New X’s and O’s to keep an eye on!

In basketball being innovative is one of the hardest things especially when considering the tactical moves made by teams to either attack or counter opponents.  Requirements of willingness, as well as understanding are vital. That being said for coaches to break ahead of the pack and make sure that they stay ahead of the curve means trying new things on the court that eventually will give them a possible lead. Defense is defense. The more hard nose you are the better you really are. Offense however is where the slightest change can push the envelope to be so much more. After nitpicking thousands of actions on offense these three are the crème de la crème of moves that any defense needs to adjust for as they cause sure fire power:

INVERTED ELBOW BALL SCREEN

In large part AAU has allowed elite players to handle the ball so much more and nowadays bigs have become accustomed to handle the ball so much so that some are also becoming good level shooters from behind the arc. Coaches eventually need to become aware of such threats at all levels as talent is becoming positionless.

KAT, AD are two of the numerous names that have crafted their game so they don’t just handle but shoot the ball well at the highest level, more experienced guys like B.Griffin, K-Love and Horford all have evolved from being two dimensional to three dimensional players to be able to keep up with the trend.

Teams that are trying to cope with these versatile bigs have recently been adding a new play to their playbook the “inverted version of the ball screen” simply put in place of the guard as a ball handler you have big that can create options and the screener that is a good level shooter close to the elbow. It is damn hard to prevent such a play from ending up with a scored point.

In part due to the shooting capabilities that players have been growing more its become a good play that has been utilized across the league. Variations of this play run as inverted PNR. Redick, Korver, Ellington all have been players that have thrived on being designated shooters that have grown with this play.

The counter to such a threat is to plainly sag off the big and having his defender protect the basket. The issue comes in with the diverse skill set of bigs to shoot rhythm three point shots when left ungaurded.

Actions that happen on the empty angle where there isn’t a defender going to the corner to shadow the big, those with skill usually post up and take close range open jumpers.

At the NBA level leaving an uncontested shot is never a thing coaches want to see happen. The options to try and defend are very slim and it’s a good offensive move to go to overall.

A CONCEPT THAT’S DRAWING ATTENTION – “FREE”

Shooters have been making use of some unique moves to get open during the regular season.

The faking of a back screen that turns into a down screen, freeing a scorer up for a dribble-handoff a.k.a. “Pinch” dubbed by Zak Boisvert assistant coach at Army-West Point.

Mike D’Antoni was likely the first HC that utilized it in the league! It’s a hard to guard action because there is no high angle defender that can switch to take away the ensuing handoff. If the handoff is switched, then an elite shooter or ball handler like James Harden gets to go one-on-one with a post defender. That usually ends as expected.

Going underneath the handoff isn’t an option, either. Great shooters that come off the handoff will comfortably pull-up. For a player like Harden or any elite shooter, that’s a defensive death sentence.

The Rockets score in almost every way imaginable from this type of set:

As a decoy action, the Rockets run this as a designed play out of a sideline inbound situation. The free screener, usually a guard, sets up a few feet back from Harden as the inbounder. Back screens are a frequent action at all levels from sideline inbounds, as are shuffle screens for the inbounder to cut towards the basket.

The defense is obligated to guard the positioning as if it’s a shuffle screen coming, preventing them from helping when the angle suddenly is switched. Here, Harden sprints into a handoff for 3:

The Utah Jazz have run this action for shooters Kyle Korver and Joe Ingles too. Defenses have not yet figured out the perfect counter, and with a massive handoff machine in Rudy Gobert, the Jazz execute “free” nearly every time:

Any postseason series involving the Houston Rockets will see this action become a focal point of the scouting report. (Likely the Jazz, too.)

I’m eager to see what counters teams will throw at the action to deny dribble handoffs. Will they begin to jump switch and play the screener on the high side? Will teams pressure the big so he cannot execute the handoff in scoring range? The playoffs are the time to focus on the individual plays and take away what teams do well.

Mike D’Antoni’s genius will certainly be tested come April and May.

Another concept catching on “HANDOFF OVERRUN”

As Boisvert points out, the credit for popularizing the “Free” action belongs to Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets. They have been running “free” all season for James Harden, as well as for the sharpshooting Eric Gordon. The NBA is a copycat league, after all.

The creative credit that belongs with Quin Snyder comes for another variation of a dribble handoff that gets executed with a shooter. I have been calling it “overrunning the handoff”, for its combination of dribble handoffs and re-screen concepts.

Kyle Korver has been terrorizing defenses for years with his three-point prowess. Again, this appears to be a designed call from the bench against teams that start to hug Korver. When they hug—or deny—him from dribble handoffs, the Jazz need a way to get the ball to him.

They instruct Korver to overrun the handoff knowing he won’t be able to execute, then turn around and run back to where he came:

Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors do an outstanding job flipping their positioning to get a wide base, allowing Korver to run through the handoff. Once he does that, he can either catch-and-shoot or penetrate off the bounce. It’s a nifty counter for teams to have up their sleeve when shooters get denied, as it lends itself to the same principles of flipping a ball screen against ice coverage.

Many of the concepts or actions that work will soon be integrated into multiple team’s attacks.

The Utah Jazz are one group that stays on the forefront of innovation with their playbook, making them a fun watch for coaches. Regardless of how you watch the game, you can find beauty in the complex chess matches that take place within the game. Some of these concepts are high-level maneuvers and could make a massive impact in a postseason series.

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