Friday Film is a regular feature where I’ll highlight a few interesting pieces of film from recent games.
The Speed of Mind
I once talked to a former NBA player who washed out of the league. He was a good college player at a major program, and was drafted — this wasn’t someone who scouts viewed as a fringe NBA player. But after a few seasons of poor performance, he was out of the league, playing overseas, and was never able to fully make it back.
“The game was just too fast for me,” he told me. He had never felt that before, never been overwhelmed by the speed of the game the way he was in the NBA. He just couldn’t keep up.
NBA players are the best of the best. They are the biggest, strongest, longest, and fastest. That makes the game play at a different pace than at others levels. To not only survive but succeed in the best basketball league in the world requires players to find another gear to match that speed.
That means physical speed, but, more importantly, it means mental speed. The quickest player doesn’t help his team if he can’t read the defense on the move and make the right play. Players who don’t quite have the size or speed of the best athletes can make up for those deficits with a mind that works a split-second faster than their counterparts. (Put the physical and mental together, of course, and you get a star.)
It’s the famous Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” When most of us play sports, we react to what happens. But the best players anticipate. They recognize a pattern, tipping them off to what’s about to happen, which lets them skate to where the puck is about to be.
That’s exactly what happens on this play from the second quarter of the recent Warriors’ win over the Magic:
You probably watched that clip and thought: great passing. But unless you slowed it down and stopped it at the right moments, you probably didn’t realize just how much reading and anticipating was involved:
This isn’t an isolated incident. In the Warriors’ overtime win in LA two days before, Durant and Green made the exact same play:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is what’s called the “low man” in this play: he is the lowest defender on the weak side, and therefore responsible for helping at the rim in this scenario. Often when you see a play like this it’s because the low man didn’t recognize his responsibility until it was too late. But that’s not the case here. Caldwell-Pope sees it and gets to the spot appropriately. But the pass was made so early that there’s nothing he can do. Caldwell-Pope reacted — Durant anticipated.
A few minutes later the Warriors went back to the exact same set. But this time Durant doesn’t make the pass, leaving Draymond Green hopping mad:
The Warriors are so good at anticipating, so good at making the superhuman seem ordinary, that when they don’t it seems like a failure.