Coach: Roster Construction and FIBA Threes
Making Pieces Fit
There are multiple challenges when constructing a roster that can compete for a championship. Besides the salary cap consequences that come with bringing in certain players, there is also the reality of considering how talent will interact within a team dynamic. Fitting shooters with penetrators, ball-handlers with athletic bigs, etc., is an important part of roster construction.
Beyond those concerns, however, is the need to evaluate how a roster will project against the most likely opponents in a given playoff race. This factor is often given less priority in overall roster construction, even though it often can mean the difference between a true contender and a decent but not championship-level team.
An oft-repeated error that people make when watching offseason moves is the over-valuing of pure talent acquisition. While acquiring talent is certainly important, how that talent interacts on the court in a given system (offensively and defensively) and how to place that talent in a position to succeed against likely top opponents is significantly more critical.
One of the more interesting sagas of the offseason has been the roster manipulation of the Brooklyn Nets. The addition of Joe Johnson, the re-signing of Deron Williams and the on-again, off-again potential of Dwight Howard (and even, to a lesser degree, the re-structuring of Brook Lopez’ contract) all indicate the Nets were attempting to not only create synergies on the floor, but also put themselves in a position to challenge the Miami HEAT at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The lynchpins to such an attempt were most obviously Williams and the attempt at Howard. These are the two positions on the floor where Miami has the most struggles, and having effective players at these positions means potentially winning those matchups. The addition of Johnson is meant to at least bring the wing position along so it isn’t a liability against a team like Miami.
In putting the roster together, it seems reasonable that the Brooklyn front office imagined scenarios where bringing Williams off ball screens that were difficult to switch (Miami’s typical tactic) by having the screener be a big, mobile and athletic Howard. With Johnson able to attack weakside closeouts whenever Miami sent an extra defender, this would produce a real strain on their ability to over-extend and rotate.
On the other end of the floor, having a rim protector like Howard would allow more aggressive defense out front. This means the ability to push the Miami offense into even slightly poorer operational areas, which can make a big difference over the course of a game (or playoff series).
The fact that Brooklyn had to settle for Brook Lopez instead of Dwight Howard will certainly change their ability to be successful with the same gameplan. Lopez is nowhere near the roll-and-seal threat that Howard is, and he is mediocre at best at finishing around the rim when compared to Howard. Because he does not really fight to establish position, Miami will not be as hurt if they decide to switch these screens, either. Finally, Lopez is not the shot-blocker that Howard is, and their defense is unlikely to improve a great deal as a result.
In short, the Nets’ plan was sound, but in the end they will not be as good as they could have been, and it seems unlikely they will challenge Miami in any of the next few years. However, the look into a team’s logic when putting a team together is instructive as other teams take aim at their conference’s best squad.
Adjusting for Distance
I received a very interesting question on Twitter the other day (@AnthonyLMacri) regarding what type of adjustments an NBA player may have to make when they shoot threes at the FIBA distance, which is considerably shorter than the NBA three point line.
There are two major concerns for players making this adjustment. First, the FIBA distance is, for most NBA players, one of the worst shots in basketball. This is because it is just inside the NBA line, making it the lowest efficiency shot type in the game: the long two pointer. As a result, many players not only avoid taking or practicing this shot, but they actually practice avoiding the shot altogether! However, any problems are easily remedied for most after a few shooting sessions at the new line.
What is considerably harder for players making the adjustment is the effect the line has on overall court spacing. NBA players are taught to use the NBA three point line as a guide, and to step about a yard back from it to operate. This gives them room to step into catches for shots or attack moves. It also maintains great spacing with teammates, meaning passing angles are easier to spot and defenders cannot crowd areas too easily.
That advantage is taken away with the FIBA three-point line. Now, players tend to move the same distance in relation to the shorter line. This means the passing lanes are less clear, and defenders have a much easier time clogging up areas in and around the lane as a result.
The difference in three-point line distance may not have too much of an effect on the players shooting, but it will certainly have an effect on their spacing. If Team USA comes in understanding these two realities as they relate to the three-point line, then they can limit, if not eliminate, any issues they might have had.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in Southeast Asia), setting and executing a strategic vision for basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, as the business manager at the IMG Basketball Academy, and has coached at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.