Saturday, August 21, 2010

So where are the point guards and shooters?

Why are there both less and less top level point guards and elite shooters coming out of the high school ranks nowadays? This, of course, excludes those talents who are legends in their own minds and in those of their entourage. But seriously, these are significant charges and, although no definitive analysis has been conducted, some of those who are in position to know are weighing in on these matters.

After all, kids play organized ball winter, spring and summer and are 'coached' so much more than ever before, plus top flight trainers and training are available. Not that we desire to be one of those cranky old-timers who still treasures the peach basket era -- with the bottom still intact -- but shouldn't the level of skills be on the upswing nowadays?

Adam Finkelstein, who operates an East Coast basketball recruiting site, recently offered these paragraphs within a longer article he penned:
"...Consider this ­ there are approximately 75 BCS level schools right now. Say roughly 2/3 of those schools need a point guard for next year, then that means there need to be 50 high major point guards in the country…guess what…there aren’t.  Bottom line, the reason why many mid-major talents are ending up at the high major-levels is because of lack of better options..."

"...Calling all point guards and shooters ­ speaking of point guards, there aren’t a whole lot of them anymore.  There are plenty of guards who need the ball in their hands to be successful, but a terribly small percentage of them really understand what it means to run a team and make their teammates better. .."

"...The same can be said for knock down shooters as there are a lot of kids who love to fire from long range but not a lot of guys who really thrive in that area anymore..."
Is this accurate? If so, why is this? What can be done?

We turned to a pair of renowned northern California basketball trainers for their respective takes on the concerns Finkelstein raises: Jeremy Russotti and Phil Handy. Each trains players across the hoops spectrum, from high schoolers to professional basketballers, and possesses the particular bonafides appropriate to assess the subjects raised.

Here's Russotti:
I think it is a more recent issue, ever since summer ball has become a business. I believe that there are not a lot of pure point guards around because of the limited amount of recruiting opportunities for players to be seen by college coaches. Because coaches have to rely on AAU events in the summer, all the prospects are looking to impress them during these short period of times. Kids are smart, they know they have to shine in their limited time and the best way to do that is by doing something flashy or putting the ball in the basket. This pressure is coming from their AAU coach and the parents of the kids. Since a coach may only watch half of a game, or just one game, players know they have to really stand out in order for a coach to catch their attention.

Also, I think the really good floor generals that are not on elite AAU teams get overlooked. If you are on an average AAU team and controlling the game and passing to guys that turn it over, then it won't show out to the common person watching. However, if you are on a top team that is loaded with talent and you are the QB making it all happen, then you look like a genius.

As for as shooters, I couldn't agree more, especially on the west coast.  The discipline it takes to be a shooter is almost monk-like. A lot of guys don't realize that to be a good shooter, you have to sacrifice a lot of your free time into that part of your game. I was fortunate to train a couple of high school all-state players, as well as two players who led the NCAA in 3-pointers made (Josh Akognon - CSU Fullerton) and 3-point % (Tyler Tiedeman - Boise State). Both of those guys put so much time in mastering their mechanics and confidence, that it was almost an addictive syndrome. It is ironic that both of those guys live within 5-minutes from each other and come from small towns.   Having proper mechanics is an issue, but more of it has to do with functional shooting (realistic shooting drills), and repetition.

Ask how many top players have full-time trainers and the answer will be really, really low. That is like asking a boxer to go fight someone in three months, but do all the training by themselves. Basketball is backwards and everyone thinks that playing more games, you will become a better shooter.

I could tell you stories of Josh and Angelo Tsagarakis that would blow your mind. How they would meet before school to shoot, then shoot at practice (or my workouts), then come back at 10 p.m. with the janitor and shoot again. How they would always shoot on Friday nights, cause they knew everyone else was watching some sort of high school football games and not in the gym. How both guys had to go to the doctors because they were developing bone calcium cysts at their wrist joints because the doctor said they were shooting too much! They both had to cut down on their shooting so they could bend their wrists! That is how much they wanted to get better.

As for what caused these issues, I think one aspect is the media. How many YouTube videos are made of players controlling a game with a proper space dribble, penetration and kick, or controlling the clock or tempo of a game? Our media reinforces scoring, therefore, the players are going to strive for that.

