Positions (or lack thereof) in today’s NBA

Jimbodandy

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One idea I saw was to narrow the lane by a foot or so on either side, to get the post players closer to the hoop. Makes post players more of a threat. Interesting concept.
Narrowing the lane and adding some distance to the 3pt line would help, but the latter is likely a non-starter.
 

Eddie Jurak

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One idea I saw was to narrow the lane by a foot or so on either side, to get the post players closer to the hoop. Makes post players more of a threat. Interesting concept.
That's one of Goldsberry's suggestions (maybe others suggest it too, but Goldsberry is where I heard it first).

I think posting up people who can do that is still an efficient play, but with players who are average to mediocre at it, it is less efficient.

Especially since a lot of 3-point shooting offenses also rely on attacking the basket. Look at the Celtics' once and future point guard trio: Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker. Their ability to shoot the three opens up driving lanes, so they end up taking a lot of efficient shots, including open 3 pointers and close-in shots. To maximize their offensive capabilities, the Celtics tend to want to the lane open - have a guy post up on the low block and when the PG drives he's got less room and a help defender in the way.
 

TripleOT

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Good find on the Thibs "zone"defense. Another of the big problems with a post up offense is if the defense takes away the post up, the kick out to the front side of the defense is going to be covered, and as the shot clock winds down, the offense better move the ball crisply to the weak side, with little room for error.

Teams are better off with a drive and dish by their most skilled driver/playmaker in a spread offense, than a not-great passing big man trying to get to the rim with a defender between him and the rim. It's easier to get to a clear in close shot by going by a defender in space, especially with pick action, than by overpowering a defender.

Plus, a front side kick out to the post will usually necessitate one help defender to scramble back out on a shooter, while a drive and kick tends to get the entire defense scrambling, because the kick out destination isn't as obvious. We saw Embiid struggle mightily with the post kickout in the 2018 playoff loss to the Celtics. The weakside post kickout seems to be a lost art in today's NBA.

One last factor is today's players are heavier, stronger, and more muscular than those in 1980. With more core and low base strength, it makes it more difficult to overpower defenders in the post because you're a bit taller, That lean muscle creates faster movement, and that explosive quickness allows players to help down quicker, and recover to open shooters more quickly.
 

Big John

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That's one of Goldsberry's suggestions (maybe others suggest it too, but Goldsberry is where I heard it first).
In addition to narrowing the lane, Goldsberry also suggests eliminating the officiating differences between the post and the perimeter. The refs allow players to bang in the post, but call the slightest touch fouls on the perimeter. Maybe it should even out.
 

lovegtm

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Narrowing the lane and adding some distance to the 3pt line would help, but the latter is likely a non-starter.
Yeah, I think there has to be a better solution than adding distance to the line, since then you just get even more missed 3s, which are already getting pretty bad. Long rebounds also take away yet another big man advantage.

Something like discrete 3-point shooting zones, like circles on the court from which shots count for 3, could work, but it starts to feel gimmicky (although the 3-point line is pretty gimmicky to begin with).
 

mikeot

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Not the first time I feel like Bertie Wooster amidst a whole gaggle of Jeeves's here, but this thread is one of the all time greats. Takeaway: let's get to the FT line more often than not next season, fellas!
 

lovegtm

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The Clippers new roster, if healthy, is going to be an amazing example of treating the 2-4 as just "long, strong, fast guys running around."
 

HomeRunBaker

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Then why did teams score so effectively in the post in the 80s and 90s, when defenders were allowed to clutch and grab?
It’s all about the rule changes which change how the game is played at this level which causes a trickle down effect as kids growing up emulate how those in the NBA play the game. So in essence, the NBA rule changes have impacted how the game is taught (or should be taught) to youngsters.

I saw this first hand growing up on the playgrounds as Bird/Magic made it “cool” to share the ball with passing. Then I also saw at the end of my playing days how it was all-iso all-the-time once Jordan and then later on Iverson were the kids primary influencers.

Post defenders are allowed to clutch and grab more than ever today. The rules prohibiting hand checking and use of defending with your forearm (The Derek Harper Rule) only impacted perimeter defends as it did not outlaw this physicality inside the paint.


