Thursday, June 25, 2009

Defense Wins Games

From today's WSJ (6/25/09), "American Kids Flunk Basketball 101," Michael Beasley laments his lack of defensive prowess:

[A]s concerns build about his...rough transition to the NBA, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, finally conceded a fundamental flaw: No one, at any level in his basketball career, had asked him to play defense. And especially not in AAU. “If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing,” he says. “I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”

AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union, a national youth basketball circuit. When I coach youth basketball at the local community center, I emphasize defense. Whoever plays harder defense gets more minutes if I have a vacancy. I also reward kids who play defense by praising them every chance I get. Defensive drills are fairly simple. I call them "rebounding and hounding" drills.

No one teaches kids defense anymore, even though you can't win games without it. Michael Jordan was voted defensive player of the year in 1988, and also racked up nine NBA All-Defensive First Team honors. The San Antonio Spurs recently won several titles with their hard-nosed defense. The Boston Celtics didn't win any titles, not even division titles, until after 1957--exactly when defensive stud Bill Russell started suiting up for the team. Defense is key to winning in basketball. The Phoenix Suns have found this out the hard way--although they would score 120 points on a regular basis, they haven't been able to win a title in recent history.

Beasley is talented, but his doesn't seem to have the killer instinct necessary to play defense. He's more of what I call a "pretty boy" player--content to shoot easy baskets and not sacrifice his body for the sake of a play. The opposite of the "pretty boy" mentality? Dennis Rodman and Chris "Birdman" Anderson.

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