Another part is the parents. Is your son going to be nationally ranked at nine years old if he is playing a pure point guard position? Every parent wants their kids to be scorers, therefore, it comes from the top down.

Regarding what can be done by coaches, trainers and players to lessen, if not alleviate, these perceived concerns, I think the best way to alleviate this problem is to have a strong reference support of former professional players. I know that sounds too good to be true, but I have been giving advice to players and parents for years on how to help them with their game and recruiting. 99% of the time they go against what I say. However, I find that if I refer them to a professional player who has been in that situation and made that same mistake, they take it as gold. Take a look at the pacific northwest hoops situation in Washington. There is a reason why  there are so many NBA players coming out of Washington. They have an amazing mentor program where the top NBA guys come back and mentor these guys. It isn't rocket science, but their priorities have been paved for them and they are working in areas they need to work on, rather than worrying about how they are ranked, or what a college coach will think on their performance. The Bay Area needs that connection! I have been preaching that for years.
Here's Handy:
The PG (point guard) position is definitely a lost position as many of today's young players do not understand the concept of team first.  A PG is supposed to be an extension of the coach, a floor leader, the general -- not the kid who has the ball in hands for 30 seconds of the shot clock every position. Most players today are not taught to be a distributor but rather to be a scorer at every opportunity which takes away from the concept of team from this position. I also think players today do not have the understanding of moving without the ball which limits their ability to be effective. Too many players need the ball in their hands to have an impact on the game which also takes away from the need of a true PG. A true PG is someone who can lead his team by getting his teammates involved first, they must be able to multitask in game play (this is more than chewing gum and dribbling...) by dribbling, directing traffic, setting up teammates with good shots, listening for play calls, reading defenses while handling tough defenders and being a tough defender! There is nothing wrong with being a PG who can score versus a scoring PG but there is a big difference between the two. More kids need to watch John Stockton or Steve Nash footage.

70% of young "shooters" are what I like to call "volume shooters." They definitely are shooters by name not by actual ability to shoot. Too many players think they are shooters and, if they really looked at the percentage in which they shoot threes, I think this thought would change. It's not good enough to shoot 30% from long distance.  Great shooters (long range) have to be able to knock down shots in the 40%+ range on a consistent basis. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that a lot of young players today do not know a good shot from a bad shot. Kids are often times under different types of pressure whether it be parents, friends, coaches or other sources to shoot the ball and they do so without a conscience or thought of "is this a good shot?" Players also need to learn that not everyone can shoot threes or be a good shooter. I tell clients all the time, "Learn not to do what you cannot do until you learn to do it!"

I think these issues have been an increasing problem in youth basketball for some time now. The "AND 1" glory days were a big boost in this epidemic of sorts.

As for what caused these issues, players have a tendency to pick things up from other players both good and bad. Sometimes they are taught incorrectly. There are a lot of people who try and teach the game with great intentions but oftentimes may hurt the player's game more than help it. Lack of attention to detail, respect for the game in terms of how it should be played and a true desire to be a pure PG or good shooter are also key elements.

There is no single answer to the question of what can be done but a good place to start is by how players train and practice. Most players do not have any kind of concept of how to work out at game speed. Too many players get in the gym and do things at half speed or often times less than that. The difference is game play is much faster and physical and players are not prepared for this due to how they train. There is a direct connection between training, practice and games that players need to take more seriously. Many bad habits are formed in workouts such as "moving without a purpose",-- if you are going to work on your game do it effectively and efficiently. Shooters need to practice shooting game shots at game speed off the dribble, standing still or on the move. Practice good form, good release point, good follow through, good balance, good footwork -- don't just get in the gym and shoot shots as repetition can work in both ways good and bad. If you practice bad things you will get bad results and vice versa. PGs need to better understand what this position requires -- it's not just being a good ball handler. I have never witnessed a winning team without a good PG, after all they are the beginning and sometimes the end of all offense. Coaches can always spend additional time breaking down film and working with their PGs in terms of expectation and responsibility. The saying "practice makes perfect" is one of the best of all time and something that is grossly overlooked by a lot players.
Okay, what is your take?

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