For the fans out there that wish that they could break down every minute of a training camp session, look no further. For coaches who are wondering how a former Coach of the Year does it, I hereby present… a typical Suns practice.
3:00- Individual warm-up: The guys are just shooting around and trying to get the blood flowing.
3:05-3:15- Team meeting: The team meets at half court to talk about the focus of the day’s practice.
3:15- Team re-warm-up: The players dribble around the outside of the court and then run back-and-forth across the court to break a sweat. They jog, kick their heels up and bring their knees up to their chest as they run to get loose. Then they stretch.
Note: Stretching was interrupted at today’s practice because General Manager Steve Kerr had Equipment Manager Mike Elliot held by four guys as he took a pair of scissors and cut off his Arizona State t-shirt and replaced it with a University of Arizona t-shirt. Elliot never saw it coming.
3:25- Fast-break drill: The team breaks into first and second units and they run through their 5-on-0 fast break sets. As everyone knows, the Suns run quite a bit, but there is a rhyme and a reason to how they space the court on the break. Their offensive stems from their secondary break, which is basically the plays that are triggered if they don’t get a layup right away.
3:35- Team shooting within offensive sets: The first team (white team) heads to one end of the court and the second team (black team), heads to the other end to work on their offensive sets. The white team consists of Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa. The black team is comprised of Brian Skinner, Sean Marks, Marcus Banks, Alando Tucker, D.J. Strawberry, Richie Frahm, Doug Thomas, Rawle Marshall and Eric Piatkowski.
Off of the secondary break, there are a bunch of different wrinkles that allow players to get open looks. In this drill, the point guard will make an entry pass to a post player and cut off the ball before going to screen a player in the corner. The player in the corner uses the pick to cut to the basket and the screener (point guard) turns to receive the pass for a shot. On the opposite side of the court, the point guard passes and screens away. Once the wing pops to the top, they run a screen and roll and the other wing slides to the top for a jumper.
Although they only play with ball in the drill, everyone moves to where they are supposed to finish the play and receive a ball from one of the assistant coaches for a shot. Every player is engaged on every play, and all of them will have the opportunity to shoot and see where they can get shots on the floor within the offense. After six minutes, the teams switch ends and run the set that the other team was just running.
The team always huddles up before practice
to address the day’s goals.
Note: I am not usually surprised by what professional athletes can do, but Raja Bell finished a play today by tomahawking down a dunk with�serious authority. It kind of came out of nowhere because Bell doesn’t normally finish plays like that in practice. Even Nash was surprised stating, “Dang, Raja. That was the best dunk you’ve had since you were in Philly.”
3:50- Full-court weave shooting drill: This drill is a contest that the team has to do until they get it right. The goal of the exercise is to score 100 points in two minutes and the assistant coaches keep track of the score and time using the scoreboard overhead. Three players do the three-man weave down the court while two passers stand in the corners and pass the ball to the guys who didn’t end up with the ball for the layup. As soon as they pass the rock, they sprint down court with the player that just shot the layup and do the three-man weave on the way back. One player finishes with the layup and the other two players shoot jumpers just like the other two players did on the other end of the court. It is a continuous drill that combines running, shooting and the pressure of time. It’s one of those drills that get you in shape, but you don’t realize that’s what it is doing.
The first time around the Suns only scored 84 points, so they had to do it again. The coaches were yelling that the passes weren’t crisp enough, and I guess they were right, because they registered 114 points after they were reminded to not float the passes.
3:55- Water break: My favorite time of practice when I was a player.
Team chemistry is high in camp this week.
3:58- 5-on-5 scrimmage: White team vs. black team. The scoreboard counts down a 12-minute game of make-it-take-it that penalizes the defense for not getting stops. Players really want to play offense, so they bear down on defense so they can get the ball back. Another point of interest about the scrimmage is that the team hires two refs to whistle fouls during practice. That might be the best investment I’ve ever seen. The players don’t whine to the coaches and the coaches can concentrate on analyzing practice.
I know for the teams I played on, it would have been genius to have that luxury, because guys were convinced that certain assistant coaches played favorites in practice by calling certain fouls for players. But with an arrangement like this, no one can say anything.
So as the two units ran through their plays against each other, the black team actually built up an early lead. But then the white turned it on. They scored on six straight plays. LB hit a couple of treys, Nash buried a J, threw an alley-oop to Hill, Boris faked everyone out of their pants and then Nash came back to�hit LB for a sweet back door cut.
Grant Hill turned over to me and said with amazement, “They really got that play down, don’t they?” White defeated black, 31-22.
4:25- Water break: It’s the best.
4:30: Three-basket games: The white team plays the black team to a game of three baskets. Amaré Stoudemire, who appeared at camp for the first time since his surgery, was vocally supporting his teammates from the sidelines throughout practice. Patrolling the sidelines with his knee wrapped in ice, Stoudemire was sporting the new STAT II sneakers to the glee of Raja Bell.
4:40- Water break: Just so refreshing.
4:45- Individual shooting: The guys break off into pairs or threes to work on their�shooting. Grant Hill was working on his 3-point range and Brian Skinner was working on his 15-foot baseline jumper.
5:00- Peanut butter and jelly time. Not really. But everyone heads to dinner to see the rookies sing.