Sasa Obradovic: The head coach-point guard relationship

Dec 03, 2014 by Sasa Obradovic - Berlin, Germany Print
Sasa Obradovic: The head coach-point guard relationship

ALBA Berlin head coach Sasa Obradovic was a world champion, three-time European champion and Olympics silver medalist in his playing days as a point guard with the Yugoslav national team. Like more than a few point guards before him, Obradovic turned to coaching after his career. He has led teams in Germany, Poland and Ukraine before taking over the bench at ALBA, where he had played for three season, back in 2012. In his first season on its bench, ALBA became the first German team ever to win games in the Top 16, where he hopes to return this season. For his Coaches Corner contribution, Obradovic talks about the relationship often seen as key for any team, the one between point guards and the head coach, both of which he knows well.

When I was playing - you know, in the distant past - coaches depended a lot on the point guard, or the playmaker, to organize and create. And also to call the play for the best players and let them, the best scorers, create for themselves. It was always a good mix to have a scoring point guard who also distributed the ball. Personally, I tried to always understand my role, because it changed. Like, when I was on the national team for some years, playing behind Sasha Djordjevic, I had a different role from him . If I was a a scorer on my club team, when I changed to the national team I knew that I had good quality players around me, so I had to accept to give my contribution in different ways than scoring.

Times change. And they change a lot. My own philosophy has changed a lot. The game changed and it's much faster now. So from my point of view, that changes the role of leader to several players. Of course, you need to have someone who is leading the team. Sometimes in practices or in games, the leadership of the main guys comes out by itself. It is important now for coaches to have the same communication with several key players, not one, because you can see that the role of the point guard today is spread to several positions. Teams are using two point guards on the court a lot now. It's in fashion to have two guys running pick-and-rolls and creating for others. The other thing now is that the point guard doesn't always have the ball in his hands. It can be anybody, also a center, who understands where the ball is coming from and needs to go, and in that way leads the offense. It is better this way - to have different players who can create, who can feel the situations, read and react - because scouting is so much stronger now.

If you think about play calling, what to run at what time, recognizing the situation on the court, now it's even harder, because the game is so fast. Just consider the new offensive rebounding rule: if you shoot and get the ball back, you have only 14 seconds to shoot again. That's too little time to look at the bench and call a play. My philosophy now is to have simple but multiple options from the systems you run. Even so, you can't fit all your ideas easily in the game.

Sometimes you have to rely on the instinct of the player. This has changed since the end of my career, when you had a lot of time to dribble, look to the bench and see what the coach wanted, and then execute it. Now, it is so much faster. In fact, I am trying to push the players to play fast without too much thinking. Even the same things we used then, like the screen and roll, happens faster now. So now I am pushing the short, simple play executed with a good idea of who you are attacking. That comes with game preparation, what you do tactically, knowing the opposing coach's philosophy. We have a scouting report of 15 to 20 pages for each game that the players really have to know: who they are playing, who is guarding you and who you will be guarding. You have to know this. Each game is prepared seriously, but even then there will be mistakes without enough time to practice.

A coach must be able to help his point guards to understand their roles and the coach's philosophy, not just on the court, but also in the locker room. It is also necessary to have someone who keeps team discipline with his great work ethic. Point guards gave rhythm to practices when I played, and that's still true today. I am lucky to have a guy like Cliff Hammonds, who gives 100 percent of his energy in every practice. This really keeps the team on a certain level while practicing. Of course, there are sometimes mistakes, tactical ones or others, but my expectations are about preparedness. This is the key. Are you ready to play physical, to be sharp? So many things are really connected to this.

I am lucky to have such a guy in Hammonds, and also another one like Reggie Redding, who is versatile enough that he could be a point guard. We developed a great relationship since he came here last year. I don't know how many conversations I have had with him, also during the summer, trying to give him some of my experience and good advice, but I think he has improved a lot in one year. Those two and also Alex Renfroe lead our team on the court. Two of them are usually on the court at all times, because with two of them, it's easier. It's like having two heads that both know your philosophy and ideas. It is not always easy. Players have different habits from the past. But as a coach you have to know what your team is capable of and get them to do it. I am sure they are fed up by now with all my communication. There is a lot to analyze before, during and after games. It is not always easy to have the most cooperative players. It depends on who you select in the summer, but you can't always choose the most coachable players. Still, if you start your team well with someone who can affect the others, the player with the ball in his hands, this is crucial.

You can say it's really strange, but a lot of point guards become coaches and a lot of big guys don't. It's strange, because big guys know the game, too, and many are passionate about basketball. But to be a coach, you have to keep that passion going after you stop playing, and for whatever reason, more point guards do that. I've thought that maybe due to their size, big guys get much more tired from their careers than small guys, that it takes more out of them. Coaching takes a lot of dedication. As a player, you play with a lot of emotion and will, but you need that after as a coach, too. I know so many big guys, even friends of mine, who don't have that when they finish playing. Point guards do have that, but I don't know exactly why. Maybe people think that point guards lead their teams and therefore they can do the same things as a coach. But I am here to tell you that it's not the case. This is a completely different job. You can use some of your playing experience, but not much. It is so much different to coach than to play point guard. And let's face it, if it were the same, a lot of the best, high-level point guards would become coaches, and they don't.