August 2, 2019, 2:26 am
Hoop Ballers from around the world, welcome to our offseason Premium International Dynasty feature where we shall take a glimpse into the NBA playbook.
With the NBA season wrapped I wanted to take the time and point out to our loyal readers some plays and actions that were behind the success of many fantasy players this season. The details surrounding NBA offenses are not appreciated enough but there’s something about a perfect possession, filled with motion, screening and ball movement, that makes me excited every time I tune into an NBA game. Plus, good execution leads to numbers which, as fantasy players, we have a deep appreciation for.
While it’s always hard to see the future and to predict how guys transition from one year to another, it’s definitely easier to review the film and figure out the reason for statistical improvements. I gave my grades and Fantasy Season Awards earlier in the year, so rather than talking about the letdowns and pleasant surprises we’ll focus mostly on changes that don’t seem like flukes that will most likely continue in the coming years.
Nikola Jokic as the initiator
Mike Malone got a lot of heat last year for a young Nuggets squad that barely missed the playoffs but the franchise was smart enough to stick with him and reward him with an extension before the start of the season.
Malone and his coaching staff spent the summer focusing on how to make Nikola Jokic the epicenter of their offense and the results were magnificent with the Serbian big having a career year and leading his team to the Western Conference Semifinals where they just couldn’t overcome the experience of the Blazers.
“Double Rip” action
One of the plays that the Nuggets ran consistently was what is being called a “Double Rip Action” to get Jokic into the post where he can either score or pass to the wings.
This action has the Joker cutting to the basket as two of his teammates set a couple screens deep in the paint, forcing a lot of switching and making it hard for opposing bigs to set their feet and defend accordingly. Jokic uses his fluidity and a plethora of post moves to go one-on-one while he easily passes to open teammates when the double-team appears.
Here is the play being executed at the beginning of the third quarter with Myles Turner fighting through screens and holding his ground against Jokic, who patiently waits and finds Will Barton at the top of the key for the open triple.
On a variation of the above play, the Nuggets use the post up ability of Paul Millsap as a decoy while Jokic runs a screen-the-screener action for Jamal Murray, who ends up with the wide-open shot. I’ve also seen this action run with Jokic in the post and Miles Plumlee screening the screener.
Joe Harris as an offensive tool
Hoop Ball favorite Joe Harris had a career year with the Nets this season, averaging 13.7 points while shooting 50.0 from the field and 47.4 percent from behind the arc. Harris has major physical limitations but he earned the starting job mainly due to his high basketball IQ that allowed Kenny Atkinson to run some exceptional offensive sets through him.
The main play that Harris executed with D’Angelo Russell all year long is what is being known as “Charlie V.” It’s a play that former Nets coach Lawrence Frank named after Charlie Villanueva, who would confuse defenses up by acting like he was popping after the pick-and-roll before diving into a roll.
Look at how Wayne Ellington stays attached to Harris as he moves toward a screen set by Jarrett Allen at the top of the key. Ellington avoids going under the screen, fearing that Harris might launch the triple, inadvertently putting himself a couple steps behind as Harris sees the opening and sprints to the rim for the easy layup.
Another very successful option that leads a shooter to the corner is what is being called a “Back-Flare Screen-the-Screener” and is a popular trigger within the framework of a modern NBA offense.
The play progresses into an action where the initial screener receives a screen curling to the basket but quickly changes direction and moves to the corner for what is usually a wide-open triple. Right off the bat against the Hornets, Harris pretends to set up a screen only to quickly outrun Kemba Walker who is trapped into a Jarret Allen screen.
Pacers misdirection “Screen-the-Screener”
A variation of that play was also used by the Pacers, who traditionally aren’t a team that one associates with good offense. After Victor Oladipo went down, their offensive deficiencies were on full display but head coach Nate McMillan was successful in seeking out switches and attacking smalls in the post.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 18.0 points this season taking advantage of back-screens (usually from Daren Collison) that allowed him to operate deep in the post against smaller defenders.
