A new week has arrived, and that means a new Film Room column is upon us. It was a short week, as the NBA returned from the All-Star break. This week, I took a look at three basic sets that we see quite often without necessarily registering what it is that we’re seeing. We start in Dallas, where the Mavericks run a flex action against the Spurs. Then, we jet over to Chicago, where the Sixers continue to weaponize Tobias Harris in Horns actions. Then, we wrap it up in Los Angeles with Montrezl Harrell manipulating the Pacers to capitalize on a Horns set.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Mavericks Flex Action
Flex action is something you see quite often at the high school and collegiate levels. You see it less at the NBA level because the game typically flows naturally without the need for offensive structures to be used. You will see Flex actions from time to time, but teams won’t sit in it like they will at lower levels. Of course, the players don’t have the basketball intelligence at those levels to pick up on the play and adjust quite as quickly. Nonetheless, you will see it on occasion, and this is what it looks like.
Now, how do I know it’s Flex? A giveaway can be the down-screen Maxi Kleber sets for Dorian Finney-Smith, who approaches him from the block. Typically, Flex will feature a cross-screen around the paint. Kleber sets up a bit outside, so it’s angled as a down-screen that Finney-Smith can use and read the San Antonio defense to do what he thinks is best.
Another giveaway is at the top of the key. In Flex, you have the first pass rotate up to the top of the arc, much like Luka Doncic does to receive the ball from Kristaps Porzingis. Another feature of Flex is that that first passer then sets a down-screen for another shooter or ball-handler to rotate up and retrieve the pass from the previous receiver. In this case, Porzingis sets the downer for Josh Richardson to come get the ball from Doncic.
The Spurs are switching everything on screens. Keldon Johnson greets Richardson with a defensive stance at an angle that leaves him vulnerable. Richardson sees the position that Johnson puts himself in, and attacks away from the Johnson’s momentum to get him at a disadvantage. Seeing Jakob Poeltl in the middle to greet him at the rim, Richardson stops, throws an unnecessary fake, and dumps the ball off to Porzingis, who has a size advantage over Derrick White. Richardson’s fake eats up some time, and Porzingis doesn’t get off as good a look as he would’ve had. The shot is a miss, but the Flex action generated what would’ve been a good look for the Mavs.
The Sixers (Try To) Take The Bull By The Horns
Brett Brown never bought into a pick-and-roll-heavy offense. Tobias Harris was taken out of his element in his first season-and-a-half in Philadelphia. Relegated to more of a catch-and-shoot or isolation role, Harris exhibited peaks and valleys under Brown. In his first season under Doc Rivers in Philadelphia–the second tenure he’s had with the future Hall-of-Fame coach–Harris is far more consistent and efficient. A significant reason for that is comfort derived from more pick-and-roll-based play. Harris is attempting a career-high 3.6 field goals as a pick-and-roll ball-handler per game. Take a look at one example of how the Sixers are getting Harris into pick-and-rolls.
The set opens as a Horns formation. Tony Bradley and Harris are the ‘eyes’ of the Bull shape. Curry enters the ball into Bradley from the top of the key. Upon delivering the pass, Curry sets a down-screen for Harris to curl into a dribble hand-off with Bradley. When Bradley dives hard out of the hand-off, the play turns into a pick-and-roll. Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle, who are stationed in the corners, serve as the shooters that are stretching the defense away from helping hard on Harris. The spacing provided on Green’s side affords Harris an open path to the rim. While Harris cannot convert, you see one set subtly transition into another set on this play.
Note that it is not at all random that Harris is positioned where he is as the play opens. They want him receiving the ball and getting downhill on Green’s side of the court because he’s a real shooter. While Thybulle is a theoretical shooter, defenses will gamble and turn their attention to Harris because the second-year wing isn’t scaring anyone from deep. It’s also intentional that Green is in the left corner, as Harris is more comfortable getting downhill going to his left.
Montrezl Harrell Simply Reading The Defense
This is simply great basketball intelligence. It’s probably weird that I giggle at this play every time I watch it. But, it’s just so simple and funny. Sometimes, a more complex set will evolve into a very simple basket. When that happens, it’s often because the scorer takes advantage of the defense’s sloppiness, like Montrezl Harrell does here.
The Lakers are in Horns here. I would hope that, by now, I’ve taught you how to identify Horns in this clip. Dennis Schroder enters the ball to Harrell and then flashes through to the left side of the court to create some space. On the catch, however, second-year big Goga Bitadze overplays Harrell’s weak side, effectively leaving Harrell’s strong side completely exposed. Harrell sees that Bitadze is practically inviting him to blow by and takes the pathway to glory. Had Bitadze rotated two steps over to his left when he initially pressured Harrell, this play doesn’t happen.
Like I said, the bucket is sometimes simpler than the play.
Featured Image: Harry How/Getty Images