Offensive skills with the Washington Wizards

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By Drew Cleary with Chad Zimmerman

* Editor's note: Drew Cleary is the Washington Wizards' strength and conditioning coach. According to Cleary, deception is the key to offensive success. A defender reads a scorer's eyes to predict his moves. Therefore, scorers need to fool defenders by giving looks that say, "I'm moving one way," then actually moving a different way. Here, Cleary tells how offensive players can throw defenders off by developing and using deceptive "looks."

The three most recent World Series of Poker winners—Joseph Hachem, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer and Chris Moneymaker—made fat bank with one common strategy: sunglasses. Understanding how telling a player's eyes can be, these men made sure no one could read theirs.

Every look—wide or squinty, pensive or absentminded, making contact or avoiding it—gives a different tell about the move a player is going to make. Sunglasses prevented opponents from making reads on the three poker champs, which helped propel them to the top of their game.

Like Hachem, Raymer and Moneymaker, scorers on the basketball court must contend with opponents trying to read their eyes. However, basketball players don't have the luxury of sporting a pair of Aviators to keep defenders guessing. Players at all levels—professional, collegiate and high school—have to keep their eyes unveiled, open like a book for all to read. So, being deceptive with your eyes becomes the best way to scoring success. Deception enables a talented player to perform at an extraordinary level, and developing it is an art form.

In today's game, a defender checks his opponent's eyes for the most telling read, a marked change from the throwback game. Defenders used to be taught to predict direction by reading a player's hips. But baggy shorts make reading hips almost impossible. And since hand checking is now a foul if it happens above the free throw line, a defender can't read a player by touch, making reading eyes the only viable option.

To dupe a defender, you have to create certain "looks" to throw him off. But it's not as simple as just tossing a glance in a general direction, such as looking at the ground to sell a drive. Your opponents are smarter than that and can tell the difference.

Here's a test. Have a friend stare directly at a wall. Walk into his line of sight, but tell him to look right through you and keep staring at the wall. Walk through his line again. This time, ask him to switch his gaze from through you to at you. You'll notice a distinct difference.

This same principle applies to selling a fake on the court. A defender knows when you're attempting to fake by looking toward the rim, or if you're really committing to taking the shot by looking at the rim. When your brain commits to a motor skill, like a drive, shot or pass, your eyes follow by focusing on a specific location. Recreating that exact focus is the key to developing a solid fake.

The triple-threat position is one of the most basic components of the game; it's the point from which you can pass, shoot or dribble. Three movement options from the triple-threat include driving away from the pivot foot, driving across the pivot foot or shooting, all of which are great starting points for developing and executing your deceptive looks. The following drills can help you determine your look for each move and teach you how to recreate it so you can sell it to defenders.

Step 1

• Stand under the basket
• Cut out to a wing
• Catch a pass, then square up into the triple-threat position
• Push off front foot, take one or two dribbles and shoot a lay-up

Step 2

• Think about where you first looked when you committed to driving away from your pivot foot

Step 3

• Repeat Step 1
• This time, pay close attention to where you look when you commit to the drive

Coaching Point: Sometimes, when you're trying to find where you look before you drive, your look becomes manufactured, less natural. If you feel like you're trying too hard to find your natural focus, repeat the drill until it feels natural.

Move on to Step 4, only after you identify your focus point.

Step 4

• Place four or five sheets of paper on the ground in the area you identified
• Print a random character on each sheet in big print, making sure one sheet is no more obvious than the others
• Repeat Step 1
• Determine which sheet you looked at first at the point you committed to the drive
• Remove the other sheets
• Repeat Step 1 to ensure the letter chosen is the precise location of your first look

The spot you identified from Steps 1 through 4 is Position One. Your Position One look tells the defender you're going to drive away from your pivot foot. The more natural you can make that look without actually taking the first drive step, the more open you will get after making a move different from the one you indicated by your look.

Repeat Step 1 several more times, each time looking at the letter placed at Position One. Pay attention to the angle of your look, so you can replicate it anywhere on the floor.

After several reps of Step 1, try to use the fake.

Use the Fake

• Stand under the basket
• Cut out to a wing
• Catch a pass, square up into the triple-threat position
• Look to Position One
• Pull up and take a jump shot
• Repeat

Coaching Point: Focus on staying relaxed, and remember, timing is everything. If you rush the move, you'll lose the natural feel of your look, and the defender won't buy it.

Follow the same steps you used for finding Position One. When you get to Step 2, however, think about where you first looked when you committed to driving across your pivot foot for the lay-up, and focus on that area of the floor. Remember: move on to Step 4 only after you accurately identify this focus point; stay natural throughout the drill; pay attention to the angle of your look so you can replicate it from different places on the floor; and practice using the fake.

The key to this drill is determining where you look in the instant you commit to one of the three aforementioned moves. Once you find each focus point, you can use them to deceive your opponents. For example, you'll be able to give the look of driving away from your pivot foot when you're actually going to put up a shot. The more believable you make these looks, the more deception you create; the more deception you create, the more time you have to make better decisions.

Step 1

• Stand under the basket
• Cut out to a wing
• Catch a pass, square up into the triple-threat position
• Pull up and take jump shot

Step 2

• Think about where you first looked in the instant you committed to taking the shot

Step 3

• Repeat Step 1

• This time, pay close attention to where you look when you commit to the shot

Your I-am-going-to-take-the-shot look is Position Three. Repeat Step 1 several times, making sure to note all the details and nuances at your point of commitment to the shot. These help you create a better shot fake.

After several reps of Step 1, try to use the fake.

Use the Fake

• Stand under the basket
• Cut out to a wing
• Catch a pass, square up into the triple-threat position
• Look to Position Three
• Drive to the basket and shoot a lay-up
• Repeat

There are different places you can look at the point you commit to a jump shot. Most players look at the rim before shooting the rock, because it's most natural. But other cues are equally effective. One option is the look-down, which Mike Bibby uses exceptionally well. Most defenders think you won't shoot the ball looking down, so Bibby glances at the defender's shoes, then rises up and takes a jumper. It can completely take the guy by surprise.

Develop as many different Position Three looks as possible, so you don't become predictable. If you use the same look every time, the defender will learn your cues and know when you're going to shoot.

Use the sheets of paper at Positions One and Two as cues until you are comfortable without them. Work on all three positions. Start with faking just one position, followed by a move different from what you indicated with your look. Next, work on faking two positions before making a real move. The smoother you are at gliding into a spot, the more deception you create.

Once you develop fakes from the triple-threat, start working on fakes from the dribble. Your positions will be the same, but the dribble provides more movement options and allows you to hold a look a little longer, which produces more believable fakes. Concentrate on your body positioning at the point you commit to each movement.

 


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BASKETBALL TRAINING | BASKETBALL DRILLS | DEFENDER