You know players are serious when they get antsy over being double-teamed during pickup games. You flick through social media, and you come across video of Devin Booker being frustrated by help defense in a match also featuring Ben Simmons, Joakim Noah, and Trey Lyles. “Hey, bro! We not doublin’ in open gym, bro. I get that s–t all season. Come on, man! Let’s work on our game, bro. Let’s work on our game,” he goes, and you laugh. It should be no big deal, you note, and certainly not enough to have one of the best scorers in the National Basketball Association sound off the way he did.
You go through your feed some more, and you‘re convinced that, to the players, it IS a big deal. “DBook speaking facts,” Trae Young chimes in. “There should be no double teaming in pick up … it’s annoying getting double teamed in that type of setting,” he argues. And, as a reflection of the gravity of the sentiment, his tweet has been shared a whopping 1,149 times and responded to by myriad other players, officials, and pundits. Even Kevin Durant, arguably the league’s single most potent offensive force, couldn’t help but weigh in. “GUARD UP! It’s pickup, if u weak defensively then work on it in the summer cuz if u need a double during the season then coach sittin u on the yine.”
Weird, you tell yourself. You wonder why All-Stars gripe about multiple coverage in open runs when they’re used to seeing it over the course of a campaign. And then the answer — or, at least, what passes off as an answer to someone from the outside looking in — dawns on you again. These types of scrimmages afford the players the opportunity to strut their stuff for all to see. And you yourself have seen a lot of late. Carmelo Anthony showing he still has the touch. Simmons displaying shooting ability and range. Even Bronny James and Zaire Wade making like their famous fathers. And the common denominator in all the visual splendor? They beat their man, one on one, off the dribble, after executing a variety of moves.
Indeed, double teaming deprives the players of the chance to, in their words, “work on our game.” But isn’t trying to solve help defense also part of it? Fair point — but to you, and not to them. Andre Iguodala recounted a time he and Draymond Green “kept doubling [Durant] the practice after all star break… he was mad s–t!!! We was tryna win fam!!” Well, evidently, fair play in scrimmages, however organized, calls for winning without the benefit of multiple coverage. Welcome to the NBA, you mutter. You shake your head, and conclude that the regular season can’t come soon enough.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.