In a recent episode of the YouTube channel Heat Check, there is an in-depth look at Boston Celtics center Luke Kornet’s unorthodox defensive strategy. Kornet refers to it as “The Eclipse,” which is an attempt to obscure the vision of the shooter by withholding their ability to see the basket when they’re shooting.
The strategy by Kornet is if he knows that he cannot close out on the shooter in time to contest the shot or block it, he will time a jump vertically straight into the air and put both of his hands over his head as high as they can reach. The jump into the air with his hands then prevents the shooter from seeing the basket during their jump shot. To the uninitiated, this may seem like a minor detail but when you begin to ponder the thousands of hours of practice that professional basketball players go through to develop timing, muscle memory and repetition this can be extremely disruptive.
The basketball YouTuber described how the defensive strategy came about through the coaching of Brad Stevens, who has taught his players not to jump to contest a jump shot until the offensive player has left their feet. This is designed to prevent players from biting on pump fakes and getting beaten to the rim or getting gashed for a sidestep three-pointer. Kornet took this a step further through watching film and understanding the key components of how an offensive player operates.
Sometimes breakthroughs like this are met with scorn and skepticism, laughter and rejection. The game of basketball has been in existence well over one-hundred years and up until now this strategy really hasn’t been witnessed, at least not on the professional levels. Strategies like this usually are met with side eyes when they are first rolled out but become commonplace in the game over time. The Eclipse points us to the most resounding emphasis of the strategy: vision.
How imperative is vision in sports as a whole? How can something as subtle as jumping in the air with your hands to block your opponent’s vision of the basket, change the way that basketball as a whole is played in the future? And how does impairing vision in sports as well as timing affect how each sport is played? That is the question.
Baseball over its years has been a game of strategy, skill and wit. The former National Past-Time of the USA (hurts to say that) has been dominated by pure athleticism, strength, flame-throwers and sluggers but to the contrary has sprinkled in its history knuckleballers, slap hitters, spit-ballers and hidden ball trickery.
Vision is beyond important in the game of baseball regardless of where you are on the field at all times. The fielder has to be paying close attention to each pitch, how the ball interacts with the ground or the air in order to field the ball and know where to go with the ball situationally.
The baserunner similarly has to stay engaged with each pitch, reading the pitcher’s body language and if they’re tipping their pitches in order to possibly steal a base as well as avoiding being picked off. The baserunner has to watch where the pitch is hit to see if they can advance to the next base but to also account for the presence of the ball in their vicinity because if the runner is hit by the ball, then it is an automatic out.
The pitcher has to account for all types of possibilities within their vision: keeping track of runners on base and reading their body language for the chance of a steal, watching the body language and tendencies of the batter to keep them off-balance, paying mind to their own body language and if they’re habits are informing the batter of the pitches they’re throwing, and if they’re obscuring the batters ability to see what type of pitch they’re throwing coming out of their hand.
The catcher arguably, outside of the batter, may be the most visually involved position on the baseball field. The catcher has to read within split seconds how the baseball is being released out of the pitcher’s hand, how much spin is on the ball to time catching it accurately and if the ball is traveling towards the dirt, then how do they position themselves to stay in front of the ball and block it.
The catcher has to be cognizant of how they catch the ball in order to frame the pitch to the umpire in order to potentially manipulate a borderline call from a ball to a strike and vice versa. The catcher has to read the intentions of the runners on base, gauging if they’re attempting to steal a base or situationally if they plan on tagging up to come home then how visually do you position yourself to see the ball optimally coming towards you from the outfielder to then position yourself to tag the runner advancing off of a fly-ball.
The batter has to remain eternally vigilant at the plate, potentially the most visually demanding situation in any sport in the world. The batter has to visually analyze their current situation: are there runners on base, what type of signals are being communicated from the third base coach and who is pitching. The batter has to read the pitcher’s body language to see if they are giving away which pitches they are throwing. How long does the pitcher hold onto the ball?
