Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hoops - The Offensive Paradox

Coach Hewitt came out recently in an AJC article insinuating that our offensive scheme was too complicated and that maybe it was that complexity that bogged down our offense at times.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. I thought there were some things early on that I could have simplified to make it easier for them,” said Hewitt on Monday, referring to a loaded roster that included freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, a couple of future NBA lottery picks, maybe sooner than later. “I was talking to Dean Keener, my former assistant, who is now the head coach at [James Madison], and I told him, ‘If this group comes back intact next year, what I definitely plan to do is to kind of streamline things offensively.’ They’re so gifted. I just think you have to put them in a position where they can do something with the ball. Earlier in the year, I complicated things a little too much.”

Now, these comments have provided quite a bit of head scratching for Tech fans. After all, how can an offense be too complicated when for the most part it doesn't appear that there is one? Well, that's a gross oversimplification. The average fan is not going to be able to pick-up on the subtleties of the offense. Of course it's even more difficult in football, where the average fan understands very little of what should happen versus what did happen.

Having said that, it's difficult to truly understand what Coach Hewitt meant because there was no elaboration in the article. However, let me take a stab at it.

The first thing to know is the type of offense Coach Hewitt is trying to run - which happens to be a "motion offense". To understand the success and failure of our offense, you should understand what they are trying to accomplish. So let's talk about the basics of the motion offense. This is one of the most popular offensive schemes used in hoops today. It's a free-flowing, un-restrictive offensive. However, a better way to characterize it is to say that there is no pre-determined sequence of motion for either the player or the ball. Instead, players are taught to pass, screen and cut based on recognition of what the defense is doing.

However, putting all motion offenses into one bucket is kind of like saying all spread offenses in football are the same, and I think we know that's not close to true. There are motion offenses that rely more on cutting and those that rely more heavily on screeing. . However, there are some basic tenants of the motion offense that are common.

Rather than running set plays (which can also be run in the motion offense), players move within a basic set of rules. This allows for greater flexibility than just running set plays, and will usually be effective against any kind of defense, whether man-to-man, zone or "junk" defenses. Players can move freely to open areas on the court. Once the basic concepts are learned, special patterns or plays can be designed by the coach to take advantage of his team's offensive strengths.

Absorb that again - there are no set plays. There is no "you go here, and he goes there, then the pass goes there, he cuts that man, then you pass here for the open shot". There's none of that. Players have options. Players have to make decisions in a split second.

One of the keys of a motion offense is what coaches sometimes call "triple threat position". Perimeter players should always receive the ball in triple threat position, where the player has the options of shooting, driving to the hoop, or passing. In triple threat position, outside players should (1) look into the post, (2) read the defense and look for the opportunity for a shot, shot fake, or a dribble-move. Perimeter players should be patient and hold the ball for a count of two to allow the screens and cuts to develop. If the pass is too soon, the cutters don't have time to execute their cuts. The exception is when the defense is coming to trap, then pass immediately.

Ok, so what we have is a free-flowing offense without any set plays. Players have a set of rules to follow............... Do not stay in one place for more than 2-3 seconds............ Stay 12-15 feet away from your teammates...... Get in triple threat position, etc.......... Make your cuts............ Make your ball-screens, etc................. It's all about recognition.

It is the decision-making aspect that I think is the key to Coach Hewitt's comments on "complexity". This has to do with basketball IQ. A QB's most important traits are decision-making and accuracy. While a PG is the "QB" of the basketball team, it's a little different when every player on the floor has the ball in their hands on a regular basis and must make good decisions. In essence, they all take turns being a "QB". They must each make good decisions. They must each run through their set of options in a split second and make the right decision.

So how many choices does each player have? Is Coach Hewitt really saying that he's installed too many options for a player to consider in too short a period of time? Are these the types of things that work when you have a team full of juniors and seniors, but are very difficult when your team is led by underclassmen? I think it's a distinct possibility.

So what does "streamlining the offense" really mean? Not sure, but my guess is that it will have a lot to do with reducing the number of options that certain players will have at their disposal.

There are other aspects to consider with the motion offense
  • All your players should have decent ball handling skills. This was a real issue for the Jackets. After Javaris the ball handling ability of this team dropped off significantly. Too many of the guys are only average ball handlers and that hurts a motion offense. When you run set plays you can isolate certain guys so they don't have to handle the ball. Not so much with a motion offense.
  • Motion offenses typically take longer to develop in the half court set. That is why you don't generally see them in the NBA with the 24 second shot clock. It takes time to work the passing, spacing, screening and create the open shot.
  • Motion offenses are more difficult to showcase your most talented players. Interesting point here, but when you are not running set plays for Thaddeus Young, that means Thad has to find his own offense within the flow of the play. When he has multiple decisions to make each time he gets the ball, and multiple people are not setting screens for him (a la JJ Reddik) then it means he'll often be giving up the ball. So could it be that overall, evenly spread talent is more important that one or two guys with meteoric talent? Could be. Just look at our National Championship run. A very balanced tema. All of us still wonder why we couldn't do anything with Chris Bosh and yet we went to the NCAA final without him - maybe we have our answer.
  • Successful motion offenses are predicated on spacing an movement. There are times when our guys stop moving. That is the death wish for motion offenses.
  • Another interesting point - each player must clearly understand his shooting range. If a player moves around the floor and recieves a pass outside his range, now he's no longer a triple threat. He needs to understand where on the floor he can hit 50% of his open shots. At times this can cause significant problems for a team.
  • Coaches have a decent level of flexibility to custom-design their motion offense to fit the particular personnel on the team. In other words, they can establish different rule sets for different players based on their strengths / weaknesses. This is different from highlighting a super talented kid as mentioned above.
  • Here's another question that I wonder about - the number of people in the regular rotation. One element I do not understand is how important chemistry and familiarity plays in this. How important is it for players to have a "feel" for what their mates are going to do? How much do players develop a sense of what certain guys are going to do and how does that impact the offense? How is this impacted by "Hotel Hewitt"? I'm not saying it's a problem or not, but if gaining familiarity with guys on the floor is important, it seems thatit would be more difficult when the rotation is constantly chaning.

For a couple of interesting animations explaining the motion offense, check out these:

Blue Eagle Motion Offense Animation and Coach's Clipboard Motion Offense Animation

Just watching those animations should truly give you an appreciation of the constant decision-making going on in this scheme. I will tell you what it has convinced me - that talent is not the issue on this team. Ball handling is an issue, effort and movement are an issue, IQ is an issue, and decision-making is an issue. Hopefully you find this helpful.