Typically, analysts and fans don’t begin speculating on the future of an NBA Finals participant until after the series is completed. However, by the midpoint of the 2014 NBA Finals, it was becoming clear the Miami HEAT were no match for the deeper, more complete San Antonio Spurs.
And, perhaps coincidentally, last Wednesday evening, in between Games 3 and 4 of the Finals, an ESPN report surfaced that generated plenty of buzz. The published report indicated that HEAT officials and the team’s “leading players” had already begun exploring ways to lure New York Knicks franchise forward Carmelo Anthony to Miami.
Supposedly a reshuffling in South Beach would begin with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each opting out of their contracts this summer in order to potentially take significant pay cuts and re-sign on new deals that would then allow the franchise to go after Anthony with a enticing offer in hopes of formulating a “Fantastic Four.”
First, we must acknowledge that this scenario seems highly unlikely, primarily because it would require four NBA superstars to all willingly accept far less than market value. Yes, these four men have made a great deal of money in their careers, both on and off the court; however, star players leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table in understandably uncommon.
For example, consider Wade’s situation. He is coming off arguably the worst season of his career. He averaged fewer than 21 points per contest for the first time since his rookie season back in 2003-04. He also had to sit out 28 games during the regular season to rest his surgically repaired knees. He struggled in the postseason as well, as he clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent over the final few games of the Finals. He was inefficient and ineffective on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Wade is a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot three-pointers and has lost much of the athleticism he has relied upon throughout his Hall-of-Fame career.
Wade is owed approximately $41.5 million over the next two seasons. It’s hard to imagine he would opt out this summer, relinquishing that lucrative contract and guaranteed money.
Furthermore, Anthony celebrated his 30th birthday last month, and he is well aware that this will be the final “max-money” contract he’ll be able to secure in his career. If he were to re-sign with New York, he could earn up to $129.1 million over five years with the Knicks. If he signed a max-contract with another team (either Houston or Chicago, for instance) Anthony would be looking at a deal approaching $96 million over four years. Under the “Fantastic Four” scenario, Carmelo would likely have to settle for something in the neighborhood of $60 million (or about $70 million less than a max offer from New York).
And that’s just the financial sacrifice he’d have to make. Would Anthony, a guy who’s been an Alpha Male his entire basketball life, also be willing to play second fiddle in the shadow behind LeBron James, the best player on the planet and arguably the most popular athlete in the world?
Clearly, the odds are stacked against this potential grand plan actually becoming a reality.
However, it must also be acknowledged that in order for the HEAT to reclaim their standing as true championship favorites next season and beyond, Miami does need to make changes. The HEAT weren’t just beaten by the Spurs in the Finals, they were dismantled. Their flaws were exposed for the world to see. More importantly, LeBron was made keenly aware that this roster can not be kept intact. The status quo won’t get it done. And because LeBron can opt-out of his current contract this month, he holds a hammer over the franchise. How will James choose to wield this power? We do know that he, Wade and Bosh are all good friends. How will the bond they have built factor into their individual and communal decisions?
The question remains: Are LeBron and company willing to make substantial monetary sacrifices in order to re-build a better roster? (It should be noted that the Big Three would likely only consider such a scenario if they had a commitment from team owner Micky Arison, the HEAT’s owner, that he would now be willing to pay the luxury tax. This became a major issue in Miami last season.)
One possible resolution might be compromising and meeting in the middle. With Wade, maybe HEAT President Pat Riley could offer an agreement that that Miami would be willing to re-sign him for something in the neighborhood of four years, $42 million if he agreed to opt out of his current deal. Miami would reap short-term benefits because his 2014-15 salary would be cut in half. As for Wade, his annual salary will obviously be reduced, but he’d still get the $40+ million he is guaranteed under the terms of his current contract. Would that be a reasonable conciliation by both parties?
For arguments sake, let’s say James, Wade and Bosh did end up conferring and deciding they are willing to all opt-out and re-sign at a discount. Even if we get to that point, the question then becomes: Would signing Anthony actually be the best allocation of the salary cap savings James and Co. created?
