Coach: Bradley Beal Breakdown; Beating Syracuse’s Zone
Quick Breakdown: Bradley Beal (Florida)
In the past, I have written about how the first thing many folks see when evaluating a potential NBA player is his physical gifts. Players need to pass the proverbial “eye test” before some will consider them draftable. However, many players don’t meet our visual requirements for length, size, and pure athleticism, and other skills need to be noticed for a player to take center stage.
Such is the case for Florida guard Bradley Beal. The first thing you notice about Beal is that he looks reasonably ordinary for a collegiate shooting guard: average height, decent length, solid frame. He looks explosive but not extraordinarily so, quick enough (without super speed), and he doesn’t overpower opponents with his strength.
This is mostly what I wrote about Evan Turner – he lacked a ‘wow’ factor as I described it in the article linked above – but there are a few things about Beal that have me believing he could have a more immediate and long-term impact at the next level than Turner has had.
First, he is noted as a good shooter and his mechanics seem to support that assertion. His season has not been excellent, but players who have a long-term history of being a good shooter can usually adjust over time when given the opportunity. Beal’s motion is compact, efficient and repeatable – the three characteristics I look for in any shooter. The way he transfers energy from lower to upper body looks smooth enough that he should be able to add range over time.
Beyond his potential as a shooter, Beal consistently makes good decisions on the court. He makes “plus-one” passes with ease (finding teammates for great shots as the defense attempts to rotate), and when he attacks, he does so with a purpose in mind, taking the shortest distance to the rim (often a straight line). Beal does not make moves overly difficult, and therefore he does not take tough shots. This ability to select his shots will pay many dividends over time. He looks comfortable as an attacker in ball screen action, making efforts to find the screener and locating help defenders throughout.
Barring a few more huge games in this NCAA Tournament, Beal seems unlikely to be in anyone’s top 3. However, should he decide to leave school, his consistency of decision-making and demonstrated game understanding will make him a solid, if not spectacular, top ten pick for someone this spring.
Fool’s Gold: The Danger of Making Jumpers Against Syracuse
One of the most popular maxims for facing a zone defense is that an offense must make jump shots. Many zone offenses are designed to create open shots, and fans lament when their team goes ice cold from the perimeter and is unable to shoot it over the top of the zone.
However, great teams and knowledgeable fans recognize that attacking a zone is about more than shooting a certain percentage from three. In fact, against a team like Syracuse, hitting a stretch where a team gets hot from long range can be bad news for an offense.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has used the zone for so long that he is very comfortable leaving it in place even when a team appears on their way to shooting the lights out. Boeheim recognizes that teams that get hot from the perimeter can just as easily go ice cold, and he plays percentages: eventually, they will cool off.
In last night’s Sweet Sixteen matchup between Syracuse and Wisconsin, the Badgers ran through a stretch early in the second half where they could not miss. If they shot it, they started running down to the other end, confident that the shot was as good as in. However, many of these shots did not come from great offense, even if they did go in. And then, when they eventually went cold (as Boeheim must have felt they would), their offense looked stagnant and discombobulated in the final few possessions.
An eternal key to beating any zone, especially one as aggressive and committed as Syracuse’s, is getting the ball to the baseline at least once during a possession. This action flattens the zone and automatically creates better outside shooting opportunities, and then the zone stretches to those shooters and leaves interior options open.
Boeheim may trust that his zone will triumph over teams that get hot from the perimeter, but opponents must trust that getting quality shots rooted in fundamentally strong attack patterns will eventually bust any zone.
Dealing with Busted Ball Screens
There are a lot of ways to defend sideline ball screens. A technique that is used more and more in recent years is “downing” or “busting” the ball screen. In this action, the defender on the ball jumps to the high side of the screen while the screener’s defender stays in a help position preventing the straight-line drive.
The idea here is to prevent the ball-handler from getting to the middle of the floor where the defense is at his mercy. By forcing the handler toward the baseline, it cuts off his vision and passing angles, and typically stops any weakside action from coming to fruition as well. The very smart Beckley Mason recently wrote about the evolution of this defensive maneuver from the perspective of Stan Van Gundy, which is worth a read.
College teams have been using the technique with increasing regularity this season. Both Michigan State and Louisville (when they weren’t in their matchup zone) often busted the sideline ball screen, and both had success. Offenses use screens (especially ball screens) in order to force defenses to make a choice. Busting the screen prevents the offense from putting the defense to the test, and makes it less likely the defense will make a mistake.
Many offensive players make a mistake by refusing the screen, which puts no pressure on the defense and essentially gives the defense exactly what it is looking for. Another big mistake is having the offensive player force the action and use the screen even when the defenders are in perfect bust position. While this is better than blind refusal, it is difficult to be consistently successful and create positive scoring opportunities this way (though it is slightly better than simply refusing the screen).
One action that teams have started to use a little more (and would have been nice to see in last night’s matchup between Louisville and Michigan State) is a “pass and rub.” In this action, as the handler’s defender jumps to the high side and the screener’s defender settles into a help position, the handler passes to the screener and then rubs off his shoulder. This creates a 2-on-1 attack situation if executed correctly, and again forces the defense into a decision, which is the point of screening to begin with.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure to drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. ET for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding and serves as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), a consensus top 15 team in the nation this season. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.