Monday, November 28, 2011

The Dry Erase Board: Bo Ryan's Swing Offense

For the second installment of The Dry Erase Board series we will be heading back to Big Ten country and taking a look at Bo Ryan's Swing Offense. Much like our first subject John Belein, Bo Ryan has coached his way up the collegiate ranks from Division 3 to high major Division 1 and kept it more real than any coach ever has by staying in Wisconsin the whole time. That alone deserves its own blog series. Maybe we'll call it "Real G's: Coaches That Keep it Real" or something of that nature. Anyway, I digress. Without further ado I give you Bo Ryan's Swing Offense.

The General Concept The Swing is a continuity motion that is a direct off-shoot of the Flex Offense. Anyone who has ever played organized basketball beyond the 6th grade has run the Flex and to be honest it is by far my least favorite offense ever. The Flex is boring and predictable and designed for teams that have no idea how to play basketball. Every now and then you can score against a really bad defensive team but in general it is not particularly potent. With that being said, I love the Swing. Bo Ryan has used good parts of the Flex, replaced the bad ones and created a continuity motion that can be run at all levels. Teams that run the Swing typically use it to compliment a disciplined man-t0-man defense, control tempo, limit turnovers and physically punish an opposing team's defense through a series of never-ending screens.

The Action
The Swing operates from the same 4-out, 1-in base spacing as the Flex. The 5-man runs to the ball side of the rim, the 2 and 3 run wide to the wings and the 1 and 4 fill the alleys. The Swing can be initiated in many different ways and coaches have the freedom to develop quick-hitter sets as they see fit but for the purpose of this blog we will walk through the base movement. Like the Flex, the Swing is initiated by a ball reversal and a baseline back-screen between the 5 and 2. However, instead of reversing the ball to a stagnant 4-man who may struggle to make the next play and risking a "pick-6 turnover" (one that leads directly to a break away lay-up) the Swing calls for the trailing 4-man to screen away for the 3-man on the wing so he can come open for a jumper/curl or simply catch the reverse pass and continue the motion. Much of the action in the Swing calls for big-to-small screens so switching is not a good idea. Once the 3-man catches the reverse pass from the 1, he looks for the 2-man coming off the back-screen from the 5 either for a lay up or a post catch (depending on the player's skill set). This is where the Swing breaks off from the Flex completely. Instead of reversing the ball again after the weak side screens for one another (1 to 5) and then starting the baseline back-screen motion all over, the 3-man passes to the ball-side corner (4) and then receives an up-screen (set at the elbow) from the 2-man who just flashed into the post. The 2-man then shapes up for the jumper after he sets the screen and the 4 looks to the hard cutting 3 for a lay up/post up. If not there, the ball gets reversed around again and the motion resets. The actual motion is great but the really deadly part of the Swing is getting to where the players know when to counter the action and catch defenders cheating.

The Players
Unlike the 2-Guard, I believe many different types of players can be fit into the Swing. Perimeter shooting isn't nearly as vital and players hoops IQs don't need to be quite as high. Players with non-traditional skills sets for their position (guards that post, bigs that shoot) can find a home with Bo Ryan. There is one thing that is 100% necessary and that is physicality. Players 1-5 have to want to screen defenders and enjoy "head hunting". One poor screener or soft player can ruin the entire possession. Hitting the weight room is just as important, if not more important, than anything that is done on the court. I believe the Swing allows coaches to have a few one-dimensional guys out there and not be completely exposed. Bo Ryan has a direct line to hay-bailing, strong-jawed Mid-Westerners to fill his roster so all his assistants need to do is find one stud players with NBA talent. One player that can make a tough shot and make a play in the last 15 seconds of the shot clock because you will find your self there quite often.

The Strengths
Like many basketball "systems" the Swing does a great job hiding weaknesses and minimizing talent differences. The Swing does this by slowing the pace of the game, minimizing turnovers and forcing opponents to absorb 25-35 seconds of pounding on the defensive end. Everything is clean and within the rules but the defense knows that every time the ball moves you are going to get hit and hit hard. The defense gets lazy and tired and they may start racking up fouls or giving up lay ups. A ten point lead in a game that is paced by the Swing might as well be a 20 point lead and the frustration sets in. If your opponent goes to down and takes a quick shot (even if it's a good one) they know they will be back in the meat grinder seconds later and now their tempo is effected as well. Plus, you can expose post-up mismatches regardless of the position with any intentional designing. That is by far my most favorite element of the Swing.