The answer, surprisingly, may be “no.”
One of the primary reasons for Miami’s considerable success this past season, a season in which they finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Finals for the fourth consecutive season, was their offensive explosiveness. The HEAT finished the 2013-14 regular season with the second-best offensive efficiency rating in the NBA, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions. In the postseason, that number increased to 110.5 points/100 possessions. Getting quality shots and putting the ball in the bucket was not an issue. Getting stops on the other end of the floor certainly was.
The HEAT ranked 11th overall in defensive efficiency during the 2013-14 regular season. This marked the first time in the ‘Big Three Era’ that Miami finished the season outside the top-10 in that category. Things only got worse once the postseason began. Miami allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions during the 2014 playoffs (or slightly more than L.A. Clippers). In Miami’s championship seasons of 2012-13 and 2013-14, they allowed 98.5 and 99.8 points/100 possessions during each respective postseason.
Circling back to Anthony, his strength is obviously his scoring ability. In fact, he is widely considered the second best all-round scorer in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant. Last season, Anthony became just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 27 points a night while shooting above 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw stripe. The other three members of that incredibly exclusive club are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Durant.
However, the knock on Anthony has always been his suspect defense. He has long been criticized for focusing too intently on his offense and being far too passive on the defensive end.
Part of Miami’s inability to defend at a championship level this past season was due to their lack of an interior presence. Chris “Birdman” Andersen was useful when healthy, but he was dinged up by the end of the year. Former starter Joel Anthony had become a non-factor and was traded (along with a future first-round pick) simply to save money. The Greg Oden experiment failed, as Oden rarely left the pine in the postseason (he was inactive in Game 5 of the NBA Finals). Miami had no true center to patrol the paint. Consequently, Miami finished the season ranked dead last in terms of total rebounds. Ironically, it was Riley who famously once declared: “No rebounds, no rings.”
Another problem that plagued Miami was their lack of depth. It was an issue all season long, and came back to bite them hard in the Finals. The well-rested and balanced Spurs ran circles around Miami. The Spurs’ reserves, which led all teams in the regular season with over 45 points per game, outscored the HEAT’s second unit by nearly 15 points per game. In terms of ‘plus-minus,’ San Antonio’s bench players were an incredible +91 while Miami’s were an awful -81.
No player was more negatively affected by Miami’s insufficient depth than LeBron. The reigning league MVP and Finals MVP was forced to carry far too much of the load during the regular season. Ideally, Erik Spoelstra would have been able to manage and limit LeBron’s minutes during the season just as Gregg Popovich did with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. However, it was simply not an option. LeBron played a total of 3,665 minutes this past season. In contrast, Duncan, who led the Spurs in minutes, played 755 fewer total minutes (2,910).
As noted above, Wade missed 28 games during the regular season, and still wasn’t able to finish the postseason with a flourish. In addition, the HEAT didn’t have any realistic options off the bench to provide LeBron with much-needed rest throughout the dog days of January, February and March. (This was partially the result of Mike Miller being amnestied prior to the start of the season in an effort by the owner to avoid the luxury tax.) All the HEAT had to offer free agents last summer were contracts at the veteran’s minimum. Thus, Riley was forced to roll the dice on guys like Oden and Michael Beasley. Too many worn out vets and not enough effective role players capable of providing solid minutes was a recipe for disaster.
Without a well-balanced roster, Miami was forced to rely too heavily on the Big Three, which was more akin to a ‘Big 1.5’ in the Finals. Lacking the youthful, energetic legs required to provide a spark, the HEAT had finally run out of gas. San Antonio simply sprinted by them and reached to the finish line first, while an exhausted Miami squad was left gasping for air.
LeBron dragged his team as far and fast as he could, but it was clearly not enough.
The moral of the story is that Miami obviously has flaws they need to address. But is another offensive-minded, ball-dominant forward exactly what the doctor ordered? If the ‘Big Three’ morphs into the ‘Fantastic Four,’ Miami’s strengths will be strengthened, but their biggest needs (defense, depth, athleticism, and youth) won’t be significantly improved.
