The idea of the fast break is not only to produce a QUICK shot but also a GOOD shot. That concept means players, if they have a wide-open shot, must TAKE THE SHOT. That sounds almost too basic. One might say, “Well, of course, they are going to take the wide-open shot.” Not always. All too often, you see a player … WIDE OPEN at 22′ from the basket … pass up that shot to use one or two dribblers toward to the basket to supposedly get a ‘better shot.’ The logic says a closer shot will be an easier shot.
Here’s the deal on that: THERE IS NO BETTER SHOT THAN A WIDE-OPEN SHOT. Here’s what happens when that player dribbles in to get a closer shot: (a) the defense comes out and covers him and, instead of having a wide-open shot, he now has a closely guarded shot and he misses; (b) he gets himself in a traffic jam and winds up losing the ball on an infraction, a turnover or a charging foul. Every time I see this when doing games on TV, I say, “He turned a good play into a bad play.”
There is something else the matter with passing up a good shot … FEAR. The player that does this is thinking (my interpretation … and I am not alone in this): “Oh, if I miss this wide-open shot, people will say I choked on it. So, I’ll dribble in and get a more difficult shot. That way, if I miss, I can say it was a more difficult shot or that I was fouled.” Well, here is MY take on that player: he’s afraid. He’s afraid of the responsibility. He’s afraid of missing. He’s afraid of … facing up to his own fears.
Here is something I say all the time on TV, as I did as a coach: “Shooting is not just a technical gesture, it’s also a COMPETITIVE gesture. How times have we seen the guy with the perfect shooting technique, but without a perfect mental approach, miss a clutch shot? Lots of times. And, how many times have we seen a guy with a defective shooting technique, but with a heart bigger than a house, hit a clutch shot? Lots of times. Give me the guy with heart over the guy with flawless technique every time.
I had one of those guys with Olympia Milan: 6’6″ Roberto Premier. Early in the 1986-87 season, we were almost knocked out of the European Cup. We’d lost by -31 vs. ARIS in Thessaloniki, Greece. The next week, we had to win at home by +32. Late in the game, we’d gotten back 29 and Mike D’Antoni passed over to Roberto Premier on a trailing situation on the break. Premier, with so-so-technique, went up for the 3-point shot and drilled it to put us at +32 … and we won by +34. Premier had a heart bigger than any house.
I would take a guy out of a game if he passed up a wide-open shot. I was usually very diplomatic with my players but, on those occasions, I would say, “Why did you pass up that open shot? Tell me, straight out: Are you afraid to take that shot?” Of course, that angered them no end but they would never pass up another good shot. The Rule: If you are open, shoot; if you are covered, pass. Another rule: Shooting is a competitive gesture.