Tactics Board - Murcia's Golden Touch and Hapoel Jerusalem Go Hunting
MADRID (Spain) - Season Seven Started Serving Sensational Set Plays, Straight Away... or something like that. Always go with a catchy intro they say. Anyway, the first week of Season Seven really did tip off with teams looking nothing like they just started the season.
We already saw the types of things we don't usually see until at least a few weeks into the season; established chemistry between players, teams with clear identities, the champions looking like the champions, and, of course, Ludwigsburg still playing defense like a pack of starving hounds.
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem Go Hunting
In basketball and in life there are laws that were created and laws that were discovered. The laws of physics and mathematics were already there, just waiting for (clever) people to discover them. These are the unbreakable laws that just are, whether you like them or not. Created laws are those that don't always make so much sense and are often waiting for (smart) people to break them. Basketball is no different. A coach can create all the clever rules for their players to follow in their system and analytics can tell us which shot we should take but the laws of basketball always come up trumps:
A contested mid-range fadeaway may never be high on the list of priorities when designing an offense but... if you have a player that can get you a bucket, you do whatever you can to put them in the best possible position to get that bucket.
And that is exactly what Coach Dzikic and Hapoel Jerusalem did with Levi Randolph in their season opener against Darussafaka. The Turkish club raced out to a 13-1 lead to start Q1 and ended the period with a 10-point lead. In the second quarter, Jerusalem wrestled the game all the way back and even took the lead with less than a minute to go in the half. This change in momentum was in part driven by finding Levi Randolph in the post and letting him go to work.
On three occasions in Q2, Jerusalem found Randolph in the post and he scored. All three were based on match-up hunting against Dacka's switching defense. In the first clip below, Randolph starts as the inbounder on the baseline, guarded by #11 Wayne McCullough. Watch how Khadeen Carrington's defender, #18, Dogus Ozdemiroglu gets caught out by a screen and calls for a switch with McCullough. Ozdemiroglu is a very active perimeter defender and led the BCL in steals last season but on an island against Randolph isolated in the post, there was only going to be one winner.
Less than three minutes later, Jerusalem went hunting again. The first thing to notice here is that they now have Speedy Smith, Khadeen Carrington, and Levi Randolph all sharing the floor at the same time. This now gives them an extra attack vector to hunt a switch and matchup for Randolph in the post. This time they use a Randolph ball screen for Speedy Smith at the top of the key. Again, Dacka switch, and Randolph is able to go at #5, Markel Starks. Also, notice the detail of Khadeen Carrington lifting out of the strong side corner and taking his defender with him just before Smith throws the pass to Randolph. This may seem like a basic read for an "Iso" play but it's the kind of read and chemistry that we often see teams lacking this early in the season.
The last of the three was almost certainly the best and this time on the other side of the floor. Coach Dzikic uses what's known as an "Iverson" cut across the Free Throw line to get Randolph an easy catch on the other side of the floor. As soon as he catches it, Smith arrives to set a guard-to-guard, ball screen, and again, Dacka switches. Now, Randolph has the entire corner of the court to work and a three-inch height advantage over #8, Can Korkmaz. This is both smart and clever offense from Jerusalem.
We haven't really seen a perimeter player hunt the low post like this since Keith Langford with AEK and considering the impact Randolph had on the momentum of the game, this is surely something to watch out for in future Jerusalem games.
UCAM Murcia's Golden Touch
Basketball terminology can be hard to keep up with at times but not to worry, we are going to try and keep up with it for you in this column and pick out the ones you really need to know. If you are of a nerdy persuasion (which you almost certainly are if you are still reading at this point of the article) then something you are very likely to hear about this season is "Touch" action. Touch is essentially a throw and chase, where the passer immediately follows their pass to get the ball back from a handoff. It's usually a setup or entry action that teams use to get a player the ball in a specific area and maybe also create a bit of separation from their defender.
Here we see Sito Alonso and Murcia using "Touch" to great effect in their win against Tofas Bursa. This first clip is actually the last time they used the action in the game and also the most effective. The play starts with #7, Tomas Bellas throwing and chasing to Thad McFadden. This allows McFadden to move off the ball to the weakside corner, then run back off a staggered screen and make an off-balance, three-ball look easy. Also notice that the second of those staggered screens is set by #18, Jordan Sakho. Sakho had just set a ball screen angled in the opposite direction, forcing his defender to hedge toward the ball and allowing him to "arrive alone" when setting the screen for McFadden. This is a really smart offensive design from Alonso.
To understand why the set above was not only smart but also clever, we need to go back to the first half and also the first time in the game that Murcia used this set. The difference here is that #23 James Anderson starts with the ball instead of receiving the pass from Bellas and instead of returning back to take the shot himself (as McFadden did), he sets the first of the staggered screens for #25, David Jelinek.
So, why does that make the first clip clever as well as smart? Well, because if you have a player that can get you a bucket, you do whatever you can to put them in the best possible position to get that bucket. What we can clearly see is that Alonso adjusted the set to have his best shot maker come back and take the shot he is best at making, when they needed it the most.
If you enjoy X's and O's content, definitely give Max Frontini a follow (@MaxFrontini). Here he is sharing some more execution of the "Touch" action. This time from new kids on the block S.L. Benfica. You may also recognize the use of the ball screen into a screen away for a shooter here as well. a very common thing to look out for with teams using touch.