With James, Wade, Bosh and Anthony on the same squad, Riley will once again be forced to flesh out the roster with players making the minimum. Can they find a reliable point guard willing to play for less than $2 million per season? Is there a strong, solid starting center willing to settle for the vet’s minimum?
The team that obliterated the HEAT this month wasn’t overly reliant on one player. Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford and Coach Pop constructed a balanced roster, with role players that were content to serve as complimentary pieces to the team’s stars.
Is there a lesson to be learned here?
What if James, Wade and Bosh remained committed to taking less and carving out extra cap space, but instead of bringing in Anthony, they decided to spread that wealth around a bit?
For instance, what if Miami targeted a combination of unrestricted free agent point guard Kyle Lowry and center Marcin Gortat?
Lowry is a versatile and gifted point guard, who is coming off the best season of his career. He played terrifically during the regular season and even better in the playoffs. Lowry would actually be the best point guard that James has ever played with in his 11-year NBA career.
Gortat would be the rebounding and rim-protecting big man Miami coveted all season long. He’s averaged 15 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per-36 minutes over the last three seasons.
A starting five of Lowry, Wade, James, Bosh and Gortat would be far less dependent upon LeBron at both ends of the floor.
Still, both Lowry and Gortat would likely have to accept less than market value (depending on how little James, Wade and Bosh re-signed for), but it is an option certainly worth exploring, no?
Furthermore, that’s obviously not the only combination Miami could consider.
What about free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas and big man Pau Gasol?
What about making a run at restricted free agent (and LeBron’s good friend) Eric Bledsoe?
Other, more affordable centers and guards on the market this summer include Spencer Hawes, Avery Bradley, Shaun Livingston, Josh McRoberts, Rodney Stuckey, Andray Blatche, Channing Frye, Greivis Vazquez, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Hinrich, Darren Collison, Kris Humphries, Patty Mills and Chris Kaman.
There are plenty of permutations possible, a multitude of way to slice up $16+ million.
Obviously, no combination of these names would make the splash or generate the same buzz as Anthony, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a better overall fit for the HEAT.
NBA Daily: The Most Underrated Departures
A lot can be made about the under-the-radar players that teams pick up, but not enough is made about the under-the-radar players that teams lose. Matt John elaborates.
When comparing the loss of a star player to the loss of a glue player, there’s no question which one is worse. Losing a star can set back a franchise for years, with so many questions surrounding what they should do next in light of his departure. Losing a glue player doesn’t make as much of a sting, but it can make all the difference in a playoff series.
It’s a shame that Golden State had all the injuries that it did. Because, had the Warriors been at full health, we would have seen one of the most obvious advantages the Raptors had over them – their glue guys. The Raptors had plenty of them at their disposal while the Warriors’ glue guys had slowly disintegrated into a shell of the depth they once had.
Before Durant’s injury, Golden State had enough star power to match up with Toronto’s, but Toronto’s glue players rounded out the edges whereas Golden State’s could not. That made a big difference in how the NBA Finals turned out.
Which brings us to this summer. This may have been the most epic player movement in one offseason. The highlight has been the movement among the players considered among the upper class.
A fair amount of quality teams lost their star players this year. Golden State lost Kevin Durant. Boston lost Kyrie Irving. Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler. None of these teams replaced their departed stars with players who can do everything they can, but their replacements can do enough to keep the team afloat.
It’s a rarity to see playoff teams that lose their star players make such an effort to replace them. What’s not a rarity is that these teams also lost some of their glue players in the process. Since so many big names switched teams this offseason, their decisions have overshadowed the role players who have done the same.
This won’t be the case next summer when the NBA has one of its weakest free agency classes it’s had in years, but not enough has been made about the glue guys who find themselves on different teams this summer. Let’s take a look at who would fit that bill.
JJ Redick – Philadelphia 76ers
The acquisitions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford – on top of paying top dollar to re-sign Tobias Harris – has overshadowed the loss of the man who helped kick “The Process” into a higher gear.
