Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Inverse Offense

During the very exciting Pistons-Bulls game from last Thursday, Kevin Harlen made constant mention of the fact that the Pistons often run their offense inside-out, in that the big men shoot from the perimeter while the guards and swingmen take it to the post. I found it odd that Harlen - and not analyst Doug Collins - was making this observation, and I also found it odd that the observation was a very good one, despite being rather simple. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized how rare the Pistons are in that sense. How many other teams have big guys like Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess - guys that are not just capable of playing on the perimeter, but actually seem more comfortable doing it - and a post-up point guard like Chauncey Billups? Throw in small forward Tayshaun Prince's versatility and the different things that rookie Rodney Stuckey is going to be able to do and you get a really unique team.

And I think that this ability to inverse the offense at least partly explains why the Pistons are staying so successful despite the fact that everyone keeps waiting for them to fall off. It makes sense why inversing the offense would be a subtly effective way of doing things. After all, players are so big these days that running traditional post offense is getting increasingly difficult - the lane is just too clogged. Throw in the fact that teams can zone and help with more ease and it gets extremely hard to isolate a post player. However, if you take the big guys (and therefore, the big guys guarding them) and put them on the perimeter, you suddenly have much smaller players battling it out with more real estate. Add in the fact that big men are less comfortable playing perimeter defense and guards less comfortable defending in the post and it makes a ton of sense to flip the offense.

The problem for most teams is that they don't have the pieces to do it well, or often. Utah has Deron Williams, who can definitely post other point guards, and they have Memhet Okur, who is the epitome of a perimeter big man, but they also have Carlos Boozer. Now, Boozer can certainly hit 15-footers, but it is a shame of move him off the block. Therefore, they don't invert their offense as often as they might otherwise. Dallas is a team with the proper big man for the job in Dirk Nowitzki, but I don't imagine we'll be seeing Devin Harris or Jason Terry taking people to the block. In fact, most teams, even if they have one or two pieces that would allow this to happen, don't have the cohesive lineup to implement a true inverse offense.

That said, I do think there are three teams that can do it nearly as well as Detroit. They are:

Atlanta. The Hawks actually have the perfect roster to implement what the Pistons do on offense. I watch the Hawks-Bobcats game yesterday and was really impressed by both Josh Smith (before he hurt himself and had to leave the game with 5 blocks in the second quarter) and Joe Johnson in the post. Smith has added a series of outstanding post moves and is showing the ability to finish with finesse around the rim, while Johnson has always been an underrated lowpost player. And on the flip side they have guys like Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams to step out and hit 18-footers all day long. Even prized rookie big man Al Horford has the range to knock down the 15-footer. Of all the teams in the NBA, Atlanta is the one most able to replicate what Detroit does so well. And the best news is that they seem to realize it, as they constantly spread the floor last night, taking their big men out wide and putting Smith and Johnson in the post against overmatched guards.

Golden State. I remember watching a late-season game between the Warriors and the Suns last year and being amazed at how easily Baron Davis was able to exploit Steve Nash on the block. Everyone talks about beating Phoenix this way, but seldom are actually able to do it. The Warriors play almost all guard-types anyway, so it isn't a problem to post Baron on whatever overmatched point is guarding him and let guys like Harrington, Barnes, and Jackson (once he returns from suspension) spread the floor and take the big men with them. The problem for the Warriors is that as good as Azabuke has been, he and Monta Ellis are both more slashers than the traded Jason Richardson or the suspended Jackson, so the lane is getting clogged. Plus, as Biedrins continues to improve and provide good defense, he's getting more time on the court and has a hard time straying too far from the basket (unless they want to turn him into a stand-around non factor on offense, ala Marcus Camby in the 2007 Playoffs). The result is that Baron isn't taking people into the post hardly at all this year and G-State is trying to run and gun their way to wins. I know they played at a fast pace last year, but what made them unstoppable at times wasn't really the speed at which they played, it was the fact that they could inverse their offense and create matchup nightmares all over the court. They need to get Jackson back, get Ellis on a leash, and go back to Baron turning defenses inside-out.

Portland. The irony here is that if Greg Oden was healthy, they wouldn't be on this list. But as it stands, Portland can really play Deeeeetroit Basketball on the offensive end. Jack can post people from his point guard spot, but it is Brandon Roy that can really take his game into the paint. And with LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, and Travis Outlaw all capable of playing outside-in from the 4 and 5 spots (in regards to Outlaw, this is just when Portland goes small), they have the perfect floor balance. And that doesn't even account for Martell Webster unleashing bombs from deep, further spreading the floor. The problem for Portland is that Steve Blake and Joel Przybilla both get big minutes and can't be flipped at all. Blake has no post ability and the Zilla can't take his game outside of about 12 feet. So when the Blazers have to go with that lineup, they must run their post game through Aldridge where things are all clogged and stacked up.

It will be interesting to see if more teams try to play this way or how long it will sustain the Pistons' success. I know that it is making the Hawks better, will turn things around for Golden State if they get back to it, and helps explain why Portland is better than anticipated, but I'm not sure whether it is going to be some kind of trend or if it is even something that is schemed by coaching staffs.

But, like everything else in the NBA, I'll be watching to find out.

1 comment:

Jeff Dritz said...

Great post. The Bulls are left totally unable to defend this inverse offense, especially Billups' post-up ability and Rasheed's outside shooting. This is why I cannot see the Bulls beating the Pistons in a playoff series (although, they way they are currently playing, I can't really see the Bulls even playing anyone in a playoff series).