jueves, 2 de junio de 2016

Shooters Defense: GSW Read And React

Photo: NBA.com
I watch as much NBA as I can. Which is half of what I’d like to watch, and that is probably half of what you need to watch to have a decent knowledge of the league… 

But I enjoy The League anyway, and I think there are many good things to see, analyze and pay attention to.

I won’t join the controversy about how many three point shots are too many. Everyone has an opinion. But it is a fact that the record of made threes during a seven games series was broken during the West Conference Finals, and this post is related to three point shooting. 

This classic situation is frequently used by the Golden State Warriors, staggered screens.

OKC tried to stop it switching in off ball screens to avoid easy catch and shoot options. Which is as good an idea as any other, if the defensive execution is good or if the offense is not ready to read it. Let’s take a look at some clips from games six and seven. In the first two plays, the Warriors run the staggered screen situation we are talking about, while in the third one we see the off ball screen right after an inside pass:

The Warriors reaction to the switch is to cut with the last screener to the basket. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the cutters. As we can see, when the switch happens, the defender who is supposed to take the screener doesn’t protect the rim, and leaves the path open for the cut. In the first clip, there is still one more help, although the second cutter gets a perfect extra pass to score.

With the Finals starting tonight, we should be ready to take a look at how the Cavaliers defend this basic, but useful, situations. 

martes, 24 de mayo de 2016

Final Four 2016 (II)

Photo: Euroleague.net
We explained in the last post how Kyle Hines had an amazing performance switching on ball screen defense.

That brings me to another sign of the complexity of our sport. Although Hines was excellent defending those mismatch situations, the next action happened in one of the last plays of the last quarter. This could be considered one of the “key” moments of the game. After an off ball screen, a mismatch happens, Dixon against Hines… the small playmaker manages to create the space for his shot, and scores.

For me it is interesting to understand how, a situation which was totally under control for Hines all along the game, gave Fenerbahce the opportunity to “believe” one more time in their chances to win the game.

It has been a controversial topic during the last season, specially in the NBA, if the “hack a” strategy is acceptable. We saw a clear example during the game, and I haven’t read many opinions against it… Here is the moment when Itoudis tells CSKA players to "hack a Vesely" right after he shot an air ball in his last free throw attempt. What is your opinion?

I’d like show now some beautiful offensive plays we saw CSKA execute.

In the first one, they run a high ball screen with Hines rolling to the basket. Help side players, whatever their defensive rules are, put extra focus on the ball, and at this point Kurbanov sets an off ball screen against Bogdanovic (De Colo’s defender) to “create” the pass opportunity to the corner, and to make it easy for De Colo to attack the defender close out in case he decides not to shoot. 

Let’s finish with two consecutive plays. One of the moments when CSKA started looking unbeatable that night:
This set that is frequently used by many teams, but here is executed with virtuosity, great timing and it shows CSKA at his best. The way Teodosic fakes the screen and then the shot, to end up passing to Hines, and how the american connects with the corner… Fenerbahce players were “chasing shadows”. The next offense they run it again, and the defenders hesitate, in part because of the outcome of the last offense, leaving a highway to the basket for Higgins to score.

Euroleague season is over, the countdown for next season has started. 

viernes, 20 de mayo de 2016

Final Four 2016 (I)

Photo: Euroleague.net
It’s not the first time I say it, very often we try to find the “key” for the outcome of a game. We go to the statistics, we talk about this or that defensive modification, a beautiful set play drawn by the coach, a player in bad shape or a great offensive performance. 

Sometimes we make things too complicated and sometimes we try to over simplify and find one reason to explain why the game ended as it did. The truth is: there isn’t a single key when it comes to sports. That makes it, specially basketball, amazing and unpredictable.

There were so many details during the CSKA - Fenerbahce… It would take days to run through the game trying to understand in deep every single action. So, I will just bring some of them, and I hope we will be able to enjoy in the next years many more games as good as this one.

As they pointed out in @Euro_Adventures podcast that fifth foul might have been one of the luckiest strikes in the last years. Vorontsevich was fouled out and that brought Khryapa back in the game. His performance during the last ten minutes has been praised enough by now but, was he supposed to be there? was he supposed to sub in during the last minutes of the game? We will never know, but a situation that could have been really negative for CSKA turned into the best momentum for them to win the trophy. If that doesn’t make us think as coaches...

The game started with an interesting match up, Kalinic guarding De Colo. Probably to switch ball screens slowing the french down, while avoiding mismatches inside or in the offensive rebound. Seven CSKA points and two personal fouls on the Serbian (who had to be substituted) gave the first “victory” to the Russian side.

