Featuring Lonzo Ball, Stephen Curry, and Frank Ntilikina
It’s Monday, so you know what that means? That’s right, the latest edition of “How They Drew It Up.” I hope everyone has fully recovered from Thanksgiving weekend food coma. Last week had some exciting basketball, including the Miami Heat ending the Boston Celtics 16-game win streak and the New York Knicks outscoring the Toronto Raptors 41–10 in the third quarter. Will this week’s slate of games generate any memorable moments? If not, teams will have completed one-quarter of the NBA season. This is when we get to examine if the trends of the first 20-plus games become norms, or were just that — trends.
Unlike last week, I am riding solo for this edition, focusing primarily on screens. Simply put, if you don’t set good screens, you’re not going to be an effective offense. They are foundational to any offense. If you do not set a good screen, then the defender can easily stay with the offensive player, especially off the ball. This makes defending significantly easier. Good screens deter the defenders, causes mismatches, and overall makes defending a daunting physical and mental task. When is the right time to go over and under the screen? Is this the time we switch on the screen? Some as simple as a high screen and roll can cause chaos to a defense when executed correctly.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
Steph Curry as the screener
There are very few players in the NBA with a greater scoring gravity than Steph Curry; he may very well have the greatest. His limitless range and lightning-quick release create so much spacing for the Warriors offense. If you don’t play up on Curry as he crosses halfcourt, he may very well pull up and drain a three in your face, at a high percentage nonetheless. Furthermore, his scoring gravity creates easy opportunities for his teammates to score via larger cutting lanes and more room for a spot up (the defender sagging off his man to keep an eye of Curry driving, for example). But Steph Curry as the screen setter? Far too much chaos ensues.
The clip above has two plays where Curry is setting a screen to free up a cutter to receive an easy pass leading to an easy dunk. In the first part, Curry brings the ball up, passes to David West, and goes to set a screen for Andre Iguodala on the right wing. Curry seals off Jerian Grant long enough to put him in a poor position to recover, leading to an And-1. Bulls should have switched (see Grant’s hesitation too?), but look at Kris Dunn. He is locked onto Curry, terrified he’s going to receive the pass for a 3-point shot that he is unaware of Iguodala cutting right by him.
Part two of the clip is even more fun as Curry sets a back screen to free Kevin Looney. Guards setting screens for big men is always a good thing because big men have a tougher time getting around screens. If your guard is a willing and capable screener, like Steph Curry, it generates more offensive options. Iguodala initiates the offense by passing the ball to Shawn Livingston on the left wing. Curry looks like he’s going to cut up to the right wing, but instead sets a beautiful screen on Lauri Markkanen. Looney rolls to the basket, Markkanen is caught on Curry, and Livingston rifles in a pass for the dunk. Curry setting screens equals good looks for the Warriors.
The Sacramento Kings, featuring Horns and Bogdan Bogdanovic
The Horns offense is so versatile and widely used in today’s NBA. The set plays that can come out of it are simple, yet effective when executed well. As the third quarter nears its end of the Denver-Sacramento game, the Kings set not one, not two, but three screens to free up Bogdan Bogdanovic for a remarkably easy three.
Juan Hernangomez has to get around a Frank Mason III screen and fight through a Willie Cauley-Stein screen just to eventually be sealed off by Kostas Koufos. Bogdanovic barely broke a sweat as he was coming up to receive the Koufos pass. Similar to the Curry clip, good things happen when the guard sets a screen on the larger defender. It also helps to have two bigs also act as reinforcements as secondary and tertiary screeners. Teams that have big men and shooters who move well off of screens — I’m looking at you New York and Philadelphia — should be running this play out of Horns multiple times a game.
Lakers swooping and alley-ooping
Bulls fans, I swear I’m not picking on you by highlighting teams executing good offense against your team. If it makes you feel better, you’re at least not a bottom five defensive team in the league, unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers. Anyways, the Los Angeles Lakers effectively run the same play twice in the first quarter against Chicago, resulting in easy alley-oop opportunities.
Lonzo Ball brings the ball up, passes to Brandon Ingram on the left wing, and then receives a back screen from Julius Randle. Ball recognizes that no one is defending the rim and cuts straight to the basket. Kris Dunn recognizes the play but is too late as Ingram provides a perfect pass for Ball to hammer home the dunk. I’m also not exactly sure what Bobby “One Punch Man” Portis is doing on the play.
Just a few minutes later, Jordan Clarkson brings the ball up, passes to Randle on the left wing, and then uses the Ivica Zubac “I’m so large that me standing in this spot counts as a screen” screen to shake his defender. It’s the same play with the screen happening on a different spot on the floor, executed well both times.
Frank Ntilikina’s redemption play
To be fair, there are screens in this play; however, they aren’t the notable highlight in the clip. New York Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina, aka French Sinatra and NOT FRANKIE SMOKES, is having a rough stretch over the past few games, primarily on offense. The flashes are there, though. Ntilikina makes a poor pass to a defended Courtney Lee and DeAndre’ Bembry makes the steal. I believe the primary target was supposed to be Lance Thomas in the corner, but he simply does not use the down screen set by Doug McDermott. Combined with a poor screen from Willy Hernangomez, it was just an overall poor possession by the Knicks. But does Ntilikina get discouraged? Of course not. He instead demonstrated why he’s considered an elite defensive prospect.
LeBron James must have unintentionally transferred some of his greatness into the kid because that was one hell of a chase-down block. Not only down Ntilikina deny Bembry the layup, he even keeps the ball in play! An overall great defensive play by the rookie, but he isn’t done. Ntilikina gets the ball back, calls a play, and finishes with a made basket (a poor slip screen by Hernangomez as well). Instead of the Hawks going up by seven, excellent defense from Ntilikina allows for the Knicks to cut the lead to three, in spite of their poor screening and off the ball movement.
The Spurs beings, well, the Spurs
Alright, I can’t even use the justification of “well, there are screens in the clip” for this next highlight as there are zero screens. Pau Gasol attempts to set one, but that’s a stretch. The San Antonio Spurs playing “The Beautiful Game” is just too hard not to highlight. Anyone who loves basketball loves watching the Spurs move the ball around the court. The end result of the clip below is an open Danny Green three in the corner. Go figure, right?
Not one, not two, not three, but EIGHT passes made on this possession. All with a purpose too, I should add. Similar to setting screens, constant ball movement forces the defense to rotate. Getting defenses into those help rotations causes chaos. One person not recovering or rotating correctly leads to someone being open. And that’s exactly what happened on here. Dwight Howard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both converge to stop Patty Mills’ drive. They do so, but this puts Nic Batum in a poor spot. Mills forces Batum over to Gasol before his whips a no-long pass to Danny Green in the corner. He’s so wide open with so much time. That was a practice shot for Green.
The Spurs do unbelievable stuff like this a number of games per game. If you’re tired of watching your favorite team play bad basketball (insert Marquese Chriss and Suns joke), watch San Antonio. They are a joy to watch.