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5 Jan 2013 - What to Look for When on the Bench - What to Look for When on the Bench

Originally posted on by Mike Procopio. Currently Director of Basketball Operations for ATTACK Athletics in Chicago,IL. His clients include Kobe Bryant, Dwyane wade, Caron Butler, as well as 75 other NBA players. He is also the strategic Game Management Coach to Kobe Bryant. 

When developing young players there are multiple layers to consider. It isn’t just about putting your players through drills and coaching them up in practice. Game preparation, especially during the games are so important. There is nothing worse than watching a game and an inexperienced player checks in and runs around clueless like a chicken with its head cut off. 

This mostly happens because with young players it is tough to absorb the game plan like veterans do. Especially when they go 4-5 games without playing much if not at all. As a staff there should be someone assigned to the bench players to keep them up to speed on what is going on. There should be a coach that throughout the game is communicating with the bench making sure that they are engaged in what is going on.

It should be simple 10 second sound bites like what defensive coverage your team is in or what you are trying to on offense. Keeping them engaged is so important especially with young players. Veterans are usually good with what they need to do even if they are on the bench for games at a time. As we know young players can get lost in the game and it is so important to keep communication open with them during the game. 

These days there is no shortage of staff members on or behind the bench during games. If you notice most are just keeping stats or watching the game. 

As a head coach you should assign 1-2 assistants to your young players that are coming off the bench. They should be talking to them constantly in pre game, during the game, time outs, and at half time. This will help in their development mentally. Players develop not only by playing minutes, but also thinking the game. Not enough players develop the mental aspects of the game. As a player on the bench you should always be paying attention to what is happening. Don’t be frustrated on not starting or getting the minutes that you disserve. You never know when opportunity is going to knock on your door. When this opportunity happens you want to be prepared and want your coach to trust giving you minutes. So here are some things to focus on before checking in the game. 

First off know what the player that you’ll be guarding is doing. 

Do they favor one hand dribbling or one side of the court? 

 What plays do they run to get him/her touches? 

Are they struggling in one area like putting the ball on the floor or finishing?

If you are guarding a post players to they only shoot the ball in the post over a certain shoulder? (Left shoulder for right handed players and right shoulder for left handed players) 

Does the opposing team have issues getting back on defense and is susceptible to the fast break? 

What is your team running that is working on offense? 

 What is your team doing on offense that is not working? 

 How is the opposing team guarding ball screens? 

 Are they fighting through? Going under? 

Does the screener’s defender show on the screen? Stay back? Retreat? 

How is the opposing team guarding pin downs off the ball? Do they fight through? 

 Do they go under? 

Does the defender guarding the screener disconnect to help on the player coming off the screen opening up the screener to cut to the rim? 

Does your opponent leave their feet on fakes and foul a lot? 

Do they box out on defense? 

These are all things that will help you when you are in the game. It is important to pay attention to these things and know some if not all of them before you get in so you have the edge. Another thing you can do if you aren’t picking up on it is to talk to your assistants during the game and ask them things that you don’t understand. They should know what your opponent’s weaknesses are and would be happy to tell you. Especially talk to the assistants that did the scouting report because they probably watched 3-4 games of your opponent either live or on tape and should know them inside and out. 

Being prepared is so important. Coaches as a whole rely on trust. They play players that can perform and at the end of the day they can trust will get the job done. For the most part coaches are looking for reasons to dismiss players and lack of preparation will only help in putting you deeper on the bench and/or eventually cutting you. Don’t do what most players do and be negative when they aren’t playing much. Don’t feel sorry for yourself do something to earn your time. Be engaged in the game and be proactive with your assistants and asking them questions. 

You must build on your playing time and do anything that you can to help your team and build the trust your coach has in you to put you in a game. Everyone wants to be a starter and play big minutes. Some players are good enough to come right in and play and some have to earn time. Some of the best players in the NBA had to earn their time before they became stars. 

Here are some examples:

It took Kobe Bryant about a season and a half to become a regular starter  

It took Kevin Garnett almost 40 games to be a starter Al Jefferson waited over 2 years to become a starter 

Jeremy Lin was on the bench for a year and a half until he became a starter. 

Bruce Bowen waited 6 years of going from team to team as well as having to play in France and the minor leagues to get his opportunity to become one of the NBA’s elite defenders and a starter on three NBA Championship Spurs teams. 

In most of the cases they were players that had All –Star ability, but physically needed time to develop before becoming starters in the NBA. With the cases of Lin and Bowen no one gave them much of a thought of becoming players on any NBA team not to mention starters at their position. In all the cases they were all mentally tough players that understood what it took mentally and physically to be successful at their position. 

As a player take pride in understanding mentally what is needed to be great as well as physically. Be engaged in the game even if you aren’t getting minutes. Talk to your coaches and let them know you want to become better by asking them questions about your opponents. Don’t build a wall between you and your coaches that will never lead to anything positive. 

As a coaching staff continue to make your team better by talking and engaging to your bench players to make sure you are on the same page when it comes to your game plan. Don’t assume that they know what to do. Most young players don’t take scouting reports seriously or they don’t fully understand them. Make sure that the language that you use isn’t filled with terminology that reads like stereo instructions make sure they are easy to understand. Throughout the entire game there should be a coach that continues to talk to your bench players to make sure they know what is going on. Offensive and defensive schemes and some things that you are seeing in the game that will help them when they check in. 

Good preparation leads to great things on and off the court. Take it seriously as you never know when that opportunity is going to present itself to great things in basketball and in life.

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