Hoops Rules – Small Men: Stay out of the 3″ Lane

I don’t like to see smaller players — point guards, shooting guards — drive into the 3″ lane. Obviously, the bigger men, the centers and the power forwards and small forwards, have to know how to play in the 3″ lane. That’s their ‘house.’ Yes, there are occasions when the smaller players can take it to the lane: if there is a clear path to the basket or if there are no defenders in the 3″ lane. Otherwise, one of five bad things can happen: a turnover, a blocked shot, a missed shot, a charging foul, no call or … an injury.

I used to tell my point guards just that: “Stay out of the lane. Pull up for the jump shot.” Of course, many players today do not have the pickup jump shot as did players in the 1980s … which means the game is going backwards. If I had a powerful shooting guard like 6’6″, 220 pound Roberto Premier, he had the green light to take it to the basket because no one could stop him, a true force of nature, who simply overpowered people inside, including centers and power forwards. He was an exception to my ‘No-Lane Rule.’

Today’s smaller players, however, simply hurl themselves into traffic and may make a basket now and then, or they may draw a foul, if they get the call. But they risk injury … the major reason I told my little guys to stay out of the lane. Instructive is the career of 6’0″ point guard Phil Ford, the No. 2 pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, out of North Carolina. He drove and drove and the big men slammed him to the floor again and again. He lasted six years in the NBA but, really, only had a 2-year career. Too many drives, too many injuries.

Let’s put injuries aside for a moment. In every game I see … in person or on TV … there are dozens of times in which a smaller player, usually the point guard (well, truth be told, the ‘pure’ point guard is an ‘endangered species’), slam-bangs his way, like an NFL running back, into the traffic jam in the lane and makes a bad play, one of the five listed above. A miss usually starts the fast break for the other team while the point guard is not back on defense … because he’s in the lane. That’s bad basketball.

Today’s coaches … especially in the USA … are saying “Attack the rim!” Meaning, drive the lane. Of course, the other coach is saying “Protect the rim!” Meaning, slam anyone that comes in the lane to the floor. Why not tell your small man what I used to tell my smaller guys? That is: “If you pull up for the jump shot at the free throw line and the big man comes up to guard you, you will have a nice jump shot pass to his man for an easy shot under the basket.” That’s good basketball.

I had Mike D’Antoni as my PG all 9 years I coached Olympia Milan, 1978-87. My guess is that he made 9 lay-ups in 9 years. He NEVER went into the lane unless it was wide open. He had very few turnovers because he kept floor spacing, stayed in his area of operation, and avoided the jungle of arms and legs and tough guys in that 3″ lane. I can’t understand why today’s coaches don’t do the same. The Rule: The 3″ lane is ‘no-man’s land’ for little guys.