Complaining about problems while offering no solutions doesn’t solve much so in an effort to right the sinking ship of the Pistons’ crooked offense, the first few weeks of the off-season had us lean on the astonishingly high-IQ of the Golden State Warriors, the creative application of Clint Capela in the Houston Rockets’ scheme and how DeAndre Jordan’s subtle positioning pays off for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Now, we turn to the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, the same Mavericks who won 24 games last year.
The three linked stories from above were aimed at Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, two talented bigs whose skill set shares easy correlation throughout the league. In comparison, trying to identify realistic sets that would help prop up Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard was an adventure and I had to ask myself: what team sucks but is still productive?
It’s not to say either Johnson or Kennard are terrible. In fact, let the DBB record forever show that I’m big on Kennard and willing to give Johnson one more go around. I’m sure both will be happy to hear that. Both, however, have much to prove.
The Harrison Barnes led Mavericks, believe it or not, finished 12th in half-court offense (per CTG) last year and there is only one reason why: Rick Carlisle.
Carlisle’s continued stupefying cleverness to turn chicken shit into chicken salad is in a league of its own. The talent on the Mavericks suggests it would have a hard time finishing 12th in half-court offense within the confines of the Big Ten, let alone the best basketball league in the universe.
(Side note 1 - If the Pistons are ever lucky enough to land a coach like Carlisle, they should lock him up with a lifetime contract. You cannot let talent like that walk out the door.)
Below, we’ll go over some of the sets Carlisle used for J.J Barea, Devin Harris, Yogi Ferrell with a pinch of Wesley Matthews that helped the Mavs in the half-court. Try to envision Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson in their place. Does it work?
(Side note 2 - I fully admit Stanley Johnson’s fit into these schemes might not be exact but you try and cram a 46-true shooting percentage wing who may or may not be able to dunk a basketball into an offense.)
Made famous by former Pistons’ legend Allen Iverson, the Iverson cut goes from wing to wing and can be used as a legit option, or in many cases, as a decoy.
In Dallas, the trio of Barea, Harris and Ferrell used this setup to generate a handful of looks, but most commonly, a wing PNR:
Above, Harrison Barnes moves to the weak-side to establish proper spacing as Ferrell simultaneously uses the Iverson cut to collect the ball. Pick-and-pop specialist Dirk Nowitzki initiates the PNR but Ferrell rejects the screen and attacks the basket.
Of all the looks we’ll discuss, this might be Stanley’s Johnson’s best chance at a fit as he’s shown some promise at piloting a decent PNR:
And getting him on the wing - with no strong-side help defender - could create an opportunity to bully ball his way baseline to the hoop.
A few more examples:
The Iverson cut also led to a staggered screen in Dallas:
In Detroit, the staggered screen setters would be a natural roller in Andre Drummond and an improving popper in Blake Griffin. As exampled by Harris above, the quick ball reversal creates a lane to the basket than can be exploited as well.
When the defense began to anticipate the Iverson cut, Carlisle and the Mavs adjusted:
It’s the pesky counter-punch that was lacking during the Stan Van Gundy era.
There are a handful of synonyms that get used, but for today, we’ll call it a zipper cut. It’s easily distinguishable by the player cutting up the middle of the lane (usually) from the baseline to the top-of-the-key.
Above, Devin Harris curls off the Nowitzki screen and then rewards the now 40-year-old power forward.
It was a featured set in late-December’s Dallas’ 110-93 win over the Pistons:
Along with the immediate curl, the look can be used to setup isolation, flares or a top-of-the-key pick-and-roll:
And, like everything Carlisle, there are ways to attack the cheating:
Harris rejects Nowitzki’s baseline screen and, obviously, the Nerlens Noel’s zipper screen and darts back to the corner where a perfectly times Noel flare screen opens up a three-point launching Barea. Smart stuff.
(fake) Flex cut
As with most things basketball, it’s called different things by different people. The flex cut is the baseline action that starts with a back-screen. It’s used often by every team in the NBA including the Pistons:
And the Mavericks:
Pretty simple, right?
With Carlisle, though, the Mavs introduced a ghost screen in place of the actual back-screen which immediately penalized teams for assuming the flex cut was coming. Below, Devin Harris’ back-screen on Milwaukee’s DeAndre Liggins doesn’t actually happen:
Instead, Harris acts as if he’s going to set a screen but then quickly follows the natural progression of the offense. The slight hesitation shown by the defense is the exact amount of time needed to get off a clean look.
The same fake flex look tripped up both Ricky Rubio and Marco Belinelli, too:
None of this is ground breaking or basketball rocket science, it only seems that way after the Pistons DHO’d their fans to death last year.
On rare occasions, especially in the NBA, the Jimmys and Joes don’t matter as much as the Xs and Os. Dallas’ half-court operation is the perfect example. MFRC.