This week NBA training camps open up and it is always an exciting time for the players, coaches and the fans. Everyone is optimistic about the upcoming season. Of course, nobody has lost a game yet so optimism does flow. Coaches have probably gone out of town, to isolate themselves, to have meetings to plan out their camps. GM’s are anxious for camp to start so they can see how their draft picks, trades, and free agent signings will fit in. Players are probably not that pumped for camp, but will be excited to start playing games again.
Striking to me is the stark contrast between the training camps of today and the camps in the past. A few years ago, the NBA put in some rules about how practices are to be run in camps, how many, their length and what can be done. This year, for the first 6 days, teams are allowed to have 2 practices a day for a total length of 3 and a half hours. However, teams cannot scrimmage in both sessions. No scrimmaging means no contact between players, though some drills can have offense and defense. This means that most coaches will have one practice which is basically drills and conditioning, and then another session where they will have live scrimmaging. One practice with a lot of shooting drills, running, and some 1 on 1, 2 on 2, concentrating on the offense. The second practice will involve a lot more defense work, like the shell drill and then scrimmaging. I suspect that there will be some coaches who will only go once a day for the whole 3 and a half hours. After the first 6 days, teams are only allowed to practice once a day.
Contrast that with how things were just a few years ago, even during my last coaching stint. There was no limit to the number of practices per day. Most coaches had 2 practices per day, but there were some that would go 3 times a day, for a bit . There was no time limit, though I never wanted to go much past 2 hours. I always felt physical fatigue, and mental fatigue would set in much past 2 hours. There were no restrictions on scrimmaging. I liked to have drill work in the morning, but include some controlled scrimmaging at the end, where a lot of teaching is done. Then in the evening, the practice would again include some drill work, but then more time would be spent on scrimmage work.
Teams used to be able to have double sessions for the entire training camp, though most teams didn’t after playing a few exhibition games. Most coaches liked having the option to go twice after starting to play some games. There are two main reasons for that. First, after a couple of games of playing someone else, a coach gets a better idea what the team is like, and where they may need some extra work in certain areas. Secondly, players tend to lose the training camp mentality once games start. Coming back to 2-a-days after some games is usually an attention getter. It can get the players back into the learning, hard work mode.
I find that these rules, put in by the NBA, to be handcuffing to the coaches, and may be dentrimental to the players, especially the younger ones. Many times the younger players need extra work to get up to speed. If they are restricted, they may lose out on some valuable work and teaching. When you think about it, that could mean the difference to making a team or not. Only having 6 days for 2-a-days is also restrictive, but not just in the most obvious way. By not having 2-a-days after 6 days means a coach will be really reluctant not to have 2-a-days early. I always liked going the first two days with 2 practices, and then give the team the morning off on the third day. From my playing days, I always thought that the third day was the hardest. Usually really sore and tired, a good time for a little break. I also liked the flexibility to give a practice off to reward the team for hard work.
Besides that the total amount of practice time per day is less than what was generally done in the past, the total time limit can be restrictive in another way. There are times that teams don’t work as hard as a coach wants, or that things aren’t going well in a practice, for whatever reason. Believe me, don’t think that it is beyond some players to come up and point out to the coach that the 3 and a half hours combined is just about up. Then all of a sudden practice has to stop. Coach loses another hammer.
These rules were put in with pressure from the Players’ Association. Understand, the NBAPA is run by veteran players, who look after veteran players. These limits on training camp practices hurts young players, hurts younger teams and handcuffs coaches. Basically, older players need training camp to get into shape, and get their timing back. New things are picked up easily by vets. For rookies and other young players things are coming at them at a fast pace. It can be confusing, and yet, they have more to learn. And they have to adjust to the fact that they have to play harder than they ever have. I think that is the biggest adjustment for the new players. The effort has to be better than they have ever given.
The irony in all this is that people will complain about the lesser quality of play. What do people expect? The players are younger, and have spent less time in college than they used to, so they have had less coaching; now they enter the NBA, and they have less time to practice. The teams, overall, have less time to practice. And people are surprised that the level of play might be down? Contrary to what Allen Iverson thinks, there is value to practicing. Who gets the blame for the sloppy play? Coaches mostly, but players too. I think all this concern about overworking the players is over thought by people who never coached. Coaches know they can’t be unfair to their players. If they do, they’ll lose their team’s respect, they will lose their team, and then they’ll lose their jobs.
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