Right or wrong, I’m expecting big things from Blake Griffin for the 2018-19 season. Not quite this big, but big nonetheless.
One of the more meaningful tricks of Griffin’s trade includes the capacity to initiate offense. Whether it’s generating his own looks or within a team concept, Griffin’s ball-handling can alleviate some of the responsibilities often assigned to Reggie Jackson.
In theory, it sounds easy but the application, like most things basketball, isn’t so cut and dry. We know Jackson can be effective with the ball in his hands but how will he react to Pistons’ possessions governed by Griffin?
When Andre Drummond moved to the elbows/top-of-the-key, Jackson still made the first pass and still directed traffic. Drummond proved to be a worthy and able passer but far from a play-maker. Griffin, on the other hand, can devise passing lanes and opportunities for teammates that otherwise wouldn’t exist. It’s a not-so-subtle distinction between the two passing bigs that will require a not-so-subtle sacrifice on the part of Jackson.
Where can we look to find an example of a recent point guard that had to sacrifice personal numbers for the greater good of the team?
* puts thinking cap on *
I got one.
Behind Kyle Lowry’s 22 points per game and 25 percent usage rate, the 2016-17 Toronto Raptors finished third in the Eastern Conference with 51 wins. Not too shabby. Last season, though, saw the Raptors rack up 59 wins and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. As for Lowry, his 16 points per game average and 21-percent usage rate were the lowest since the 2012-13 season.
Dwane Casey and the Raptors as a franchise, as we all know by now, fundamentally changed their approach to the game of basketball which included an increased emphasis on ball movement. A forfeiture of personal numbers was the only way a shift of this magnitude was going to work and Lowry didn’t blink.
More ball movement meant more off-ball possessions for Lowry. With Toronto finishing as the third highest rated offense last year, it’s hard to argue the results. Below, we’ll examine the handful of tools (some crafty, others ordinary) employed and encouraged by Casey to establish Lowry as a legit off-ball point guard.
Job descriptions of the five basic basketball positions have changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The single chore days of point guards passing, shooting guards shooting, and oafy centers doing oafy things while being handcuffed to the paint are long gone.
Point guards still pass, obviously, but their burden doesn’t stop when the ball leaves their hands. In today’s NBA, if all five players on the court aren’t viable screen-setting threats, you’re playing yesterday’s game.
Some screens are by careful design while others get baked within the flow. Below, is an example of the latter:
First on a drive and kick and second on a ball reversal, Lowry gets in the way of the closing out Griffin. It doesn’t need to be a pancake screen, simply making the defender chose an alternative route or to go thru is all that’s needed:
Pre-determined screens, like the staggered screen below, are less casual but equally effective:
A DHO look for DeMar DeRozan:
(We’ve witnessed Jackson do this for Reggie Bullock, Avery Bradley and Luke Kennard last year)
As is this Spain screen:
Not one of those clips will be recorded as a stat in the box score under Kyle Lowry’s name. All of those clips, however, helped the Raptors win 59 games.
It’s not as if Jackson has never set a screen in his Pistons life but I think we can all agree the ingenuity of the off-ball guard play in the Stan Van Gundy era was, um, lacking. Casey won’t be asking Jackson to rim-protect or anything else out of his hooping capabilities, an increase of savvy screens is completely doable. The only question is if Jackson accepts.
Spot-up and spacing
20 percent of all Lowry possessions during 2017-18 derived from spot-up opportunities, a seven percent increase from the season before. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson’s eight percent frequency from a year ago enjoy a similar hike.
Spacing isn’t rocket science. If one defender can check two offensive players, you’re doing spacing wrong. One of the most important facets of proper spacing is anticipating rotations. Below, the Bulls trap the PNR but Lowry’s man does not rotate or stunt. In turn, Lowry keeps his positioning:
Simple stuff that even PistonPowered could understand.
Here is another Bulls PNR trap but, this time, Lowry’s man (Kris Dunn) stunts hard at Serge Ibaka’s pop. Recognizing the stunt, Lowry slides over which makes Dunn’s recovery impossible while also maintaining spacing:
As Darren Collison’s attention turns to the roller, Lowry relocates:
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s not that Reggie Jackson hasn’t proven to be able to diagnose defenses but with the ball regularly in Blake’s hands, the volume of needed awareness will heighten. Can he keep up?
Anytime Lowry was on the weak-side wing or corner (while strong-side action was taking place) he and his closest teammate would switch spots. It’s a fairly common action in basketball but it was a staple in Toronto.
One of the chief goals is forcing the defense to communicate. The chances of defenders screwing up increase with each verbal command. As DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas run a two man game, OG Anunoby and Lowry switch spots:
Whose man is Anunoby? Sacramento sure as hell didn’t know.
Instead of switching spots, below, Anunoby moves to the opposite corner and Lowry spots-up as the PNR takes place:
With simple spacing techniques, the possession garnered the exact reaction from the defense that Toronto was hoping for. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum: what happened?
Cutting with a purpose
Cutting with a purpose is the only form of cutting that works in basketball. Cutting, like you mean it, forces the defense to take you seriously as a viable scoring threat. The ripple effects of an effective cut can be felt throughout an entire possession.
Above, three Brooklyn Nets’ defenders react to Lowry’s hard cut which opens up a small window for an open three. A small window is all that’s needed.
Jonas Valanciunas is a fine post-up player but not exactly a prolific passer off the block. With Griffin, hopefully, initiating offense from the post will be more common place in Detroit. Cutting off the post wasn’t a big part of Lowry’s off-ball game but assuming Casey heeds my unsolicited advice, these types of nail and slip screens will be open for Jackson:
Most cuts are man made and not by design. Opportunities present themselves throughout the game and it will be on Reggie Jackson to take advantage.
Two easy cuts to make with the first being the ball watch cut:
Second being the overplay:
Hey, there’s our hero!
Reggie Jackson should be ecstatic that Blake Griffin can assume some ball-handling duties. If there is progression shown by Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard with the rock, even better.
Less (ball-handling) is more.