Coach: JaVale McGee Succeeds; CP3 Controls the Court
Empty Post Success for JaVale McGee
All too often, a player’s value is correlated to that player’s ability to create shots out of a certain position, or to make open shots out of specific offensive movements. For many post players, either the ability to operate when they receive the ball in the post or when they catch the ball in a pick & pop situation is the gold standard against which they are measured. An inability to function out of the post is derided and ridiculed.
During his time with the Washington Wizards, JaVale McGee was consistently maligned for never living up to what many assumed was his considerable potential. His forays in the post often ended with an off-balance sky-hook from twelve feet that would be difficult for a seasoned post scorer, let alone a raw athlete like McGee. However, this is more of a case of misplaced expectations on the part of coaches, fans, and the media than it is on McGee’s actual ability.
The reality is that JaVale McGee has already discovered a better offensive role during his time in Denver. Most post players are taught to get to the strongside block and post there, looking for an entry pass, receiving the ball, finding cutters, then going to work. However, in Denver, a lot of McGee’s time is spent on the weakside in what would traditionally be called an empty post set.
This empty post tactic is a basic tenet of dribble drive motion offense. In many ways, a vacated strongside post unlocks the floor and gives more room to penetrators on the strong side. It also forces McGee’s defender to set up in a help position a lot of the time, which opens up a lot of opportunities for McGee that do not involve creating his own opportunity.
Weakside positioning means that McGee’s responsibilities include screening away from the ball (an easy task for him to handle), cutting and diving when there is penetration to an open area for a potential dump-off and easy score, and the mandate to go to the offensive glass. His positioning on the weakside means his defender is constantly in help, which is a difficult place to be when a shot goes up: McGee can crash hard and often, and is in great position to finish plays from there.
As McGee grows more and more accustomed to his role in their attack pattern, he will be more involved as a post scorer as well. But it will not be in a traditional way. Instead, McGee will be best served by staying on the weakside, then sealing his defender on any skip passes, giving him the chance to receive post entry passes and go to work against a recovering defense. This is much more likely to result in a play at the rim, where he operates best.
Finding the best way to utilize a player’s specific skill-set within the confines of a larger offensive framework is a challenge for every team. In JaVale McGee’s case, Denver seems to be discovering that a less traditional approach makes him much more likely to reach performance expectations.
Controlling Defenses with CP3
As a child I was a huge Muppets fan – I mean the original Muppets, with Jim Henson and Frank Oz doing the voices, etc. – and would even create my own puppet shows for my family and friends to watch. I admired the kind of control a master puppeteer could have over his puppet, making it dance, smile, or do nearly anything he wanted.
It’s similar the control I admire in Chris Paul. Other point guards like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook beat opponents into submission with their athletic dominance. Some, like Tony Parker or Ty Lawson, use pure speed to zip past their counterparts. Chris Paul, however, uses a different set of skills to take advantage of his foes.
Like a master puppeteer, CP3 everything is intentional. He grabs control by staying unpredictable in his use of speeds, varying his tempo and cadence, preventing any defender from timing his movement. Paul is also great at attacking in both curves and straight lines, a distinction I have discussed previously. When he goes on the attack, as demonstrated quite a few times in his series against the Memphis Grizzlies, Paul is able to dice up defenses with sudden changes of speed and direction (attacking in straight lines, or V’s and Z’s). He also mixes in a lot of probing dribbles and circle-throughs (attacking in curves, or S’s and C’s).
By changing his attack patterns, Paul puts defenders on a string and manipulates them. This applies both to the individual defender assigned to guarding him and to the team defenders, who are constantly moving to help and then recover based on Paul’s movements. Once he has them on a string, Paul is able to dictate his puppets movements as opposed to allowing them to impose their will over him.
One of the most effective means of asserting control over defenders is physical contact. Paul is one of the all-time greats at putting defenders in jail by getting his shoulders and hips past them, then slowing down and changing his angle to keep his body as a shield. This position really allows him to maneuver the primary defender, and puts a huge amount of pressure on the help defense, as it puts them in an awkward position of having to make a decision about where to guard.
Paul’s greatest talent, however, and the thing that every young point guard should learn, is how he hunts shots. CP3 is this generation’s best point guard (and, by the end of his career, may have some great arguments for top five all time), and he is constantly looking for opportunities to get great shots for himself. In doing so, however, he finds assist opportunities. He rarely takes poor shots, and uses his willingness and desire to get great shots to force defenders to commit, and then he finds assists.
In nearly every offensive possession, Chris Paul controls defenders via a wide assortment of tricks and tactics. Ever the master puppeteer, expect Paul to continue confounding Memphis’ defense, and to demonstrate to everyone the value of making Muppets out of his opponents.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10AM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
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 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.