Playoffs!? (HV Weekly: 9/7/2020)

I just hope we can win a game...

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

If you’re new here, we usually send this weekly edition on Sunday evenings, but with the Labor Day holiday adding another day to the “weekend” we decided to wait until Monday to push this one out.

This week we jump into some NBA analysis. With the basketball calendar out of whack right now, we are going to be focused on the NBA Playoffs for the next couple weeks.

But don’t worry, college basketball is still the bread and butter of Hoop Vision. And while the exact timing is still to be determined, we will have a full series of NCAA preseason previews and content coming down the pipeline.

In today’s edition:

  • New videos on the Celtics-Raptors playoff series

  • More observations from around the NBA playoffs

  • Links from around the internet

Celtics-Raptors Series

We published two new videos this week on the Celtics-Raptors series and the adjustments being made by both Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens.

First, I did a guest spot on Coach Daniel’s YouTube channel for an eight minute voiceover breakdown. The video covers games one and two of the series, and Boston’s defensive gameplan that helped them take both games.

Video Topics Include:

  • The Celtics going small against Siakam with Brown and Smart

  • The Celtics avoiding putting two on the ball (in part) to prevent advantage cuts

  • Sagging off Ibaka and Gasol to provide extra help elsewhere

  • Ibaka’s roll man usage and efficiency statistics

  • The Celtics sticking with the gameplan even after Ibaka getting hot

  • The Raptors using inverted ball screens with Siakam and VanVleet

  • The Raptors rolling to the basket more instead of popping

Then after game three, we followed up with a new video on the Hoop Vision YouTube channel — a breakdown of the Raptors’ win.

This video is seven minutes long and again looks at the chess match between Nurse and Stevens.

Video Topics Include:

  • The Celtics’ ice ball screen coverage

  • The Raptors not even setting ball screens to slip early for rolls/pops

  • The Raptors changing the angle of their screens towards the sideline

  • Good and bad examples of the Celtics getting into their coverage

  • Enes Kanter being hunted in ball screens during his four minutes of playing time

  • The Celtics disruptive switching and triple switching

  • The need for the Raptors to capitalize on Boston’s switching miscommunications

More playoffs observations

During college basketball season, I rarely have a chance to watch the NBA. But tuning into other leagues can be a valuable way to better contextualize where the college game is currently positioned.

Here are a few quick notes I’ve taken since diving deeper into the NBA Playoffs over the past two weeks.

1) There are no angled post-ups or post pins

The post-up isn’t completely out of the NBA playoffs. Pascal Siakam gets about a dozen opportunities with his back to the basket per game. Nikola Jokic has been extremely efficient on post-ups for the Nuggets. The Rockets even went straight to Russell Westbrook in the post on the first play of the series against the Lakers.

But all of those are examples of using the post-up as a vehicle for creation — star players being cerebral and reading the defense. The post pins we often see at the college level are virtually non-existent.

I think there are a lot of potential reasons for that, but the most obvious is just the skill (combined with athleticism) of NBA players. Creating an advantage is so much easier in the NBA, particularly for the superstar-led teams remaining.

2) Everyone loves the baseline exit

Angled post-ups are out, but the baseline exit action is in.

While a ball screen or dribble handoff is occurring, teams use an exit screen on the baseline for a three-point shooter. Here’s a pre-bubble example from Toronto.

As is seen in the clip above, Nick Nurse goes to this baseline exit action often on sideline out of bounds plays.

Below, another example — this time from Mike D’Antoni and Houston. The Rockets set it up with a wedge screen before the exit.

At the college level, Anthony Grant had the baseline exit in Dayton’s playbook last season as a counter to their regular pin wedge set.

3) “Make or Miss” League?

Like every playoffs, there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about three-point variance and the idea of the NBA being a “Make or Miss” league.

It’s absolutely true that some playoff games are more or less decided by whether threes are dropping on that particular night. It’s also true that — relative to other leagues — the NBA tends to boil down to eFG% more than the other four factors.

From that perspective, the coaching adjustments being made (or anything in a series that isn’t simply shooting variance) can seem inconsequential.

So yes, ultimately the most important thing is if the ball goes in the basket. But that’s not very actionable advice for a coach or player, and coaches are still in a constant search for even the slightest of edges.

Sometimes those coaching decisions only lead to very marginal improvement. Sometimes those decisions are overshadowed by shooting variance. But that’s just basketball.

Other links from around the internet

  • A few weeks back, I put together a presentation for Hoop Vision PLUS subscribers on How to Watch Film Like a Coach. There’s a popular TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky — How language shapes the way we think — covering almost exactly what I was trying to get at in my presentation. The basketball comparison for Boroditsky’s presentation is: “How terminology shapes the way we watch film”

  • Dean Oliver was a guest on TruMedia’s Expected Value podcast. Oliver discussed his first season on the bench for the Wizards. It’s an interesting conversation about the process of integrating Oliver — who has traditionally been in the front office — into the coaching workflow. Perhaps Oliver is just being humble, but it seems like a work in a progress

  • John Hollinger wrote an interesting article at The Athletic on Mike Budenholzer’s playoff resume. I can’t say I’ve watched Milwaukee much at all this season to have an opinion, but the current discourse around Budenholzer gives me some “Tony Bennett’s style doesn’t work in the NCAA Tournament” vibes

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