Cal Men's Basketball: A Little Spacing Goes a Long Way
One Ray of Light from the UCSD Basketball Game
I want to break down my favorite play from Tuesday night’s loss to UCSD.
There are eight players on the roster between 6’ 6” and 6’ 9”. Having this many potentially interchangeable parts on offense provides you with an opportunity to play more of a space-and-drive game. When Lars Thiemann is on the floor, Coach Fox favors running the offense through Lars either as a high-low game, or having him come high to set a screen. In short, this has not been effective up to this point of the year. The +/- numbers have not been kind to Lars so far. I’m sure Nick, myself and the other writers will talk about player utilization and the season progresses. But for now, I’d like to focus on one play, and use it as a model for what a potentially effective offense could look like for this roster.
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When Lars is off the floor, the team frequently sets up with all five players evenly spaced around the perimeter. In the picture above, Askew has the ball, with Alajiki to his left, and Newell and Roberson towards the bottom. Joel Brown (underlined) is near the Cal bench. UCSD is in a soft man-to-man defense, wary of the space and ready to assist on defense.
The formation above typically starts with ball being swung around the perimeter, with players cutting across the center as the ball is in motion. I assume that everyone on the floor has the greenlight to initiate and drive if they see an opportunity.
Alajiki is the first to initiate. Grant Newell (arrow) is cutting across the lane. Sam’s defender is playing this well and does not give him the corner. Plus, two other UCSD defenders (x) are well positioned to assist on defense if required. Sam pulls the ball back out and resets.
The ball ends up with Joel. Alajiki (arrow) cuts across the lane, taking his defender with him. Askew (underline) is tuned in and ready to react. What happens next is my favorite part of this entire play.
Askew has a step on his defender, and starts his own drive into the lane. This freezes the potential help defender(x) on Brown’s ensuing drive.
Askew curls out, pulling the defender(x) with him, leaving a wide open lane for Joel to drive through.
Joel’s explosiveness allows him to get to the rim and finish with the left-handed layup. In the picture above, Newell is positioned at the bottom, ready to receive a kickout pass if the defense was able to collapse on Joel in time.
Here’s the play in realtime.
The roster is full of players who have shown at least some ability to drive and finish at the rim. To fully take advantage of it, I’d like to see this team focus on more of a motion and spacing offense. This may leave you vulnerable on the defensive end, especially to large frontlines. One potential way to overcome this would be to ratchet up the pressure on defense, and disrupt the ball motion and passing lanes. But that is a post for another day.
Great article, BP. Thank you.
Don’t mean to pile on Lars, but Fox is asking a lot of him…while the guy has undoubtedly improved since he first stepped foot on campus, he’s still not the most skilled offensive player. We’ve constantly lamented the lack of spacing in the Cal O, especially compared with other teams. Anything that opens things up would help.
No comments? I think it might feel pointless to comment on such a disaster. Hate to say it, as I appreciate your work, but it's not as though it is not possible to play effective offensive basketball...It is not as though some coaches do not know how to teach their players how to play offensive basketball...It's not as though there aren't books, and videos, of how to play effective offensive basketball. It's all the more pathetic that the team can sometimes, despite the lack of a plan, execute a play. Or that occasionally, a plan they have will work, one out of ten. Watching our Bears play basketball is much like watching kids play U6 soccer. Lots of energy, no plan. Lots of running around and moving the ball around, and no effective way to score.