Look how, on the very first possession of the game, the Pacers run this o perfection and Bogdanovic is able to finish against a helpless rookie (Kevin Knox).
Trae Young and the “Loop Elbow Lob”
Lloyd Pierce was an excellent addition to a young, rebuilding Hawks team and it was no surprise that USA Basketball announced him as an assistant coach for the Men’s National Team that will compete for the FIBA World Cup this summer.
Pierce has been instrumental in the development of Trae Young as a passing guard and one of the plays the Hawks ran consistently this season was an excellent misdirection leading to a lob for one of their wings.
Look at Kevin Huerter lurking at the top of the key before he quickly cuts to the rim and receives the hard screen from Dewayne Dedmon as J.J. Redick and Furkman Korkmaz completely fail to read the play.
Sixers Invert Pick-And-Roll
One of the latest trends in the NBA has been designing plays which exploit shooting gravity in order to create openings in their offense. The Sixers and Brett Brown have embraced that trend and have overpaid J.J. Redick the last couple years because of the veteran’s ability to allow the offense to flourish in many different ways other than pure scoring.
Under the invert pick-and-roll, a skilled big man like Joel Embiid comes off a pick from a face-guarded shooter near the elbow. Disguised as a dribble handoff, it’s a great counter to face-guarding defenses, as shooters, who are usually smaller defenders, can’t switch and their defense collapse.
Look at the Sixers running this play against Julius Randle and a helpless E’Twaun Moore. Redick sets up a solid screen that has two Pelicans trapped while Embiid drives to the basket for the uncontested dunk.
Luka Doncic running the “Elbow Curl Lob”
Doncic had an amazing first year in the league, putting up stats across the board and while we knew he could pass, not many folks predicted he would go on to average 6.0 assists per game. Luka began the season operating as the pseudo-point guard and as the season progressed and Dennis Smith Jr. was shipped to New York, he ran the majority of the offense in Dallas.
A longtime favorite in the Rick Carlisle playbook is the “Elbow Lob,” a play simple in its execution but so tough to stop, even when you see it coming.
The wing usually arrives at the elbow only to quickly shift direction and cut to the basket, taking advantage of the screen the big provides; unless the defenders communicate the switch it usually leads to an easy lob dunk or layup.
Look at how Steven Adams focuses on the upcoming pick-and-roll and completely ignores Dorian Finney-Smith, who uses the screen and elevates for the dunk after the accurate pass from Trey Burke.
The career year from Terrence Ross
Steve Clifford found a role for his swingman that allowed Ross to enter the game and attack defenses relentlessly. Ross had a career year and it’s the perfect example of a player being put in the right position to succeed.
The coaching staff didn’t just give him the ball, instructing him to score, but they specifically ran a few plays exclusively for him again and again. The general idea was to have the Magic line up in a compressed set with non-threatening spacing where Ross sprints around the screens and executes before the defense can react.
“Ram Alley Double Level”
You’ve probably seen the unorthodox shot from Ross quite a few times this year in an action where he comes off the curl and releases a jump shot or the floater as a couple of his teammates set consecutive screens that give him the necessary space. The Magic often had trouble scoring the ball and it was interesting how they kept running the same play on and on again. Here is Michael-Carter-Williams dropping the pass to the cutting Ross.
“Ram Deuce Down”
Another very effective play had the Magic overloading one side of the floor while leaving Ross stationed in the corner, where he was almost always able to beat his opponent via backdoor pass with his speed and athleticism. Look at Pat MacCaw unable to read the play as Ross quickly cuts to the basket and finishes with authority all while Serge Ibaka is far away trying to keep an eye on Khem Birch.
Mike D’Antoni and the “Free Screen”
I’m a big fan of Mike D’Antoni’s offensive schemes that have revolutionized the NBA the last few years and the veteran coach did not disappoint this year, coming up with a new set play that combines the toughness of P.J. Tucker with the elite scoring of James Harden and Eric Gordon.
