Team Composition – An Overlooked Key To Consistency

As a youngster, my father was a successful junior college basketball coach, so I have been around basketball all of my life. After graduating from college, I had the good fortune to be a graduate assistant and volunteer coach for George Raveling at The University of Iowa. I also worked for Coach Raveling at USC. In addition, I also worked as an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University, Drake University, The University of Nebraska, and The University of Miami (FL). In addition to George, I had the good fortune to work for terrific coaches like Dr. Tom Davis at Iowa, and Leonard Hamilton at Miami.

After coaching in college for 17 years, I changed career paths and went into scouting in the NBA. I have worked for the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and the Milwaukee Bucks. I am currently Director of Scouting for the Charlotte Bobcats. After 11 years in the NBA, I have developed a different perspective on the game of basketball, largely in part because I no longer coach. I have the luxury to sit back and watch others sweat, coach, and work hard to develop their teams. It is much easier for me to coach someone else’s team than my own! With that said, I wanted to write about some things that I paid little, or no, attention to when recruiting and coaching that I believe are of paramount importance in the development of a winning team, program and franchise.

When I was coaching, our most successful teams were built around great talent. Our players won for us. We did coach well, but it was our players who won games. Tricky plays help, but talent wins! But I have come to the conclusion that there are hidden elements in evaluation of talent, and assembling talent to develop a consistent winner.

My opinion is that team composition, and how a team is put together is not thought out well in most programs. When coaches, or general managers, are selecting; recruiting or drafting to assemble their teams, only the very best have a clear vision of what they want their team to represent. Most others put their teams together in a piecemeal fashion, thinking that they can get players to play a certain way. Many coaches think they can change players, and make them into something they are not.
Society has changed, and therefore so has coaching. Coaches are no longer the authoritarian, autocratic figure that players just automatically listen to, and do what they are told. Players of today have much more individuality than ever before. However, many coaches are stuck in yesterday, and fail to realize that the team they are selecting or recruiting does not have a consistent formula for success.

The following are some questions to ask of ourselves when selecting a team and filling out a roster, whether it is in high school, college, or professional basketball.

1. [color]SKILL LEVEL[/color]
What skills does this player possess? We would prefer to have players who can pass, shoot and catch. Is this a player who we would have to hide on offense? Does he, or she, have one skill, offensively or defensively, that makes them invaluable, making him, or her, a specialist that can fit a role with us? What is his, or her, ability to score the ball consistently?

2. [color]INTANGIBLES[/color]
What kind of intangibles can this player bring to our team? Do they have a burning desire to work hard? Are they mentally tough? Do they make others around them better? Do they practice hard, and practice perfect? Are they efficient players? Do they think quickly? Do they know how to play?

3. [color]LEADERSHIP[/color]
Do we have a leader on our team? If so, who is it, and is it the kind of positive leadership we are looking for?

4. [color]TEAM CHEMISTRY[/color]
Do we have a chemistry maker on our team, and if so, how much does he play? The chemistry maker must play, or he will lose his effectiveness.

Do our players come from winning high school and college programs? Having players who have been well coached is invaluable. If we have too many players who have not been well coached, we risk being poor fundamentally, and will have to spend too much time developing players instead of developing our team. There is a huge benefit of having as many players on our team who know how to win, and have won at a high level. It becomes too easy to lose over a long season, and having players who only know how to win can eliminate that problem.

6. [color]IS THIS PLAYER VERSATILE?[/color]
Players that can play multiple positions are invaluable to a roster. It causes match-up problems for opponents, and insures a team against injury, foul troubles, etc. It also helps when playing against opponents who may play different styles. For example, if you are playing against a team that presses a lot, and you have a big man who is a very good ball handler, and can bring the ball up the floor, your team will most likely not turn the ball over as much.

7. [color]ROLE PLAYERS[/color]
Do we have role players on our team that contribute in a positive way? Do we have a terrific sixth man? We need a sixth man who is good enough to be a starter, who does not depreciate the value of the starting five; who relishes the role of the sixth man; and is happy to have that role.

Red Auerbach said that if his sixth man was not one of his top three scorers, he was not good enough…John Havlicek and Frank Ramsey were Celtic sixth men, and both are now in the Hall of Fame. There is a reason they have a “Sixth Man of the Year” in the NBA.

However, it is also important that a coach realizes the value of making the “role player” feel important. Many players feel the coach thinks they aren’t very good, because the coach refers to them as a “role player.” It is vital that the coach makes that player feel important; that the player is good; the team can’t win without him, or her; and that the player has a future as a role player if they relish the role they play and do it well.

8. [color]ATTITUDE[/color]
Do the majority of our players have a good attitude in relation to making our team better, and being good teammates to play with?

9. [color]TRUST LEVEL[/color]
Can we trust him, or her, both on and off the court?

10. [color]WORK ETHIC[/color]
How hard does he, or she, work in practice? How hard does he, or she, work in the weight room; do extra film work, etc.? How hard does he, or she, work in the off-season? Is this player a high energy player, and does he, or she, love to play?

11. [color]HOW COMPETITIVE IS HE?[/color]
Does this player compete every day in practice, and want to win every drill, every game, etc.? Does his, or her, competitiveness make them hard to coach, and make what is a strength become a liability?

There is a difference between being coachable and teachable. A kid who will do whatever the coach wants is coachable. A kid who picks things up quickly and has an ability to adapt on the run is teachable. We have all had players who was coachable but not teachable; or teachable but not coachable. Do we have players that are both? Neither? One, but not the other?

13. [color]C’s & S’s[/color]

C’s | S’s
Character | Soft
Competitiveness | Slow
Consistency | Stupid
Complete | Selfish

If we had a player who had all C’s, and no S’s, that would be great. A player can have some S’s, but not too many!

Does this player have a history of being a good teammate and a winner, or a history of being a bad teammate and a loser? Does he, or she, have a history of legal issues, domestic problems, chemical abuse problems? How many players do we have on our team who have troubles, and would make it hard to take another one? We don’t want to take a flier on a player of questionable character until our organization has great stability and can support this player, and sustain a problem with that player.

15. [color]YOUTH vs. EXPERIENCE[/color]
What is the breakdown of young players and old players on our roster? Do we have the right mix of youth and experience?

How many high maintenance players do we have on our roster? How many developmental players do we have on our roster?
“High maintenance and developmental players cause a drain on the coaching staff, and can impede the ability to win if we have too many”

Do our players match the philosophy and system that our coach wants to play, and does his, or her, coaching style mix well with those players’ personalities, their coachability and teachability?

18. [color]INJURY HISTORY[/color]
Does he have any injuries that will hamper his ability to practice and play on a daily basis? Do these injuries hurt his, or her, ability practice with the team on a consistent basis? How hard does he, or she, rehab and treat their injuries in the training room? What is his, or her, threshold of pain and ability to play through injuries?

Do our players have a value to the community in terms of marketability, commitment to community development and enable our team to be able to sell that player, and have our fan base and ticket holders support us?
There’s more to the story than just recruiting and coaching. It’s more than X’s and O’s. It’s developing a consistent winning team, where the culture of the team breeds success that is passed down from player-to-player; and from coach-to-coach. It is too hard to win today unless there is a vision. I truly believe that team composition is overlooked and undervalued. Hopefully you will have gained some ideas from these thoughts that are of value to a winning program.

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