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

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.

lunes, 25 de mayo de 2015

Final Four 2015: Teodosic

There has been some controversy around Teodosic's performance in the semifinal between Olympiacos and CSKA.

I've said this before and it won't be the last time, we, the people, try to find an explanation for victories and defeats, so it is quite normal to hear "this player lost the game" "this player won the game" or "that turnover was the key" and also "the missed three point shots were decisive"... The use of some statistics, or taking a couple of isolated actions appear to be enough to find that explanation we need to feel "we know" what happened and why.

From a coach's point of view, and we have many different examples, the performance of your team rely on many different aspects. And the influence of a player in the development of the game goes, for example, way beyond the points he scores.

Playing the devil's advocate I'm throwing two single numbers in support of Teodosic: he scored 6 of CSKA's 17 points in the last quarter. That's 35% of their total points in the last quarter. 

These are Teodosic's offensive actions during the last quarter, those in which he was handling the ball - finishing his team's actions. There was some talking about "ball stopping" and it is clear that he forced some situations (something that Spanoulis did, too… being the outcome the main difference between some of them) but we should review the other four players movement (or lack of) and the spacing they have in some of those actions (not really helpful)

On the other side of the court, we can ask ourselves if Olympiacos' rule was to attack Teodosic, not being his defensive skills his main strength. It looks like he gives up a couple of fouls without a big defensive effort. In the second clip he gives his man a big distance so the pass is easy (and this is quite common when he plays defense on the ball handler)

The way things work on a team, a coach must consider a number of plus and minuses of his players, who is on the court, what is each one giving to the team, the game situation, will he attract the defenders to create opportunities for the other players (there are many different things to think about) and then make a decision about who is playing in a specific moment. But the beauty of sport is also in the decision making, sometimes the right decision looks like a mistake, and sometimes a "crazy" move from the coach ends up working… Sometimes you just need to keep it simple instead of "over coaching"… 

But remember, "after the battle everyone's a good general".

jueves, 21 de mayo de 2015

Final Four 2015: Ball Screen Defense - Switch

I'll be posting in the next days some details we saw during the Euroleague Final Four. In my opinion, it's been an amazing weekend for European basketball, with really good basketball and a good dose of thriller... 

We've been talking about the 21st century basketball for a while, its evolution, the way our sport is going… Maybe this Final Four has been a clear example about the "new basketball" we are going to see. 

I'm talking about defense now, and specifically about switching against (ball) screens. Will this become the main defensive rule in the years to come?

During the semifinal between Olympiacos and CSKA, we saw how that defense was extensively used by both teams. I bring today two short videos with the teams scoring... 

...and getting stops

Both single (between the two players directly involved in the screen) and multiple (different rotations to avoid mismatches) switching options were played during the game. It's no surprise that many teams are building their rosters with this idea in mind, trying to find players as physical as possible, capable to play solid defense in different situations. Other teams work on ways to switch with "smaller personnel", and still cut the offense's rhythm. 

What's your opinion, are we going to watch more and more switching? 

miércoles, 20 de mayo de 2015

Nordic Championship - Solna 2015

While the biggest names of our basketball were in Madrid, for the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, and Euroleague F4, last week I had the opportunity to watch live the Nordic Basketball Championship. Well known by many scouts and GM's who often find good prospects there, this tournament brought together the U16 and U18 generations from Sweden (organizers), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia and Denmark. Also Estonia and Sweden U20 played two games during the weekend. 

The terrible news about Rasmus Larsen passing away struck everyone in Solnahallen, where so many people who knew him well and saw him play in this same tournament were devastated. Everyone had nice things to remember about the young player.

About the tournament, from an outsider's point of view, along with a lot of comments heard, it may seem there wasn't as much talent as in past editions. Lauri Markkanen, considered by Eurohopes as one of the best 20 players from 1997, was injured and couldn't play. But from a coach's point of view, I've seen many players which, considering my experience coaching in European leagues (Hungary, Slovakia, Portugal, Spanish LEBs), will be ready to play at a good level (or very good) if they have the right development and work properly during the next seasons. 

NBA prospects? probably not, but for sure there were kids whose talent, size, or both, put them in a very good position to keep growing as players and to fight to reach Top European competitions. At least one of the players we saw is been already recruited by Joventut Badalona, so we will see him in Spain pretty soon. 

The basketball was high paced (with a couple of "run and gun" teams) with some full court press teams, more 2-3 zone than I'd like (mostly because of the low intensity and execution mistakes), teams showing good spacing when playing pick and roll situations, lots of three point shots, and not too many situations to feed the big players, which surprises me as some of them had a clear advantage inside. 

One of the main problems (I've been finding it in different countries and Championships, as the U18 Spanish I watched two weeks ago, for example) is the passing quality. Youth teams coaches should give much more emphasis to the pass. Talent shouldn't be the only factor to have good passers in our sport and my perception is we need a lot to work to develop this fundamental skill. 

