Del Harris Basketball Coaching Philosophy

Del Harris Basketball Coaching Philosophy


This basketball coaching article was written by NBA coaching legend Del Harris. Coach Harris has been the head coach and assistant coach for multiple NBA teams. The places that he was the head coach are; the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Los Angeles Lakers. With all the experience that Del has been able to accumulate over all the years of coaching, he has become a must-read. He has even come out with a new coaching book titled, On Point – Four Steps to Better Life Teams.

“The Four-Step System, described as a metaphor-based on four wheels, is intended for all who desire to improve their Influence Quotient, which is a specific kind of intelligence: the ability to influence our teams for a positive outcome.”

Coach Harris has a great basketball mind, and this article will give you a look into the mind of a basketball legend that has been able to spend a lifetime learning and growing as a coach. Learn from what he has picked up over the years in this basketball coaching article.


Your basketball team will reflect what you emphasize. Take your pick, but only about 4 or 5 of these will limit what the team will attach themselves to, so choose wisely. No order is intended here

  1. Defense and rebounding
  2. High powered offense
  3. Unselfish play—team unity—team attitude
  4. Half-court game—controlled pace/tempo
  5. Pressing team—attacking team
  6. Physical team
  7. 3-pt team open offense game
  8. Zone team
  9. Ball and player movement team—motion team, etc.

Game Time:

  • Be sure you have a helpful game card with you at all times, such as quarterbacks have on their arm.
  • A good game card will not only have all your play calls but will have categories that will get you a post up as needed and that tell you what basketball plays you have that will get each position (1 through 5) a shot when you want one of those players to have the ball for the shot.
  • On the back of the card or on a special situations card, you can have in your pocket (or an assistant will keep) be sure to have plays already diagrammed that are for special late-game situations such as: when you need a 3 pointer, or a quick 2, or you have differing amounts of time on the clock to get a shot.
  • Be smart on what you chart and have accountable chart keepers. A possession chart can tell you the pace and momentum of the game because it will tell you how many possessions you have had at every time interval—the pace. And once you know your best pace, you can tell if you are dictating or if the opponent is doing it.
  • Momentum is revealed on the possession chart by showing how many times you and your opponent have scored or failed to score in the most recent possessions.
  • Other charted items may be the fast break game on both sides of the ball, the low post game (scores allowed/how traps have worked, etc.), the pick and roll game (percentage of scores/stops; which angles hurt you more), deflections, penetrations allowed, uncontested shots allowed, and whatever else you deem to be of real value.


As You go Along:

  •  Prove you are valuable by helping your people get better, and success will happen for you. Be a serving leader and forget about the entitlements.
  • Doc Rivers: Try to keep the “chemistry guy” on your basketball team. Doc moves the lockers around occasionally to keep the right people together or separated as need be.
  • The team that will accept we over me (we/me) as a group has a chance to achieve all of which they are capable of.
  • My book, ON POINT, describes beautifully the way the Celtics managed to overcome the skeptics in 2007-08 who proclaimed the team as too old to be effective and became Champions.
  • The Caring-Trust-Loyalty Dynamic is of utmost importance to a successful organization. First, show you care consistently. Caring leads to trust. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyalty leads to unity—the end game for good relationships and team building. Again, see ON POINT for a fuller explanation.
  • Del Harris: There are five communication levels with players—use each one less than the one before it as you go down the levels. See the comments below:
    • 1. Conversational level—you have the give and take whereby you get to know the player, and he learns who you are. You demonstrate you care. Use this the most.
    • 2. Instructional level—the voice is slightly animated as you attempt to pass on teaching points that may help your player get better or that may help him understand the team concept. Use often, but mostly in practice or certain 1-1 on situations.
    • 3. Correctional level—the voice increases somewhat in urgency, but this is not to be confused with screaming. Naturally, this is used on important issues in practices and games to help eliminate errors. Use it as needed, but if it overwhelms the encouragement level, the team will tune you out sooner than later. Correcting is not necessarily showing a lack of “being positive.”  Remember:  Everything isn’t OK—mistakes are made and need to be addressed.
    • 4. Encouragement level—the voice is animated and enthusiastic. Use it as much as you can, but it has to be a result of real achievement, not just blowing smoke. But the worst person to be with or to work for is the one you simply cannot please. But you must be real! Phony positivism will not get the results you want.
    • 5. Level Five or  “Go Nuts” level—Yes, there is a place for letting them know that they have crossed the line in terms of lack of effort, execution, attitude, etc. They must know you really care about certain issues. But, of course, you must maintain control here, as it should be a purposeful act. Overdo this level, and you will lose your team by Christmas unless you are winning every game.