There aren’t many innovators in coaching but usually a few key figures who change the way everybody else thinks and D’Antoni is one of those innovators. The “Free Screen” is another way to spring an elite scorer open, faking a back screen and flipping the angle into a down screen.
Look at Justise Winslow playing it safe, assuming that Harden is going to cut to the rim as the Beard instead uses Tucker’s screen to walk to the top of the arc where he launches the triple.
The Jazz are a must watch for any X’s and O’s junkie as Quin Snyder is a tactical savant and his team features a series of creative and exciting after-timeout plays (ATOs), which give the coach full control of his offense.
Over-running the Dribble Handoff
One of the new concepts that I’ve seen this year is what coaches call “over-running the dribble handoff,” and it’s a simple way to spring free a shooter who is being denied on the perimeter. The Jazz are one of the first teams that have implemented this play in their offensive arsenal and it has led, unsurprisingly, to Rudy Gobert, who is by default one of the better screen-setters in the league, averaging a career-high 2.0 assists for the season.
Here is Derrick Favors running this play with Kyle Korver, as Tim Frazier has no clue how to defend the screen. The key on this play is the screener, who reverse-pivots into the handoff and gets further from the basket, allowing the DHO to serve as a screen.
Defensive switching has become an integral part of today’s NBA and coaches are smart to take advantage of teams who refuse to switch or lack the personnel to do so. Snyder has found another way to create easy buckets for Gobert by using a side screen while the Frenchman cuts to the basket, where he either has to go against a smaller opponent or has a clean look.
Here is Donovan Mitchell setting up the screen down low as Mitchell Robinson gets trapped on the elbow; Henry Ellenson rotates timely but regardless, Gobert is too deep into the paint to be contained.
Marcin Gortat’s “Snake Screen”
Marcin Gortat’s rebounding numbers have declined the last few years while he hasn’t been able to effectively protect the paint, but his playing career has been extended due to his ability to set up elite screens for his teammates. He was also the one that invented a very effective concept versus drop coverage that has gained steam in the NBA over the last several years.
This action requires that after the big sets up the initial screen for the pick-and-roll with his point guard, he slowly coordinates with the latter cutting to the basket, providing a deep second screen to eliminate the drop protection that the defender provides close to the basket.
Gortat has been running this play with John Wall since last year but it’s a concept that is being adopted widely around the league with the Spurs adding it to their arsenal this season. Here is DeMar DeRozan receiving the first screen from Jakob Poeltl, who follows him toward the basket and screens Steven Adams, allowing the Spurs guard to drive for the easy layup.
How the Raptors exposed the Bucks
Toronto was able to win four straight against the Bucks and while much has been written about successfully slowing Giannis Antetokounmpo, I want to emphasize the offensive side of the ball where Marc Gasol torched his opponents in the pick-and-roll action.
Coach Bud run a great program in Milwaukee all year long but his team opted not to switch and instead drop back with Brook Lopez as their anchor. The Celtics gave them a rude awakening in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals but they were able to quickly adjust and recover.
Unfortunately, that was not the case against Gasol and the Raptors as Bud failed to adjust after Milwaukee took what seemed to be a commanding 2-0 lead. Gasol went 2-of-9 from behind the arc in the first couple games but 10-of-20 in the next four as Lopez kept rolling to the basket, allowing open looks for Big Spain.
Hope you enjoyed reading this month’s article and please free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar for any fantasy or dynasty trade talk. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
February 22, 2020, 11:52 pmBojan BogdanovicSF, Utah Jazz
Bojan Bogdanovic was limited to scoring just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting with one trey and six rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Rockets.
Bogdanovic is running a bit cold right now with this being the second straight game where he's uncharacteristically shot 30 percent or less from the field. He's a .451 shooter on the season so an upward correction should be on the near horizon.
