Introducing our new series that takes an in-depth look at NBA strategy and play design.
There are a few new things that we had planned to integrate into our Bucks coverage this season, but with no Bucks games to cover they have been sitting on the shelf waiting for prime time. Rather than wait for the Bucks basketball to come to us, it feels like a good time seek out what Bucks basketball we do have to test one of our new segments.
In the Brew Hoop Breakdown series, I will be taking a closer look at plays by either team that display superior design and/or execution qualities. The deep strategy of basketball is something that can often go overlooked during fast-paced NBA action, so this series is meant to provide an opportunity to isolate great strategies and examine the details behind some of the most successful plays. Let's get back to appreciating the game we love by taking a look at Andrew Bogut's game-winning tip against the Indiana Pacers in this edition of the Brew Hoop Breakdown.
Game Situation: Fourth quarter, game tied 95-95. After Roy Hibbert airballed his shot attempt on Indiana's previous possession, the Bucks were left with 0.5 seconds for a side-court inbound play.
- The initial action of the play involves Brandon Jennings setting a cross screen to allow John Salmons an angle to the near-side corner, and Andrew Bogut setting a down screen to free Ersan Ilyasova to show at the top of the key. As with most inbounds plays in the NBA, the initial movement is typically a precursor to the real essence of the play.
- In most cases, it makes sense to think about the initial movements of an NBA inbounds play being akin to pre-snap motions in football. Those introductory actions are done for two reasons: (1) to get an initial read on whether the defense is playing a man-to-man or zone-based scheme, and (2) to create favorable matchups for the offense.
- In this play, Salmons and Ilyasova are merely dummy options that reveal to the inbounder, LRMAM, that the Pacers are playing man-to-man defense and are NOT switching screens. Presumably, if things go terribly wrong Salmons and Ilyasova have moved to spots on the court where they can serve as last-ditch outlets to avoid a five second count.
- The initial design of the play not only signals to LRMAM that the Pacers are playing straight man defense, it also creates a matchup problem for the Pacers in the center of the court. If the Pacer defenders had any hopes of switching screens on Jennings or Bogut, the task becomes nearly impossible with the vast differences in quickness and size between the two men. In essence, Skiles has created a situation in the center of the court where he knows the Pacers can't switch the screen.
- To illustrate the matchup problem, I have visualized the two options for the defense. If the Pacers had attempted to switch the backscreen set by Jennings, he would have had inside leverage on the slower Jeff Foster and an opportunity to catch-and-shoot at the elbow while moving to his dominant left-hand. Not a great outcome for the Pacers.
- Furthermore, Darren Collison would have been charged with the task of defending the rim against the much taller Andrew Bogut, making a well thrown tip pass largely academic. In truth, by this point in the play the Pacers had no choice but to remain in straight man-to-man and fight through the backscreen.
- Unable to switch the screen, the Pacers defenders are left at the mercy of Brandon Jennings, who sets a very solid screen and leaves Jeff Foster in the trail position as Bogut darts towards the hoop.
- LRMAM times his two-handed soccer throw to coincide with the moment Bogut guides Foster into Jennings' backscreen, and Bogut is left with just enough space to gently tip the pass with his right hand and clinch the victory. Game over. Bucks win.
- Great play design and perfect execution earned the Bucks an emotional home victory over a division rival, and hopefully this breakdown has deepened your appreciation of how the play was set up and why it was so successful.
I hope you enjoyed taking a closer look at Bucks strategy, and when the season begins I will be able to do this with fresh and relevant plays on a semi-regular basis. Let us know what you think.