Saturday’s game against the Knicks was, to put it lightly, a bit of a mess. The teams combined for 39 turnovers, 18 missed free throws, and 23% shooting from beyond the arc. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the first taste of basketball the Nets have had since last season. From the player’s perspective, I saw a refreshing aggressiveness from Brook Lopez and Anthony Morrow, but not much else. From a coaching perspective, there’s frankly not much to take away from that game, but one unsuccessful play early in the game caught my eye:
Note: apologies for the abruptness of the beginning and microphone quality. Had technical issues with all programs. Like with 18th century agrarian business, it’s all the same principles.
So let’s pick up the play from the start. We’ve got Deron Williams handling the ball at the top of the key, Shelden Williams in almost directly in front of him, Damion James in the left corner, Brook Lopez on the opposite block, and Deron Williams has the ball and receives a screen from Shelden Williams, which opens up the left side. With the screen, Deron’s normally got the option to attack the basket or pull up with a short jumper, but Amare Stoudemire hedged far left and cut off the lane. As Amare hedges and then recovers, Shelden cuts across up top to set a screen on Landry Fields.
As this happens, Damion James cuts across the lane from the left corner to set a cross-screen on Brook Lopez’s man, Tyson Chandler. Damion doesn’t look to score here, but if his defender helped out too far on Deron or overplayed him, the entire left side is open for him to get a quick cut to the basket.
Since that’s not there, Damion continues across the lane to set the cross-screen on Chandler. The intention of this play is to curl Brook Lopez to the ball-side block, where he can work his offensive magic, but this doesn’t work for two reasons. Firstly, Carmelo Anthony slides down to where Brook tries to curl and sticks his butt out, sending him off course. That little difference means that the arc of Brook’s curl comes out further than originally intended. Secondly, this is where Tyson Chandler’s defensive presence comes into play: Chandler fights through the screen with ease and blocks off Brook’s attempt to set up before he has a chance to get there. This means that Brook instead curls all the way out to the three-point line, where he merely exchanges handoffs with Deron.
At this point, the play becomes a standard pick-and-roll, but Deron instead swings out to Anthony Morrow. Morrow forces a contested off-balance jumper, which ends up well short.
This is one of those plays that, when well executed, could end with a number of scoring opportunities. However, since it came in the first 90 seconds of preseason, it’s no surprise that it didn’t work out.
There are two main issues here. Firstly, Shelden Williams (or whoever starts at power forward for the Nets come season time) needs to make himself available when he’s got a good look at the basket. When Deron came off the screen, Amare hedged hard on the left side, leaving Shelden essentially open. But Shelden’s already setting a cross-screen for Anthony Morrow and has his back to Deron, cutting himself off from the play. Shelden shot 45% from 16-23 feet last year according to HoopData, which is a pretty good percentage, so I hope in the future he reads the defense and adjusts to look for the open shot.
Secondly, Deron’s decision-making surprised me here. After receiving the screen, he passed the ball immediately to Anthony Morrow, who was 35 feet from the basket and in no position to score. Morrow doesn’t possess the skillset to beat his defender off the dribble, and with under ten seconds on the shot clock, the result is a poor shot. I’d normally expect Deron to either slash, drawing in the defense so that Morrow can spot up more effectively, or look to Brook Lopez rolling to the basket.
There are a few other things — Brook should’ve fought harder to get to the block, and Shelden could’ve set stronger screens, but those are mostly nitpicking. Players are still getting in the flow of the offense, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. That takes time. What’s key here is the strategy, giving Deron the left side to operate in, while curling Lopez and Morrow off cross-screens for smart looks.