Redick was a brilliant addition for the 76ers. With Simmons slated to play his rookie year and Embiid itching to capitalize on his promising rookie season, Philadelphia knew that it was too good to be a bottom dweller. With the centerpieces coming into place, the team needed immediate help. With all the cap room in the world, it added a surefire contributor with Redick.
JJ’s all-around abilities as a player are not what they once were, but what he is best at showed up so beautifully that it made him worth every penny in Philly. Because Philly used his elite three-point shooting as a focal point of its offense, Redick averaged career-highs in points per game in his two years as a Sixer.
Averaging 17.1 points per game in one season then 18 the next doesn’t usually happen with players entering their mid-thirties. The 76ers basically used JJ the same way the Hawks used Kyle Korver, only at a higher volume. Offensively, he may have never looked better in his entire career.
Because Redick’s shooting fit so snugly next to Simmons and Embiid – the three-man trio was the most used three-man lineup by Philly last year – his three-point shot became a weapon. Now that weapon is gone.
Richardson and Horford are adequate three-point shooters, but their ability to shoot the longball isn’t as intimidating as Redick’s is. Compared to Redick, their three-point shots are not accurate nor quick enough that other teams would frantically do everything to make sure their shot couldn’t see a glimmer of daylight.
The Sixers should be fine this season, but adjusting to Redick is not going to be easy. Especially for Simmons and Embiid, who lest we forget are their two cornerstones.
Aron Baynes – Boston Celtics
There was some temptation to put Al Horford on this list, but those in the know can see clear as day that going from Horford to Enes Kanter is a downgrade for the Celtics. Boston’s going to miss Horford the most out of all the players it lost, but losing Baynes is really going hurt the team’s defense in the post.
There are lots of reasons as to why the Celtics disappointed as badly as they did. There’s no reason to rehash everything because you probably saw it yourself. In regards what Baynes has to do with it, well, an injury-plagued season had him play in only 51 games.
In the 31 games that Baynes was absent, the Celtics went 17-14. When taking into effect that the Celtics won 49 games in total, it’s not totally out of left field to suggest that maybe they could have added a few more wins, and then some, had Baynes avoided the injury bug.
His unavailability definitely played a role in how the Celtics defensive rating went from 103.8 to 108 in 2019. Since the defense allowed 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor – the highest among players who played 800 minutes or more – they missed what he could do when he was out last season, and it’ll be the same reason why they’re going to miss him in his entirety this season.
To make things worse, Baynes and Horford made for one terrific frontcourt duo. In their first season, the two of them together combined for a defensive rating of 95.5. The next season, that defensive rating was 98.5. Baynes doesn’t have the typical criteria for a shot-blocker, but the results speak for themselves. When he’s on the court, he makes life hell in the paint.
Boston had to trade him in order to get the cap space to bring Kemba Walker in. With a star like that, sacrificing Baynes is more than understandable, but his absence should be felt.
The real question is, why exactly did Phoenix go out of its way to get him?
Al-Farouq Aminu/Moe Harkless – Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers lost a lot of players that helped them reach their first Conference Finals since 2000. Enes Kanter. Evan Turner. Seth Curry. Harkless and Aminu stand out the most among them because they’ve been with the team since 2015 – the year Portland lost LaMarcus Aldridge – and have been in the starting lineup for most of that time.
Losing continuity can really hurt. In Portland’s case, there’s more to this than just losing two players that they relied on. They didn’t replace what they can do. Both Harkless and Aminu are wings capable of playing power forward in a small-ball lineup. This summer, the Blazers added Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja and retained Rodney Hood.
Bazemore is a two/three tweener who’s barely played power forward. Hezonja has played some power forward, but he hasn’t really put it together. Hood played a fair amount of power forward in this year’s playoffs, but in the regular season, not so much. Most of the minutes he’s played are at small forward.
There is a gap there that one way or the other, Portland is going to have to fill. Neither Aminu nor Harkless are the best three-point shooters – Harkless’ three-ball somehow went to hell this season – but their defense will sorely be missed. Harkless has a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.69 while Aminu had one of 1.46. While not the best, both finished in the top-20 in their respective positions.
