little flare screen for DeMarre. Right now, this set is looking like either a post isolation for Teague or a skip pass to Carroll. Either way, the defense is solid and well positioned.
Wait a minute though, Tuscan nobility. The real brush strokes are just beginning.
As Millsap squares to look at Teague in the low post, Korver comes on a diagonal cut towards the right high post. As Millsap makes the post entry pass to Teague, Korver arrives to set a solid back screen for the Louisiana Tech big man.
Here is where Da Vinci's, err, Budenholzer's genius comes into play. As Korver sets the back screen for Millsap, all five Jazz defenders are within a few feet of each other. Normally, you'd think that is solid defensive positioning. The Jazzmen have jammed the paint and are in a good position to switch and close out on anyone. You'll see why this isn't actually true shortly.
Korver does a nice job on his back screen catching Marvin Williams. As a result, Burks gives Korver space, zoning up and making sure he can tag off the cutting Millsap. Favors is in an aggressive nail position, looking to make contact with the rolling Millsap and continuing to jam up the painted area.
Millsap ultimately does a nice job curling off of Korver's pick, and this also allows him setting a nice moving screen/blocking fullback maneuver for what is about to come. After making a small jab step towards Teague, Korver peels back towards the three-point line using the Millsap "Fridge" block and a second pindown screen from Antic. Millsap has occupied both Burks and Favors, while Antic has headhunted the reversing Williams.
Guess what happens next? Teague hits Korver perfectly in stride as he reaches the three-point line, and the league's premier three-point shooter is well into his catch-and-shoot motion before Favors even has an opportunity to attempt to close out from a good 12 feet away. Much too late, big fella. That jumper is wet.
Part of what makes this ATO a true Mona Lisa is the misdirection (post-up, flare screen, etc.) and the screen the screener action for Korver. But what we the viewers don't realize is how this specifically confuses Utah's own scouting. The Hawks have done what we discussed last week: taking a familiar set -- one even media advance scouts like ESPN's Kevin Pelton and Grantland's Zach Lowe recognized -- and running a different action out of it. Usually, after Korver sets the back screen for Millsap, he will cut hard towards the baseline and receive a dribble handoff (DHO) for a pull-up jumper. But this time, Atlanta used that expected outcome to throw in the Antic down screen to further free up Korver for the wing three-pointer. Outstanding stuff.
The lesson? Make excellent use of timeouts, regardless of any automatic mandatory timeout to come. Take a successful and known set and tweak it just a little to make the defense, as my wise coaching friend so eloquently put it, "play the action, not the set." Maybe this "ATO of the Week" isn't so much the original Mona Lisa as much as a brilliant reproduction. Coach Bud painted the Mona Lisa like Andy Warhol. This ATO is 1963's "Thirty are Better than One."
Game. Set. Match. Chalk another one up for the Pop coaching tree.
If you have an ATO to suggest, please tweet or email me with #ebeATO