Lessons learned from Liam Flynn's NBA Summer League tour at games, meetings and practices
Updated: Apr 13
Preface by Janx….
Last year we were lucky to have a member of Liam Flynn’s Annual NBA Summer League tour, and newly appointed Head of Scouting for www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com's professional scouting section, Tony Casella, blog on the tour. I found the blog a great read with lots of insights on the event, good insights on trends and elite athlete development.
This year Jarrod Moore has kindly agreed to provide a blog on his first hand insights and experience from the tour. Jarrod is the Participation Officer at Penrith and Districts Basketball Association. His role is to grow the game throughout the Penrith and Nepean areas of Sydney, NSW.
I am really looking forward to reading his insights and perspectives on the NBA Summer League, how he hopes to apply what he learned to his role and his future goals and aspirations.
Over to Jarrod….
I could write a whole book on all the things I experienced and witnessed but I have dumbed it down to the major points. Enjoy the blog!
How did you come to be on this tour?
I am always on the lookout for opportunities to further educate, observe and experience coaching at all kinds of different levels and different sports. What could be a better opportunity then the NBA Summer League? It was either this or clipping my grandmothers toe-nails for a week, I think I made the right choice.
This particular opportunity arose after being offered a spot from Liam Flynn (http://www.coachliamflynn.com/) who I had been communicating with for several months before this. I had originally shown interest in the 2016 Summer League tour with Liam after finding out about him from one of his coaches clinics on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6XjsDm6Xnc). 2017 was the best time for me to experience it first hand. \
When an opportunity comes knocking, you don’t usually let it knock twice.
What were your objectives in going on the tour?
Before entering into any professional career, all professionals lead with the same question: ‘What is your definition of success?’. As cliche as it might sound, there is much to take from such a common little saying. After all, the absolute best professionals do the little things the best… and these guys were! The way they dressed, the way they spoke, they were very hospitable, warm and welcoming with every introduction. Business cards were traded, philosophies were discussed, it was like being in a candy store with a gift card. In this case, it was a ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ kind of environment.
There were two main objectives that I wanted to achieve out of the entire trip. One objective coming from the personal development perspective and the other having the incredible opportunity to network with some of the best in the business and strengthen a chain of communication.
Being a visual learner, learning through observation and experience was a real selling point of the tour. What did these professionals look like?, how did they talk?, what was there body language like? So on and so forth… Sure you can find these answers in books and research papers, but to be there and experience it is completely different.
My second objective was a very ‘when in Rome’ objective. How could you not take up the opportunity to grab a few emails and mobile numbers. Even today I keep in touch with a lot of these coaches. Where will it lead? Who knows…
What was your itinerary?
Liam did a fantastic job organising meetings - this panned out to about 3 meetings per day and the opportunity to observe 3 trainings through the trip.
Meetings were organised with a range of front and back office personnel from the likes of General Managers to Strength and Conditioning coaches to Scouts.
We were even fortunate enough to have one scheduled training turn into 3 (New Orleans Pelicans, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz).
Any time in between was spent on cheap Uber rides getting around town, eating, socialising and hanging by the pool. I am forgetting something else I did… Oh yes, walking down to the casino floor and having a go on the… water dispenser to stay hydrated, there was one on every casino floor, it was SO HOT!
What did you most like about the tour?
There was not one period on the tour that was not enjoyable. If we weren’t at the Thomas & Mack Centre watching, talking and eating basketball we were out and about staying hydrated.
Any meetings that were cancelled, Liam managed to scrape someone even better to meet with (i.e. Sam Hinkie on the 2nd last day). As Justin Carter (another tour participant) summed up perfectly, ‘there was not one individual that felt like they were above us, every single meeting was fully engaging for both parties’. How can you complain with that?
How did the Aussie guys go that you saw?