A tall pitcher can obscure the ball from sight through their length and arm action to wait until the last physically possible moment to release the baseball which shortens the time the ball has to be seen by the batter before it reaches home plate. How is the ball spinning? Is it a fastball, curveball, slider, change-up or the ever-elusive knuckleball? What part of the plate is the ball coming in at and will the ball cross over home plate within the strike zone or will it just miss for a ball?
The batter has to make all these decisions within tenths of a second based on what they can see, then process it through their brain and body based on practice and muscle memory. If the batter makes contact with the ball, can they reasonably project how far it will go and how far they can advance based on their interpretation of that projection? Will they have the speed to stretch their hit into a double or triple?
This is all surface level due to the nuances and complexities of baseball which compounded together make the game one of the most visually intensive sports to play.
Football is a game with a high degree of visual subtlety despite its reputation as a game of barbarism and controlled violence. Whether on offense or defense, football is a game of seconds and decision making which can be the difference between a touchdown or an interception, a glorious victory or a grueling loss.
All defensive players have to be experts on the offenses body language and position: what type of formation is the offense in, how do the offensive linemen’ knuckles indicate a potential pass or run block and to which direction, how the wide receivers are positioned and are they in motion, are there multiple halfbacks lined up in the backfield and where is the quarterback positioned in relation to all of this?
Once the play is set in motion, the defensive players, whether a defensive linemen, linebacker, safety or cornerback need to visually locate the ball. Is it a running or passing play? If the ball has been handed off to a halfback, fullback, tossed in a jet sweep to a wide receiver or the quarterback themselves takes off with the ball, you need to determine the angle you have to take to tackle the player and what type of blocking is taking place in front of you that will obstruct your path to the offensive player with the ball. All this analysis needs to be processed before approaching the offensive player carrying the ball then you need to determine based on body language where the ball carrier may be going and quickly evaluate if they will attempt to hit you head on or juke/fake in order to evade you.
That is all solely on a running play, that isn’t accounting for an offensive passing play. The defenders have to watch the quarterback’s eyes within the pocket, do they have their eyes set on a specific side of the field looking for a specific receiver or does their body language indicate that they may continue to run outside of the pocket either to gain positive yardage or extend the play in order to buy time for their desired receiver to get open?
The defenders need to determine the body language of the receivers and halfbacks coming off the line to inspect where they may end up downfield and what type of route they may be running while determining at that moment how to defend it. The defensive linemen have to determine how the offensive line is protecting their quarterback and where they are attempting to move them to. The defensive linemen, if they can process where the QB may be throwing it, will throw up their hands to either disrupt the potential passing lane visually or try to tip or block the ball before it leaves the pocket in order to stop the play entirely or give their defensive teammates an opportunity to catch the ball for an interception.
The quarterback has to be the ultimate analyst behind center because they have to take into account everything defensively that was stated above and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage in order to combat what they see in the defense’s formation. The passer has to anticipate all possibilities based on where the defenders are positioned before the snap then forecast where they will be within seconds after the play has begun. The QB has to evaluate in those moments where the defensive backs may be cheating to and where the soft spots in the defense are based on how the offensive play contrasts with it, all the while paying attention within their own peripheral vision trying to locate where the linebackers and defensive linemen are to avoid a sack and a loss of yardage.
If the current play leaves the offense at a discernible disadvantage, the quarterback has to scream out an audible in order to signal to the rest of the offense that the play has to change which means the offense has to recalibrate position while simultaneously maintaining the air of mystery and deception by not giving away the intent and structure of the play by their own body language.
The quarterback is one of the most visual positions in sports and will ultimately carve out their fate as a franchise cornerstone or a bust relegated to annals of football history, based on how they’re able to respond to what is within their line of sight.
Soccer, Hockey & Handball
The inclusion of these three sports into one section is not an attempt to minimize each individual sport’s importance but to analyze from a macro perspective their similarities in structure and how visually the games have to be approached in order for success.
The defenders in each respective sport have to approach the offense in similar but somewhat contrasting ways as well. Soccer, in its design, is a game of endurance, methodology and opportunity. Soccer is not a high scoring sport typically at any level and requires a tremendous degree of teamwork and patience to score a goal. The ball has to be passed around the length of the field, whether horizontally or vertically, frequently in order to see the weak points in the defense and in a moment’s notice the offense can attack the defense trying to penetrate and find a way to shoot on the goal. The defense in a number of ways will try to obscure the vision of the offensive players by forming walls or shifting their defense to the side of the field where the ball is traveling to.