My theory: as the game has changed, fewer players even learn how to post up. They don’t have post scoring skills and at no level do they learn them because the game is all outside-in. So very few players actually have legit post skills anymore.

I know I’m talking about two of the all time great post players, but there’s no way McHale and Olajuwon don’t score a ton in the post even in today’s game.
This reminds me of the guy who says that there are no great NFL running backs today which is due to how the game has changed. Correct.....the game has changed due to the rules that make running the ball less efficient just as the NBA has made low post offense less efficient with the illegal defense rule.

Neither McHale nor Hakeem played when the Illegal Defense Rule was implemented (in 2001) so it was much easier to score in iso on the low block. I don’t see any reason to believe that they would be nearly as good as they were under the current rules limiting their effectiveness. Once it became more difficult the game moved away from this focus and as I mentioned above the kids growing up are no longer watching as many post-ups with scoring being the primary intention.


Part of it is because just as post offense has disappeared, post defense has disappeared with it. Total anecdote here but I play at a university gym all the time, even with guys who were outstanding high school players. And none of them - even the guys that are 6’5” - know how to post defend. Everyone plays outside now. It’s a lost art.

But I don’t know why it has to be that way. Good post scorers should score more often than not on the block.
The game has evolved way beyond this. Running the ball in football due to rule changes, lack of bunting in baseball with analytics, the lack of a backhand in hockey from curved stick innovation.
 

BaseballJones

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I definitely hear what you're saying about kids emulating what they see in the NBA. Just yesterday I was working out with my daughter (who plays college hoops) and there was a bunch of younger kids playing pickup. They ALL were doing the Harden step back from three. And made about 5% of them. I'm thinking, if I'm guarding you, and you want to do THAT, by all means, do that til your heart's content.

I also agree that a big part of it (as I think I've mentioned) is that at every level they run NBA-style offenses. College (D1 through D3), high school, even middle school, they're looking to take a ton of threes. But at those lower levels they don't shoot it well enough to justify it, and the vast vast majority of those kids will never play in the NBA, so I don't get why high school coaches are orienting their offenses around a skill set that the vast majority of their players will never have.

Anyway, I'm sure you guys are all right in terms of why things are the way they are. Maybe it's my experience coaching (where I still coach HS girls to get to the block...yes I know it's girls so maybe that makes a difference...but my teams are very successful at it) and even playing (where I roast college kids who used to be very good high school players on the block even though I'm 30 years older than them). I just think, man, wouldn't you rather get a shot from 5 feet than from 10-12? If you can get to the rim, yes obviously. And if you get a wide open three, yes, obviously. But after those two options, isn't a good post player the next best option?

I guess my view is out of date though. Heh, not the first time for that.


EDIT: PS - things do come and go in cycles. Funny you should mention running, because the Patriots won their last five games of the year (and a Super Bowl) by running for 889 yards (178 a game) while throwing for 1305. That's one passing yard for every 1.47 rushing yards. To show you how big a departure that is from their recent history, compare that ratio to their past 5 seasons (which included 4 trips to the Super Bowl).

2014: 1727 rush, 4291 pass, 1:2.48
2015: 1404 rush, 4812 pass, 1:3.43
2016: 1872 rush, 4456 pass, 1:2.38
2017: 1889 rush, 4619 pass, 1:2.45
2018: 2037 rush, 4405 pass, 1:2.16
Last 5 of 2018: 889 rush, 1305 pass, 1:1.47

It's not just "matchups" either. Yes, the Rams and Chiefs were bad against the run so that made sense. But Buffalo was #10, the Chargers were #12, and even the Jets weren't terrible at #19. So they were able to run well. Anyway, this is a major digression. Just wanted to say that I think that as things change, the good teams adjust off those changes. See how the Patriots do things. Maybe it's harder in the NBA than it is the NFL. I just think you can zag when everyone else is zigging.
 
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mauf

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Rule changes in the NBA have made post play less efficient, but the rules of the game haven’t changed nearly as much at lower levels. And the differences in size and athleticism that post play is designed to exploit are, of course, much more prevalent at those lower levels.

I understand that youth coaches tend to avoid extensive use of the post because of the perception* that it focuses too much on one player, to the detriment of the others’ development. But at the high-school and college level, where the objective is to win, I agree with @BaseballJones that the post is underutilized (at least from what I’ve seen — I don’t watch a ton of HS ball).


