I love basketball ❤️🏀. To me love means two things - sacrifice and being fascinated by the intricate details.

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A fascinating Italian possession: Improvisational combination of offensive concepts to create an advantage

Studying Ettore Messina’s 2017 Italian National Team at that year’s EuroBasket (at which they’d reach the quarterfinals with a team lead by Belinelli, Datome, Melli and Hackett) I stumbled into a possession versus Georgia that I believe to be fascinating as it illuminates so many tactical concepts artfully combined, and perhaps improvisational in nature, to create an offensive advantage. The possession did not lead to a basket, nor even a Field Goal Attempt, however I don’t think this matters. The possession - annotated using KlipDraw - is embedded below. In this blog post I intend to briefly elaborate further on the possession.

Italy operates out of their typical baseline out of bounds alignment, with Belinelli back screening for Datome on the weak side. This 2-3 screen partly aims to bait the defence into switching, which puts Belinelli in good position to seal x3 high side and slip back to the ball for a lay up. The danger of the 2-3 interaction may cause one or both of the defensive bigs on the strong side to sink, and the 5-4 pin screen for Melli - a capable shooter - is partly designed to potentially exploit this help for an open shot and invariably result in a clean catch to get the ball inbounds. Here Melli catches the ball below the free throw line extended, which has a small consequence in that Hackett, the inbounder, can not pop back to the corner when his defender cheats inside against the zipper screen because the space in the corner area has been occupied by Melli. This is fortuitous for Georgia because they have connected their defence against the zipper screen to their intended ball screen coverage, as they should. Because they intend to “Ice!” (a.k.a. “Blue,” “Push,” et al) the ball screen, keeping the ball from being dribbled to the middle of the floor, it makes sense for them to take the inside route versus the zipper screen as this lends itself to the ball handler’s (Hackett’s) defender arriving in good position to “Ice!” the ball screen.

Most likely because the screener’s defender (x5 Zaza Pachulia) doesn’t perceive either the ball handler (Hackett) or the screener (Cusin) as a shooter he sits in a deep drop and protects the paint. It is possible that this is Georgia’s predominant coverage irrespective of the opponent, or that another explanation exists for why this coverage is chosen.

Even though Cusin is a non-shooter he employs the ball screen principles outlined in “How to Make the Defence Always Wrong” which call for the screener to pop versus conservative coverage (as Pachulia employs here) to maximise the separation between him and his defender.

Italy now combines two offensive concepts to create an advantage on the second side of the floor.

  1. Cusin employs “Red Tactics” - the worst thing a non-shooter can do when he catches the ball on the perimeter and his defender neglects to defend him and sits back in the paint to protect the interior is to freeze the ball, allowing the defence time to recover and eliminate the advantage they may have conceded to the offensive earlier in the possession. In these instances if you are not capable of punishing the defence by shooting efficiently you should immediately employ “Red Tactics” for example a quick kick on sprint on ball screen, a quick DHO, or a quick kick on and pin down. The idea being that the non-shooter has separation from their defender and if they can quickly progress the offence into the next action the screener’s defender (here Pachulia) will not have time to recover against the separation and the next action can be executed with the offence having a 2 versus 1 advantage. Here Cusin chooses a quick DHO with Datome.

  2. To further ensure that Pachulia is late to recover and negate the separation between him and Cusin Belinelli sets a cross screen on Pachulia. This maintains the East-West separation (the hoop is North) between Cusin and Pachulia, which Italy hopes to exploit with the quick DHO to the second side of the floor. The separation is further increased when Pachulia chooses to go under Belinelli’s screen. Belinelli had been in position to back screen Pachulia in Italy’s typical Spain Pick-&-Roll action out of the BLOB, however, when Pachulia drops back into the paint so far it negates the possibility of a back screen lob or back screening the “Moosh!” ball screen coverage on the Spain, and both Cusin and Belinelli adapt to the defensive coverage instantaneously with Cusin popping and Belinelli changing the screening angle (from back screen to cross screen) and the tactical intent of the screen.

The combination of these tactics has the desired effect. The DHO is executed 2 versus 1 with an absence of help from Pachulia. Datome, cutting out of the corner, has an open pull up three should he want it, however he declines to shoot it. Perhaps he liked the perimeter isolation versus Pachulia, who recovers late to switch, however Pachulia proves to be more fleet footed hare as opposed to sedentary turtle and gets a deflection versus the isolation.

Nevertheless a fascinating possession that illuminates how offensive concepts can be combined - improvisational if the concepts are taught well enough - to create an offensive advantage.

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