I often think back to when I was in my prime – my 3rd grade YMCA basketball days. Between flask-swig-breaks, volunteer coaches would spend hours of Monday night practices trying to teach us the simple concept of back screens. It really was a basic play that probably would have helped us avoid the 0-10 season we had that year. But my 8-year-old teammates weren’t having any of that. In our fledgling minds, we were all Michael Jordan. Whoever had the ball in game time was either going to pull up from 20 feet or turn it over taking it strong to the hole. Screw that off-ball stuff. The only picks we executed were in our noses.
It’s funny to think of how such a simple model – setting screens and cutting without the ball – is implemented so heavily within today’s NBA in hopes of creating just a little disruption in all-star caliber defenses. The NBA is no YMCA rec-league. Teams use extremely complex offensive plays and screen sets with the objective of moving the ball around a stout defense. The Pacers aren’t any different, except for that their version of backscreen-basketball is dumbed down and isn’t exactly going to fool anyone. Indiana works the hell out of that simple backdoor screen-and-cut we were pressed to learn in 3rd grade. However, while their screens may be simple, they are extremely effective.
Why, you may ask? The answer is a word you’ll hear thrown around at just about every post-game press conference these days: “execution”. The Pacers make defenses look absolutely silly as they set brick-wall screens, pass the rock exactly where you’d expect them to, then, if necessary, pass it again to a wide open shooter. It’s a play set that Indiana uses frequently; such a perfectly executed and unsophisticated model that still tends to leave defenses running into each other. Let me introduce Indiana’s “rub play.”
More effective than a Joe Johnson isolation, less intricate than the Warrior’s elevator scheme, this rub play personifies every fundamental that team-basketball has been built on. Dissecting these screens and the ball movement on top of them shows how simple – yet instrumental – this play is for the Pacers.
First, here’s an example of the play in its most basic layout. Scola passes to Paul George in the post. Hibbert sets a back screen for Lance Stephenson, who is cutting baseline. As we progress, you’ll start to appreciate one of the reasons why this play works so well for Indiana – the abundance of players who can post up capably.
Paul George receives the ball and looks toward the hoop. Hibbert’s screen does exactly what it’s supposed to. He is the biggest chess piece in such a simple scheme.
Ah, what do you know? YMCA basketball fundamentals reign king once again. Granted, the play is used against what some might consider a YMCA-caliber defense. Stephenson gets an easy basket. Paul George gets an assist. Bucks in 6. I mean, look where the defense is in the next picture -
Granted, that was a fluke play. Stephenson isn’t always going to be as open as a Wal-Mart. Let’s see what happens when a team actually plays defense. Stephenson starts the example below with the ball at the top.
Roy Hibbert sets one of the most uninvolved screens in NBA history. It doesn’t matter. The dude is a pile of pure man. Paul George spurts around him.
George catches the rock from Lance and looks to shoot. What if the shot isn’t there? Here comes option two: David West, irrelevant to the defense at this point, steps down quietly to set a screen.
Paul George doesn’t have a shot. West moves in for the kill, and Lance sneaks around him.
Now the defense looks silly. The player who initiated the play with the ball in his hands just 5 seconds ago is shooting a wide-open three off of a Paul George kick-out. End scene.
This play is so beautifully simple, so perfectly condensed, so stupidly effective – it’s no wonder the Pacers saturate their offensive game plan with it. Almost every other team in the NBA uses a version of this system in their offense. But the Pacers execute it in a way that makes it look as though they invented the off-ball screen. This isn’t iso-ball, this isn’t feed the center in the paint – this is picturesque team basketball.
One more example. Paul George starts with the ball near the elbow. Hansbrough gives zero shits as he sets a backdoor screen for Stephenson.
Lance Stephenson advances towards the ugly Hawk head.
Unsurprisingly, George forces the ball to Lance in the post. Just as planned. Look at West, once again ignored by the defense, as he sneaks into position.
Suddenly, Paul George fakes a nose-itch, (I’m not kidding, you can see it in the video here) and jumps back towards the three-point line.
West is there to meet the defender. It’s all over now. Lance dishes the ball to George.
The defender gets around David “Brick-wall” West eventually, but it’s too late. Paul George hits a perfect shot that leaves Josh Smith – uninvolved in the play and literally oblivious to what just happened – pondering every decision he’s made in his life up to this point 1.
Broken down, these plays make Indiana look like an engine. All parts move in perfect harmony to fulfill a comprehensive function. The blueprint is foolproof. Good fundamentals create good shot selection. I’ve already broken it down with pictures like some twisted version of a storyteller amusing your pliable mind with a picture book. Watch the plays in action here. Or visit the reddit thread I shamelessly stole this idea from that inspired this breakdown here. Fundamentals lead to buckets. The Pacers get buckets. Uncle Drew would be proud.
Come playoff time when you’re sulking like me, jealously watching the Pacers make their championship run, look for this play when they need a go-to score. It’s so simple that even Andrew Bynum can contribute.
1281 Oranges Squeezed