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Bob Ociepka's Book

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I mentioned in my post from the introductory press conference last week that Bob Ociepka, one of three new Blazers assistants, has published two books on basketball plays.  His first book, Basketball Playbook: Plays From The Pros, arrived yesterday.

It was a little bit underwhelming, at least considering my expectations.  This book is not the Dead Sea Scrolls of Ociepka's defensive philosophy as I'd unrealistically hoped. Basketball Playbook is less internal spiritual journey expressed in x's and o's and more entry-level basketball play-design primer for coaches at any level. Given that the book was published in 1995 during Ociepka's time as an NBA scout -- where he, according to his official biography, "spent the past seven seasons diagramming every play that every team in the NBA runs" --  none of this should come as a surprise. It should also be noted up front that the plays discussed in this book are offensive sets only

This book is easier to use a textbook -- no between-the-lines analysis or guesswork is required of the reader -- but it's a little less useful if we're trying to determine what exactly Ociepka brings to Nate McMillan's staff besides a catalogue-like understanding of what other teams are doing and a long history of coaching and thinking about the game. For example, Ociepka highlights a lot of plays that find star players -- bigs and wings alike -- isolated in the post.  Does he do so because that's a personal principle, because these plays are likely to be effective at all levels of play, because these plays were very common in the NBA at the time or because they are simply more interesting to look at than other plays?  It's impossible to really know because there isn't much theory provided. 

The book's chapters are divided situationally. Ociepka breaks down early offense plays, then screen and roll plays, then post-up plays and later three-point plays and out-of-bounds plays.  The writing in the book is mostly to explain play diagrams and show how specific stars of the era -- whether it's David Robinson or Kevin Johnson -- are able to gain an advantage in certain plays or how specific coaches of the era -- whether it's Bob Hill or Larry Brown -- select plays and sets to fit certain goals like pushing the tempo, freeing shooters at a particular location or setting up star players in isolation.

Going through the entire text I found three general philosophical beliefs.

First: "Each play is appropriate only if it fits the team's personnel. A play that the New York Knicks' Pat Riley uses to get a post-up for Patrick Ewing will not be successful on the high school level if your 6-foot-2 sophomore center is being guarded by a 6-foot-10 Division I prospect." 

This isn't rocket science (really, it's self-evident) but it is a standard McMillan explanation: "We run plays for our best players."  We hear it often when McMillan discusses the team's late-game isolation sets for Brandon Roy but also when discussing how and where the Blazers get LaMarcus Aldridge the ball or why the team went to Andre Miller in the post when Roy was injured. Using Synergy Sports video analysis and other analytical tools that hone in on player strengths, the Blazers can and have taken this idea to macro-level extremes on occasion, such as slowing their pace to the slowest in the league or going to the 1-4 over and over late in the fourth quarter.

A second, and related, thought: "It's the execution of plays that win basketball games, not the number of plays executed."

I imagine McMillan reading that sentence and snapping his fingers to express his agreement with the sentiment. Two years ago, there wasn't an easier way to provoke McMillan than to suggest his offense was too repetitive while it was among the league leaders in efficiency.  Some coaches prefer dozens or hundreds of plays and options, McMillan simply doesn't.  He prefers wrinkles and adjustments rather than extra chapters.

But if there's music to the Nate-Hater's ear in this book, it's probably this statement, which is as close as Ociepka comes to revealing a personal preference. "If a play is designed with only one player in mind, there is a tendency for the other players on the court to let down and perhaps not carry out their assignments. A good coach designs plays that have the initial thrust of getting a specific player a shot, but also involve all five players on the court."

I think McMillan would firmly defend his abilities in this regard while his critics might point to this situation as exactly where he falls short.  If you remember at the beginning of the summer, McMillan was pushing to add more shooters while Kevin Pritchard said he was targeting toughness.  McMillan wants shooters because they can be efficiently and effectively involved in isolation sets with minimal impact to the team's current strategy. That's a double-edged sword (and possibly a mental shortcut). With the continued development of Nicolas Batum and the addition of Wesley Matthews, not to mention the expected return of Greg Oden, perhaps Ociepka's fresh eyes could be valuable here on offense as well as defense.

Past that, the book simply presents dozens of plays and does a nice job of explaining the most common sets of the 1990s NBA, including the flex offense, which Kevin Arnovitz recently wrote wonderfully about. If you're a coach or you know a coach, there are definitely worse ways to spend five or 10 bucks.  It's easy to read and grasp and the plays are presented cleanly.

Basketball Playbook also gives a few biographical details, including this gem: ""He has a unique perspective on the game of basketball after literally going from the bench of a high school team to the bench of an NBA squad in a week's time. He was a highly successful prep coach in Chicago for 19 years before joining the staff of the Pacers in mid-season." Ociepka also thanks former NBA coach Dick Versace with giving him his first coaching job (Chicago's Gordon Tech High in 1970) and NBA job (hired by the Indiana Pacers in 1989), and credits Bob Hill, Bob Weiss and Bill Fitch, other head coaches for whom he had worked.

I'll let you know what's in Volume 2 when it gets here next week.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter