Beneath the Screen: Something Completely Different

In a recurring post throughout the season, Jake will take a look at the inner workings of the Hornets’ offense and defense–what works, what doesn’t and why, as well as how the Hornets can improve.

Today we look at how loosening up the offense allowed Grievis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu to succeed.

As the Hornets’ opening game tipped off on Wednesday, I was sitting in my seats at the New Orleans Arena and told my girlfriend to keep an eye on what happens with the Hornets offense with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. For the better part of the past two seasons that is when the Hornets’ point guards started running their offensive sets. About half way through the first quarter I told her nevermind; the Hornets were playing differently.

Ryan pointed out in his recap that the Hornets had a drastically different game-plan from what we saw in preseason. What excites me the most is that the Hornets just didn’t run different offensive sets, but they really played a more up-tempo offense. The team finished with 95 possessions compared to last season’s average of 88.3. Part of that is due the Spurs, but it was clear the Hornets were trying to get their offense going earlier in the shot clock than usual.

Also, as Ryan pointed out, Vasquez showed he can be a serviceable point guard if he is used in more than just a half-court, pick and roll offense. Vasquez does well when he is allowed to just go out there and make plays. Against the Spurs, Vasquez was allowed to do just that and the results speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, I don’t have video of Wednesday’s game, but let’s take a look at some examples from last season of where Vasquez excelled in this area. And in particular, how this allows him to create opportunities for his teammates.

The play above is actually a pick and roll with Vasquez and Jason Smith, but note that it starts with 18 seconds on the shot clock as opposed to the usual 15 or less. Take a look at the defenders on the court. There is room to drive into the paint, but there are enough help defenders to stop any shot attempt. Aminu is the player circled up top.

Vasquez, in orange, drives to the rim and the defense collapses around him. Aminu, left undefended, doesn’t just stand at the 3-point line waiting for a difficult pass. He cuts to the rim, grabs an easy pass from Vasquez and finishes with a dunk.

Aminu had quite a few plays like this against the Spurs and it works great with Vasquez causing the defense to collapse. Let’s look at another example.

Here Vasquez has blown by his defender (though it must be noted: almost after turning the ball over) and is driving towards the rim. Aminu, circled at the free throw line, knows his defender will leave to help so he cuts towards the basket.

The defense closes out on Vasquez. He doesn’t have a great look at Aminu so he passes the ball to Ayon who has a better angle.

Ayon passes to a wide open Aminu for an easy dunk and two points. These examples show how important dribble penetration is to breaking down a defense.

One of the reasons people think Austin Rivers can successfully transition to being a point guard is exactly because of this skill. Rivers, in summer league and preseason, has shown he has the ability to dribble into the lane. As his court vision improves expect him to get many of the same types of assists Vasquez had on Wednesday.

Now, it’s also important to note why Vasquez has more success in this type of offense as opposed to a more pick and roll based one. The defender covering the ball handler on a pick and roll has two options once the screen is set. He can go above the screen–between the ball handler and the screen man–or he can go beneath the screen  (see what I did there?)–between the screen man and the basket. If the defender goes above the screen, he will be closer to the ball handler but has the potential to get beat off the dribble. If he goes beneath the screen, he’ll be better placed to stop a dribble-drive but gives up room for a jump shot.

Since Vasquez is not an elite shooter, most defenders go beneath the screen while covering him. This forces Vasquez into choosing between two poor choices. Either drive off the screen with his defender in good position, or take a long two or three-pointer–neither of which Vasquez is very good at. This is one of the main reasons why Vasquez struggled with the pick and roll during preseason.

However, a more wide open offense like what the Hornets ran against the Spurs forces Vasquez’ defender to play him closer. This allows to get by his defender, force the defense to collapse and find a better pass than he would in a pick and roll situation.

Vasquez also showed great decision making on opening night. I went back and looked at more film of him from last season while running a fast break and he almost always makes the right pass. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Vasquez, leading a fast break has three great options: Aminu cutting the basket, Ayon doing the same, and Henry for an open 3-point shot. All are good options but the best is Aminu with his athleticism.

Vasquez make a quick pass, Aminu’s defender is helpless to stop him, and the end result looks a lot like what we saw on Wednesday. Let’s look at one more.

Here Vasquez again has three options.

He correctly identifies the cutter as the best option. Vasquez dishes the ball and the Hornets get an easy dunk.

Monty a defense first coach who is fine with winning a low scoring, grind-it-out defensive game. It’s akin to say the Baltimore Ravens when they won their Super Bowl; the games won’t be exciting to watch but and you might have to settle for a lot of 14-7 scores, but it works and gets you wins.

As a spectator and fan, the way the Hornets played against the Spurs is far more exciting than what we expected/saw last season. I’m curious if the Hornets keep it up tonight against the Jazz, but, regardless, it was definitely nice to see something different.

Beneath the Screen is a reoccurring series throughout the season and will be run on Fridays. Check out past articles here.

6 responses to “Beneath the Screen: Something Completely Different”

  1. Uptempo offense took 2 pos. I thought we had backups at, & turned them into NBA
    starters. Aminu’s contributions have me pumped!
    SG is now the big worry. Dec. 15 could bring relief, or our zombie SG might wake up.
    Put 20 lbs. of muscle on Rivers could work, too.

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