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Playbook: The Cross

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A series of hypothetical sets designed to utilize Giannis’ unique skills

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Introduction

Welcome to the Playbook Series, where we’ll attempt to examine possible sets that the Bucks could implement, in order to maximize the players who are on the court at a given time.

Most analysts and fans alike are aware that the Milwaukee Bucks do not run an offense that’s complex and filled with set plays. To be accurate, they’re amongst the worst teams in the league in that department.

Not necessarily a condemning fact, as several teams employ a motion offense that depends on quick and accurate reads by the players on the court, instead of focusing on a more structured game-plan. Even more so for teams with unconventional players, such as our very own Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Designing plays for an athletically gifted, ball-handling 7-footer is not an easy task, particularly due to the lack of precedent. Coaches mostly draw their sets from other coaches, who’d successfully implemented them in the past, adding wrinkles as they see fit.

On the other hand, Antetokounmpo’s brilliance renders set plays unnecessary for the most part. His gravitational pull on the court and his ability to penetrate against even the most stout defenses usually lead to scoring opportunities for the Bucks, evident by the fact that Giannis is currently ranked second in points per game (28.2) and Milwaukee is 8th in Offensive Rating.

Nevertheless, the Bucks have been consistently going through patches of stagnation on offense, with their fourth quarter propensity of being selfish being a topic of discussion throughout the season, as the team is averaging their worst Offensive Rating in the final period of games (103.3).

It’s natural for players who expend a lot of energy throughout a game to be less likely to move around with the same effort during the 4th quarter. Particularly so if they feel like they haven’t been involved in the offense in the early parts of the game.

As I noted earlier this week on Twitter, there are ways to try and combat the issues that arise from limited player and ball movement, and we’ll have a look at some ideas in this series.

The Cross

Disclaimer: The sets that will be featured in this series have not been put to use with actual players, therefore, it’s impossible to predict how well they might translate to the NBA. The purpose of this article is to provide concepts and ideas that would work on paper, taking into account as many factors as possible.

I named the first set that we’ll be examining “The Cross.” Mainly because it sounds cool, but also because all main actions that derive from the set can be tracked down to a cross formation in the half-court. Some notes are needed before we dive right in:

  1. The set takes into account existing concepts, such as the Spain Pick and Roll, various types of Screens, the Elevator and more.
  2. Giannis on top of the key doesn’t happen often, and when it does, teams use various zone formations to stop penetration. The one used in this play is commonly used.
  3. Don’t pay close attention to the positions listed in the diagrams. This particular play is designed to be used with three shooters, with at least two having quick triggers. It is not ideal to run this play with Eric Bledsoe on the court.
  4. The basis of this play is Antetokounmpo’s ability to drive in tight lanes and make correct passes.
  5. We’re using a PF or matched-up opponent who can do reasonably well to keep Giannis in front of him.
  6. The play has 15 different outcomes, with the following players attempting a FGA: [C: 4, PF: 4, SF: 1, SG:3, PG:3]
  7. The reason that the SF has only one FGA outcome is that he’s the closest shooter to the driver’s direction. If at any point during the drive and before the action unfolds, the SF’s man moves to help, he gets an open 3PA.
  8. The concept of the set is to have a play that can lead to a FGA for every player on the court, with most actions involving everyone in one way or another.

Note: You can pause the videos at any point, to read the descriptions of the specific step you’re seeing. I’ve recorded with the speed set to slow, so you can expect the actual play to unfold much quicker.

Basic Action

This is the basic action that we’ll be using. The SG, who must be a shooter with a quick trigger, fakes a cut under the rim. The C turns from his near-elbow position and moves to set a screen for him. The SG curls towards the top of the key, with the PG flashing to the wing and the C drifting towards the baseline. The basic action ends with the SG setting a back-screen on the PF’s defender and the SF setting a flare screen for the PG.

From this point, we have four different variants that we’ll examine, depending on how the defense reacts and what match-ups seem advantageous on the court.

