One of my favorite college basketball blogs is a site called The Mikan Drill, a site that looks at the Xs and Os of the college game. Something that they have been doing over there since the season has ended was Season Leftovers, looking at some great sets over the course of the college season. An idea so good, that I decided to bring it over here during the NBA offseason.
Despite being put in a position to win a game with a playcall just a few times a season, a lot of coaches get their reputation as a Xs and Os guy from how they perform late with the game on the line. If you run a solid set and get the basket, you are a genius. If you isolate your best player and he misses, or worse, you don’t get a shot off, you’re a fool. That’s a lot of pressure on one play.
Spurs Get Ginobili in Space to Win the Game
During their wild game against the Denver Nuggets, the Spurs found themselves trailing by one point with 7.1 seconds left. Here, Gregg Popovich used a little misdirection to get the ball to one of his best players in space, allowing him to create.
The first thing you need to notice about this play is that George Hill is standing at half court. He probably won’t get the basketball, but there is enough time on the clock (7.1 seconds) where he is at least a threat, and this forces the defense to keep someone on him, even though he won’t get the basketball. As the ball goes to the trigger man, Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson turns around and sets a screen for Manu Ginobili who uses the screen and flashes towards the basketball.
As Ginobili is flashing to the basketball, both Jefferson and Tony Parker, who was positioned on the opposite wing, run towards the basketball. The purpose of this is to clear out the paint, because as soon as Ginobili reaches the top of the key, he spins around and breaks towards the paint.
As Ginobili makes the catch, his man is trailing him and the help defense is coming late (because of Parker and Jefferson’s flash to the basketball). Ginobili isn’t in position to score here, but because there is 7.1 seconds on the clock, the goal of the play was to get him in space and let him create.
Ginobili does just that, getting to the rim and finishing over the late arriving help, giving the Spurs a one point lead. Here is the play in real time:
What makes this play so effective is that Gregg Popovich understands the situation and realizes he doesn’t need to draw up something for a quick catch-and-shoot. Once he understands that, it allows him to be more creative, getting the ball to Ginobili with nothing but space in front of him, allowing him to finish.
Suns Get Frye a Game-Winning Three
Trailing the New Jersey Nets by two points on the road, the Phoenix Suns decided that they wanted to go for the win instead of going for a two and risking a second overtime. With a number of three-point shooters on the court, Alvin Gentry uses a screen the screener set up to get Channing Frye wide-open behind the three-point line:
The play starts with Aaron Brooks on the weakside wing, Steve Nash in the corner on the weakside, and with Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat at each one of the elbows. As soon as the ball goes to the trigger man, Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks goes from the wing and flashes to the basketball, setting up in the corner on the strong side. Once Brooks clears the area, Steve Nash comes off of a pindown screen set for him by Channing Frye.
Nash curls the screen, and instead of heading to the basketball he turns and gets in position to set a pindown screen of his own. As this is happening, Gortat is also getting in position to set a pindown screen. They are setting screens for Frye, who waits until his teammates are in position and then pops out behind the three-point line.
The screens are effective, and Grant Hill throws the basketball towards Frye. What’s interesting about this is that this play takes so long to develop, Hill needs to get the ball out of his hands before getting a five second violation called on him. So instead of throwing it right to Frye, he throws the basketball to where Frye will end up.
Frye makes the catch, squares up, and knocks down the jumper before the defense can get there and bother the shot. Here is the play in real time:
Notice how the defense is caught off guard, as they are expecting Steve Nash to get the ball after coming off of Frye’s screen. Instead, he loops back around and gets in position to set a screen for Frye (along with Gortat), walling off Frye’s defender and letting him get off a clean look.