*- Whether this perception is reality depends on whether the post player is a good passer. A good-passing big will open up all sorts of opportunities for teammates, especially for kids who aren’t good enough to create their own shot.
 

lovegtm

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So to a large degree, this is similar to what Kerr installed in Golden State. Obviously GSW has a ton of their own specific rules/principles, and also can do more complex things because their team was so ridiculously high-IQ and talented. It specifically made them a lot harder to switch against, which was one of the benefits mentioned here.

In the NBA though, whether a system like that works will be highly personnel-dependent, just because the league is so competitive that you have to maximize your team's specific advantage. If you have Giannis, you're doing the other team a huge favor by going to an egalitarian movement system.

This year's Celtics could do some interesting stuff on these lines if/when they go to super-small lineups with Brown, Tatum, or G-Will at the 5. Long-term, TL's passing and ball skills make him really intriguing in this type of setup.
 

benhogan

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So to a large degree, this is similar to what Kerr installed in Golden State. Obviously GSW has a ton of their own specific rules/principles, and also can do more complex things because their team was so ridiculously high-IQ and talented. It specifically made them a lot harder to switch against, which was one of the benefits mentioned here.

In the NBA though, whether a system like that works will be highly personnel-dependent, just because the league is so competitive that you have to maximize your team's specific advantage. If you have Giannis, you're doing the other team a huge favor by going to an egalitarian movement system.

This year's Celtics could do some interesting stuff on these lines if/when they go to super-small lineups with Brown, Tatum, or G-Will at the 5. Long-term, TL's passing and ball skills make him really intriguing in this type of setup.
It feels like TL is a forgotten man. I hope there is some way we can get a better look at him.
 

lovegtm

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It feels like TL is a forgotten man. I hope there is some way we can get a better look at him.
I hear that teams around the league have, tentatively, agreed to play each other in some sort of round-robin 82-game tournament, starting in October. You may get a chance to watch him play then.
 

reggiecleveland

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That's one of Goldsberry's suggestions (maybe others suggest it too, but Goldsberry is where I heard it first).

I think posting up people who can do that is still an efficient play, but with players who are average to mediocre at it, it is less efficient.
I see two solutions.
1. Call on the ball fouls in th post like the 3 point line, hands off, no pushing once ball is there, this id for O and D.
2. Secondly coaches figure out a counter. To me the next 'moneyball' undervalued talent are bigs that can really run and finish. With so many 4s (and 5s) trailing, setting drag screens, the power guy and can fly down the floor can clean up the transition 3s on the oboards and get a ton of dunks. The power guy that get to the paint early has that one chance to post up. With the premium on bigs that can shoot, to me the 6'8 240 guy that can run can score a lot in the first 5 seconds. All the 7 foot 3 point shooters probably can't hurt these 6'8 athletes in the post, and a shorter forward can probably switch more matchups than the string bean pick and pop guy.
 

Strike4

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This is fascinating...what's really neat is that this is basically the (unspoken) offense of pickup basketball. When you aren't practicing you can't have set plays, so you adhere to broad principles so you don't have a crappy offense: pass and cut, spread out well out of the key, rotate into space, stay out of the way of a drive. The only difference is that in pickup, you still use the pick and roll, and if you have a big guy you can stick him in the post.
 

benhogan

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Thank you. This is a terrific article.
Agreed, I think Brad will steal a lot of what the Bucks did with Brook Lopez.

The mainstream media (ie Nick Wright) that strictly compare Horford's defense to Kanter's defense is lazy. Obviously Brad will change defensive strategy. PLUS we will see a combo of Brown, Hayward, Tatum at the 4, all much better defenders then MaMo.
 

Jimbodandy

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Agreed, I think Brad will steal a lot of what the Bucks did with Brook Lopez.

The mainstream media (ie Nick Wright) that strictly compare Horford's defense to Kanter's defense is lazy. Obviously Brad will change defensive strategy. PLUS we will see a combo of Brown, Hayward, Tatum at the 4, all much better defenders then MaMo.
MaMo is a great point. Not sure what a year of effort defense from him would look like, but nobody will ever know. Terry was a turnstile last year, largely because of a lack of effort. And Kemba can't be worse than Kyrie, can he?

