Game 1: Blazers Blunder Guarding Curry

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was not as promising as the Portland Trailblazers had it would be. Golden State’s Splash Bros. went nuclear.

Once Kevin Durant sustained his strained calf injury in its previous series versus the Houston Rockets, Warriors guard Stephen Curry routinely faced traps and double teams just begging him to get rid of the ball. Although this strategy did not seem to faze Curry, considering he scored 33 points against Harden and Co., the Trailblazers opted for another method: drop the big. Let’s take a look at how that worked out for Portland.

Right from tip-off, the Portland Trailblazers indicated to all of us indeed how they were going to try and guard Curry in ball-screens. Although, most probably though, most of the basketball world assumed it was a simple miscommunication.

The Warriors began the game with a patented set within its offense, which I’d call “Swing Pin Fist” that gets Curry in a side ball-screen where he can attack the defense as he pleases. Watch how when Curry comes off, how deep #00 Enes Kanter is from where Curry releases his shot from. It is as if Steph is on the wide open plains of America’s grasslands with how much space he’s given.

Even though he misses this first attempt, it was a sign of potential similar opportunities to come throughout the entirety of the matchup.

Here’s another instance in which Curry misses a shot in transition, but the Trailblazers defense enables him to get into the lane with the greatest of ease.

Kanter is so deep in the paint that he cannot even contest a mid-range floater attempt. Curry should have just shot a good ol’ fashioned jump shot from this distance. Open looks like these gave Curry the proverbial green light as he must have realized he’d have similar type shots coming his way the rest of the night.

The end of the first half proved to be a critical sequence for the Trailblazers just as much as it was for the Warriors in extending its advantage. Again, it is another transition drag situation in which Looney is coming from a downward angle toward Lillard to set the ball-screen.

Curry influences Lillard with a subtle hesitation to allow Looney to flip the screen with Kanter NOWHERE IN SIGHT! By the time Curry releases the ball, Kanter only had time to play a round of hopscotch as he watched the basketball splash through the net.

On the ensuing possession, the Trailblazers allow Curry to get away from them, yet again, and perform his own version of acrobatics. The Trailblazers make their greatest mistake is by how low they have Kanter playing so he offers zero resistance to Curry as he dribbles to his right.

CJ McCollum, the primary defender of Curry on this particular play, is asked to chase around the 2x MVP and quite possibly greatest shooter ever without any help whatsoever. Putting someone on Curry island is about the cruelest assignment anyone could want to take on.

In this final clip, it is just a continuation of what we’ve seen already in these previous instances. The action is the carbon copy of the first clip which was shown at tip-off. Kanter is once again so far off of Curry that as he comes off the screen, which Looney sets a very solid ball-screen on Damian Lillard, all #30 needs to do is pull-up for yet another wide-open three-point shot.

Poor Damian Lillard could not get even get a hand-up on Curry’s three-point attempt.

It was a night of blunders and misery for the Trailblazers. Game 2 will offer the road team a chance to make some adjustments in the hopes that they can slow Curry and the Warriors three-point barrage as a whole.

A Defensive Slippage: Warriors need to ramp up focus & effort vs. Clippers

The Golden State Warriors, a team which has prided itself on its defensive intensity and focus, are showing cracks in its foundation that are making them more vulnerable than ever before.

Steph Curry (Gm.5) ClipsPhoto Courtesy: Sky Sports

According to NBA.com’s advanced analytics, the Warriors rank just 11th in defensive efficiency so far this postseason. The Oklahoma City Thunder (#9) and Orlando Magic (#10), teams which were bounced 4-1 in the 1st round of the NBA playoffs, even rank ahead of the Dubs on defense. And yet, these fixes for the Warriors are manageable, all it comes down to is energy, effort and focus.

Let’s look at some clips from game 5 which highlight why the Warriors defense has tapered off this postseason and has many uneasy about their path toward a three-peat.

