Coach: Isolations and Actions
Isolations vs. Actions
There have been quite a few debates lately concerning the efficiency of isolations against actions. A few months ago, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop published an article criticizing isolation plays as completely separate from actions. I wonder whether the distinction that Abbott draws in his article, however, is precise enough.
It seems finding ways to get your best scorers an opportunity to play one-on-one basketball is, on the whole, a positive play. The key, however, is creating a true one-on-one situation. Successful isolation basketball can be achieved if an action is employed that creates misdirection, preventing help defenders from clogging the lane.
Far too many times, isolations involve a clear out, catch on the wing and four teammates standing still on the weakside as a prime scorer goes to work. Knowing that he has help behind him, the defender assumes a posture that encourages the offensive player to attack toward the help. Occasionally, the scorer makes an absolutely sublime move and finishes a play that leaves everyone astonished. The play makes highlight reels, and fans can’t stop saying enough about how that player transcends the game. Most of the time, however, the play results in a poor shot that is missed or a turnover. Those plays, less than memorable, are forgotten.
However, isolations can also come as a result of actions. In these circumstances, the scorer moves off a screen, or is a screener who then opens up. At the same time, actions on the other side of the floor keep defenders honest, preventing them from clogging the lane or settling into a help position. The offensive player still catches the ball in the prime operational area, but his teammates movement and off-ball action occupy their defenders, and a true one-on-one situation is created.
These plays are still isolations, but they come as a result of actions. In Abbott’s article, he compares isolations to cuts off the ball, ball screen actions, transition plays and put-backs. Some teams do a better job than others at creating isolations out of actions than others. A prime example is the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich finds great one-on-one situations for both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli regularly. The Boston Celtics are also adept at creating these opportunities, often finding Pierce in the pinch post, a basket cut from Rajon Rondo and a weakside flare screen for Ray Allen, all while Pierce goes to work.
The real takeaway is to understand that it’s not that an isolation itself is bad, but rather the way a team sets up and executes the isolation that ultimately matters.
Variance and the Philadelphia 76ers
In my life away from the court, I spend a fair amount of time studying and playing poker. The game fascinates me and I enjoy both the strategic element and, honestly, the gamble involved as well. Learning about poker has helped me to understand basketball on a much deeper level, as I think most games have significant parallels when it comes to the employment of advanced statistical analysis of game play.
In poker, variance is the reality that a given action can have a whole host of outcomes based on the chance involved. There may be a statistically correct play, but the outcome is not predetermined, and a player must accept that fact: there is an element of chance in any action.
The same is true in a different way on the basketball court. A player can start the year shooting extremely well, and sometimes a player and his coaches believe that to be his new permanent shooting percentage, only for the second half of the year to happen (and variance kicks in). The idea here is that a player is rarely as good as when he is playing well, and just as rarely as bad as when things aren’t going as planned.
The Philadelphia 76ers have experienced the effects of variance (and reversion to a mean) over the course of this season. Their easy early schedule, combined with torrid shooting, allowed them to run roughshod over the league to start the year. As their shooting cooled, however, it exposed other problems that were present under the surface. The team as a whole (and some of the individual players) allowed their suddenly mediocre shooting affect the rest of their gameplan, and their confidence in themselves and one another (this might be akin to the poker term, “tilt,” though that would be a topic for a different article).
In the end, the 76ers seem to be the kind of team whose reversion to the mean will destroy their season. The reality is, they are not as bad (from a talent perspective) as their current play would indicate. But they are also not as good as things looked to start the year. In reality, over a long NBA season, their record will tell the tale of the team they are: just at or maybe slightly over .500 – score one for variance.
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD’s 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. He served as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), a consensus top 15 team in the nation this past season. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.