Featuring Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Marc Gasol
It’s Monday, so you know what that means? That’s right, another edition of “How They Drew It Up.” Just in case you are checking out the series for the first time, I debuted an NBA film series last week where I examine plays and actions that pique my interested from the previous week’s slate of games. From time to time, I will be joined by fellow Holyfield staff members to break down the film. Our good friend Kyle Howard joined me to discuss the unintentional theme of the week: passing.
The high-flying dunks and the ankle-breaking crossovers usually garner the attention of the highlight reel; however, smart, crisp passing is a foundational aspect of winning basketball. Moving the ball with purpose puts serious pressure on a defense. We all know the saying, “The ball moves faster than the players can react,” right? I think I got that correct. Anyways, teams that pass well, generate assists, and minimize turnovers usually win — i.e. smart, fundamental basketball. There is a reason why the San Antonio Spurs “Beautiful Game” is predicated on passing.
Kyle is going to start us off with a clip from the Celtics-Magic game, followed by me and my collection of plays. Let’s get into it!
Marcus Smart pass from the post
Marcus Smart cannot shoot. This feels like a bit of an understatement, but it is the simplest way to describe his offensive game. For his career, he is under 30% from three-point range, and just over 35% overall. It is probably the most noticeable thing about his game outside of his tenacious defense. What Smart can do, however, is post up and make plays for others. Over the last couple of seasons, the Celtics have deployed him in the post hundreds of times, typically resulting in good outcomes like the clip below.
Al Horford, unlike Smart, can shoot. His proficiency from the midrange is one of the defining characteristics of his play. As we know, he has extended that range beyond the arc from the past few seasons, currently shooting 47.4% from deep this season. Their coach, Brad Stevens, is one of the chief pushers of positionless basketball. For all the talk of his offensive system and calm demeanor, his greatest asset as a coach is simply playing to his player’s strengths. That is how we end up with Horford making the post entry to Smart, who has easily sealed Terrence Ross in the paint. Once Nikola Vucevic comes to help, the pass is automatic. With shooters in the corner and Kyrie Irving on the opposite wing, there is no way for the defense to rotate. Positionless basketball at its finest.
The Spurs doing the little things
You cannot discuss passing without having a clip from the San Antonio Spurs. It’s sacrilegious and blasphemous. The subtle actions in the clip below are what caught my eye when I saw the play. It’s the Spurs being, well, the Spurs.
Kyle “Slo Mo” Anderson passes to Patty Mills on the left wing as Mills is coming up from the paint. Mills catches Rivers off balance, darting back into the teeth of the defense. What’s so impressive about this is how Anderson and Danny Green (who’s coming off a curl) move with Mills into open space to create passing lanes while LaMarcus Aldridge clears out to the corner. And as Green moves with Mills into the right corner, Rudy Gay bumps Patrick Beverly just enough to be a split second late. Mills makes the no-brainer pass to Green and the corner three-point shot is drilled. Spurs basketball at its finest.
Crafty Kemba causing chaos
Kemba Walker is so freakin’ good, especially out of the pick and roll. Walker is in the 85th percentile in pick and roll points per possession and has the third-best turnover percentage (tied with Derrick Rose), per NBAcom. Furthermore, he is third in the NBA in assists off of drives. Not only is Kemba athletic and agile, he is also crafty and has great vision. For three-quarters of the Hornets-Knicks game — Frank Ntilikina put the clamps on Walker in the fourth — he was carving up the Knicks defense, along with rookie Malik Monk, on plays like this:
Dwight Howard sets a screen that forces Courtney Lee to go over it. Kemba starts his drive at the perfect time to keep Lee off his back, but Enes Kanter does a good job clogging up the driving lane. Here is the issue with the Knicks: they do not defend the pick and roll well so they pack in the defense to take away the drive. Both Walker and Howard know this. Jarrett Jack is forced to help on Howard to prevent him from having an open lane to the basket. And just as Howard meets Jack, Kemba whips it to Monk in the corner for the open corner three. Jack has no shot to legitimately contest the shot. This is textbook pick and roll execution.
Marc Gasol is still droppin’ dimes
I know everyone is on board the “Nikola Jokic is the best passing big man” train, but I’m keeping my seat on the Marc Gasol one. You all should come on board, it’s quite comfy. Sure, he’s ranked seventh in assist percentage behind Demarcus Cousins, Jokic, the aforementioned Al Horford, his brother, and surprisingly guys like Joel Embiid and Kyle O’Quinn (quick side note, O’Quinn is actually a very good passer). I’m still going with the younger Gasol brother. Why? Because he makes passes like this:
James Ennis receives a screen from Gasol at the top of the arc. Ennis drives to the hoop with Jusuf Nurkic following him and leaving Gasol open on the perimeter. Ennis gives a shot fake, freezing Nurkic and Pat Connaughton, and then kicks it back out to Gasol. CJ McCollum recognizes the pass is going to Gasol but doesn’t fully go for the steal, leaving his man, Dillion Brooks, open. Nurkic gets caught in no-man’s land due to the Gasol shot fake, Brooks as an entire cutting lane, and Gasol makes the pin-point accurate pass for the easy layup. Memphis simply exploited the poor defensive rotations with smart, high-IQ basketball.
Justise Winslow pick and roll maestro?
If Winslow is going to execute the pick and roll like he did against the Phoenix Suns, then Heat fans should be excited. Like many players this season, Winslow had his best and most complete game of the season. He scored 14 points on 58.9 TS%, grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists, and euro-stepped the hapless Marquese Chriss out the Phoenix metropolitan area.With less than four minutes left and only down by eight, a combination of crafty offense and lackadaisical defense results in the Heat going up 10.
Winslow receives two ball screens from James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, respectively. Devin Booker does a decent job getting over the screens but gets caught on Winslow’s right hip. Chriss shows fake effort as he barely does anything to stop Whiteside from slithering into the restricted area. Alex Len steps up to defend Winslow, but that’s exactly what Justise wants. He flips up the pass over Len and Whiteside slams it home. Keep an eye out for more Winslow pick and rolls.
BONUS CLIP: Robert Covington’s four-point plays.
That’s right, plays, as in multiple. You’re normally not going to see more than five clips in these articles, but what happened in the 76ers-Kings games last week was too interesting to simply gloss over. On back to back Sixer possessions, Robert Covington had four-point plays — in the same exact spot and against the same player, Skal Labissiere.
The more you watch Philadelphia, the more you fall in love with Covington. He’s 10th in the NBA in three-point attempts, converting a whopping 48.9%. That’s volume and efficiency at it’s finest. Covington may be the best three-and-d player in the league; he’s a perfect complimentary player to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
His high, quick release makes it difficult for players to defends. On the first four-point play, Covington sells the contact to draw the foul. Not a smart play by Labissiere. The second one is the more impressive. Same spot, same players, similar play. Covington fronts Labissiere with Skal’s left hand extended out horizontally. Covington recognizes this and uses his quick release to his advantage to draw contact. This is rare, beautiful stuff right here.
Note: Statistics were collected on November 11 and may have slightly changed since the publishing of this article.