It is a frequent topic in this blog, I’ve written about it here,  here,  here,  here,  here, and not many days ago here. So it is no surprise to see teams switching in several ball screens. Having players like Kyle Hines (also frequently featured around here) or Udoh helps a lot. We saw many fantastic defensive actions from these players in the final game of the Euroleague season.

I counted 13 situations where Hines switched defending ball screens. Do you know how many points did Fenerbahce score against him? Zero. Not a single point scored by the “small” being guarded by Hines in those switches. Fener scored two points off an offensive rebound (Vesely against Kurbanov) and that was all in 13 possessions. Obviously, there is a team effort there, other players are involved too, but having Hines is an insurance in these situations.

We’ll keep talking about this game in the next post, stay tuned. 

jueves, 12 de mayo de 2016

Lokomotiv: Stretch 5

Foto: Euroleague.net
Definitely, the use of this "stretch 5" strategy has been one of the reasons for Lokomotiv Kuban to make it all the way to Berlin. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments will be made to fight it in the Final Four.

We saw different ways to get advantages through Anthony Randoph during the play off against F.C. Barcelona, let’s take a look at some of them:

Pretty basic, when all five Lokomotiv players are placed beyond the three point line, creating so many three point threats, there is a lot of room to drive and it is kind of risky to help on penetrations. If Randolph’s defender helps, the opportunity is right there for the kick out pass. Once he gets the ball, the right decision making will end up with shots, penetrations against close outs, or extra passes to beat defensive rotations.

Side screen situations: We are used to “fours” popping after setting ball screens. Not so much to “fives” having that shooting range. Loko often clears the corner and short corner for Randolph to pop to that area. Another shooting threat will be usually placed one pass away from the ball (weak side elbow, three point line on top) making helps on the ball screen situation even harder. 

More side screen, now looking for weak side actions: When Randolph's defender doesn’t help, the weak side defenders need to give a hand on the ball screen defense. Movement without the ball is the key now. Weak side cuts are extremely dangerous for the defense. As we see in the second clip, the skip pass is also used to punish defensive rotations.

Middle screen situations: Randoph’s pop creates a superiority right after the ball is passed. Quick shot or pass against defensive rotation. If the defenders hesitate or are late… the dagger will fly.

Finally, one of the sets they run to free Randolph for a wide open shot, with a hand off followed by an off ball screen. Once again, he will decide either to shoot, drive, give an extra pass against rotations or run the set all the way and play one more hand off / side screen. As we see in the last clip, even if the execution is not perfect (they don't play the initial hand off, don't set the small - big off ball screen) the  key idea remains the same, Randolph wide open and taking care of business. 

The Final Four starts tomorrow, let's get ready for some of the best basketball moments of the year.

miércoles, 4 de mayo de 2016

CSKA Switching

Photo: Euroleague.net
I won’t pretend to explain a defensive game plan because not having enough information about it, but I can show you some details of CSKA’s defense during the third play off game against Red Star. If you want to get a deeper understanding, my advice is to analyze those three games to find out how it works.

There’s an old saying in basketball “the best man to man defense looks like a zone and the best zone defense looks like a man to man”. That could be the idea behind the defense we saw in the mentioned game. We can argue about the way we call it (switching man to man, flexible zone, mutant defense) but there’s no need to go crazy about it. 

In my opinion, CSKA has the personnel to try this kind of switching defense. Their physicality and size allow them to go for it not giving up a lot of advantages to their rivals. But there’s another idea we should keep in mind. The defense’s “first stone” is not the switching, but the 1 on 1 and team communication. Bigs need to make efforts to guard smalls and smalls need to be really aggressive, as they will find themselves in a quick mismatch situation quite often. Then, the focus to switch or rotate when needed is also a must.

Also, the scouting work matters, Red Star use very often “horns” situations, as well as quick side screens. This switching defense may create problems and definitely slow down the rhythm of the offense. 

Some of the rules they appear to be following:

They place a “big” on top of their defense (Kurbanov, Nichols)

They switch high ball screens avoiding an advantage for the “roll man”, and try to keep a small guarding the ball after the first switch. 

Continuous attention to the ball’s position and players’ movements

Be aware of cuts, to follow and/or rotate, trying to stay in the same lines. "Smalls" defending outside spaces, "bigs" close to the basket.

Sag off from your man when the ball goes inside

If the mismatch finally happens: FIGHT IT. No easy penetration, no uncontested shots, no easy passes inside (defender in front) Off ball activity.

