Do You 'Take What the Defense Gives You'? Steve Kerr Gets Deep | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Do You ‘Take What the Defense Gives You’? Steve Kerr Gets Deep

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Updated: February 26, 2015

 

On offense, you “take what the defense gives you,” according to Randy Wittman, even often according to pupil Bradley Beal. Even according to other brilliant basketball minds.

On one level, it makes a lot sense. The NBA is fast—24 seconds on the shot clock fast—and open shots are a luxury, not a right. If you get an open shot, you should probably take it, regardless of where you are. Because the next shot might not be open. And, for a variety of reasons, as the shot clock ticks down, teams have less of a chance of making a basket. (1) You also want players reacting, not thinking about whether a shot in the moment is efficient or not, in theory. Maybe it’s more about how you’re training players to react (and think).

Take what the defense gives you, huh? On another level, it sounds like advice more appropriate for impatient teens in a church league. (2) NBA basketball is intricate. Millions of dollars are paid to players and significant fractions of that are invested in strategy of all types. If the defense gives you a lane or a layup or a wide-open shot, sure, you take it.

But, in an attempt to split hairs, from a coaching/offensive philosophy perspective: is ‘taking what the defense gives you’ really a mindset you want to impose on your players? ‘Hey, whatever the defense happens to leave unattended, go ahead and settle for it. Be a squatter, if you will.’

Defenses have become increasingly complicated and in turn, so have NBA offenses. Or maybe the egg came before the chicken. Either way, such complicated defenses often aim to ‘give’ or ‘allow’ shots that will benefit them. Defensive schemes might double-team good post players off of poor shooters, for example, because the perimeter players are poor shooters (meaning the post player is more of a threat). If an offense always takes what the defense gives them, then the shots are often going to be in the hands of those who can’t shoot, theoretically.

Again, we’re splitting hairs with an interpretation of a cliché. But, in the complicated and expensive game of professional basketball, every nugget provided to players counts. I will ask again: Do you have to belittle strategy by encouraging players to just accept what is available?

So with a mantra of the maligned Randy Wittman in mind, I posed the question to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, currently leading the NBA’s second-best offense. (3)

‘Coach, you often hear a phrase, ‘We take what the defense gives us.’ Is that the right mindset to put your players in? Or would you rather make the defense give you what you want them to give you?’

It was, admittedly, and handful of tangled noodles thrown against the wall by me. It wasn’t in a ‘gotcha’ sense, but rather an earnest attempt to pick the brain of perhaps the Association’s coach of the year … and, of course, a well-versed former member if broadcast media … and, of course, the holder of five NBA championship rings.

“This is getting deep …  [laughter from peanut gallery] … I have no idea,” said Kerr as he gathered how he wanted to respond.

“If I use that phrase next time I’m here, then you can ask me after the game. (4) I don’t really think I use that phrase very often. (5)

“I think the whole point of offense is to make the defense react and to make them make multiple decisions and rotations, and hopefully they make a mistake. But the more decisions and rotations a defense has to make, the more likely they are to make a mistake. To me, that’s the idea behind the offensive philosophy for anybody—you pass, you cut, you screen, and you try to confuse the defense. So, however you want to phrase that, that’s what we try to do.”

Here’s the deal: Is the philosophy that Kerr described much different from what any other NBA coach would say? I doubt it. If Wittman were asked, he would certainly agree with Kerr. Move the ball, move the spacing, move the defense, take what’s left from the confusion created.

The Wizards must be good ball movers—as Wittman, without a scoring star, will preach. And generally they have been. But something with the offense now ain’t right, clearly. Lack of 3-point shooting, lack of trips to the free throw line, lack of drives to the basket.

Losers of 10 of 12 (6), the Wizards last won an NBA game 17 days ago. In all of 2015, they have the NBA’s ninth-worst record. The time for soul-searching would be now, it must be now, but it might also be too late. Or, such dark hours could make the team better in the end.

Likely not since the issues seem more systemic than correctable with a hearty pat on the back, an ‘atta-boy’ and glass of whole milk.

The Wizards suddenly got old, really old, in the offseason. Layered on top of old fashioned basketball philosophy, they are slowly getting left behind (even as the franchise advances past traditionally terrible to mediocre). Sayings like ‘You take what the defense gives you’ have hints of truth and validity, but such is also the symbolic flag-bearer for resistors unwilling to change or innovate or even experiment. It is the VHS video tape of basketball functionality, and the Washington Wizards still have a Blockbuster card in their billfold.


  1. Indeed, part of this is due to the fact that transition shots, the easiest shots, always come early in the shot clock, skewing the data a bit.
  2. Young Otto Porter, Wednesday night in Minnesota, was given a mile, and so he took what the defense gave him, stepped past the 3-point line, and missed a very long 2-pointer. No 3-point attempt, no aggressive drive to the basket, just a very shitty and inefficient shot attempt.
  3. The L.A. Clippers just edge out the Warriors in points per 100 possessions (OftRtg) at 113.0 to 111.4. Per Basketball-Reference.com, the 2014-15 Warrriors currently have the 93rd-best offense in the NBA’s 3-point era (since 1979-80).
  4. I did not intend to insinuate that I’d heard or thought Kerr, himself, was a user of the phrase, and I’m not sure if he was actually thinking this as he continued to respond, but this was worth the disclaimer/footnote, anyway.
  5. That is, Kerr would never use such an archaic-sounding piece of advice, presumably.
  6. Since Jan. 28, Washington has the worst winning percentage in the NBA (tied with the Nuggets).
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.