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.

lunes, 25 de mayo de 2015

Final Four 2015: Teodosic

Photo: Euroleague.net
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

Photo: Euroleague.net
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"