Thursday, February 9, 2012

Small Market Series pt. 4 - The Charlotte Bobcats' UCLA Offense

Small Market Series pt. 4 - The Charlotte Bobcats' UCLA Offense
Background Info

Last time we discussed the most successful small market team, the Spurs. This time we're going to focus on a team that so far has struggled to match that success, the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats have the dubious distinction of ranking last in points-per-possession and have so far shot 41.3% from the field.

When we look at the Bobcats, let's see if we can identify the difference between their execution and the Spurs. In doing so, perhaps we will learn something about what separates successful and unsuccessful teams.

UCLA Offense

The offense gains its namesake from John Wooden's highly successful UCLA teams that he led to a total of 10 NCAA Championships. The offense can be run out of a number of different sets, John Wooden preferred the 1-3-1 version of the offense, but it's also common to see the 4-out-1-in, 2-3 high, and 1-4 high. The Bobcats tend to run most of their plays in a 1-4 high set, as shown below.

The UCLA offense uses a player at the elbow to assist in ball movement around the perimeter or with high-low passes. The elbow players are also used to set screens for perimeter players. The most common screen is known as the "UCLA cut" and is found in many different offensive systems. The UCLA cut is a screen at the elbow which allows the cutting player to read how the defense will play the screen and potentially opens up an easy path to the basket. You may recall the UCLA cut from our discussion of the Bulls last year.

The following animation illustrates the UCLA cut:
In this example, after the SG passes off to the SF, he makes a UCLA cut to receive the ball again from the SF. The UCLA cut is a simple move but can be very effective. The player performing the cut can opt to play the screen on either side depending on how the defense plays him.

Let's watch the Bobcats run the UCLA Offense in their 1-4 high set.

The play begins in the 1-4 high set and Walker passes to Brown at the free throw line extended. Walker then makes a UCLA cut off Diaw's screen. Diaw quickly rolls to the basket but the pass isn't made. Since Walker and Diaw didn't receive the pass, Biyombo flashes to the high post to swing the ball to the weak side. Williams breaks free off the Diaw screen to make the shot.

The play animated:

In this play we have the same 1-4 high wing entry pass followed by a UCLA cut but this time the play doesn't move to the weak side, instead Williams sets a screen at the short corner for Higgins then pops back out to the three point line for a shot.

Our next play shows how the high, flat, set can allow players to weave through the elbows and use them as pivot points to get open.

Notice how Walker and Thomas use Biyombo on the weak side elbow as a pivot point to try to get open. In the next play we see the same play but this time the shot opens up before much movement around Biyombo.

Isolation Plays/Execution

Post isolation plays can arise out of screens by having the screener seal his defender as shown in the next clip.

If you'll remember from the last post about the Spurs, this isolation serves as a good point of comparison to the isolation play for Blair where we saw great off-ball movement. Here we see very little movement and it puts the isolation player in a difficult position. As a refresher, the Blair isolation clip is below.

In this next clip we see another point of comparison. The Bobcats look for Diaw in the low post but he's being fronted by his defender. Biyombo flashes to the high post to help but Walker passes slightly off the block rather that passing to Biyombo. Last time, piglet24 asked if an over the top pass could be made in this situation. My response was that it probably didn't seem like a safe pass but let's expand on that a bit and see how players can read this type of situation.

Notice how quickly Gortat moved in to Diaw to double. The play was successful because Diaw made the correct pass to the wing but the options available might have benefited from passing to Biyombo because he can then read where Gortat moves.

If Gortat closes in on him, he can make the high-low pass to Diaw who has inside position on his defender, if Gortat hedges toward Diaw he can drive to the basket with an open lane. If a perimeter defender switches on him, the open perimeter player can either cut to the basket or remain as a spot up shooting option. Either way, I like the options created by the high post pass compared to the low post.

In this clip, we see when the pass is made to the high post. Gortat hedges on Diaw so Biyombo drives for the basket.

Here we see Nash make a good adjustment by hedging toward Biyombo. Since Walker is so far off the 3pt line, the defense can get away with covering the best passing options. The play would probably benefit by pulling Biyombo to the weak side to screen for the corner player while Walker flashes to the ball to help swing the ball to the opposite side.

A careful attention to detail on execution can maximize offensive options and make existing ones more effective.


How do the Bobcats compare to the teams we've seen so far? Has Coach Silas picked an offensive system that fits his roster? Does the difference between successful teams and unsuccessful teams come down to execution or is it something more? How much does individual talent play a role? It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what separates successful and unsuccessful teams but there does seem to be an identifiable difference in execution that does play a factor.

Perhaps it's as simple as a lack of talent can be replaced by good execution to some degree. If you'll remember, the Princeton Offense was predicated on that idea by relying on smart passes combined with smart cuts rather than athleticism. Certainly, our look into the small market teams has presented us with a lot to think about.

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