Horford and Baynes are huge losses to the defense. Huge. But we will likely see lifts in other areas. And some changes in scheme.
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

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And Kemba can't be worse than Kyrie, can he?
Sadly, Kemba grades out as a fair bit worse than Kyrie on defense. He is a decent replacement for Irving's production but he is statistically inferior on both ends.

Of course, the x-factor is that Walker's potential positive contribution to the team's overall chemistry may mitigate the gap between him and Kyrie.
 

Jimbodandy

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Sadly, Kemba grades out as a fair bit worse than Kyrie on defense. He is a decent replacement for Irving's production but he is statistically inferior on both ends.

Of course, the x-factor is that Walker's potential positive contribution to the team's overall chemistry may mitigate the gap between him and Kyrie.
I'll take your word on it.

DBPMs are basically the same, and that includes Kyrie's two years with a strong back end behind him (his best two year stretch by far)

Kyrie's on/offs look better than I expected, and Kemba's are so wildly scattered as to be useless to interpret (at least to me).
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

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I'll take your word on it.

DBPMs are basically the same, and that includes Kyrie's two years with a strong back end behind him (his best two year stretch by far)

Kyrie's on/offs look better than I expected, and Kemba's are so wildly scattered as to be useless to interpret (at least to me).
I looked at both players DBPM for the past few years. Career-wise they are very close but Kemba has gotten worse over the past few seasons while Kyrie has done better. I suspect Kemba's defensive metrics will see a boost with Boston but the other variable is that Horford had a pretty significant positive impact on Kyrie/the Celtics defense.

Without him and even Baynes to clean things up, I suspect that Walker won't see the leap that Kyrie's defensive metrics showed when he came to Boston.
 

benhogan

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MaMo is a great point. Not sure what a year of effort defense from him would look like, but nobody will ever know. Terry was a turnstile last year, largely because of a lack of effort. And Kemba can't be worse than Kyrie, can he?

Horford and Baynes are huge losses to the defense. Huge. But we will likely see lifts in other areas. And some changes in scheme.
Agreed. A huge loss. BUT a defensive scheme change & Marcus Morris Jr exit will soften the Horford/Baynes loss. I suspect a healthy Gordon Hayward, in lieu of MaMo, at the 4 will help quite a bit.

I just went back and looked at rotational pairings from the last 2 seasons. MaMo's poor defense really stands out (ie Kyrie's worse rotational pairing for both seasons was Morris).


 
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lovegtm

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Hopefully we can count on Kemba to at least not man up Giannis during playoff games.
Yeah, it turns out that DRPM doesn't really factor in that a guy might start randomly sabotaging his own team because he's mentally checked out and is just a weird as hell dude.

Agree that Kyrie's physical tools for D are better than Kemba's, and that Kyrie initially used those to good effect in Boston.

I could, however, see Kemba getting a slight boost just from not having to completely carry the offense like he did in Charlotte. So much of defense is energy that that has to be factored in.
 

benhogan

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Yeah, it turns out that DRPM doesn't really factor in that a guy might start randomly sabotaging his own team because he's mentally checked out and is just a weird as hell dude.

Agree that Kyrie's physical tools for D are better than Kemba's, and that Kyrie initially used those to good effect in Boston.

I could, however, see Kemba getting a slight boost just from not having to completely carry the offense like he did in Charlotte. So much of defense is energy that that has to be factored in.
Fair point.

Kemba will also be playing in more meaningful games, on a bigger stage which should increase his defensive intensity. I don't expect him to turn into Patrick Beverly but he'll be no worse than Kyrie IMO. Also wouldn't expect Kemba to play over 80 games and average ~35mpg like he has the last 4 seasons, Brad will rest him.
 

TripleOT

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Interesting story on how, a half decade ago, the Kings hired an obscure D-3 assistant to coach an extreme style of basketball with their D league team. The radical plan, positionless players taking only layups threes.

 

lovegtm

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Interesting story on how, a half decade ago, the Kings hired an obscure D-3 assistant to coach an extreme style of basketball with their D league team. The radical plan, positionless players taking only layups threes.

Fun read, thanks!
 

benhogan

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Interesting story on how, a half decade ago, the Kings hired an obscure D-3 assistant to coach an extreme style of basketball with their D league team. The radical plan, positionless players taking only layups threes.