With Jusuf Nurkic out for who knows how long, Portland definitely had to do something to fill that gap. Trading Harkless for Hassan Whiteside – in a contract year – was a move the Blazers had to make even if it’s just a stopgap.
Losing both continuity and versatility can definitely hurt when you’re trying to pounce on a tough, but wide-open Western Conference. If the Blazers want to go further than they did last year, they need to address this before the season starts.
Glue guys are important, but what they bring to the court can be replaceable in some cases. Fans should really keep an eye out on how buyout season goes because, with all the contracts that are set to expire this year, we could see a lot of talent on the open market six months from now.
The teams that lost these players have the privilege of waiting to see how they fare. Even if losing a role player doesn’t sting as much as losing an All-Star does, getting someone who can replace what he does can make all the difference between winning the championship and getting eliminated in the opening round in this day and age.
Isaiah Thomas Facing Uphill Battle In Returning To Form
Isaiah Thomas has an opportunity for a great comeback season with the Washington Wizards – but did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? David Weissman writes.
Like the long ball, everyone loves a good comeback story.
This offseason, the NBA world had been enamored with the comeback story of DeMarcus Cousins. After two major leg injuries in a 15 month period, the association was waiting to see how the six-time All-Star would bounce back this season. Those speculations ended when Cousins tore his ACL in a pickup game last week, taking him out for the entire 2019-2020 campaign.
With Cousins’ return consuming the NBA world, many overlooked another comeback superstar – Isaiah Thomas. Once an MVP candidate, Thomas’ career now hangs on whether the labrum in his hip can heal properly. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old guard, he may be facing permanent damage to his hip that will prevent a fairy tale ending.
Thomas has been plagued with a hip injury since 2016, but will see his first attempt at playing a full season this year since with the Washington Wizards. Thomas faces long odds for a comeback story, but he has been the quintessential underdog from the beginning of his career.
In the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas was the last player selected, mainly due to skepticism over his 5-foot-9 stature. After being selected by the Sacramento Kings, there were no expectations Thomas would be a contributor his first year. Despite those predictions, he ended the season as a starter.
For three years Thomas maintained the starting role and ended his tenure with the Kings averaging 20 points per game. Instead of re-signing him, the Kings refused to match an offer sheet of 4-years/$28 million and let him go to the Phoenix Suns, a bargain especially getting a free agent with a stat line of 20.3 PPG, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Thomas was traded to the Celtics in 2015 and had been considered an MVP caliber talent by the end of his first season in Boston. At his peak, Thomas had two All-Star seasons with the Celtics. He led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017 by averaging 28.9 points per game. Thomas showed devotion to the Boston Celtics by playing through a torn hip labral injury he sustained during the regular season. The injury forced him to sit out two-and-a-half games in the conference finals, which led to a Celtics defeat in the series.
Despite his success, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge ignored what Thomas did during his tenure and focused on what Thomas could provide for the future. Ainge viewed Thomas as being an injured, under-sized point guard with aspirations of a maximum contract down the road. The Celtics avoided giving Thomas an extension by trading him away to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. Ainge saw Irving as a more talented, stable point guard that the Celtics could build around.
After the Celtics playoff run, Thomas was diagnosed with a right femoral-acetabular impingement, a bruised hip and labral tear. Thomas decided to forgo surgery and do non-surgical treatment, usually preferred by most athletes. This treatment postponed Thomas’ debut with the Cavaliers until Jan. 2, 2019 and he ended up only playing 14 games with the team. Thomas was then traded to the Lakers due to locker room issues and played 17 games before finally opting for hip surgery.
Thomas was primed to earn a max-level contract after his 2017 season. However, after a season full of off-court drama and injury, Thomas only got a one-year veteran minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets. Thomas made his debut with the Nuggets this past February after recovering from his hip surgery and only played 12 games last season. Due to a packed Nuggets backcourt, Thomas averaged career lows in minutes played, field goal percentage, three point percentage and points per game.