There were are a handful of Aussies proving their worth at the Las Vegas Summer League in 2017: Jonah Bolden (Philadelphia 76ers), Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks), Mitch Creek (Utah Jazz) and Nathan Sobey (Utah Jazz).
It is with much pride to say that they certainly proved worthy ambassadors for the Australian Basketball scene. For example, in Mitch Creek’s first match for the Utah Jazz, Mitch managed to fight over the first 3 on-balls that were set on him. Each time managing to draw an offensive foul on the screener each play. Take that!
Nathan Sobey, played as hard as he could managing to knock down a few shots and matching up against some incredible and lengthy athletes in the swing spots.
Jonah Bolden managed to be quite impressive on a very stacked 2017 Philadelphia roster. I would not be surprised if he managed to squeeze himself into the 4-spot over the next few years. The modern Philadelphia 76ers culture is one of the most incredible I have ever experienced, more on this later… I didn’t get to watch much of Thon Maker, but meeting him in person more than made up for it.
From Left: Ben O’Neill (Sydney King Video Coordinator), Thon Maker and a guy who was wishing he was that tall… that’s me!
Do you think they can compete at that level and what do you think they need to do better to compete?
The likes of Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, etc. have all proven that Australian players can hold their own in the NBA. Year after year, only 100-150 roster spots become available to the world market of Basketball players.
In saying this, these guys would need to be exceptional in their role. As players become taller, stronger, longer, faster, smarter, sharp-shooters and multi-skilled, specialising in 1 or more of these traits will certainly put you near the top of the pecking order. Working on these with a meticulousness and obsessive attitude will certainly prove to place you at the top. As all professionals have proven, fall in love with the right habits, to rightfully push you further to what you love!
Who did you meet whilst you were over there?
Here’s the exact list of formal and informal meetings throughout the week:
- Mike Longabardi; Cleveland Cavaliers Assistant Coach
- TJ Saint: Detroit Pistons Video Coordinator
- George David: Senior Vice President, Basketball Operations. Wasserman Media Group (Player Agent)
- Jamelle McMillan: New Orleans Pelicans Development Coach.
- Dr. Lorrena Torres: San Antonio Spurs Strength and Conditioning Coach.
- Matt Nielsen: Perth Wildcats Assistant Coach (was assistant coaching for San Antonio Spurs, not to mention is Penrith Basketball ROYALTY)
- Brett Brown: Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach
- Shenton Wai: Utah Jazz Advanced Scout
- Kevin Eastman: Former Boston Celtics Assistant Coach and LA Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations
- Dave Love: Orlando Magic Shooting Coach
- Donut Akinwale Jr.: Director of Prospect Scouting Atlanta Hawks.
- Jake Loos: Phoenix Suns Director of Basketball Analytics and Technology.
- Dan Meehan: Head of Strength & Conditioning Brooklyn Nets
- Sean Marks: Brooklyn Nets General Manager
- Kevin Young: Philadelphia 76ers Assistant Coach
- Sam Hinkie: Former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager
Pictured: Myself, Gunars Balodis, Sam Hinkie, Ben, Liam Flynn and Justin Carter
What insights did you learn about…
Getting to the NBA
The most prominent way of entering the NBA as a coach is through the pathway of trust. People build trust and relationships over time that hopefully lead to opportunities. Shenton Wai’s pathway to the NBA was based off a relationship he had built with RC Buford (General Manager for the San Antonio Spurs) back in Australia years ago. They had met in informal circumstances and exchanged contact details. A couple years later, RC had put forward an internship with the Spurs toward Shenton. Accepting the invitation, Shenton relocated, finished his internship, picked up an employment opportunity with the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA) where he was promoted to an assistant coach role and now recently being named as a full-time advanced scout for the Utah Jazz.
Building a trust-worthy relationship with someone close to the scene can lead to further opportunities.
Pictured: Shenton Wai in the middle
Mike Longabardi, a defensive specialist, provided some insight into effective development:
- Daily drills: 5 v 5 Shell Drill out of a 3-out, 2-in formation, forces post rotations and help. 2 v 2, defending the dribble handoff.