Draymond Green: Poor Foot Placement Allows Middle Drive

 

The Warriors struggled in the first half on defense due to what Steve Kerr attributed to a lack of urgency, concentration and following of the scouting report. In this clip, Draymond Green gets switched onto Lou Williams. Draymond Green’s foot position is the issue here as he simply gives Williams a direct line drive to the basket. I cannot imagine giving a straight line drive was on the scouting report. The inability to contain the dribble drives forces Shaun Livingston to step up and help, which forces #5 Kevon Looney to leave Clippers forward JaMychal Green wide open for a 3-point shot.

Durant takes after Draymond — Gives up Middle Drive

 

Draymond Green was not the only culprit of allowing middle drives, his teammate Kevin Durant fell into the same trap. The problem for Durant here, which was the case most of the night, was that he stood straight up, not in an athletic stance, which had him a step behind from the get-go. Allowing #23 Williams again to get middle forces the low-man, #30 Stephen Curry to have to step-up, #34 Shaun Livingston to have to rotate out and cover two men at once. Therefore, #20 Landry Shamet hits his teammate Patrick Beverly for an open 3-point look. The good thing here is that Curry recovers out well to offer a contest on Beverly’s shot for it to miss.

Durant is Caught NOT in athletic stance OR ready to guard:

 

Here’s another instance of Kevin Durant being caught in the act of not being in a stance. On this possession, as #30 Stephen Curry and #9 Andre Iguodala engage in ball-screen defense, you can see Durant, who is just one pass away, literally standing straight up-and-down. This allows Lou Williams to hit Danilo Gallinari for an open look from distance. Even though the shot was missed, this lack of focus came back to bite the Warriors all night long.

Splash Bros Play Hopscotch & Beverly Takes Advantage:

 

This is a mix-up toward the end of the half between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. For whatever reason, Curry and Thompson cannot decide who wants to take #21 Patrick Beverly and instead play a game of hopscotch. What’s even worse is that Curry flys by the shooter doesn’t box out and allows Beverly to get his own rebound and kick the ball out to an open teammate for yet another open look. This sequence epitomized the defensive performance on the night for the Warriors in a major way.

Assuming puts Draymond in No-Man’s Land

 

Draymond is back again too in this clip as he gets completely turned around on where his defensive assignment gets up. Lou Williams comes off a dribble hand-off toward the top of the key where #4 JaMychal Green slips out of a ball-screen to the opposite side of the floor. Meanwhile, #17 Garrett Temple comes to set a second ball-screen for Williams. This where Warriors’ forward Draymond Green makes this critical mistake. He assumes that because JaMychal Green is slipping he’s rolling to the basket, but instead, he pops to the opposite wing. As Williams comes off the screen from Temple, Draymond is looking for JaMychal in the lane and he’s nowhere to be found. In a 3-point game, the Clippers get yet another open look to extend their advantage to six late in the third quarter.

Warriors violate the Cardinal Rule: The Ball Scores

 

Lastly, this play is a tough one to watch from an elite defender like Klay Thomspon. I’m sure he would even admit that he gaffed this play based upon a basic rule: the ball scores. As the Warriors hard-hedge a ball-screen with #12 Andrew Bogut it leaves Montrezl Harrell wide open in the middle of the lane. Thomspon, who’s on the weakside guarding #20 Landry Shamet, makes the mistake of simply stunting at Harrell instead of making him kick it to a teammate of his.

Klay’s teammate, Kevin Durant, again though is also copable because he’s seen unready to rotate to help take Shamet when Klay takes Harrell. It is evident that on this particular play, Thompson stunted because he must not have trusted Durant to take the rotation to Shamet, which he was correct about in this case.

If Golden State has plans to win back-to-back-to-back championships, subtleties and details like these on defense must get corrected. Thankfully, all it requires is more energy, focus and concentration for the Warriors to once again reclaim their place as the most formidable force in the NBA once again.

