Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 2: Ball Screens

Some final words

Just like the first installment, I keep thinking about a quote from a coach I interviewed for this piece. This time, it’s Ben McCollum of Northwest Missouri, with a quote I noted in their respective section: “It’s the most difficult thing to defend, in my opinion. You can do them so many different ways.” McCollum is right. As the video clips above show, these three very different offenses approach ball screens and off-ball motion in different and unique ways, yet all three achieved similarly efficient results.

It should be noteworthy that this can occur. Obviously, not every coach runs the exact same offense, but plenty are happy to copy from one another. Jordan Sperber’s excellent video on the continuity ball screen was a key building block for this piece, because it visualized what I’d thought I was seeing for the last five years. After teams have seen it work so well in the NBA, they’ve copied it for themselves, with not a ton of attention paid to how to differentiate it for themselves.

The teams covered in this post have done a great job of creating something that’s definitively theirs. Northwest Missouri’s freelance, pattern-free offense is, quite simply, the best offense in America. There is nothing else quite like it, in part because the offense it seeks inspiration from was last seen at Emporia State in 2011 (David Moe). For Oregon and Kelly Graves, their wing-heavy, extra-pass offense is more reminiscent of European offenses than what most teams run in the States. Even Saint John (MN)’s relatively common motion/screen-heavy offense offers better spacing and tighter screens than most others I saw this past season.

While I can’t predict the future, I can tell you what’s happening in the present. The popularity of ball screens may go up, down, or stay the same, but as with any artistic invention, the possibility of running out of ideas and innovations is there. Avoiding that dead end was a key for all three coaches I talked to, all of whom mentioned their desire to somehow make their offenses better. Continuous tweaks, adjustments, and new ideas helps these offenses stay ahead of everyone else. If you’re in need of some new ideas, I highly suggest becoming familiar with their work.

Thanks for reading the second installment of Building a Better Basketball Offense. At the end of each post, there will be a link to extra notes or statistics I didn’t use, plus links to all GIFs and game videos used in the making of the post. Also, there’s transcripts of the interviews I did with each coach, with full audio files available upon request. Here’s this post’s edition.

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