The Defensive Short: Basketball IQ

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Draymond Green Basketball

Basketball IQ and awareness are two things that aren’t discussed enough. They go a long way and can truly distinguish the difference between a good and a great player. I often stress the little things when discussing basketball because I truly believe that the little things are game changers. Diving for loose balls, communicating on defense and even decision making are just a few examples under the umbrella of little things. Here we look at awareness and decision making and how a small decision can make the biggest difference in the world.

In this play, we see Tristan Thompson press Draymond Green close to half-court and Green blows right by him to draw a foul at the rim:

The issue in this play is Thompson not knowing and understanding who he’s defending. For one, why would you press Green that close to the half-court line? The only guy that’s truly a threat from that deep is his teammate Stephen Curry. This is an instance where if I’m Thompson, I’m sitting at the three-point line because that’s when Green becomes a threat.

Even then, with the way he’s been shooting, no one is really concerned with Green being open from deep. To compound on that, Thompson not only has to be aware of his opponent’s abilities but he also must be aware of his own. Laterally, he’s not that quick to be playing any defender that close from that far out. With his length, Thompson could be an arm’s length distance from his opponent and still be a defensive threat.

To make it all worse, Thompson gets beat, fouls, and now the Golden State forward gets two free throws. All in all, it’s just a boneheaded play. There’s no reason to close out that tight to someone who’s not a threat from that far out.

Draymond Green basketball
Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

In two other situations, we see other Cavaliers react in a completely different way. Below Larry Nance Jr and Jordan Clarkson stunt at Green as if they’re going to run out but they don’t. While coaches don’t encourage giving up open threes, Green has been beyond struggling with his shot. He’s shot 30.1% from behind the arc during the regular season and an excruciating 26.6% during the postseason. In that situation, giving up a three is the right play.

In another play, LeBron James is in between two, playing the lane to discourage a possible Kevin Durant drive to the basket. He succeeds and Durant passes the ball to Green for an open three. Being aware of who he’s guarding, James plays off with a “half” close-out, encouraging him to shoot the ball. Green bites and he misses again.

Now you can say, well that’s an open shot and just as easy as he missed it, he could’ve easily made it as well. While that’s true, sometimes you have to play the numbers. You’d rather a 30% shooter take shots than guys like Klay Thompson, Curry, and Durant. These are smart plays by Nance Jr, Clarkson, and James. That drive past Thompson to the basket could’ve easily been a dunk or an and-one which could’ve resulted in a point swing and a momentum shift. That’s why those little things play out to be so huge in the long run.

You don’t want to give up easy baskets by making lackadaisical plays. When facing a juggernaut like the Golden State Warriors, it’s imperative that you cherish every possession. That includes being aware of your situation and making good decisions. Closing out to Green at half-court is not smart but playing off and making him a shooter is.

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