I’m trying to think of metaphors that can stick for a description of the way offensive and defensive basketball interact on the court as a Yin and Yang of sorts. Bare with me.
I believe it was this summer (or was it spring?) that Avatar: The Last Airbender made its American Netflix debut to the glee of our Southern brethren, animation fans. Even though the “chosen one” story telling archetype has proven to resonate with the masses, from antiquated religious texts to the Harry Potter series, it seems that the authentic, far East Asian and Western indigenous lore drew animation fans to the uniqueness of the various Avatar tropes. Examples include the ink calligraphy, the region-specific garments and the bending inclined architecture throughout each nation. I bring this up because there was a certain tale that made its first appearance towards the end of season one that speaks to the interaction of elements to form the ‘whole’.
Within the Spirit Oasis of the Antarctic Southern Water Tribe, there exists a hidden waterfall containing a humid creek and a garden of non-native botanicals surrounding two koi fish chasing one another’s tails in a circle. The fish represent Tui and La, the Ocean and Moon spirits who have crossed over from the spirit realm into the mortal world. The spirits took on the form of koi fish and circled one another in an endless dance of push and pull. In the tale, the Ocean spirit represents the ocean, and the Moon spirit represents the moon and its resulting gravity which causes the tides. When you think about it, without the pull of the Moon’s gravity, the ocean would be still, idle except for the non-rhythmic waves caused by the earth’s winds. Every 12 hours, once the moon pulls the water of the ocean into a high tide, the earth’s gravity pulls back, and what ensues is a dance for power. A read and react. With basketball (no segues here) we see this duel for power on both sides of the ball. The ball being the ocean, the offense and defense representing the 48-minute gravitational battle.
1. The Crossover
This is an easy #1. The crossover requires forcing the defender’s body weight to shift in a way in which they are not prepared. The result is a clumsy trip or fall, not unlike an uncoordinated toddler unsure of the dimensions of their limbs. Something about seeing your teammate guarantee an appearance on highlight reels for the rest of the season causes everyone on the court to let their guard down and ball watch to catch what the handler shall do next. Attempt a shot? Make the shot? Miss? Pass to a rolling teammate? It’s hypnotic and, for a moment, the offensive player plays the role of snake charmer.
2. The Step Back 3
The step back 3’s impact on team morale lies within its degree of difficulty and the execution. A successful step back 3 from an offensively talented player speaks to their skillset and the level of mastery they exist within. For a middling team, it can be a gut punch of hopelessness. Not only does one witness a teammate on their heels, too late to engage in the recovery, but they also have to see a relatively unguardable shot few can complete happen before their eyes.
3. The Lob Catch
I have to be honest. I’m not a fan of the lob, perhaps because it isn’t a play my favourite team often utilizes, or maybe because, with certain personnel, there is an ease in its completion that…doesn’t seem legal? You mean to tell me that, against any ground bound big man, all one must do is have an athletic wing or center leap, catch and dunk? No matter how talented the defensive player tracking such a pick and roll, there is something steadily demoralizing about being forcefully dunked on. It symbolizes athletic dominance—as if this play will be finished and you can’t do anything but watch and pray the lob threat doesn’t mean mug too hard. Your loved ones are watching.
4. The High Efficiency Midrange
There are only a few players in this league who can legitimately claim the midrange shot as a tool within their arsenal. It’s a look so elusive that basketball statisticians advise against the shot, seeing as how mathematically speaking, layups and 3’s are more rewarding. But for every era of the game comes a handful of players that turn the midrange into a viable option, turning the game from 2 dimensional, to 3 dimensional. This player is inevitable. Usually a highly effective finisher, thus withholding the space required to execute the shot—to the defender’s dismay. The game comes easily to this player, and defensive schemes are…kind of useless.
5. The Relocation 3
This is my personal favourite. The off ball, relocated 3 is typically 100% preventable, but simply speaks to the intellect and endurance of the offensive player, and the absent mindedness of the defender. The constant motion and the resulting opportunism of a wide open 3 is among the most perfect plays of the game. Depending on the degree of openness, defenders seldom attempt to contest the lapse in judgement, as if there’s an unspoken rule that the shot was earned. The movement required to complete the play encapsulates the relationship of motion and reaction between offense and defense almost too perfectly. It sort of reminds me of those viral videos of people doing their jobs really well. Laying bricks, stamping papers at lightning speed, pouring hot tea in a way that makes the stream from the spout look like a glass whip. If there were a basketball equivalent, it would be this very play.