Commentary

How the best ballers prepare

Originally Published: August 27, 2009
By David Thorpe | Scouts Inc.

Luol Deng, Kevin Martin and Tryus ThomasGetty ImagesDeng, Martin and Thomas have each enhanced their skills at the Pro Training Center.

Scouts Inc.'s David Thorpe is executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla.

Offseason preparation isn't the same for all NBA players, as each player has his own unique set of goals to pursue. Of course, there are some common threads. Here's a look at a typical plan we create and execute for any player who walks into our gym, while keeping in mind there are different variables in teaching 5-foot-9 point guards from Texas and 7-6 centers from Brazil.

Some guys come to us in June either for a summer league tuneup or (for older veterans) just a crash course in something new they want to work on over the next few months. For students heading to summer league, we spend approximately three hours a day on the court, five days a week (plus two hours on the court every Saturday) working on athleticism, having a "tighter" handle, being more consistent in all aspects of shooting, and developing finishing moves (whether it be in the post or off a drive). Extra attention is always given to off-hand finishes while jumping off the weaker leg.

Probably more important is the time spent teaching the overall game; the big theme is making reads on ball screens or pinch-post action. But it's also important for players to learn how to read defenses and how to look for the shot-blockers before getting into a dribble-drive mode. This summer our students spent more time working on defending and contesting shots of drivers and shooters, as well as being more aware of help responsibilities when their opponents are running ball screens. As we've always taught, quickness can be developed through better anticipatory skills more than through something physical. Ideally, students will come away from the workouts and show up for their first practice with their summer team in great shape and feeling genuinely confident about their game. If they fail to show up with that mindset, the failure is mine.

The idea is to give veterans a blueprint to follow when they are working out on their own. But to do so, you must teach the hows and whys to help students understand the concepts so they can then practice them correctly.

For our veterans who come in for just a week or two of game enhancement, we try to identify a weakness or two from the previous season or a hole in their game, and work on changes they can take with them for the rest of their summer workouts. For example, with one player, we can focus on using what I call the "Ginobili step" (which Dwyane Wade has mastered, too) to avoid committing a charge on a drive to the bucket. For others, it might be as simple as changing hand placement when shooting or as complex as developing an entire plan when catching the ball in the post. The idea is to give veterans a blueprint to follow when they are working out on their own. But to do so, you must teach the hows and whys to help students understand the concepts so they can then practice them correctly.

In June, our students also put in 90 minutes a day for five days a week with our strength and performance expert. Some players need to lose weight, others have to gain it. But all of them always need to get stronger and leaner. "Lean and strong" is our catchphrase. Developing core strength is probably the most important part of our work in this area, but all parts of the body are challenged. Add 45 minutes a day for extra stretching and another 90 on the bike for some simple cardio (unless the player is struggling to gain weight), along with a session every week on media and teammate communication skills and another with a nutritionist, and you get the full picture.

[+] EnlargeCourtney Lee
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesLee helped the Magic reach the Finals, before being traded to the Nets this summer.

Our pre-training camp work in August through mid-September is very similar to our summer league training. Again, our emphasis is on sending players back to their teams feeling better about their game than they ever have. So our work in the gym has to parallel that lofty goal. After a 45-minute stretch/taping/foam-roller session, we do 90 intense minutes five mornings a week. Every player has to get better at ballhandling, jumping, defense, rebounding and sprinting, so we do lots of that. Some days our students will dunk 150-plus times in one workout (off each foot and both feet), typically following all different sorts of actions (dribble-drives, handoffs, after an offensive rebound, etc.). Other days will feature more work on the midrange game, including taking hundreds of shots (again, always following a multitude of actions). Two days a week, we'll put them in drills that require chasing 150-plus rebounds out of their general area.

When we break things down, our back-to-the-basket guys will work on creating and mastering plans for scoring in the post, while our guards may work on jab-step attack movements. Major emphasis is put on learning how to get to the free-throw line, and shot selection is a standard lecture for every guy. One day a week is totally dedicated to the ball-screen game.

But nothing is more important than learning how to play the game. They still do 90 minutes a day working on strength and athleticism, and an additional 45-90 minutes on the bike. Lean strength, speed, flexibility and nutrition, combined with improved skill sets and explosiveness, form the recipe for continued success in the NBA. However, our highest goal as teachers is to create smarter students who not only can follow directions but also have the knowledge to figure things out for themselves as the season evolves and teams get better at exploiting their weaknesses.

In the age of Synergy Sports and the NBA Pass, what works for some in November may not work again in January. The smarter player evolves, while the others die out. We end each session by putting our hands in, counting to three and chanting "Be a Pro!" Because doing all of the above, as well as eating right and getting lots of rest, is exactly how a player becomes a pro.

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at IMG, where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.