The Weaknesses As evident by many of Wisconsin's performances the Swing can create a very low scoring affair. I'm talking peach basket scores. Teams that run the Swing can get bogged down in the motion and forget to look at the basket. It is certainly not a crowd pleasing or pretty style of play and I am sure many potential recruits are turned off by the pace of lack of freedom. As a coach who used it for a season I did find that the structure of the motion sometimes disabled the players instincts and accidentally turned them into screening robots.

The Swing, like many other "systems" has its fair share of strengths and weaknesses but at the end of the day it does what it is supposed to do; give the program an identity and a chance to win. Bo Ryan has won every where he has gone and does not apologize for the way he does it. Like many niche systems, I don't think the Swing is an appropriate style of play if a team is loaded with elite talent but with one or two elite players and a bunch of tough guys it will win you games. If you don't like the Swing or Bo Ryan's teams then keep it to yourself. If not, you will be viciously back-screened someday while walking to your car.

Next on The Dry Erase Board...University of Arkansas-Mike Anderson's 40 Minutes of Hell 2.0

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Do We Think of the Amnesty Clause?

Rashard Lewis: Potential Amnesty Candidate

I wrote the following for ClipperBlog, and while it's about how the amnesty clause relates to the Clippers, I'd love to know everyone's thoughts on the proposed details (as described in the post), possible candidates, implications, whatever...
The notion of an amnesty clause is exciting to many fans.  Most teams have at least one “bad” contract — many have more — so it figures that people would embrace the opportunity to see the franchise for which they cheer drop the most undesirable in favor of a roster spot and cap space for a potentially better player.  But it also portends more player movement, which we as fans also tend to enjoy, especially in a time when barely anything basketball-related is happening at all.
While opposition to it based on the somewhat hypocritical message that some individual owners will be sending by simultaneously crying broke and angling for a new way to spend money (much more on that here) appears futile, the whole idea is incredibly unfair to teams that have been successful at not handing out bad contracts.  Like the Clippers.
Even if there are provisions to give such teams the chance to amend a future mistake, as backwards as that may be, you can’t help but wonder just how drastically the advantage accrued by managing the cap responsibly will be slashed.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Team Earthbound

The other day I was reading Grantland's amazing breakdown of this years pre-season college basketball all americans. The breakdown included heavy doses of draft analysis and a youtube video for each player, both of which were right up my alley. Although the list featured a number of my favorites, the guy I came away loving was Jarred Sullinger. In high school, and last year, I was skeptical of Sullinger. His nickname "big smooth" and his hot and cold motor worried me immensely. After looking at some of his highlights, however, I fell in love with his ability to get deep post position, seal his man, drop step, and finish through contact below the rim. Watching Sullinger got me thinking about other players like him; thick, not-jumpy, amazing hands, solid footwork, layup machines. These american heros may not get the hype, they may never defend a pick and role like KG, or catch an alley like Tyson Chandler, but what they do accomplish is just as important. Lets take a look at some of the best around at all levels.

The Gold Standard: Wes Unseld
Measurements: 6'7, 250
Notable Accomplishment: Career average of 14 rebounds per game (9 defensive)
Earthbound Superpower: Outlet passing, defensive rebounding

Any discussion of an earthbound player begins with Wes. He was a bruising presence who dominated the glass. He lead an unspectacular Bullets team to a championship while also being named to five all-star games. Unseld's biggest contribution to the game was his uncanny ability to throw full court outlet passes from his chest. Take that Kevin Love!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Dry Erase Board: John Beilein's "2 Guard-Offense"

There are two facts all basketball fans should be accepting right now. 1) We won't be watching professional basketball for at least another month or so and 2) No matter how much we love college basketball, it is not as good. Watching two teams play super hard is only fun if they are playing hard AND playing well. Let's face it, there is a ton of ugly, 48-46 college basketball games and that's even at the highest levels. There is excitement for the upcoming college basketball season not only because of the NBA lockout but because the power teams are littered with NBA talent and no matter what "purists'' say that is what we all want to see. Since the large majority of college teams are not blessed with elite physical talent hoops fans have to find some other way to be interested in the product. One of the ways basketball nerds can find enjoyment in college hoops is watching "systems" instead of players.

