You walk onto one of the five new basketball courts. There’s a crowd of people ready to “run” 5 on 5, so you head to the baseline and try to get in as soon as you possibly can. This means trying to find enough time for warm up shots while the ball is being played on the other half of the court.
You wait for two games this way. Every ten to fifteen minutes or so, you hear a couple of guys arguing about a traveling call and they have to settle it by shooting jump shots. Then finally, after the commotion of constant back-and-forth fast breaks from sloppy turnovers, it’s your turn on the court.
STEP ONE—PICK A FULL TEAM
Don’t just pick the first four players you find, and also, more surprisingly, don’t just pick the ones you think are the best basketball players. Look for a full roster of different roles—there’s no point in having two dominant wing scorers if only one can have the ball at a time. You’re better off complementing that wing with a smart point guard and a big body that can play in the post. Also, you’re going to want a couple of off-ball shooters—guys who won’t chuck up shots every chance they get but can still connect from long-range.
STEP TWO—KNOW YOUR TEAMMATES: At least pretend to care who you’re playing with. Sure, you don’t give a damn that your point guard’s name is Carl, but since you asked, Carl already thinks you’re a pretty cool guy. Now everyone on the team is a little more relaxed. Unfortunately, this does get awkward when it turns out that Carl totally sucks.
STEP THREE—MOVE THE BALL: Carl’s problem isn’t that he can’t score—it’s that he tries to score every single time he runs down the court while his teammates have their hands over their heads in disbelief that they haven’t gotten to touch the basketball yet. Don’t be Carl. No one likes Carl. Not even Carl’s parents. If you have the ball and you aren’t open for an extremely efficient shot, pass it up. If you don’t have the ball, move around the court constantly until you are open, or set a screen for somebody else to get open. It’s the teams that work as a unit that will surprise defenses and ultimately run the courts for several games.
STEP FOUR—STOP SHOOTING FROM MID-RANGE: Some of the most skilled players in the Kaplan Center are wasting their time. Under unofficial pickup basketball rules, all long-range shots are counted as two points, and everything within the arc is one. Those two point shots are the key—why not step five feet further back for a shot that is worth double the amount of points? The best way to run an offense is to move the ball around the court until there is either a layup inside or an open three point shot. You should also consider this on the defensive end and try to force the opponent to shoot from mid-range. But do still remember, there are a select few shooters who are consistent enough to be valuable from ten to fifteen feet—damn it, Carl, I didn’t mean you!
STEP FIVE—STEP ON THE GAS: At the end of a game, the pace starts to slow. Both teams start looking tired and settling for contested shots. With a little bit of willpower, you can counter this and run an up tempo offense down the court at the end of every game. Force yourselves to run as fast as you can with the energy you have left, and your team will almost certainly come out on top in a close game.
You walk off the court in dismay, drenched in sweat. You head to the water fountain to refresh and you realize, even though you lost, that you have learned from your mistakes. You know that pickup basketball comes down to ball movement, smart basketball on both ends of the floor, and perhaps most importantly, not picking Carl. You walk over to the baseline again, scan the crowd around you for the right players and say, “I’ve got next.”