Monday, February 8, 2021

2 foul auto-bench

The 2 foul auto-bench

I have frequently seen criticism of the 2 foul auto-bench strategy recently. I’m not a complete believer in the auto-bench in 100% of circumstances, but I certainly understand why a coach would do it. It feels to me like the argument against the 2 foul auto-bench has become like the argument for fouling when up 3 at the end of the game, in that people argue that it is clearly they best strategy when it’s not clear that it is. They also seem to ignore all the good reasons to bench the guy, and assume nothing bad will happen. They seem to think the player will get their normal minutes and be their normal productive selves with the 2 fouls, and even if they get a 3rd, they are still unlikely to foul out. If this were true, it would be a no brainer to leave the player in with 2 fouls, but here are some considerations as to why this is not always the case.

1)     If a player has 2 fouls, they can’t really play defense well, because they have to protect themselves. Most often the auto-bench criticism comes when a good offensive player is sat down because the team needs his scoring. This ignores the fact that the gains in offense by keeping him on the court are offset by worse defense because they can’t play the defensive scheme correctly in order to not risk the 3rd foul. This is compounded in the team defense because the other players on the court can’t count on the 2 foul player to do what the system dictates they should do, and can put every other defender on the court in bad positions.

2)      Auto-benching is a tool to teach the player and the team not to foul. Coaches don’t coach to win 4 minute segments, they coach to win games and championships. If you have a defensive system that is based on not fouling, you can’t tolerate players racking up 2 fouls each half. Fouling puts other team in the bonus and makes your other fouls hurt more. Many teams defensive scheme is based on minimizing fouls at the expense of ball pressure, creating turnovers, etc. If this is your philosophy, then you can’t tolerate players fouling 2 times in a half. A great coach once said, “Coaching is more about what you accept than what you say”.

3)      Sometimes a player committing fouls too frequently just isn’t playing all that well. If they’re not moving their feet in the first 10 minutes, why would a coach think that is going to change in the next 10. If a player is shooting poorly, is 0-5, and coach sits him to think for a bit, you don’t hear the same criticism as a coach benching with 2 fouls because a player is playing defense with his hands instead of his feet.

Here are some other short considerations that play heavy into the decision to bench the 2 foul player:

1)      Can you protect him? Can you stick him in the corner in a zone, or put him on a non-offensive threat in man to man?

2)      Does your team play pressure on the ball? If so, can you do so with this player on the court?

3)      Who are you coaching against? Are they a coach that will recognize the matchup and can use iso on the wing or on the block against them, or put the player in a pick and roll defense?

4)      Is it a player that commits a lot of fouls, or someone that is not a fouler?

5)      Are you playing a team that draws a lot of fouls?

6)      Are you up or down a significant number of points, and who is your opponent? Are they way better than you or way worse? Do you need the player on the floor to compete?

7)      Who are the refs, and are they calling tons of ticky tack fouls, or are the letting everyone play?

8)      Players that just got called for a foul are often frustrated. Frustrated players seem to be more likely to commit another foul. (just seems that way to me anyway)

I’m not an auto-bench lover myself, but I would like to hear some of these considerations talked about when the auto-bench comes up. Seems like the issue is over simplified. Too many assume that the low risk of a 3rd foul is the only possible problem when leaving them on the court, when in fact there are many other factors to consider.