Today’s game, which, dominated by rules changes, requires, according to statistical analysis (e.g., analytics), to optimize three-point gains. Now, there are two ways to do so: drive the basket or shoot the three, or both.

In the title game, Duke drove and scored from the free throw line. Wisky could not drive much, so they, unsuccessfully, resorted to threes. Their threes were often not the result of a collapsing defense, and the nation’s best offense became mediocre.

After the game, Coach K said he credited Grayson Allen for his drives. He then said “We just ran high screens for Tyus Jones and let him do his stuff.”  After the MSU game, Coach Izzo said they cannot play defense anymore the way they used to, so he was going to find some players who can just drive the ball. Both of these coaches are “abandoning” their old styles.

The premier analytic optimizing team in the pros is Houston. Golden State deserves mentions. Both are built for a new offense (and Golden State has optimized defensive strategies to counter analytics: bigs to clog and block). I think as follows:

  1. Houston: The NBA’s version of isolation and drive/kick still working. I’m not saying this can’t work, but it is really only effective if you have a MVP level candidate like James Harden. Of course, someone that talented could operate in any kind of offense. I’m not Triangle expert, but Phil Jackson made a career out of spacing everyone out (according to his principles) and isolating the best offensive talent in the game. First with Jordan; then with Kobe. It was a natural mismatch every time that forced the D to adjust.

Again, if you have a top 3 talented guard, there’s nothing wrong with that approach. It’s not the way the game is going. That’s always been an option if you have the talent.

It doesn’t make it optimal, either. See the Knicks, Charlotte, Indy last year when Stephenson was the lead guard in some rotations, and a half-dozen other flailing teams still running isolation stuff.

  1. Golden State: They are the best example of Iso – sets vs. San Antonio-style modified motion-principals stuff in the NBA today. Switching from Mark Jackson’s slower iso half court offense to Kerr’s faster and more dynamic offense has transformed them from a middling offensive team into a great one. They’re still excellent at defense. They’ve done that by giving players proper roles and creating better shots for their best shooters. Their points at the rim are up, too. Their passes per possession are waaaayy up. They still ball-screen. Curry is too good not, too. If the defense shifts to stop him, they get a lot of action by dumping the ball and then reversing for a shot. They get a lot of secondary action with off-the ball screening.
  2. San Antonio and Atlanta. Lots of ball screens for Parker/Teague to shift the defense and then move the ball around to guys who are spaced well. Also, lots of off the ball screening to get a shooter (Korver, specifically) open or let a big slip when the D over-commits.
  3. Memphis. Proving that match-ups can win games. In an era when a lot of teams are going smaller, they are making teams pay with two punishing low post players and solid defense. They don’t shoot 3’s particularly well. Again, take Harden, Westbrook, Lebron…run whatever offense you want. It will have some measure of success. How do you get more offense with less talented players should be the question? Shifting to college…
  4. Colleges don’t run the more complicated stuff above, because the players aren’t talented enough. The high ball screen is used in college to often by poor teams only to free some space for so the guard can create for himself. It’s beyond ugly. There is a dearth in talent in  today’s college game. There’s also a lack of coaching talent. That is why scores are down. It’s probably not much coincidence that last night’s title game featured the two best offensive bigs in the game.
  5. Coach K has altered his style of play. He’s dumbed it down (Bilas used “simplified”, but you get the gist..). He’s done so he can get more talent and get more out of them as freshman. The one-and-done era has shifted college ball. If you want to get talented freshman on the floor for the athletic advantage, you have to simplify. I love Coach K, partly because he is always adapting–unlike his mentor.
  6. So for IU… should they run a simple, iso-oriented drive and kick? Yes, if you believe they can out recruit the Dukes, UK’s and UNC’s of the collegiate world. I believe IU’s competitive advantages are elsewhere. IU has a natural advantage in picking enough talent to compete with the elite, but IU will never win the talent aggregation race. IU must continue to recruit talented and smart players who are likely to stick around for a 2+ years (Zeller, Yogi, Blackmon, etc..). Then IU must out execute the other team, both offensively and defensively.

If you want to run a system that begins with a high ball screen, that is fine. But it can’t consist of the guard either driving or shooting a 3. It has to go beyond that. The other players must serve a role. If the big setting the screen can’t shoot or pass, then that style of offense isn’t real effective. Today’s lackluster college game should make that pretty apparent. So, what should the next level of college coach do?

In the title game, Josh Gasser, a key player for Wisconsin, only took, and missed, one shot. Scoring is suffering. Between 1990 and 1999, the winning team in the championship game scored 75 or more points 10 times. Next decade? 8 times. This decade? So far, once. So goes basketball. Drive the ball, so first set up high screens. It has become a game of sets rather than five-player offense. Even Bo Ryan this year abandoned much flex principles for setting up match-ups with a form of a clear out. And while the sets and match-ups are being “assembled,” the game ticks away. NCAA basketball has become a slow game: players posting on the interior and on the three and waiting. Team movement doesn’t pay in points the way drives and 3’s do.

What is the reaction to this trend?