Mental Health — It Is Not a Game

“If you want to go quickly, you go alone. If you want to go far, we must all go together.”

Keyon Dooling, a former Mizzou Basketball player, who serves as the vice president for the NBA Player’s Association, has taken this quote to heart from his former coach Doc Rivers through his journey championing mental health.

Keyon Celtics

Dooling, who came back to Mizzou on October 10th, otherwise known as “World Mental Health Day” spoke to the entire athletics staff about his own journey with his mental health. The 13-year NBA veteran also spoke about the trends he’s seen, to date, in how the next generation of NBA players are talking about what mental health is and looks like as well as what coaches can do to support their student-athletes.

Hearing from an individual, like Dooling, who could speak to his own, traumatic experience that he held within himself for over 25 years, made the former Missouri Tiger incredibly vulnerable and honest to listen to.

Dooling talked about four main avenues that coaches need to consider when it comes to mental health. One, everyone has been through or is going through something. This is of course true. Even though everything might seem great on the outside when someone interacts with you, that does not mean on the inside they’re not dealing with turmoil and demons of their own. The lesson is to pay attention to others around you, look for unusual behavior and track those patterns.

Second, it is okay to get help. Therapy is an avenue that is still stigmatized in our society that is oft-seen as “weak-minded,” or “soft” to its critics. However, Dooling stated that without getting the help he needed that the likelihood would not have been high he might have traveling the nation and world discussing his own mental health struggles.

Third, coaches and our society as a whole need to change the narrative when it comes to how the profession sees and handles mental health. Athletes, in general, are supposed to be resilient, strong and unemotional by our society’s traditional standards and role definitions. Dooling stated that this barrier needs to be broken down and that so far he has seen this generation of newcomers to the NBA are far more willing to talk about mental health and what it is to them.

Lastly, healing is possible! No matter what anyone might or might not be going through, there is a road to recovery. That is when it comes down to the coaches, administrators and the culture cultivated within the athletics environment that Dooling stated can jumpstart the process of a student-athlete seeking out help.

Keyon Dooling

Yet, what stood out most above all else was when Dooling said: “sometimes our silence speaks the loudest volumes.” Think about that, it is an oxymoron of sorts in that how can silence speak the loudest. Yet, it makes so much sense in the context of listening. Coaches need to listen to their players and allow them to tell their whole story first. Advice-giving, when it comes to mental health for coaches, is not as important as giving the student-athlete full disclosure to speak their mind and know that you will listen rather than speak and offer advice at every turn.

Student-athletes need to know we’re all in for them, not just as players but as people. When a coach achieves that, it will go far to continuing the needed conversations that need to take place surrounding this issue. Mental health is not a game. Rather, it’s an issue that needs as much care and time dedicated to it as our coaches give to gameplans.

“If you want to go quickly, you go alone. If you want to go far, we must all go together.”

Belmont’s Offensive Master Class

If I were to name a school that perennially boasts one of college basketball’s top offensive attacks, would the Belmont University Bruins be one of those first programs you’d think of? For the average basketball fan, the answer is quite likely no. And yet, if you want a master class when it comes to ball-movement, quick and effective decision-making and a quintessential exhibition in unselfishness, then Rick Byrd’s Belmont Men’s Basketball Program is your cup of tea.

Synergy Sports, which is a video software company that tracks a multitude of offensive, defensive and miscellaneous numerical categories for every NCAA basketball program in America, rates Belmont as one of the best statistical offenses in the country. Last season, the Bruins finished with a rating of “excellent,” in other words averaging > 1 pts. per possession (PPP) in seven of the 12 possible categories, it qualified for on offense.

Specifically, the Bruins were most potent off of spot-ups, ball-screens and off-ball cuts for scores. In this video breakdown, we’re going to take a specific look at a few of the ways Belmont breaks defenses down and does so in a methodical, yet beautiful way.