Coaching the Basketball Team:

  •  Why do basketball coaches or any coaches react so strongly to a player’s mistakes in many cases? Trust this: whether he knows it or not, it is because the coach wants to divorce himself from that mistake and possibly that player at that time. It is his way of telling the fans that it is “not my fault.” The same coach will give a body language reaction fist pump that says, “That is what I coached him to do” when the player scores.
  • One of your main goals with each basketball player is to coach him to become the best teammate he can be. When we interviewed a player pre-draft, we always asked him about his relationship with his coaches and teammates. When we talked to his coach, we wanted to know what kind of teammate he was. We sought the same information before making a trade.
  • When I coached college basketball, I coined a term called “Teammanship,” and in that concept, we tried to inculcate things that would honor team membership and encourage team building. (On one occasion, I had to put two of my best players on the brink of elimination from the team to get them to know I was serious. Thankfully, both stayed. However, he waited until the day before he was to enroll at another college to come in and tell me he wanted to come back and be a good team member. He followed through perfectly and still led the team in scoring, and our team finished 25-3, 6th in the nation, in 1967-68).
  • That 1967-68 team was the first of two of my college teams to be inducted into their own college’s Hall of Fame en masse. I had started with that team nearly 40 years previously, but they were still a team—at that event, all 13 players came from as far as Europe to be there.
  • The thing that makes for a bad team in the NBA (remember that every one of these players was the best on his HS and college team in most cases) is the inability to score.
  • Team defense is the difference in championship games normally. But while defense may win a championship for you, you will never get a chance to find out if you cannot score.
  • Avoid trying to keep your team at half court too much so that you can stop them and do more teaching. The game is played full court.
  • Too much time at half court will stifle a team’s fast-break game as the initial reaction to go to the other end is the difference in a successful transition most often.
  • A basketball team that spends too much time at half court teaching will not be as good a transition offensive or defensive team as it needs to be in most cases.
  • Use more scrimmage-like situations of three to five possessions that control the scrimmages and allow for teaching at the intervals between sets is what the team needs for transition offense and defense, and the coach needs for instruction.
  • The best scrimmage teaching basketball drills start with a specific situation at half court and then let there be that possession and two more that go full court. This three-possession game is called O-D-O for Offense-Defense-Offense. On the second and third possession, the teams can do whatever comes up, which is the way the game is played. This allows both “game feel” and coach control.
  • Limiting the scrimmage to three possessions allows you to teach the pluses and minuses of the three possessions better because everyone can remember that short of a series.
  • Drill also some 5-possession games and set it up the same way. You start with a controlled half court, and then the players play out four more possessions, ending up on the end they started. The game is generally played in spurts of about five possessions.
  • Remember that you must emphasize defense, but the offense is more involved because it involves ball skills and exact timing. Thus, offense takes more time.
  • I always doubt basketball coaches who say they spend far more time on defense than offense. Why would you do that when offense requires much more teaching and timing?
  • Hopefully, anyone should realize that you could teach both offense and defense simultaneously, as you generally have players on both sides of the ball in basketball drills. So teach both at the same time.
  • Even in the most dedicated offensive basketball drills, if a player does well or poorly on defense, you cannot overlook that. More time on offense, more emphasis on defense.
  • Your basketball team will reflect what you emphasize.
  • You are an offensive or defensive coach relative to what upsets you. If you say you are a defensive coach but never sub for poor defense by your better players, you are not a defensive coach. (If he is really good, you don’t have to leave him out for long—you made a point).


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One Response

  1. Many senior players have lesser listening skills to make progress inspite of a task been simplified for learning ..They need to build better faith in a experienced Coach ..?

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