Robinson, Chalmers and the Art of the Steal

One of the happy by-products of KU coach Bill Self's gritty, in-your-face approach to defense has been steals. Lots and lots of steals.

In Self's world, lots and lots of steals turn into lots and lots of easy baskets. It's a theory that's hard to argue since Kansas sits at 13-0 and is beating opponents by better than 25 points a game.

The ‘Hawks have already grabbed 149 steals through 13 games. This clip of 11.5 per game puts them on pace to break the single-season record of 393, based on a 34-game schedule. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson sit atop the KU steals list with 40 and 35, respectively, and their coach says that his guards are going to cause problems for most opposing backcourts.

"Mario's the guy that is probably as good at taking a guy's ball as I've ever been around, but Russell…I wouldn't want him guarding me," Self said.

He does have a few rules when it comes to gambling on getting a steal. For example, you can't gamble against guys who can beat you off the dribble. You can't gamble off guys that can really make shots off the catch. You don't gamble in the last 10 seconds of a possession.

Of course, he quickly adds that his rules are "not etched in stone." That freedom and flexibility has allowed Chalmers and Robinson to develop a unique skill that keeps opposing coaches awake at night.

The coach explained that you can teach players to play with their hands when it comes to going for steals, but in the end, it's a gift.

"It's God-given. They just have great instincts and they're very, very smart in understanding when to gamble and when to reach and they get guys' timing. The thing that amazes me most about those two is when they gamble and miss, their recovery is so fast, so they feel like they can do that."

A lot of Robinson's steals come in or near the backcourt, and Robinson attributes this to a rule Self expects his guards to follow when it comes to going for picks.

"Our rule is, the further away from the basket he is, the more you can gamble," the NY, NY, senior explained. "The closer you get to the basket, the more solid you have to be."

Robinson also said that reading the opposing ball-handler as the game wears on pays off.

"Once he gets a little nervous, you can start pressuring him a little more. Sometimes you don't get him the first time, but you might get him the next time down, so keep pressuring throughout the game."

Chalmers gives credit for his penchant for steals to… Russell Robinson.

"Most of my steals come off Russell's defense – from him pressuring the ball," Chalmers said. "Whoever he's guarding just wants to get rid of the ball fast, so I just try to read the passing lanes."

"The scouting report feeds a lot into us getting our steals, too," he continued. "We pay attention to the scouting report and we know what the offensive player likes to do so we can easily be into it and get our steals.

"We just try to play hard defense and apply pressure the whole 40 minutes. With teams like Yale, it's easier because we can take them out of their rhythm a little easier."

Self agreed that the talent level of KU's opponent plays a role in how his Jayhawks think about pressuring the ball.

"(Robinson and Chalmers) are pretty good at what they do, but the better the competition, the less steals you're going to get. Now, you can take advantage of our guards, too, with speed and things like that because you can't gamble with those types of players."

Self said that against most opponents, however, his guards can take some chances thanks to their athleticism, speed and ability to recover when they miss.

"When you beat them, they're always coming from behind and tipping the ball away from you. Russell and Mario are just as dangerous after you beat them as they are when you know where he is."

 


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