Coming into 2019-20 season, Thomas has signed a veteran minimum contract with the Washington Wizards, where he could earn the starting point guard role. Being able to run the offense for a point guard-hungry Washington Wizards team will be the ultimate opportunity for a great comeback season. The question is: Did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? And what lasting effect will that have on his career? A torn labral in the hip is not an injury with a high success rate of full recovery for NBA players.
A labral hip tear occurs when there is damage to the labrum (ring of cartilage) within the hip joint (ball and socket joint) due to irregular movement in the hip. In some cases, if the injury to the labrum is not repaired in time, permanent damage can be done to cartilage causing early on-set arthritis. When Thomas tore the labrum in his hip, it was due to a right femoral-acetabular impingement. A hip impingement is when an abnormal bone in the hip joint causes unusual contact between the ball and socket, sometimes tearing the cartilage.
Once torn, the labrum tissue in the hip does not heal on its own and surgery can remove or repair torn labral tissue. Currently, there are no procedures that will replace cartilage in the hip to prevent early on-set arthritis. The damage to the cartilage is permanent and will continue to cause severe pain. If injury to the hip is not that severe, athletes prefer to treat the issue with physical therapy by maximizing the strength and mobility of the hip to minimize the stress placed on the injured area.
Thomas played through his labral tear through the 2016-2017 season and postponed surgery 32 games after he tried to rehab the injury. The biggest issue for Thomas is whether the problem has been neglected so long that the impingement causes permanent cartilage damage and leads to arthritis. It is unknown how much damage has been done to his cartilage, but this would be the biggest obstacle to making a full comeback. Based on the lingering issues with his hip, it would not be surprising if he is facing early on-set arthritis.
The success rate for the average person has not translated to the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few who came back from this injury and succeeded. Aldridge was a freshman at the University of Texas when he tore his hip labrum and successfully came back from the injury after undergoing only nine months of rehab. Six years later, Aldridge suffered another tear to his hip labrum, but decided to undergo surgery. He came back six-and-a-half months later and has had an All-Star career without any other hip injury.
On the other hand, 6-foot Johnny Flynn – a similar sized point guard to Thomas – had surgery in July 2010 after his rookie season. The former number six overall pick played his final NBA game in 2012.
Martell Webster, a 10-year veteran, underwent surgery in November 2015 to repair a partial tear in his right hip labrum. 21 months later, Webster was signed to the Charlotte Hornets training camp, but got cut five days later.
Lastly, Wilson Chandler missed significant time from multiple labrum tears and subsequent surgeries from 2010 to 2016, but he has been healthy and decently productive since the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.
Isaiah Thomas took over the basketball world in 2016 and dominated at a level very few people thought was possible for his size. The Wizards hope Thomas can recover and return to MVP form, again proving all the critics wrong. Unfortunately for Thomas, small guards like himself do not have the best track record of coming back from a torn labral, and his future really depends on how much damage has been done to the cartilage in his hip.
Playing through the torn labrum from 2016 to 2018 without surgery may have cut Thomas’ career short. With continued lingering hip issues, there is a significant possibility that he is facing early on-set arthritis, a condition that could ultimately keep him from returning to MVP form.
High-Performance Mindfulness: Top Ways To Translate Practice Into Statistical Improvement
Jake Rauchbach nails down 5 foundational ways for players to translate in-practice repetition into in-game statistical performance improvement.
There are players at all levels of basketball, including the NBA, that struggle to connect the dots on how to translate their practice repetitions into actual statistical performance improvement during the game.
In past columns, we have discussed how unconscious performance blocks can derail a player’s improvement. A refresher for some of the most commonly held subconscious barriers to performance can be found here and here.
Unconscious barriers to success can affect a player’s ability to consistently perform at optimum levels. That being said, we have all seen players that seem to be able to seamlessly migrate practice repetition over to in-game performance improvement, while other equivalently-talented players seemingly struggle to do so.
So, what are the underlying reasons for this dichotomy in player development? What’s the differentiating factor for translating practice repetition into in-game performance improvement? The answer is mental focus.
Mental Focus is Key
The consistency with which a player remains mentally locked-in is crucial. A player’s ability to interface with his present moment awareness during his timeline for preparation – practice, individual workouts, film study and the game – directly influences how much translatable on-court performance improvement will be had by the player come game time.