- Video sessions are important!
- Be a master at time management with practice plans.
- Queue words are key!
Donut Akinwale sheds some further light on what he likes to see out of prospects he is allowed to scout from the age of 15:
- Coachability is gravitational
- While watching a prospect, notice: physical attributes, athleticism, offensive and defensive understanding and body language, interactions with teammates, coach and potential parents.
Kevin Young, who has had some experience coaching in the D-League (now G-League) emphasises on teaching winning to guys that age.
Jake Loos, Phoenix Suns director of analytics (who is a graduate from MIT), has statistically proven that spacing is the biggest and most important metric to any effective offence. To put this stat in numbers: the ratio of catch and shoot situations to shooting off the dribble:
BEST TEAMS: 28:21
WORST TEAMS: 21:28
This clearly demonstrates why teams like the modern Warriors, Rockets and Spurs (since Basketball was invented) consistently put themselves into winning situations. We all probably knew that spacing This clearly demonstrates why teams like the modern Warriors, Rockets and Spurs (since Basketball was invented) consistently put themselves into winning situations. We all probably new that spacing was the catalyst for success, but for those who love evidence, here it is!
Pictured: Jake Loos, second from the left.
What did this look like on the court? A lot of on-balls, spacing principles through receiver spots and a developed inside-outside game and a lot of threes, shot-fakes and drives. The future trend of the game lies with what the coach and team decide to do with their space. Kevin Young, assistant coach of the Philadelphia 76ers shed some other insightful light on this topic.
Kevin Young, explained one trend that he has noticed is the ‘D-League is a step ahead of the NBA’. Why is this? There is a lot of trial and error performed in the D-League due to it’s ‘no pressure’ environment. There job is to help players make better decisions on the court and the best shots they are targeting for are: at the rim, corner 3s, Free Throws and open 3s. Some D-League games total 40/50 attempted 3s. What would you do knowing you’ll have to defend 40/50 3s a game? Is this the future of a typical NBA game?
Mike Longabardi adds that teams like the Warriors are beginning to use ‘choice actions’, where a cutter can chose from 2 different screens, i.e. a cutter on a block (Klay Thompson) can come off a cross-screen or a down-screen. Mike, being a defensive specialist has nightmares defending against this.
Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets spend the biggest budget on their Sports Science department out of anyone in the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs being the second. As a result, the Brooklyn Nets ranked first and second in fitness according to game statistics. One of the gentleman involved, Dan Meehan, head of Strength and Conditioning within the organisation.
Dan Meehan, a former North Melbourne Roos employee and Melbourne native, was majorly culture shocked when he first entered the NBA. Firstly, he discovered that the league (as advanced as it may seem to the regular fan) is very conservative and set in its ways with their athletic development. For example, what may seem normal to the senior amateur sports goer of Australia to ‘cool down’ after a game. The average NBA athlete, even after a 40 minutes game, back-to-back will simply go home.
Dr Lorrena Torres of the Spurs, counteracts this giving players options before they leave the gym: a 25-minute massage, hot/cold bath (my favourite!), or cryotherapy. Dan and the Brooklyn Nets options: 15 min flush rub, 10 min cold tub or a 10 minute supervised foam roll. Now, in the players defence, looking after your body is a worthy sacrifice to spend more time at home with the family. But, as Sean Marks sells it, ‘looking after your body will add 3 or 4 more contracts to your career’ (Look out Sunday night Division 3 Mens Comp).
It is so scary to think, how much more athletic these athletes can actually become. Dan Meehan provides some insight on how he is doing this:
- Improving aerobic systems of all athletes to assist recovery.
- Position specific fitness programs: Guards - aerobic, Bigs - Isometric.
- Improving biomechanic movement patterns. i.e. crossovers, jumping and landing technique, etc.