1. Spot-Ups (1.059 PPP, 92nd percentile in NCAA)

 

What I hope that your first notice from these four clips is that three out of the four involve a skip pass or a pass that involves changing sides of the floor to force the defense into long, hurried closeouts. For example, in clip 1 with Belmont facing off of against Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Championship Game from this past season, the point guard works off the single drag and fires a right-handed fireball straight out of a cartoon to the weakside corner for a wide-open, knockdown three-pointer. The skip pass is a lost art in today’s modern era of college basketball with so much emphasis placed upon dribble drive into an ultimate penetrate and pitch. Yet, Belmont Coach Rick Byrd is known for preaching this type of a pass as defenses have become less and less accustomed to guarding such an option.

Clip 2 involves a 4-out 1-in motion which develops into a “Horns” set culminating in a side ball-screen read & react off of it. The ball never gets set in one player’s hands too long as #1 works back from where he originally drove the ball to the three-point line to get an open look at a 3-point shot as his defender completely loses sight of him.

Clip #3 is a great example of working and manipulating the ball-screen to death until a lane opens up. The defender guarding #1 actually does a good job the first couple times versus the ball-screen. However, it is that third and fourth time through that eventually opens up a lane and allows #1 to drive hard and kick out to a wide-open teammate on the perimeter.

Clip #4 involves great motion offense and yet again another example of the skip pass to the weakside corner. There is constant motion and a lack of standing around that makes this set work in particular. The point guard, #1, does an excellent job of throwing a difficult back to his left while dribbling to the right-hand side of the floor as the low, weak-side defender (who is tasked with tagging the role man) comes too far into the paint exposing the backside corner for an open shot from downtown. What may go overlooked is #41’s direct rim-run which occupies this weak-side defender and forces him to respect the potential dump-off for a layup.

Cuts (1.458 PPP, 100th percentile in NCAA)

 

The video in this section does more justice than any type of writing that I could ever do it justice. Yet, what I would like for you to notice is the amount of movement and how each cut has a purpose and force to it. Golden State Warriors’ head coach always talks about his team playing with a certain “magnitude of force.” It seems as if that message is echoed by Rick Byrd to his players as well.

Backcuts are a staple of any Belmont highlight reel. What I most appreciate about this offensive approach is how aware of each and every one of Belmont’s players are cognizant to their man in relation to their own floor position and where the ball is too. This first clip illustrates this entire segment best. As #1 comes off the side ball-screen, #3 notices that his defender remains elevated and loses sight of his relative position on the floor. This opens #3 up to make a simple read and reaction cut toward the rim for as the announcer stated “beautiful” pass and finish.

I absolutely love clip 4, (Belmont vs. TCU), which involves a side ball-screen and a weakside double stagger. What is so nice about how this action is executed is the time of it. As the point guard comes off the side ball-screen action, #11 is flying off the weak-side double pindown (a.k.a. double stagger) and tic-tac-toes a pass right into the gut of the rim-rolling big man for an emphatic dunk. The play is timed up so well that as soon as #11 gets it, the ball is played like a game of hot potato to the next man so he can finish it off.

The back-cut on the road at Providence with a minute-and-a-half is not too shabby either (just saying…).

BLOBs (Bruins Like to Eat in the Painted Area)

 

Lastly, I thought I would throw in a couple BLOB (Baseline Out-of-Bounds) sets in this video breakdown because they also emphasize how Belmont emphasizes its unselfishness mentality in these scenarios as well.

Clip #1 is outstanding in many ways because it uses an elevator screening action as window dressing to mask the real intention of this play, which is to hit #3 on the back-cut to a completely empty-side of the floor. Like I said, Rick Byrd is granting us all a masterclass on how to run an offense after all.

Our final play begins in a 1-4 set up which is my favorite type of baselines out-of-bounds setup. (Check out my Xavier BLOBs video breakdowns for all the goods on why I think this way). In any event, #3 who starts on the ball-side block backs up like he’s going to receive a catch, but instead gets a screen from the weak-side block big-man (#32). With the entire paint area at his disposal, #3 is able to wheel and deal a picture-perfect righty hook shot over his defender to give the Bruins the lead with under a minute to go on the road.

