The Basketball Podcast: EP66 Mike Longabardi

July 30, 2019

In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, two time NBA champion and long time NBA assistant coach Mike Longabardi joins the podcast to discuss NBA coaching, with a focus on defensive philosophy, techniques and tactics. Coach Longabardi is currently an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. He was previously an assistant coach  for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, the Boston Celtics, and the Phoenix Suns, winning an NBA Finals championship with both the Celtics and Cavaliers.

Career Highlights

  • Won an NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and with the Boston Celtics in 2008
  • Worked with NBA All-Stars like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kyrie Irving, and Paul Pierce
  • In each of his 7 seasons with Boston, the team was top 10 in DEF-RTG
  • Five Eastern Conference Championships (2008, 2010, 2016, 2017, and 2018)
  • Three Central Division Championship (2016, 2017, and 2018)
  • Five straight Atlantic Division Championships (2008-2012)
  • Has worked under Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Steve Clifford, Doc Rivers, Jeff Hornacek, and Ty Lue


“Training camp is the most important part of the season, in my opinion, because that’s where you get to lay your foundation down.”

“Every day we would . . plan for our blitz package . . we might not have used the blitz for two or three weeks but we always wanted to review it because we knew when we got to the playoffs, we were going to have to use it.”

“These [NBA] players are so talented . . I just think it’s foolish if you think you’re going to do the same thing over the course of a seven game series . . they have to see different looks, you have to be ready to adjust.”

“I think player development is about, number one, attention . . a lot of our player development on defense stuff is 5-on-5 . . in particular the ones who are struggling with certain rotations, certain coverages, certain techniques.”

“You always have to take that stuff [workload management] into account . . in an NBA season workload management is critical.”

“I don’t think teams play enough one-on-one . . to me that’s how you learn to play and learn how to be physical if you’re a small guarding a big, getting low, having a wide base . . and then if you’re a big guarding a small, maybe you have to give that appropriate cushion to be able to contain the dribble but be able to contest the shot.”

“How are you going to showcase your abilities to stay on the floor? . . If you’re a rookie, you’ve got to know how to play . . and I think the big thing, defensively, is just knowing players and knowing their tendencies.”

“Every team’s different . . but I think everybody’s non-negotiables are: make sure on transition defense we get back . . we want to eliminate easy baskets as much as possible . . the other one, to me, is continuous blown coverages.”

“Your offense has to help your defense, especially when you’re playing against elite players.”

“The actions that have been very difficult to defend, in my opinion, are the pin, DHO action . . and then the Spain pick-and-roll action.”

“We want to take away the paint and take away threes. The best way to do that is to switch because then we have bodies on bodies, [and] we have the ball covered . . the team that gets the better shots is going to win.”

“To me, the best way to defend the short roll is if you have a guard who is physical and determined to get back in front.”

“Every coach from middle school to the NBA, your terminology has to be tight. Everybody’s got to be speaking the same language.”

“On baseline out-of-bounds, before the ball is entered, we’ve got to be bodied up so that the offensive player won’t get separation to go wherever they want; let’s dictate to them which way we’re sending them.”

“My philosophy is, at the end of the day, just keep the ball in front of you as much as possible . . make guys earn their money. These guys are so talented, but don’t give them easy ones . . Don’t let them get a direct line drive by you, don’t fall asleep and get cut back door, don’t bite on a shot fake . . .”

“I think the big thing with practice is, your guys have to be efficient. We don’t have to be there forever. Let’s get good efficient work . . I’d love for it to be more 5-on-5 versus dry run . . but I just feel like the experience of the physicality and it being 5-on-5 is big for me.”

[On closeouts]: “This is the hardest part of the game . . On the flight of the ball, you’ve got to sprint two-thirds of the way, the last third you’ve got to break down and then it’s all personnel driven . . If it’s an elite shooter, you’re running to make them dribble the basketball . . If it’s a total non-shooter, I do want to close out short, but don’t be disrespectful.”

Selected Links from the Podcast

Mike Longabordi


Cleveland Cavaliers

Colin Sexton

LeBron James

Kevin Love

Kyrie Irving

Kyle Lowry

NBA G-League

John Wall

Kevin Durant

Klay Thompson

Steph Curry

J.J. Redick

Kyle Korver

Spain pick-and-roll

Steve Nash

Amar’e Stoudemire

Indiana Pacers

Domantas Sabonis

Myles Turner

Jeff Van Gundy

Zipper cut

Paul Pierce

Rajon Rondo

Kevin Garnett

Boston Celtics

J.R. Smith

Tristan Thompson

Iman Shumpert

Matthew Dellevadova

Kawhi Leonard

Fred VanVleet

Chauncey Billups

Ben Wallace 

Rip Hamilton

Rasheed Wallace

Tayshaun Prince

Patty Mills

Click below to listen in if you listen on:

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1:00 – Specifics relative to Scouting Reports
2:00 – His Process on Game Adjustments
3:30 – Importance of a Defensive Mindset
5:00 – Practicing Critical Defensive Moments in a Game
8:00 – Need of Aggressive Packages and Adjustments
9:00 – Incorporating Defense and Skill in Player Development
11:00 – Reading the Situation and your team
13:00 – Veteran vs Rookie
15:30 – Knowing your Players
17:00 – Basing this System on the NBA
19:40 – Non-negotiable
22:00 – When Lay-up Happens
25:00 – His learnings on the Defensive Side
28:00 – Dribble Hand-off and Switch
30:00 – Not Switching
32:00 – Defending the Short Roll
35:00 – Let the Players Talk to the Practice
37:00 – Baseline Inbound
40:00 – Sideline Out of Bounds Thoughts on Defending
42:00 – Teaching On The Ball Defense
44:00 – What is practice looking like?
47:00 – Players Need Efficiency in Practice
48:30 – Intensified Preparation During Playoffs
51:30 – 2-3 Zone on Inbound Takeaways
57:00 – Best Practice Now For Closeouts
59:00 – Ability of his Players to Drive
1:00:00 – Actions or Playing Scout For Players
1:02:00 – Conclusion

Mike Longabardi:


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