- Improving proprioception
Other points during conversation that were noted:
- Research has found that playing multiple sports has lead to healthier development holistically.
- Reaction drills show no evidence of transfer, according to studies.
- Watching hips/belly-button to defend and react is most affective!
What can be learned from all this? Early education into health and biomechanics can have a lasting affect for aspiring athletes.
Pictured: Dan Meehan, second from the left.
The Successful Culture of an NBA Organisation:
TJ Saint of the Detroit Pistons, summed up culture in the NBA perfectly: ‘[Team] Chemistry is bulls***, it’s all about ACCOUNTABILITY’. Kevin Eastman defines accountability the best, ‘knowing your role and doing it to the best of your ability, every single day!’.
There are teams in the NBA that do this particularly well. The talk of the town who does it the best? You can probably guess… The SAN ANTONIO SPURS. Everyone points to the Spurs for holding everyone within the organisation accountable! Teams that are improving their culture all have had history within the Spurs orgnisation: Sean Marks (former player and Assistant GM) and Brett Brown (former Assistant) are two big examples of the ripple affect the Spurs culture is having on the rest of the NBA. Let me paint you a picture of what it felt like…
Day 3 or 4, we were invited to watch the Philadelphia 76ers practice. The day before, we were invited to watch the New Orleans Pelicans practice, so we had something to compare it too. Watching the 76ers was an UNBELIEVABLE cultural experience. Now a lot of us have probably been lucky enough to witness a pro team (in any sport) practice and workout, I fully recommend it, there are some great coaches out there from other sports. All it takes is a phone call…
As we were making our way down the stairs to practice, guys you are used to seeing on TV suddenly come into view: Markelle Fultz, Bryan Colangelo and Brian Goorjian (close friend to Brett Brown). As we sat courtside soaking it all in, at one end, personal trainers and assistant coaches are warming up the 76ers, down the other, a lone Dejounte Murray of the Spurs is getting some extra work in before the 76ers get going. As soon as the team finished their huddle… *BOOM* you could feel the engagement of each athlete, the energy from the assistant coaches, the focus from each player going through their motions and immediately in this moment you understood what accountability and a positive learning environment looked like. Players were engaged, coaches were engaged, we were engaged, what was happening? The organisation had culturalised itself to become a passionate, accountable and self-motivated machine.
PICTURED: Let's get it on! Philly 76ers training.
As we sat courtside in awe, figuring out what we were witnessing (the 76ers were NOT doing any special drills by the way. They were going through the same stuff everyone else goes through: Half-court sets 5 v 0, transition trips 5 v 0 followed by positional shooting breakdowns with guard, swings and bigs.) Brett Brown had made his way toward us to introduce himself, ‘Who are you? where are you from? And what do you do?’ Were the first words out of his mouth. This could be the second moment in my life where I almost pronounced my name wrong (the first of course, talking to your crush for the first time, and no I don’t mean Basketball). It needed to be asked, ‘Brett, how did you get your guys to train like this?’ And his answer was so simple: ‘I ride my coaches harder than I do my players’. Meaning he puts a high premium on delegation, holding his staff to a higher level of accountability then his players and thus creating an atmosphere where everyone knows their role and are doing it to the best of their ability, every single day! The Harvard Journal sums 5 keys to foster Accountability:
1) Clear Expectations
2) Clear Capability
3) Clear Measurement
4) Clear Feedback
5) Clear Consequences: ‘Repeat, Reward or Release’
As TJ Saint said before, ‘Chemistry is bulls***, it’s all about ACCOUNTABILITY!’
Relating this back to our Brett Brown meeting, Brett is clearly a highly-motivated and passionate individual and has created an environment where every single person is accountable. Major noted points:
- Coaches don’t have reign, I have coached them with what I want. Everyone uses the SAME language, from Head Coach to D-League affiliate side to Personal Trainers.
- Development, Relationships, Leadership!
