Cost Effective Ball Movement

In N.B.A. Basketball by Brock Bourgase

In Real Life: Atul Gawande speculates that one of the key drivers behind rising health care cost is overtreatment: excessive and gratuitous procedures which give the impression of thorough treatment without actually improving results. Patients may suffer complications from needless operations or doctors may neglect a low cost preventative measure in favour a more expensive and risky procedure. Certain “anchor tenants” influence the culture of particular hospitals and communities.

The key to better health care lies in prescribing the appropriate care for each patient and treating the cause instead of all of the symptoms. Western countries agree that health care costs are problematic but few have been successful in affecting meaningful change. It is not easy but a discerning physician acting ethically can step up to the challenge. Physicians who wield influence over others can take initiative and serve as role models.

On the Court: Basketball coaches generally loathe offensive stagnation and devote extensive practice time in order to remedy the inactivity. In sport, the cost is not expressed in dollars but by the practice time required to fix the problem. Addressing every single symptom of offensive inefficiency (turnovers, bad shots, poor passes, blitzed screens, half-court walls, awful flow and lost momentum) demands too much time in practice and expends precious timeouts in games. Everyone agrees that it’s a problem but not everyone is willing to take concrete steps towards a solution every trip down the court.

Gawande discusses how the collective accountability of health care providers such as the Mayo Clinic have reduced costs and enhanced outcomes for patients. When doctors act as leaders and encourage others to act altruistically, meaningful change transpires. The teams that move the ball the best follow a set of principles rather than a number of plays. Players are accountable for doing the little things right but it’s not simply a carrot without a stick; moving the ball is its own reward in terms of team chemistry and personal satisfaction.

Take Action: Here are some tips to move the ball that above-average teams utilize to score that any coach can capably include in any set without wasting unnecessary practice time.

Involve All Five Players: Those who are not handling the ball cannot stand idly by nor can a screen and roll play only involve two players. In order to set up a D.H.O. at the top of the key, the Toronto Raptors (111.0 Offensive Rating) enter the ball into the high post and set a staggered pin-down to free Kyle Lowry to get the ball. It’s far more dynamic than a standard high rub and sets the entire defense in motion. Jonas Valančiūnas for an uncontested dunk.

Offensive concepts must also be applied consistently or they will lose impact against intense competition. The Raptors have been guilty have abandoning their strategy in the fourth quarter of some games in favour of isolations and two-man screen and roll sets. Toronto players only cover 26.6 kilometres per game, a relatively low amount compared to other teams.

Read and React: Great teams improvise and create something out of nothing when their favourite sets are disrupted. The Washington Wizards (104.0) use the high post as a pressure release value against pressure, such as deny defense or a blitzed screen and roll.

John Wall faces a trap after a screen and roll. Marcin Gortat comes to the high post so that his defender must choose between him and the roller (Nenê). After the ball is skipped, Gortat dives down the middle of the lane and finishes. The Wizards create 57.3 points with assists per forty-eight minutes.

Quick Passes: A screen is trapped at one end of the court and the Memphis Grizzlies (107.0) move the ball expeditiously across the court to find the open man. Mike Conley makes a safe twelve foot pass to Marc Gasol, who fakes a pass before making one to Courtney Lee. Lee draws the last defender and makes an extra pass to Vince Carter who hits a corner three.

The Grizzlies’ passes are high in quantity and quality. Ball fakes and incisive passes contribute a bad rotation which leads to a very good look. The Grizzlies make 310 passes per game.

Attack the Defense Twice: During their good moments, the Raptors will drive and kick multiple times or drive, kick, skip and pass again. At other times, the offense seizes up and the defense is permitted to close the paint. Here, Lou Williams drives baseline and kicks to James Johnson in the corner. Rather than shoot immediately, Johnson drives into the paint and finishes with a Euro step.

Since his first stint with the Raptors, Johnson has refined his footwork and his decision-making, both of which are required for this play. He passes up a shot for which he has an effective field goal percentage of 20% in order to take one with an eFG% of 67.3. The Raptors drive the ball twenty-seven times per game and generate 18.5 points each game.

Force Bad Rotations: The San Antonio Spurs (105.8) employ screen and roll plays to suck in the defense and locate an open shooter. When Boris Diaw or Tim Duncan roll hardto the basket, they are as likely to kick the ball to an open shooter as finish themselves. On the weak-side, a San Antonio big may set a hammer screen so that a defender who is helping cannot recover.

The Spurs have an effective field goal percentage of fifty-five percent on catch and shoot plays and contribute almost seven secondary assists per game.

Reverse the Ball: The Chicago Bulls (105.8) run ball screens on both sides of the court and pass the ball in and out of the high post. All defensive players are occupied throughout the play and eventually the ball finds an open shooter for a Derrick Rose three.  The Bulls consume almost twenty minutes of possession with their offensive plays.

Down the Road: Soaring costs and inflated budgets doom governments when it is election time. Inefficient allotment of practice time and stilted ball movement doom teams in the playoffs. Address the root of the problem, not merely the symptoms, before it is too late. Every little bit helps.