Preparing to win

With our Finals match-up set, the word “preparation” will be bandied about quite a bit between today and May 31st. The players will receive a brief respite from their battles in the conference finals, but there are a number of individuals in the Miami and Dallas organizations already hard at work.

You won’t see them, but the scouts, video coordinators, and front office interns involved in the advanced scouting process will, in their own small way, help determine the 2010-2011 NBA Champion.

Advanced scouts, perhaps the most road weary people in the NBA, will have attended the previous series to pick up play calls and assess the general feel of an upcoming opponent. During the regular season, they would relay this information through notes and/or a phone call to the assistant coach who is in charge of the scout for that particular opponent. In the postseason, with the focus solely on one opponent for as many as seven straight games, the whole staff will most likely be included in this meeting.

Think of Kevin Garnett. The best defenders are big talkers, and one of the things they’re communicating is what play is coming next, and what everyone needs to do. Knowing that a high pick and roll with the 5 man is “5 Up Twist” gives the defense just a slight edge in defending the play. Familiarity results in defensive adjustments that disrupt the offense’s pet plays. An advanced scout’s report on what the opponent’s habits are also gives the local staff a good heading as to what to look for when breaking down the film.

That film process falls on those poor video guys. The entire year, they have been hard at work in dark rooms cutting up game after game for their coaching staff aided only by some unhealthy, late-night food and perhaps an overwhelmed intern.

It’s likely that the coaching staffs in Miami and Dallas will want the video guys to review, categorize and analyze every one of their opponent’s offensive and defensive possessions.

Obviously what their previous opponent is doing lately is a must-see, but in Miami’s case, a coach or two may even request the video coordinator to cut up some of Dallas’ first round match-up with Portland, a team that is more comparable to the Heat’s personnel than the Lakers or Thunder. Unlike Dallas, the Heat will probably dig deep into the regular season meetings. Spolestra and his staff may want to review if any particular lineups or sets gave Dallas trouble. A lot has changed (for the better) in South Beach since they last met the Mavs, but if an older lineup, action, or scheme gave Dallas trouble, they may want to go back to it.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, won’t be able to draw much if anything from those previous two meetings. Miami’s current personnel, rotations, and overall play are night and day from the last time they met in December. In many ways, Dallas is playing Miami for the first time. Most of Dallas’ scouting will be from the recent Bulls series. Unfortunately for the Mavs, teams like Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago bear very few similarities (if any) to this Mavericks team, so there isn’t much for Dallas to “steal” from Miami’s earlier opponents.

During this film breakdown, certain things are given particular attention. Naturally, the general offensive and defensive schemes will be studied. The (condensed) big questions are:

  • What are the common actions they run on offense?
  • Where do they like to get their best players the ball?
  • What do they run off dead balls and timeouts?
  • What do they run on baseline and sideline out of bounds plays?
  • How do they defend pick and rolls on the side and middle of the floor?
  • How do they defend isolations and post-ups?
  • Where do they influence people on the defensive end of the floor?
  • What do they do in end of game situations?
    • Personnel?
    • Sets?
    • Tendencies on offense and defense?

It’s an enormous amount of data to process and analyze in a very short time. But this information is power, and dictates how each team will approach its opponent from a tactical standpoint.

Each team will look for these trends as well as general tendencies of the opposing personnel. Inability to finish with off-hand? Noted. Deadly coming off pin-downs? We’ll lock and trail. Always looks to spin right on rim attack? His defender will anticipate that.

The final piece of the puzzle is the empirical data. In the Mavericks organization, a team noted for its effective use of advanced statistical data, Rick Carlisle and his staff will be given piles of information to peruse. Assistants (and “Defensive Coordinators” like Dallas’ Dwayne Casey) have most likely been devouring statistics from each and every player, trying to find particular areas and situations in which they struggle shooting the ball.

Once the coaching staff has figured what they want to emphasize and how, it all comes together on the practice floor over the next few days. Through drills and repetitions, teams hone their own style of play while carefully allotting time to prepare for their opponent’s most menacing threats. But that is just the start. Once even the first half of Game 1 concludes, each team will begin adjusting anew based on the accuracy of the assumptions and conclusions made during the scouting process.

This constant ebb and flow won’t end until one team joyfully holds aloft the Larry O’Brien trophy. Only then does the furious race to collect information, analyze and prepare subside.

Twitter: @BKoremenos

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  1. [...] week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part I of an [...]

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