Wrap-Up:

Belmont is as good of a program as it comes when breaking down how a culture of unselfishness breeds offensive fluidity and efficiency. It is no secret, hopefully now, as to why Belmont is consistently one of the best basketball studies for anyone when it comes to offensive basketball in general. Let me know what you think of these clips and if you already implement some of these similar concepts within your offense.

* All points per possession (PPP) figures courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech *

Slip & Dive — Clint Capela in Transition

Houston Rockets Center Clint Capela has burst onto the scene as one of the premier energizer-bunny type-of-players in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

And yet, in addition to his rim-to-rim energy plays, Mike D’Antoni’s offensive attack has also taken advantage of the Swiss-born big’s willingness to run and get easy points at the basket.

Each of these four clips features Capela running in transition and entering into a “drag” action. This concept should sound familiar to my last post, which was all about the Marshall Thundering Herd’s transition offensive attack, as of course, Marshall uses many of the similar concepts that Rockets do on the move.

What you will notice is that instead of setting the screen, Capela, in turn, slips to the rim. The end result; a combination of four layups and dunks right near the hoop.

Slipping, for those that do not know, means that when a player sets his body to set a screen, the player breaks off the screening action and never actually makes contact with the guard or primary defender.

Slipping the ball-screen has become one of my favorite subtleties to study as it inhibits switching defenses from feeling as comfortable switching as it might like. Often times, a defense likes to switch attached, defender-to-defender, to keep the opponents from getting in the lane. Therefore, a slip to the rim throws a wrench into the defensive gameplan for any defense. Hence, by negating the defense’s perceived control, slipping ball-screens can help reclaim an offense’s sense of control over its opposition.

How often do your teams use slips to the rim in your offense? Just a subtle nuance and addition to a coach’s playbook can diversify an offensive portfolio that much more.

Marshall Thundering Herd’s Transition “O” — Drags & Slips

The Marshall Thundering Herd, under the leadership of Dan D’Antoni, the younger brother of Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, have fully adopted the “7 seconds or Less” concept when it comes to its offense. What makes this Run-‘N’-Gun style of attack so difficult to guard is how well Marshall manipulates the floor to create advantages, on the move, that places the defense in precarious positions almost every time down the floor. Let’s take a look at how its transition offense gives fits to any defense who dare tries to slow the Thundering Herd stampede down.

“Single Drag — Empty”

(Video & Breakdown Courtesy of Radius Athletics)

Transition offense is the bread & butter of the Marshall Thundering Herd. In this first example, called a drag action, the tenants and principles of this team’s system are on display. Notice as the point guard (#33) brings the ball down the right side of the floor that all four of his teammates are off to the left-hand side of the floor. The guards/wings form a “two-side” and the other big is in a trail position behind the play. This is what Marshall has intended on purpose. D’Antoni often likes to run his drag, double drags and miscellaneous other transition actions with an empty corner.

Empyting the corner is an odd subtlety that can mess with a defensive team’s rotation since it is more uncommon than it is otherwise. Hence, as #11 comes downward to set the drag screen another nuance becomes noticeable. Marshall LOVES to slip many of its ball-screens. The decision to slip ball-screens is very hard on any and all switching defenses. This is because teams that like to switch might not communicate loud and early enough, or perhaps might simply get lazy and attempt to jump the switch before it happens. Since #11 breaks off the screen early and indeed slips, he has an easy path to the rim as #33 floats a beautiful lob pass toward the rim for the slam dunk.

Takeaways:

— Marshall will run their transition actions toward an empty corner to negate any and all possible help options from the defense.
— Slipping ball-screens is a tenant of many transition actions that the Thundering Herd run.
— Slips on ball-screens CAPITALIZE on switch-oriented or lazy/non-communicative defenses.

