January 16, 2019

LeBron James, NBA

By Nicholas Sciria

Get Familiar Before You Get Really Familiar

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on vacation with my aunt and uncle. For one of the days on our trip, we traveled to Washington D.C. (a place I had never been). When dinner time came, we found a street with several places to eat and parked the car in hopes of eating at one of the nearby restaurants. As we began walking down the street, I took out my phone and began skimming through the Yelp app while my aunt and uncle scanned various menus that were hanging on the doors of the restaurants.

Believe it or not, this story closely resembles the method I use when I first begin a film study. In the same way we tried to familiarize ourselves with the restaurants, I try to familiarize myself with the player, team or strategy that I am preparing to analyze. We did everything we could to make sure our dinner experience was going to be a pleasant one, and the same template can be emulated in hopes of carrying out a rewarding film session.

There is tons of information on nearby restaurants right at our fingertips, and the same can be said for basketball information around us too. Before jumping into the raw footage in hopes of gaining insights on a player, team or strategy, I recommend looking into videos, articles and statistics on the subject. You might head over to Coach Nick’s YouTube channel to watch videos on the X’s and O’s of a certain team you will be studying, or you might skim the play type numbers on NBA.com/Stats to learn more about a certain player’s tendencies. There are plenty of great resources that can be tapped into here—it just takes some curiosity and willingness to explore in order to discover them.

Not only is this step vital in becoming comfortable with your subject of study, but it will also begin to provide you with a more focused path moving forward. I recommend writing down questions that come up during this period, as you’ll certainly want to refer back to them when you begin your deep dive.

Ultimately, the goal of this step is to train your brain and eyes for what’s coming down the road. Others might skip this step and throw themselves directly into the fire, but I think creating this sense of familiarity is a crucial part of the process.

Heading To The Film Room

The whole goal of a film session is to get to know more about a player, team or strategy (with the previous step being considered the “ice breaker”). Because breaking down the film can be difficult, I came up with eight ways recommendations to help you watch the game when your film study begins:

1. Watch recorded games.   

There is definitely an added value in attending a live game, but in the beginning stages of this exercise, focusing on games that you have the ability to pause and rewind will help expedite your individual growing curve. As you become more comfortable in identifying certain actions and tendencies immediately, the game will begin to slow down—and that’s when you will be able to catch certain tidbits on the fly.

But to get to that point, watching back archived games will give you the opportunity to make observations on more than one player. Having the ability to pause and rewind will allow you to truly delve in and spend an ample amount of time with the film in order to build a more complete understanding of multiple layers within the game.

2. Don’t *watch* the ball.

Watching the ball can limit how much you take away from the game as a whole. In my experience, checking in on the ball (rather than watching it) is the best way to gain insights. Of course, you always need to know where the ball is located on the court because that will dictate everything else that takes place.

Think about this recommendation through the lens of a weakside defender. If that player doesn’t watch the ball enough, they might miss a help responsibility. But if they focus on the ball too much, they’ll get backdoored for a layup. There’s a happy medium that needs to be achieved, and the same can be said when watching the film. Always know where the ball is and check in on it often, but don’t forget that there are eight other players on the court too.

3. Befriend the pause button.

Here’s one key way to help you keep track of all 10 players. With the pause button, you can key in on players and their movements at a slower pace. I usually do a quick pause once every two seconds in the half-court to make sure I know where everyone is and allow myself the chance to observe everything that is taking place on the court. Also experiment with using the pause button at key decision points in a possession, as it might help you get into the mind of a player and help you make more accurate judgements in general.

4. Befriend the rewind button.

For me, the ultimate objective in watching film is to identify the root cause of particular events in order to gain valuable insights. Going back and replaying a possession two, three or four times in attempting to diagnose the root cause is not excessive—it’s sometimes necessary.

Personally, it’s much easier to evaluate a play after knowing the result. Once you watch the play through, try to reverse engineer the play to understand exactly how the play progressed.

Remember Newton’s Third Law that every action causes a reaction. Was there a particular action that jumpstarted a sequence of positive or negative events? Did one player’s poor decision cause a chain reaction that forced another player into a difficult situation? These are the types of questions that you need to ask yourself.

5. Try your best not to let short-term results affect your overall evaluations.

In the game of basketball, results in the short-term can be deceiving. A 40.0 percent three-point shooter misses an open shot from behind the arc from time to time, and it’s not uncommon for a defender to fight through multiple screens only to have a tough shot hit right in their face.

The key here is attempting to determine whether or not the short-term result is indicative of the quality of the process. If the process is faulty, the results are not likely to continue in the long run. The numbers will assist us in sorting out what is unusual and what is reoccurring—ultimately helping us determine the sustainability of the results.

6. Write down any and all observations.

This may seem tedious and unnecessary, but it will be beneficial. You may write something down early on that will only make sense later as you gather even more observations. Think of every observation as a piece of a puzzle—but with this puzzle, you don’t get every piece at once.

7. Continue posing questions.

As you dive deeper into the film, you will naturally become curious. Was that particular play an outlier or a theme? Does that player always miss open teammates like that?

Make sure to document your questions and unfamiliarities so that you can focus on them as you continue your study. A complete analysis includes both film and numbers in a conversation of sorts, and these questions can be the bridge that initiates that dialogue.

8. Take it slow at first.

Don’t be discouraged if you miss something. The game of basketball is quick and always moving, and there are subtle movements or adjustments that can be challenging to catch in the midst of it all. If film study is completely new to you, know that there will be growing pains. My method is far from perfect, but I hope these recommendations can ease some of the pain.

Fortunately, your instincts will develop as your eyes and brain get more comfortable and habits start to form. So practice, practice, practice and trust that a sound process will bring you meaningful results in the future.

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Nick Sciria

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