Great article. Trading Cousins for Hield turned out to be a steal for the Kings, maybe Vivek had his fingerprints on that instead of Vlade.

I always knew Grinnell College as the small school with a good-sized endowment because they were an early Warren Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway investor.


 
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Kliq

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At the D3 College level you will see a lot of outside-of-the-box strategies coaches will use. A big one that is catching on, especially in women's basketball, is to do full, 5 for 5 substitution patterns like hockey line changes, and do that every 2-4 minutes. Often this leads to teams trying to press for 40 straight minutes. It's hard to see that catching on in the NBA because in college it is done to mask a lack of individual talent and isolation scorers with depth and defensive energy; but I'm surprised how little we see true, full-court presses in the NBA.
 

benhogan

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At the D3 College level you will see a lot of outside-of-the-box strategies coaches will use. A big one that is catching on, especially in women's basketball, is to do full, 5 for 5 substitution patterns like hockey line changes, and do that every 2-4 minutes. Often this leads to teams trying to press for 40 straight minutes. It's hard to see that catching on in the NBA because in college it is done to mask a lack of individual talent and isolation scorers with depth and defensive energy; but I'm surprised how little we see true, full-court presses in the NBA.
I wouldn't be surprised if young, NBA tankers experiment with 5 for 5 substitution patterns, the Warriors would be a good candidate this season. I do think there is a benefit for groups playing together, forming cohesion and more intense/higher effort defense with minutes spread out.
 

TripleOT

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Image if an NBA team played every defensive stand as they would the last possession in a one score game?

The problem with the Stampede experiment is it’s very difficult to fill court trap NBA players. I’d rather see a team pressure the ball on the way up court, while the other four defenders lock in on their men, and once any half court offense starts, fly around like it’s the last play of the game, every possession. Once that lineup is gassed, a new one comes in
 

benhogan

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The problem with the Stampede experiment is it’s very difficult to fill court trap NBA players. I’d rather see a team pressure the ball on the way up court, while the other four defenders lock in on their men, and once any half court offense starts, fly around like it’s the last play of the game, every possession. Once that lineup is gassed, a new one comes in
Yes, the full-court press was deemed ineffective and eliminated by Season 2. But picking up intense on-ball defense at the halfcourt is exactly what Nick Nurse/Raptors are doing.

from the article:

This time, he knew what to do. He brought in Cross, the defensive-minded coach of the D-Fenders, who eliminated the press and installed more traditional coverages.

It worked. To the surprise of all, Reno started winning. Behind Stockton, the team roared through the D-League, breaking the league record for effective field goal percentage and going 33–17. Reno was now a place players wanted to come to, not flee.

You couldn’t blame Arseneault for thinking bigger. About tweaking the System further. Maybe even supercharging it. Building a whole franchise around it.

But the following month, Kings director of player personnel Peja Stojaković called to break the news: Arseneault was out, too. No good reason was forthcoming. “It seemed backwards. I thought I should have gotten fired after the first year and extended after the second year,” says a bemused Arseneault.
 

bigq

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I remember watching that game and thinking the Celtics were going to be special with Pitino as head coach. After years of sucking under Chris Ford and M.L. Carr things were finally turning around. What a cruel joke to open the season by defeating the defending champion Bulls, holding them to just 85 points while harassing Jordan to 7-23 shooting only to be followed by 3.5 seasons of suck.
 

PC Drunken Friar

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I remember watching that game and thinking the Celtics were going to be special with Pitino as head coach. After years of sucking under Chris Ford and M.L. Carr things were finally turning around. What a cruel joke to open the season by defeating the defending champion Bulls, holding them to just 85 points while harassing Jordan to 7-23 shooting only to be followed by 3.5 seasons of suck.
The game from the YouTube was not that game. The Celtics lost this one by 10.

But I, too, felt the same way after opening night.
 

bigq

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The game from the YouTube was not that game. The Celtics lost this one by 10.

But I, too, felt the same way after opening night.
Oops. My mistake. If I recall correctly, a big part of why the Celtics won the opener against the Bulls was their full court pressure and high energy trapping defense. Impossible to expect a team to maintain that level of defensive energy for a full season but it was fun for one night anyway.