“Double Drag”

(Video & Breakdown Courtesy of Radius Athletics)

In addition to single drags, Marshall will mix up its variation of the same drag concept by bringing to two players into the equation as ball-screeners in transition. The setup is a little different than the last one as since there are two players going to screen. Therefore, the Thundering Herd makes the decision to fill both corners.

In this example, you’ll see something similar to what we just saw in the last play. Watch as #11, the first screener out front slips the ball-screen again and rim-runs to the painted area. The defender actually does a decent job at first of trying to level off the rim-running big. But, the pass by #33 is floated so nicely over-the-top that there is nothing the defender can do once he gets too far back on his heels. The play results in a tough finish around the rim for two points.

This is yet another instance in which the slipping of a ball-screen versus making contact and rolling, results in an easy opportunity at the rim for Marshall out of its transition flow.

Takeaways:

— Marshall sets this action up with a guard occupying each corner of the halfcourt.
— #11 again slips to the rim (never sets the screen) and scores off the pretty lob.

“Double Drag — Empty — Reject”

(Video & Breakdown Courtesy of Radius Athletics)

Our last example incorporates a little bit of each of the previous two actions we have looked at to this point. In this example, although it is hard to tell, the strong-side, or ball-side corner is actually empty (this is indicated by Radius Athletics with the green box at the beginning). Now, not only is there a two-side formed by the guards on the weak-side, (two-side meaning two players on the same of the court), but now Marshall is engaging in a double-drag action WITH an empty corner.

This example is very much reminiscent of the first video in which four players were all on one side of the floor as well. Yet, in this case, what #33 does is genius in this situation. Instead of using the double-drag and going into the traffic, he actually slows his body up and then crosses over into an explosive first-step dribble move that enables him an easy path right by the defender with a whole side of the floor to operate on. We call what the #33 does in this situation as a “reject.” “Reject” means that a player turns down or does not use a screen and instead goes away from it. This sudden change of direction catches #33’s defender on the back of his heels and gives the attacking point-guard a quick upper-hand as he goes to finish at the rim.

Takeaways:

– Setup to this action resembles the “Single Drag” (one screener) action with an “Empty” corner
– Marshall PG, #33, “Rejects,” or turns down the ball-screen to take advantage of the empty side of the floor.

Wrap-Up:

So, as you can see, the Marshall Thundering Herd’s transition attack is indeed as lethal as there is in college basketball. This is, of course, is just a minute sample size. There are numerous other examples of how Marshall plays with an aggressive tempo off of both makes and misses alike. I hope you enjoyed this dive into the Marshall Thundering Herd transition offensive attack. Let me know what you think about what you saw here in the comments below.

Wisdom in the Words of Others

I have an affinity for quotes and this latest group of eight that I’ve come across in my life are no different. A handful of these phrases of wisdom come from a book that I am reading called “The Leadership Playbook” by Jamy Bechler, who is a renowned leadership speaker and former college basketball coach. In addition, a couple of these insights have surfaced from my general interest in philosophy as well as through my new-founded meditative practices.

Maybe one of these eight pieces of wisdom rings true for you. Feel free to write, down below in the comments section, about which one impacts you most and why that’s the case.

As I journey through the profession of basketball coaching, I have to remember that more important than the games is the point of serving of others. In particular, the young people who I hope to impact one day, in the future, as a coach.

–  “You cannot change your destiny overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” – Jim Rohn 

–  “Patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you’re waiting.”                           – Joyce Meyer

–  “Leadership is not about positions, titles or flowcharts but about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell

–  Mastery of others is strength. Mastery of self is true power.” – Lao Tzu

–  “A good leader gets people to follow him because they want to, not because he makes them.” – Tony Dungy

–  “Not every player can be a star player, but every player must be a star at their role.”   – Jay Bilas

–  “Everybody can be great because anyone can serve.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

–  “Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”                         – Groucho Marx