Hockey and handball are strikingly similar to soccer in this regard except with a far more intense pace of play and a much smaller surface area in which the game is played, leading to higher scoring numbers in a typical matchup than in soccer. Hockey is slightly more known for how visually involved the game is, the passing around of a small black puck rapidly along smooth ice with some of the faster slap shots in the NHL exceeding 100 miles per hour. You can imagine this is a difficult proposition for a hockey goaltender who has to react to shots coming in that quickly while attempting to maintain sustained vision of the puck while it is being moved around all over the ice with offensive players who will attempt to obscure their lanes of vision in front of the net and tip the puck in if the shot is offline.
Handball will form similar walls that soccer players will in front of the goal but with the surface area of the court and the space around the goal being smaller, the defensive stratagem has to be operated at a quicker pace and the visual windows of the goal are tighter in space and time. The offensive players will typically perform a jumping throw towards the goal in order to give themselves a better view of the net and the goaltender due to the walls of defenders obstructing their view.
What makes handball conventionally difficult especially from a defensive perspective is how the ball is leaving the hands of the offensive players attacking towards the goal. A handball is slightly smaller than a volleyball, making it easier to palm in your hand and giving you more control of its speed and spin. Many handballers will jump in the air and hang as long as they can in order for the potential shot variables to increase for the defender and make them cheat early to guess where the ball is going. The offensive player can throw the ball directly towards the goal, bounce the ball into it or spin the ball and bounce it in order to trick the goalie in terms of anticipating the ball’s trajectory. The goalie has to try to evaluate the body language of the offensive player attempting a shot mid-air and place themselves in the most effective position to defend the shot based on the information they can gather in those moments.
Basketball is another game requiring vast visual acuity if played on a high level. When the point guard or whomever is deemed to be the play initiator dribbles the ball up the court, they have to set up their offense in tandem with what they can evaluate in the defenses position. The play initiator may pass the ball rapidly and get their teammates to pass it around to find where the soft spot in the defense is or they may initiate a play from beyond the three-point line in an attempt to clear space to the basket or create opportunities on the wings for open shots.
The ball handler will call for a pick from a typically imposing player in physical stature and strength who will run up to block their defender from following them temporarily in order to create space for the offensive player to either penetrate the defense towards the rim or give the initiator the open floor for an uncontested three-point shot. This is where the vision of talented basketball players will separate them from the average to above average players.
This player that has penetrated the defense will quickly have to evaluate their options within that moment, can they drive themselves further towards the basket either with an open lane or a contested shot or can they pass the ball to an offensive player closer to the basket or kick it out to a teammate further from the basket but with an easier open shot? All this has to be executed expeditiously in order to prevent a defender from closing in to strip the ball or pressure the offensive player into making a hasty decision in order to not give up the ball and create an opportunity for the other team.
This is where The Eclipse comes into play in basketball. With all the variables and quick decisions that need to be made, the muscle memory and repetition of a shooter that gets the ball from a play initiator is completely discombobulated by the lack of sight of the basket and could be one of the next emergent defensive strategies to counter the current style of play in the NBA.
The advent of three-point shooting and floor spacing offensive schemes has led to the near extinction of the traditional big man from previous years. If The Eclipse were to be implemented more frequently around the league, that may rattle how spacing is utilized and would also lead to the need for tall centers that have the defensive instincts to time blocking vision of the basket on outside jump shots if they can’t close out on the shooter. Like any strategy, teams will adapt and find ways around this but for now the idea is a clever one
Vision is clearly one of the most integral parts of sports and what you do with that vision or lack thereof will heavily determine your team’s success. Vision is a difference-maker in sports and the more that it is disrupted or confused during a game or match can be the key to victory. Will The Eclipse be successful in its implementation, or will it be a passing quirk, forgotten in its eccentricity and lack of acceptance? Time will be the arbiter of its fate.