Overall, a really good experience, many names in my agenda to follow for the next seasons, and an appointment for the future editions of an exciting tournament.

domingo, 10 de mayo de 2015

Final Four: Bjelica's Corner

Ball screen actions, probably the most frequently used tactical tool in modern basketball, is extensively studied on both sides of the court. It will be one of the keys during the Final Four, as the teams that will be in Madrid excel in the use of this "art" and have terrific players to execute it.

It would be too long to analyze every single option we will find during the Final Four in one post, so this is a small study about one of them, which I think will be important in the semifinal between Fenerbahce and Real Madrid: Nemanja Bjelica on ball side corner and two smalls on the opposite side. This is often played by the Turkish team, and it will be interesting to see how it will work, and Real's defensive answers. 

There are different ways to approach a specific situation from the defensive side. For example, you can have a rule you follow no matter what (e.g. "whenever they play a side screen, we "trap") and you can also consider who are the players involved and then adapt the defense. 

Let's take a look at different scenarios (and let's consider the "1", "2", and "3" positions interchangeable. So I won't talk about "positions" but about characteristics of the players at each one). Always understanding that (in the opinion of many experts) the Euroleague's best "stretch 4", Nemanja Bjelica, is in the ball side corner (he is "4") 

For opposing teams, it would be wise to avoid 4's defender helps against 5's roll (giving room for Bjelica to receive a quick pass): it is an extremely dangerous situation, Bjelica being a huge threat. He can catch and shoot, and he can drive to beat the defender's close out.

If the defense manages to avoid these two situations, they often play a "5 x 4" ball screen which creates a new advantage either for Bjelica to score, or for their "5" to roll hard when he has an advantage or crush the board when Bjelica drives.

Allow "1" to shoot, go under the screen: if you rather prefer that shot (e.g. when the ball handler is not a great shooter) than any other option the offense can find. As usual, scouting and "numbers" will help in the decision making process. No helps needed, no "Bjelica's threat"

Do not allow "1" to shoot, go over the screen and collapse the paint avoiding penetration: this option should be considered when you think "2" and "3" threats are smaller than "1's". The screener's defender will try to stop the penetration. As helps will be coming from "weak" side (which we could consider "strong" side once the ball handler drives to the middle) those are dangerous shooting opportunities. And the player getting that pass may try to drive against the close out, so the defenders need to be ready to rotate.

Switch and defend the mismatch, or multiple switching: here, one more time, the defense avoids helping from Bjelica. One problem, Fenerbahce players are very patient to find the way to exploit the advantage. It can be inside, outside, or they can keep playing with very good spacing which usually leads to a good scoring opportunity. Having great "one on one" players makes them really dangerous in mismatch situations.

"Ice", deny the screen: so you don't let the ball handler go to the middle and you create a "traffic" situation on ball side. Fenerbahce can be either very aggressive or very patient against this defensive option. The "aggressive" option: as soon as the screener sees it, he cuts hard to the rim, while the ball handler drives baseline and attracts the screener's defender. Then he can find 5 or the wide open man on the side if there are long helps (a good way to avoid a quick roll is to bump from "2's" defender) Obviously you don't want to help from Bjelica, he is ready to hit the corner three! The "patient" option: the screener will pop and they will attack on the opposite side.

Flash / Trap against the ball handler: trying to stop the ball, being very aggressive to stop penetrations, force turnovers… Although Fenerbahce's spacing plus their high quality players helps them find a good option. First things first, you need to take care of the roll man. We already saw what happens when you help from Bjelica. So you're gonna have to work on defensive fakes and get back real quick after the flash.

A lot to study, many decisions to make, and a small post to show the kind of work coaching staffs are doing "behind the cameras"

martes, 21 de abril de 2015

X's & O's: Screen + Hand Off

Right before tonight's third game, a quick analysis about one of Olympiacos "go to" sets. 

These are sets every team has and runs for different reasons. They feel comfortable when playing them, they work well for a key player, or they create problems to the defenders...

Olympiacos look for Spanoulis in many different ways, but in the last game this set was extremely productive for the reds. 

vertical hand off between a big man and the Greek star, that can be followed by a quick ball screen. As a secondary option within the same structure, they can look for the pass to the big man near the basket, but we will focus today on the Spanoulis' option. 

As we will see in the video, Olympiacos scored twelve points when running this set, nine of them coming straight from Spanoulis' hands.

In my humble opinion, FCB's defensive game plan was ready to defend it. My guess is they planned to chase Spanoulis, while the big man defending the passer would make a short hedge, and the defender of the corner would collapse the paint. 

But mistakes happen during a game, and Spanoulis' execution is admirable so he can score even when the defenders perform well. 

For sure tonight we will see this set many times, we will see how it works! Now, let's take a look at the video.

jueves, 2 de abril de 2015

Ball Inside Set: Scout and Adjust

As a coach, when you have a "special" player (understanding that as a player around whom for whatever reasons you are going to organize your offense or your defense) you have to find the way to use him in the best possible way.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis from Maccabi Tel Aviv is one of these players. He is a "go to" player for their offense whenever he is on the court. And today I want to show you how they look for him, and how important for their rivals is to make some adjustments when they face the Israeli team. 