One of the main things that coaches tell players is: “Come ready to play!” Interpreted more literally, this means come focused. However, many players do not have a repeatable process for getting the most out of their preparation process.
There Are Levels to This
It is important to note that there are levels of application for High-Performance Mindfulness techniques. Just like progressions in an on-court skill-development series, a similar process is employed when teaching players how to sharpen focus to statistically improve performance.
There are foundational tools and skill-sets that players can pick up and begin to employ straight away.
There are also leading-edge Energy Psychology – Integrated Player Development processes. Specific to each player, these zero in on statistically improving specific parts of a player’s game that the player, coach or general manager pre-determines.
This is the next level of High-Performance Mindfulness. We will break these down at a later date. For this column, we’ll outline some foundational HPM tools that players can begin to employ immediately to begin sharpening their focus and influencing in-game improvement upwards.
Foundational Techniques to Improve Mental Focus
Meditation has been scientifically shown to help improve focus and attention, creative thinking and regulation of emotions, all of which are critical elements regarding successfully processing through split-second reads during the game. Meditation has also been shown to decrease depression and anxiety.
There are many types of meditation practices. However, what I have seen work best for high-level basketball players is employing a 15-minute meditation session twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
20 years ago, there were very few athletes who would touch a yoga practice. Look for meditation to become the new yoga, helping athletes sharpen focus and master internal peace of mind. The effects of this technique, when fed into an overall focus for on-court performance, is immense.
Affirmations are an unbelievable way for players to clear and reprogram their deep subconscious minds of the toxic performance blockages stemming from experience. I have found “I AM” statements to be most powerful when working with players who employ these techniques on the court during the game.
The reason for this is that it reaffirms a new mental program while simultaneously counteracting emotional baggage, which has the effect of sharpening mental focus. When mental focus improves, so too does overall performance.
Visualization retrains a player’s mind to expand the boundaries for what is deemed possible. One of the more profound experiences is observing players who manifest virtually the same play on the court that they have mentally Rep’d during visualization. We are talking about the over-the-top plays that they haven’t pulled off in months, maybe sometimes years.
Common examples of plays that high-major college and professional basketball players often visualize and then directly thereafter manifest on-court are:
- The Pick-Six: Denying the passing lane – Creating a Stealing – Going opportunity for an uncontested finish on the other end. This play is common for players who begin to focus on improving ball pressure through visualization techniques.
- The Big-Time Block: Defensively rotating over and pinning the ball against the glass. This is a big-time energy play that happens frequently when leveraging visualization to optimize defensive efficiency.
- The Dunk-On: Dunking on or over someone maybe one the most energizing plays in basketball. When visualization is employed to rep this specific play, often the player capable of such finishes performs it in real-time on the court.
Generally, this is an eye-opening experience for the player. There is a level of connection made by the player between the mental rep and the on-court execution of said play that helps to reinforce the High-Performance Mindfulness training.
These types of plays give the player a discernible cause-and-effect experience from implementing the mental rep, to manifesting the specific play on the court. Experiences like these help players connect the dots on how mental training positively correlates to improvement on the court.
The implementation of Breath-Work deepens awareness and has been employed by different cultures around the globe for years. Foundational breathing techniques are also the building blocks for many of Martial Arts such as Qigong, Tai Chi and Karate.
These types of techniques have been shown to help players hone focus by becoming more present, getting the athletes out of their head and into their present moment of awareness. Improving focus this way can have the overall effect of helping move the dial when it comes to on-court performance improvement.
Practicing Detached Observation
Observation is a key component in every technique mentioned herein. It is important to mention that as a standalone technique.
Once players are better able to recognize that they are not their thoughts, they are generally able to make the shift in detaching from the performance-blocking thoughts and emotions that have historically been holding them back.
This creates peace of mind and facilitates greater present moment poise and focus.
Improving in-game performance comes down to consistent mental focus over the preparation timeline. Employing the foundational techniques mentioned above will begin the process, helping players prioritize focus as a way to optimize performance efficiencies during the game.