Someone wrote to me with an interesting question about post moves.
Q: It seems like there aren’t as many post scorers in the NBA as there used to be. Why do you think that is? Are players not as skilled as they were in the past?
Other people have tried to answer it but not with much depth.
To understand what’s happened, we must do a bit of role-playing.
Let’s go on a post moves journey.
I did say role playing, so jump into it with me.
- We’re a young big man prospect who just turned 15.
- We’re six-foot-eight and pretty athletic.
- We’ve been playing since we were six and have always been “the tall kid.”
Now, we know from Malcolm Gladwell that it takes hours and hours of deliberate practice over time to develop (and eventually master) a skill.
Again, we’re Brian. What’s our practice look like up to this point in our lives?
Well, we’ve played almost exclusively against kids who are a foot or more shorter than us. They’re not much of a challenge.
We’re running around them and dunking on their heads. We’re not deliberately practicing low post footwork. Why would we? We don’t need turnaround jumpers and countermoves to be put up 30 points every game.
So now we’re in high school.
Think everything will change now? Not really.
- The competition here isn’t much better than what we faced in middle school. The average opposing center we face? The top of his head sits at our chin.
- Our junior and senior teammates command the rock every night. Maybe they’re future Division I players who deserve all these touches. Or perhaps they put up 20 shots a game in the longshot hope of getting a scholarship. Or somewhere in between. Either way, coach doesn’t call plays for us.
What about practice? Nope. We spend our time drilling and preparing for game situations, which don’t include our post game. Besides, who on our team offers much of a challenge? Our backup center is the six-foot-four kid with big glasses.
Think grassroots play is the answer? Good luck. Guards reign in grassroots basketball. We have a better chance catching a cold than getting post touches. Better take those vitamins!
Now we’re a high school upperclassman.
We just celebrated our 17th birthday but have little more experience learning post moves than we did two years ago. We’ve shot up to six-foot-eleven now though. The scholarship offers are rolling in.
We get to be big man on campus now, right?
Well, yes, but only in a way.
How many high school basketball coaches — even good ones — know how to teach and mentor a college-level center prospect on post moves? Especially to a high enough level get us ready to use those skills in college basketball games?
Seriously, think about it.
And the competition? Even less of a threat now that we’re older and bigger. Every once in a while, our school plays a team with a legit center. But our coach wants to win. This matchup isn’t the time to experiment.
Nevertheless, we’ve been really successful because of our size, skills, and athleticism. Everyone you know constantly tells you how great we are.
Time to play at a big name college!
Now we’re in college.
Surely we have a better coach now who can work with us on our post game all the time!
Per NCAA rules, teams can’t start practicing until six weeks before the start of the season — and they’re only allowed 30 practices in those six weeks.
If you were the coach of a high-major college basketball team, expected to compete for a national championship, with guys having graduated and new players coming in, and you only had six weeks to get everyone ready to play together … how much individualized attention would you give to a freshman whose mostly undeveloped skills aren’t crucial to your team winning games this year?
(And remember, the NCAA also limits how much time a team can spend practicing each week during the season.)
So even though we’re playing at an NBA Draft Factory, we still don’t get to work much in practice on our post game because we have such limited time and it’s just not a priority for our team’s success.
People say we’re an NBA prospect, and that’s great. It means we want to make a good impression in games. That means doing the stuff we’re good at when everyone is watching — not the skills we haven’t developed.
Maybe it’s all worth it?
We get to play on a national stage for a year, maybe even deep into March, and garner lots of exposure.
And thanks to our other tools, we do put up numbers! Putbacks. Pick-and-rolls. Lobs. Cutting to the basket and dunking. Blocking shots. Sucking up rebounds.
We can play! So we get drafted late in the first round after our freshman year.
Let’s hit pause for a second. ⏸
We role played five-plus years here and at no point did we get to work on our post game in a game against legitimate opponents.
Why am I stressing in-game? I need to make a point here.
All due respect to Hakeem Olajuwon and other player development coaches, because that type of individualized off-season instruction has value, but it doesn’t serve as a silver bullet either.
To become a reliable back to the basket scorer in games, you must actually practice those skills in game situations. Working with a trainer one-on-one — no matter how good a trainer — doesn’t get around that.
They may teach you great moves, but unless you get lots of deliberate practice applying those skills in game situations, they won’t translate.
Think about all the players who can make free throws or threes in practice but not in live games. Same principle.
Anyway, now we’re in the NBA! 🍾 Is it post moves time?
Maybe you’re thinking because we don’t have to worry about class, or NCAA rules, we have a lot more time to work on our post moves during the season?
NBA teams pack 82 games into a short schedule and spend much of the year on the road. Players get banged up and worn down. Coaches always have a game or two to prepare for.
We don’t have much time in-season to practice, let alone in an individualized way.
Now that we play in the NBA, we face ridiculously athletic, quick, smart defenders every night. It’s hard enough to score the way we used to. We want to make sure we carve out a role and set ourselves up for our second contract. As in college, it means focusing on the things we do best.
So if we’re harboring a dream in the back of our mind of becoming a back to the basket scorer someday, we sit between a rock and a hard place here.
We made it to the league. Mission accomplished!
But focusing on this part of our game doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, even though it annoys us when fans and media member say we don’t have the skill to do it.
Why would the team care about it either? Our underdeveloped post game offers the 59th best option on the team for scoring. If us developing strong post moves ever becomes the difference between winning and losing, the team is in deep trouble.
The way the league keeps evolving doesn’t offer any extra motivation. Defenses get better every year at swarming ball-handlers, especially those ill-suited to coping with that pressure. Not an environment for becoming a post scorer.
That’s how we go to the NBA of today, where post moves aren’t what they used to be.
From a basketball scouting perspective, we must keep in mind the journey of a player’s career. How did they get to where they are today? What expectations should we have?