Analyzing the Top 16 games between Maccabi and Real Madrid, we see it clear. In the first game, we saw Maccabi running one of their favorite sets for "Big Sofo" and getting a lot of good looks for him. When both teams played again, we noticed how the Spanish side made some adjustments against that set. 

Maccabi's set involves a lot of movement without the ball, off ball screens, and, finally, Schortsanitis' duck in action to seal his defender and get the ball inside. It is interesting to notice how he sets a down screen and then he manages to establish his position inside to leave the defender behind his back. Once he gets the ball there… We can see how they run the set and score in the first clip.

Then, for the second game, the Spanish team adjusted their defense, showing much more intensity in order to, first, avoid easy passes at the beginning of the set, and then, trying to keep Sofo off his favorite spot (or forcing him to fight for it)

Nevertheless they end up finding him inside, but Real's players are ready to trap, jumping immediately after the ball leaves the passer's hands. Nocioni's hands up when he traps and Rivers' help side activity as a "goalkeeper" avoid the dangerous skip pass.

Let's take a look...

domingo, 15 de marzo de 2015

Real Quick: Box Out Against Mismatch

One of the biggest risks when you decide to switch defending ball screens, is the immediate offensive rebound opportunity for a big man against a smaller player. 

When facing this kind of defense, realizing about the advantage for his teammate after an hypothetical missed shot, the ball handler can be even more aggressive to try to finish. He can miss the shot but they will have that advantage in the offensive rebound. 

Some players have that "instinct" and follow the action to get the offensive rebound (although in my opinion this is something you can practice from the very beginning of a player's career. But how many youth team's coaches practice offensive rebounding skills?)

So with that idea in mind, and trying to reduce the risk of an offensive rebound that will create a high percentage scoring opportunity, a key for the ball screen "switch" defense should be to box out properly in that mismatch situation.

And this is what I want to show you today, take a look at the video and notice how Nizhny's player Evgeny Baburin, right after switching in the ball screen, turns around and looks for the contact against the big man, boxing him out and making it easier for his teammate to get the rebound after stopping the penetration. 

jueves, 26 de febrero de 2015

X's & O's: Ball Screen + Back Screen

One interesting offensive situation Fenerbahce is using quite often is this "ball screen - back screen"
set play.

They get some different advantages depending on the reaction of the defense. "Fener" players read well the defensive moves and they find the best way to score.

This is basically a set of two consecutive screens, in which they manage to involve two or even three and four defenders, and that creates a lot of scoring opportunities.

In the first clip of the video, we can see how, after the ball screen, the defender of the screener tries to stop the ball but he gets stuck in the second screen (back screen) and this forces the second screener's defender to try to stop the ball.

Notice how, in the ball screen, the roll man makes it impossible for the "original" defender of the ball handler to recover and even try to stop the ball. He keeps him sealed and he creates an immediate mismatch situation.

Think about it, three different defenders try to stop the ball in this particular play, and finally they miss the last screener, who pops to the three point line where he receives wide open to score an easy shot.

In the second clip, the same situation, with an easier end, an uncontested lay up, as the back screen creates a clear disadvantage for the defense, two players against a single defender unable to react and stop the ball...

jueves, 5 de febrero de 2015

Real Quick: RMA - FCB Euroleague

With Real Madrid and FC Barcelona still cooling down, and although obviously this is a game that deserves deep analysis, I want to show you this clips from early in the game, with some interesting details.

First, a nice high - low action from Real Madrid. Barcelona often switch in off ball screens when guarding JC Carroll. Real responds well and finds the way to use the mismatch in low post.

Second, another defensive situation from the "madrileños": Maciulis gets on the court and guards Marcelinho Huertas. Maciulis' size and quickness allows him to protect himself from Huertas' penetrations and at the same time he is able to contest shots and switch against ball screens:

jueves, 15 de enero de 2015

Real Quick: No Looking Pass

Defensive organization makes harder and harder for the offenses to find advantages. Automatic reactions, and a lot of coaching, that create well oiled defensive machines ready to face the most common situations on the floor.  

In today's "real quick" we can see the value of a creative player, who goes one step ahead of the defenders, understands the reactions of the defense, and somehow "fools" his opponents to find a scoring opportunity for a teammate. 

CSKA run a ball screen, Fenerbahce try to trap the ball handler while working on the "weak" side. Once the ball leaves Weems' hands, the advantage is in the opposite corner. CSKA players are supposed to swing the ball there, and Fener players, in this case, Goudelock, "know" they need to run to that spot in order to avoid an easy shot. The mentioned player reacts almost immediately to reach the corner, and that is the moment when Teodosic does his "magic" and lying with his eyes, finds the pass to Kaun right under the basket...

Let's watch it: