Last year, at this time, everyone wrote about the beauty and ball movement of the San Antonio Spurs offense. A series of posts that I wrote eventually became the genesis for SABA: The Antifragile Offense. Now, with Atlanta’s loss to the Cavaliers, everyone is writing about the deficiencies of the same philosophy and offense.
Rather than focus on the triple threat and triple threat moves, we need to teach the game starting with the team (actions to disorganize the defense) and moving to the individual (reading the space and deciding whether to make the next pass, drive the closeout, or shoot). Players need to learn to play in space and anticipate the space, making quicker decisions, and not allowing the defense to re-set.
In Zach Lowe’s feature on the Hawks’ future, he included this short clip of the defense going under an on-ball screen for Jeff Teague:
They ducked under screens on Teague pick-and-rolls, walling off his penetration and allowing their own big men to stick with Horford and Paul Millsap instead of sliding over to help. Horford and Millsap tore apart defenses on free rolls to the rim when teams trapped Teague, but that option suddenly evaporated against Cleveland.
In the video, this is visible. However, Teague’s pick-and-roll manages to create a small advantage: When Demarre Carroll receives the pass from Teague, he has a small advantage. J.R. Smith closes out well and attempts to take away the middle as there are three offensive players and their defenders to the baseline side.
When the ball is in the air, and on the reception, Carroll has a small advantage. As Smith stunts toward Teague, he turns his back toward Carroll. The small advantage disappears when Carroll stands still and immediately drops the ball into triple-threat position below his waist on the reception.
Carroll had two options to create something off the Teague penetration: (1) He could have moved to the catch of the pass to start his drive before he had the ball, thus catching Smith off-guard. Dwayne Wade is probably the best player in the NBA at this; (2) He could have slid higher on the court as Teague penetrated and attacked to the middle as soon as the ball hit his hands without moving to triple-threat first.
Most coaches see the catch and triple threat as basketball 101. That is precisely how the game should be taught (below). However, he gave away a small advantage. I do not know what happened after the video ends, but it is likely that someone had to create a shot by going 1v1. They have poor spacing and nobody open.
As Carroll watched the penetration, he should have been aware of his teammates on the low block and in the corner. With that spacing, he has two options: catch and shoot or catch and drive to the middle. Catch and pass is not an option because no defender left their man to help on the ball, which was Lowe’s point. However, Smith moved far enough away from Carroll that he could attack Smith’s momentum (although not far enough that Carroll would have had a comfortable catch and shoot).
Therefore, if Carroll reads the play and anticipates before the catch, he should catch on the move or catch higher on the court for middle penetration. He may not have created a lane to the basket, but his penetration would have kept the ball moving, and he may have maintained the small advantage and forced someone to help on his drive, creating a bigger advantage for a teammate. Often, it is not the first penetration, but the second penetration that creates the big advantage. Unfortunately, when players receive the pass and immediately triple threat, every penetration is essentially the initial penetration because the defense has time to re-set and organize.