- Scout guys who fit with how we want to play.
- [Observation note] Environment feels exciting because coaches know what they’re doing and doing their best. Not stressed, just effort.
There is one man who has shaped this landscape for the 76ers, he has even re-shaped the way managers think about their teams in modern sport, Sam Hinkie.
Meeting Sam Hinkie was not only an unscheduled meeting, it was probably one of the most impactful meetings on the tour (considering we had met Sean Marks in his suite that morning, I mean… seriously?). We immediately headed for the cultural questions.
Here are my notes from that meeting, his key points, make of it what you will:
- Coming into a new environment, hiring is key.
- First hire is terribly important because you’ll make hundreds more like it.
- Employees must deeply understand what we are doing. People have to be self-motivated by the environment [it’s the PHILADELPHIA 76ERS and the NBA].
- Which books to read? Books that show you ‘what will work, as opposed to, this worked for me’
- On first arrival to 76ers: tracked every hour that a player was in the gym. Charted every single shot, makes and misses. Millions charted toward the end of the season - More accurate shooting percentages of players. Track things from day 1 until present.
- Crash course on Sam’s Philosophy: ‘No MAGIC! Put people in the boat that are already motivated’. Passionate people are key! Characteristic to learning environment.
- Their incentives in line with yours. Kenny Atkinson was runner-up to Brett Brown when hired by Sam for the new 76ers. Where is Kenny now? Brooklyn Nets for Sean’s culture change.
- Coaches rely too much on loyalty and don’t take enough risk!
- Energy, Relationships and Development!
- LOYAL TO THE MISSION!
Meeting Sean earlier in the day, reaffirmed a lot of what Sam had to say. Before I start talking about what was discussed, it is significant to note the hiring process that Sean went through to get the Brooklyn Nets GM role. Before his role with Brooklyn, Sean was the Assistant GM at the Spurs, under RC Buford (still current GM). Before Sean was hired, RC provided an ultimatum to the Brooklyn Owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. As Sean explains it, RC said ‘Mikhail, you either give Sean complete control as your GM or we are keeping him as our Assistant’. The rest is history.
The biggest difference between Sam Hinkie and Sean, is that Sean is currently in ‘the process’ of what Sam did with the 76ers 5 years before. The first question presented to Sean was, ‘Where do you even start [to change the culture]?’. Sean’s answer, ‘evaluate existing people, bring in new and coach them what you want’. Points taken from Sean’s meeting:
- People need to be high in character, competitive and humble individuals.
- If you have an opinion, make sure you’ve done your research.
- Roles of GM: To determine staffing. Head Coach: Determines style of play with GM as feedback.
- Measuring Success: Monitor teams around the world in different sports. English Premier League teams and the All Blacks (New Zealand Rugby Union) demonstrate some of the most elite and healthiest team cultures.
There are a lot of great GMs currently in the NBA but meeting Sean and Sam in the same day was something that I will never forget. Not to mention, we got to have the meeting in his Hotel Suite…
PICTURED: Sean Marks in the middle, they were standing on a box…
What next for you?
What will happen next?… Apply and share what I have learned from the tour with others, continue my role and do it to the best of my ability, while also encouraging others to do their best. Life is an ongoing adventure of life-long lessons, experiences brought upon by opportunities and seizing these opportunities with both hands.
Before I close off this blog, thank you to Andrew Jantke (Janx: Thanks for sharing the details of your adventure Jarrod!) for allowing me to write up this blog, big thanks to Liam Flynn for giving me the opportunity to tour in Las Vegas with him (certainly hope their is more to come), and a big shoutout to the others that shared this experience with me: Ben O’Neill, Gunars Balodis and Justin Carter. I hope the rest of my days will see an exponential rise in Australian Basketball and Basketball worldwide! Viva Las Vegas!
Pictured: Jerry Tarkanian statue. If you coach long enough… they will make a Bronze Statue of you coughing your lungs out!