February 22, 2020, 11:49 pmRudy GobertC, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was quiet in Saturday's loss to the Rockets and was limited to posting just 12 points (3-of-7 FGs, 6-of-9 FTs), six rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes.
Unfortunately for Gobert owners, the Rockets matchup was not a stylistically favorable one for him. This low-end line is not a cause for concern and he should bounce back soon once the Jazz face teams with non-micro-ball systems.
February 22, 2020, 11:45 pmDonovan MitchellSG, Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell hit 12-of-24 shots from the field and 6-of-7 at the line for 31 points, seven rebounds, one 3-pointer and three assists in a loss to the Rockets on Saturday.
Mitchell has been a top-50 play on the season, but if he's going to carry the Jazz on his shoulders moving forward, his needle should be headed in the right direction as the season winds to a close.
February 22, 2020, 11:42 pmMike ConleyPG, Utah Jazz
Mike Conley returned from a three-game absence on Saturday and got a full complement of minutes (34), allowing him to post 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting with seven rebounds, seven assists and one 3-pointer.
Conley's minutes are a sign that he's got the trainers' full confidence to go full blast. He got an extra rest day (Friday) to recover from an illness, which now is clearly behind him. He did struggle with his shot tonight, but Conley should put up better lines than this moving forward.
February 22, 2020, 11:37 pmJames HardenPG, Houston Rockets
James Harden powered the Rockets to a 120-110 win over the Jazz on Saturday with 39 points (13-of-23 shooting), five rebounds, seven assists, six 3s, two steals and one block in 37 minutes.
Harden has looked fresh, locked and loaded ever since the ASB. He's now trending back into the top-1 conversation in 9-cat formats. Fear the Beard, now more than ever.
February 22, 2020, 11:32 pmBen McLemoreSG, Houston Rockets
Ben McLemore was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, all from beyond the arc to finish Saturday with 12 points and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
Ben-Mac is a streaky shooter and he got hot tonight. The return of Eric Gordon (12 points, 24 minutes) will surely eat into McLemore's outlook for the remainder of the season.
February 22, 2020, 11:29 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon (left leg contusion) returned to action on Saturday and put up 12 points (5-of-11 shooting) with three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 24 minutes off the bench.
The Rockets made Gordon come off the bench since this was his first game back after missing three straight, leading all the way before the All-Star break. The 25 minutes are a good sign and the minutes will be there for him as long as he's healthy. That said, his not much more than a points-and-3s streamer in standard leagues.
February 22, 2020, 11:24 pmAron BaynesC, Phoenix Suns
Aron Baynes (left hip soreness) saw 13 minutes off the bench on Saturday and was able to muster four points (2-of-3 shooting) and one steal.
Baynes will need to find his way back to playing time in the mid-20s before we can comfortably recommend an add in deep leagues. Keep him on the wire while he gets his legs back.
February 22, 2020, 11:20 pmMikal BridgesSF, Phoenix Suns
Mikal Bridges swiped four steals and blocked one shot in a superb effort on defense in Saturday's win over the Wolves, adding eight points, six rebounds and two assists.
Ever since turning the corner past the midpoint of the season, Bridges has been simply awesome as a 3-and-D guy for the Suns. There's no reason at this point to think that he'll slow down or that the Suns will modify his current role and usage, so ride him until the season winds to a close.
February 22, 2020, 11:14 pmKendrick NunnPG, Miami Heat
Kendrick Nunn led the way in the Heat's 124-105 win over the Cavs on Saturday, tallying 24 points (7-of-12 FG), eight assists, two steals, one block and four 3-pointers.
Bam Adebayo was on his way to a big game as well but stopped at 26 minutes because of the blowout, finishing with 15 points, three rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a block on 7-of-9 shooting. Nunn rode a hot start to the year to middle-round value but he's easily outside the top-150 over the last month and is only worth your attention in standard leagues if you need some scoring punch.