Basketball systems, or playing styles, are created by the coaching staff to provide the program with an identity. In "The Dry Erase Board" series (who uses chalk boards?) I will breakdown some of college basketball's more unique systems that maximize talent and hide physical shortcomings. And no, the "Pro-Style" or "Dribble-Drive" offense will not be featured. To quote Coach Cal from a Nike clinic I attended the key to the "Dribble-Drive" offense is to "have more talented and athletic players than your opponent"...pure genius. Today we will look at Upstate New York's own John Beilein and his "2 Guard Offense". (Interesting note: Beilein has been a JUCO, D3, D2 and D1 coach for 35 years and never an assistant)

The General Concept An off-spring of the Princeton offense, the 2-Guard offense emphasizes unique floor spacing, back-screening, hard cuts to the basket and perimeter shooting. The 2-Guard is most known for having 4 offense players on the perimeter (2 in the slots and 2 on the wings) and 1 post player that positions himself between the foul line and the top of the key (i.e. Pittsnogle). When spaced correctly the players should form a flat "X" and the deep corners should be left unoccupied for cutters to fill.

The Action The 2-Guard offense is sometimes unfairly labeled as a "continuity" offense where a pattern can be run over and over (i.e. the "Flex" or "Swing") but it's really more of a quick hit motion like the "Triangle". The action is determined by the first pass made and that pass triggers a serious of deep corner cuts, back screens, down screens and pick and rolls. No matter what action is triggered it depends on one important element; shooting. The idea is to get the defense spread out and off the help-line which neutralizes shot-blocking and athleticism.

The Players Many times unique offensive systems are created because not all programs can recruit the elite talent so they recruit the talent that is right for them. John Beilein's programs are a perfect example of this philosophy. I recently had the opportunity to sit-in on two University of Michigan practices. The first thing I noticed was how physically unimposing the roster was as they came out on the court. The second thing I noticed was how unbelievably quick they were to pick-up on everything the coaching staff put in front of them. The number one skill a John Beilein player must possess is basketball IQ. The actual system is not that complicated and it doesn't come attached with 30 set calls but the players must know how to play the game. 18-22 year-olds must know how to play like old dudes at the Y who have lost there athleticism. If basketball IQ is skill 1A) then shooting is skill 1AA) and arguably even more important. The 2-Guard can only operate at full-strength when all 5 players on the floor are knock down shooters. It can be argued that some of Beilein's struggles at Michigan can be attributed to the fact that he hasn't found that guy yet. Since players 1-4 in the 2-Guard are for the most part interchangeable you do not have to have a traditional point guard or power forward on the roster, which are two of the hardest positions to recruit. Ultimately you need to recruit players with versatile skill-sets who are a knock down shooters, are somewhere between 6'2"-6'7" and know how to play. So pretty much Euros...

The Strengths Like all effective "systems" the 2-Guard offense does an excellent job of emphasizing strengths and hiding weaknesses. If your team doesn't feature elite athletes the floor spacing that is created by the 2-Guard generates the space needed to get to the basket for high percentage shots either through cuts, back screens or dribble drives. Of course the 3-point shot is a major weapon and is associated as the vocal point of an offense like this. However, it is the the threat of a 3-pointer in your face that is more important than the actual shot. That threat starts forcing a defender to hug his man and neglect his helpside defensive duties leaving the basket open for uncontested lay-ups. The video above is a perfect example of a more talented Michigan State team uncharacteristically giving up easy buckets and leaving the rim unprotected.

The Weaknesses Smart coaches will stay true to the "live by the 3, die by the 3" philosophy and not panic if a couple of bombs drop in and the building is rocking. For the most part, teams do not lose from 3-pointers. Even if a team goes 12 for 20 from 3-point land that's still only 36 points, so how did they score 80? Teams should stay true to protecting the rim from the weak-side and making the other team contested jump shooters. The trap that 2-Guard teams fall into is too many jump shots, long rebounds and run-outs the other way. However, teams defending the 2-Guard do want to limit corner threes by not helping on dribble drives from the strong-side creating easy drive-and-kick opportunities. Stay at home and force the ball-handler to finish over help. If the center is not a great shooter than the other team can have their 5-man protect the rim at all times which is why it is important for the 5-man to be a shooting threat.

Conclusion Like many systems that are dependent on shooting the 2-Guard offense can be either unstoppable or extremely stoppable, there is no in-between. It looks like Michigan is going to land blue-chipper Mitch McGary, a skilled and athletic 4-man, and it will be interesting to see how an elite-level talent fits into this niche style of play. As a coach, I was on the bench when we whooped teams trying to run this and and I have sat there helpless when it was kicking our butt. Like 99.9% of all other situations in life the key is still talent, both on the court and on the sideline.

Next feature...University of Wisconsin: Bo Ryan's "Swing" Offense