Basic Action: Drive

The most straightforward action in the set. The team takes advantage of significant player movement to create a driving lane or free-up a shooter.

Main action: The PF drives, the opposing SF doesn’t commit to help on the penetration as the PG has reached the wing, and the opposing C does not commit to the PF.

First wrinkle: The PF drives, the opposing SF doesn’t commit to help on the penetration as the PG has reached the wing, and the opposing C commits to challenging the PF at the rim. The PF dumps the ball off to the C.

Second wrinkle: The PF drives, the opposing SF doesn’t commit to help on the penetration as the PG has reached the wing, but the opposing SG and PF try to stop penetration. The SG flares following his screen, and the PF kicks the ball back out for the 3PA.

Third wrinkle: The PF drives and the opposing SF commits to help on the penetration. The PG reaches the wing, and the PF passes the ball for the 3PA.

Fourth wrinkle: The PF drives and the opposing SF commits to help on the penetration. The PG reaches the wing, but the opposing PG fights over the screen and moves to contest the shot. The SF moves to the corner following the screen, and the PG moves the ball for the 3PA.

Decoy Action: Drive Left

This time, the weakside action is a decoy to enable the PF to drive left with the defense being in a compromised position to defend.

Main action: The PF performs a hesitation dribble to the right and drives left, the SG pins the PF and then flashes to the top of the key. The opposing C does not commit to contest the FGA, and the SG is unable to deter the drive.

First wrinkle: Same as above. The opposing C commits to contest the FGA and the C receives the pass for the FGA.

Second wrinkle: Same as above. The opposing SF moves to challenge the drive, and the PG moves along the 3P-line for the kick-out and a 3PA.

False Action: Elevator

This action looks to take advantage of a switch on the original screen. Should the opposing team avoid the switch, expect a result similar to the next action.

Main action: The play starts as usual, with the C moving to set a screen for the SG, and the opposing players switching. As the SG reaches the middle of the floor, the SF moves towards his man and the PG moves up the 3P-line. The SG sprints straight to the opposite wing, as the PG and SF converge to set an Elevator double-screen. The opposing players are unable to get through and the PF passes to the SG for the 3PA.

First wrinkle: Same as above. The opposing SF steps away from the screen and recovers in time. The SF slips from the screen and dives to the baseline, drawing the C, while the PG moves to the corner. The PF completes his drive and dumps the ball off to the C for a mismatch against the SG.

Second wrinkle: Same as above. The SG sprints straight to the opposite wing, as the PG and SF converge as if to set an Elevator double-screen, however, the SF screens the opposing PG and the SG turns and screens the opposing SF, while the PG flashes to the wing. The PF passes to the PG for the 3PA.

Disguise Action: False Screen

The last action, which aims to disguise the SG’s movement as he aims to get open for a catch and shoot opportunity.

Main Action: The SG moves for the cut and the C moves to set the screen as part of the set. Instead, he sets a flat screen and the SG flashes to the left wing. If the opposing players are unable to recover, the PF passes to the SG for the 3PA.

First wrinkle: Same as above. The opposing C switches on to the SG. The PF drives left for the FGA.

Second wrinkle: Same as above, instead the SG helps on the drive. The PF passes to the C for the FGA.

Third wrinkle: Same as above. The opposing SG fights over the screen. The PF begins to slash and the SG passes the ball back immediately. The PF catches on the move and either passes to the C immediately if the opposing C moves to contest or takes the FGA.

Conclusion

As I mentioned previously in the article, this is by no means a set that is guaranteed to be successful in the NBA. There’s no way of knowing without having the team actually run it. However, the ideas introduced in the actions I listed should prove a valuable basis for initiating the process of trying to find ways to take advantage of Antetokounmpo’s unique skill-set, while keeping all active players engaged.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a powerful commander to battle against opposing NBA teams. Perhaps it’s time they provide him and his men the proper tools to ensure their success.