19 September, 2017
06 May, 2018
Walter De Raffaele (ITA)
to read

Watching Windows

LONDON (Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider) – According to legendary coach, Red Auerbach on the art of coaching, "It’s not what you tell them, it’s what they hear." By the time a coach has reached the level of coaching in an elite competition like the Basketball Champions League, they have probably forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever know.

For a coach however, knowledge alone is futile. The real skill of coaching is communicating that knowledge in a way that enables the players understand and apply that knowledge in a game situation.

Coaches don’t win basketball matches, players do. What a skilled coach can certainly do, is help players win matches with meticulous preparation and game-management, that puts players in the best position to be successful.

"It’s not what you tell them, it’s what they hear."Red AuerbachRed Auerbach

A time-out is possibly the situation that provides a coach with the greatest test of his or her game-management skills. In-game, coaches process countless events and trends, requiring 1000’s of decisions in real time. Numerous studies have tried to measure the impact that coaches make on games, via the outcome of the possession directly after their time outs but the number of variables that can impact the successful execution of a coaches’ instructions, makes any data collected too noisy to gain any real objective information.

This season, the Basketball Champions League has taken the decision to ‘mic-up’ the dialogue between coaches and players during time-outs, offering fans, aspiring coaches and hoop nerds a fascinating window into the inner workings of elite basketball.

This open window also offers us the chance to look back with hindsight and understand some the decisions that coaches are making to impact the outcome of games, without having to trawl through lines of noisy data from box scores.

With limited time-outs per game, the battles between coaches about when and how to use the break in play, becomes a game within the game. Coaches will often call ‘Time-out’ to break an opponents’ momentum, call a play, change a match up or tactical assignment and influence the outcome of the remaining possessions in a period of play.

Two of the best in the Basketball Champions League at deciding when to make the call and how to use it are Raoul Korner of medi Bayreuth and Walter De Raffaele of Umana Reyer Venezia. Already this season, we have seen and heard both coaches at work during high-pressured, overtime games.

Raoul Korner is one of Europe’s highest-rated, up and coming play callers and his medi Bayreuth have been good value in every game of their first season in the #BasketballCL. Game-day 5 pitted the Germans against fellow newcomers Movistar Estudiantes and Coach Salvo Maldonado – a very skilled and experienced coach himself. Early in the game, the Spanish team jumped out to a big, early lead, testing Coach Korner’s skills, just to help his side get back within touching distance. Bayreuth found a way back into the game through a combination of Gabe York, Andreas Seiferth and Nate Linhart. York, the former Arizona Wildcat, can flat out shoot the ball and Nate Linhart is a 6’7” (2m00) play-maker in the mould of Aaron Doornekamp (What is it with the German BBL and players like this?).

In football the lazy cliché for skilful left footed players is to compare their left foot to a wand. Watching Linhart go left, is more akin to the Terminator, reloading and firing a shotgun, one-handed, whilst riding a motorbike. Whatever the angle or level of contact, somehow the shot always finds it’s mark.

As the 4th Quarter started to wind down, medi Bayreuth had the lead down to 10 and Coach Corner was doing everything in his power to prevent Estudiantes from opening the game up again. Twice he called ‘Time-out’ to draw up a play and twice, medi Bayreuth responded with perfect execution. On the 1st occasion, he called ‘5 Down’ to get Seiferth in a Dribble Hand Off action, rolling to the basket and the 2nd time, he used his best scorer – Gabe York – as a decoy and had him set the screen for Wachalski to shoot. York, by the way, is an excellent screener – a very under rated skill for a guard in the modern game.

Korner’s Time-Outs had the desired effect and medi Bayreuth stayed in the game long enough for Gabe York to hit a dramatic late 3 and take the game to overtime.

Things don’t always go to plan though, especially when human error and your opponent are involved. Halfway through OT and Estudiantes have opened up a 4 point lead. Coach Korner has 60 seconds to distil complicated adjustments on both ends of the floor. You can hear Korner instructing his players to ‘Push Trap’ the side ball-screen. Most of the game, medi Bayreuth had been covering the same action with ‘Ice’, where the on-ball defender forces the ball baseline and the screeners man drops to take away the drive. Omar Cook had just started to heat up and hit a 3 off the dribble for Estudiantes, so Korner is trying to stop his flow. On offense, he calls a play for Nate Linhart. A play that had been successful - getting Linhart going to his strong hand - all game, until this point. This time his opponent adjusts and his team’s execution falters.

Estudiantes took this momentum and went on to win a game that medi Bayreuth had no business taking to OT in the first place.

This season has seen a freakish number of overtime games already and none more dramatic than the - tone setting – triple overtime game in round 1 between Umana Reyer Venezia and Banvit. A game that was a dream for fans but a nightmare for coaches, with both teams at times, doing more to lose the game than win it.

Each team will have their own language and the same terminology can mean completely different actions. Earlier we saw coach Korner call ‘2 UP’ as a play that uses his 2-Man (Shooting Guard) as a screener. This time we hear Walter De Raffaele call ‘2 UP’ for his post players to start the play up at the elbows. A play designed to use the low post as pivot to create perimeter shooting opportunities. De Raffaele, then instructs his team to ‘Split’ (the passer is then involved in an off-ball screening action, after entering the ball in the post). Recognising that Venezia had already scored several times from ‘Split’ actions, De Raffaele anticipates that Banvit will successfully defend this action and is already talking about how to execute the ancillary Pick and Roll. Advising his team to look for the pass out as Banvit collapse to take away passes to the roll man. Banvit do exactly that but a crafty lift on the perimeter from Cerella to open up for the pass out, draws a defender out and Biligha gets the flush!

Venezia execute exactly what was effectively, predicted by their coach.

*** Please excuse the language and my video editing. Credit Jeff Taylor for his own in-game management here.

Banvit coach Saso Filipovski is an also an excellent tactician and every time these 2 coaches meet, the game of chess between them, makes for excellent viewing. Multiple adjustments later and the game is looking like  Filipovski has come out on top. Banvit are up 3 with 10 secs to go and 2 fouls to give. Meaning that if they use their fouls tactically, they can take time off the clock twice before Venezia can shoot. De Raffaele calls ‘time-out’ and has a decision to make. Lots of coaches would try to take a quick 2 and then foul in this situation, especially as Venezia still had 1 Time-out remaining. De Raffaele knows that Banvit will foul so prepares his team to inbound twice and advises them to try and draw the foul whilst shooting a 3. No coach could predict that an experienced and quality player like Tony Taylor would make the uncharacteristic mistake of giving them the foul on the 3 but you have to sew the seed to reap the harvest and it takes clarity under pressure and guts to sew that seed.

Sequences like this, often decide games and in this case Venezia did find a way to win but not before triple overtime and an incredible series of events involving Gediminas Orelik and his old team.....

Coaches don’t win games, players do…….

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath
Basketball Champions League

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