Let’s take a look: 

martes, 23 de junio de 2015

ACB Final Games 1 & 2: Review

While we wait for the third game of the finals, let's take a look at what happened in the first two, and let's try to find out if Barcelona can find arguments to avoid the 3-0.

It's clear that Real Madrid was (one more time) a well oiled scoring machine in game 2. But, it is also true that their defensive activity was better than in the first game. You can't isolate one side of the game and consider it the only reason why a game is won or lost. But a quick first look at both games box scores show that FCB scored 40 points at halftime in game 1, and 32 in game 2. Of course we would need possession data to get better accuracy, but as a sign it is interesting.

Let's take a look at some details we saw during the first two games of the Final:

FCB found some good looks in low post for their bigs

and also for DeShaun Thomas, who is being their main option at the beginning of the games:

Here we see how he attracts the defense and finds Lampe beyond the three point line.

In the second game, Real played more aggressive to stop these options, with quick defensive reactions, with good team work collapsing the paint, more contact, and even using some fouls. Good overall defensive focus, which helped setting the tone of the game, as we can see:

I wrote about mismatch situations some weeks ago. They are becoming more and more important. In the first game we saw how both Real and Barça scored off the mismatch.

In the second, Real Madrid bled Barcelona with these situations, specially during the first two quarters. Even when they decided not to exploit the first advantage they just created, they ended up scoring (opposite side, Carroll's pull up jumper)

Also, they have been getting stops against mismatches in a regular basis during these two games. As I mentioned before, using their fouls wisely helps setting the defensive level. Another example of individual commitment and team work.

Focusing on the offensive face now, we've seen FCB scoring inside, and this will be important for the "blaugrana" team. As important or more will be to diminish Real's inside points.

Which won't be easy because Real's outside threats are huge, but FCB should try to find their way on  defense. In the first two games we saw some good actions, along with some others not so good or plain bad. Real Madrid is punishing almost every single mistake (one on one, help side, defensive rebounds) 

Both teams will try to find as many wide open shots as possible. As we saw in the first game and in one of the last clips from the second one, three point shots coming off offensive rebounds are a good "easy" points source:

FCB will be looking for reasons to be optimistic, one should be Doellman and Hezonja's spacing in ball screen situations. They are creating a good amount of opportunities, both players are shooting well and will probably be confident in the third game. 

Let's hope to see a very good third game, and may the best team win!

miércoles, 27 de mayo de 2015

Final Four 2015: Cool Goudelock Down

Photo: Euroleague.net
A lot has been said about Real Madrid's offense in the semifinal against Fenerbahce. Not so much about some defensive details during that game. It is clear that their offense was flowing big time, the ball movement was great, they shared it the right way, the quality of the passing absolutely delicious… But they did some good things on the other half of the court too.

Let's take a look at how they cut Andrew Goudelock's rhythm during the first two quarters of the game. But first one more example about something we've been talking about lately, numbers. You can check Goudelock's points and immediately think that he was dominant (34 minutes, 26 points, 9/11 2PT, 2/6 3PT) But, if you want to dig a little bit more, you will find out how at the end of the second quarter, he had 6 points (2/3 2PT, 0/4 3PT) while his team was trailing by 20 (55-35) and the game was really far from where Fenerbahce would have wanted at that moment…

From the outside, and not knowing first hand what was Real's game plan, it looks like they paid good attention on Goudelock, probably the best 1x1 player in the competition. Let's take a look at some clips:

In the first video, we can see Fenerbahce playing one of their most frequently used sets. They set a down screen and then they play a hand off pass. Not only the player guarding Goudelock is committed to the task in hand, but also the other players are really aggressive. Real gave up some other options while trying to decrease Goudelock's production, which is normal when you focus in one player.

I was talking about cooperation to stop Goudelock before. In the next video we see that team work again. Two clips in which we can see up to three of Real's players (and in the first clip, a fourth giving a hand too) guarding Goudelock in the same play. Yes, he scores in the second one, but every effort counts and they keep making his life a little bit harder with their defense.

More examples, hand off and ball screen situations. We see how the screener's defender is aggressive to stop Goudelock. Aggressive hedging, and again, it is clear that they rather prefer other players to have the scoring opportunities. Help side defenders work against those other options, trying to avoid the easy shot, forcing some drives, rotating…

The last clip might seem naïve, but it is not. A "no helping" policy is advisable when facing some players. It appears Real Madrid decided to use that strategy with Goudelock. There were some actions where helping would have been a right move in a normal situation, but the defender decided not to. Take a look at the next clip.

So let me ask for your opinion: Was Goudelock's defense a success?

P.S.: You can check all of Goudelock's first half actions, here.