How do coaches in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague plan for games? What are they looking for both in their own teams and the opposition? One of the deans of the coaching profession, and one of just three men to have won the EuroLeague title as a player and a coach, Svetislav Pesic of FC Barcelona Lassa, explains.
"The most important thing about your game plan is that it cannot completely change from game to game. As a team, you should have one plan that is adapted to the players on your team and stays in place all season, based on concepts you practice first during the summer and then continue to practice every week.
"This has always been my philosophy. And now we are playing so many games – 30 in the EuroLeague and 34 in the Spanish League – that it's even more important to have one game plan and to convince the players to think mainly about our plan.
"Of course, you have to respect your opponent, both as a team and the individual players, and we always analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. But the more important thing is not to react. In fact, it's the opposite; you have to act. Take destiny in your own hands. You have to make the opponent react to you. From the start of the game, you have to put your opponent into a situation where they are forced to think about you.
"Put your opponent into a situation where they are forced to think about you."
"For this reason, probably 80 percent of a game plan, preparing for every game, is dedicated to how we always want to play. These are the things we practice every day, our basic concepts on offense and defense. For the other 20 percent, we analyze our opponent and this is where it can change from one game to the next. We want to know what are the opponent's main qualities? How is their inside game? How do they use their transition game? What do they do on the perimeter? Do they play zone or man-to-man defense?
"This is what we need to know. Of course, if our next opponent plays zone defense and in recent games we haven't played any other teams with that set-up, as part of the preparation we should explain to the players how we attack against a zone defense, and we practice that way.
"To get the information we need, we have three assistant coaches who watch the games of our upcoming opponents: one will give general opinions, one is responsible for watching their defense, and the third for the offense, always focusing mainly on tactical aspects rather than individual players. As head coach, I receive all this information and all these opinions, but I also like to see the opponent directly with my own eyes, and then we decide our plan for the game.
"We have our key defensive concepts which we don't want to change from game to game, but sometimes the best defense is our own offense against the best offensive player of the opponent team – keep the ball out of his hands and see how he defends!
"The most important thing is never to forget our own style and concepts"
"We also try to pinpoint opposition weaknesses. For example, we might think our inside game can be successful against the opposing centers, so we will spend more time working on our inside game. Naturally, we would always want to give the ball to our best offensive inside players.
"Specific situations during a game can also make you change your plans. For example, if you see an opposition player get into foul trouble, on the next offense we will want to play against him to try to get another foul or have an easier basket.
"Or we might see the opponent is struggling defensively against transition offense, so we can say: 'Until now, we've only been playing fastbreaks after a defensive rebound, but now we also want to use fastbreaks after a basket – if they make the basket, we want to immediately find an advantage.' Or if there's a team that is playing very well in transition offense, we will want to keep the ball more in our hands, have more positional offense and longer possessions.
"So you always have to respond to the conditions of the game and the specific qualities of the opponent, but the most important thing is never to forget our own style and concepts, our playing philosophy."