The Brooklyn Nets are playing much more 5-out on offense, looking to create more space for drives and runs to the rim. It has worked, but with some issues.
With the emergence of Caris LeVert as an elite-level threat off the drive, coach Kenny Atkinson adjusted the Brooklyn Nets offense this season. While the last two seasons were primarily spent in 4-out sets, there has been a commitment to the 5-out this season.
The difference between the two sets is just what the name implies; in a 4-out, one player (usually the 5) takes up residence in either the low or high post and the other four players space themselves around the 3-point line.
But in a 5-out, the post is left vacant and all five players are spaced across the arc.
The Nets have the luxury of having multiple players on the floor almost all the time who can initiate the offense — point guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as LeVert — so they can launch their set from multiple angles.
When it’s clicking, the results can be just gorgeous to watch. When they go to a pick-and-roll, the 5 man most often is the screener and we’ve seen Jarrett Allen get some very clear runs to the rim for dunks when he picks, his man hedges or switches and Allen gets a lane.
The set has also freed up the ballhandler to exploit a switch or a slow hedge. Russell and, in particular, Dinwiddie and LeVert have gotten to the rim repeatedly off of this.
The New York Knicks’ answer was to start blitzing the pick-and-roll, with both defenders aggressively attacking to take away one option (the roll) or the other (the dribble penetration). That aggressiveness led to some of the turnover problems the Nets experienced in that game.
Against a better overall defensive team in the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn similarly struggled with this. An added problem against the Pacers was that sets were being rushed.
Allen, in particular, was guilty often of quick-picking, where he just sort of ran by the defender and immediately tried to roll to the basket rather than stopping and setting a solid pick before committing to the roll.
The result was some gumming up of the sets. The ballhandler had no room because his defender didn’t have to come off a good screen. The big man defending didn’t have to make a choice to switch or hedge. Instead, the ballhandler was forced to move laterally across the defense.
This created spacing problems where the ball was being dribbled into spots where cutters were either coming or getting ready to depart, so you had these congested areas with multiple defenders around the ball.
Another consistent issue that has led to the offense getting out of sync has been when Russell (the player most often guilty of this) over-dribbles because he’s initiated the offense too high on the floor.
Setting the pick right above the break and getting the roll action from 25-27 feet away can create nice lanes for the roll man and other cutters to find gaps as the defense is forced to move and react.
Setting that same action up 35 feet out dilutes that effect. Defenders don’t have to honor either a pull-up from the ball-handler or a pick-and-pop action because those aren’t legitimate shooting areas for anyone not named Stephen Curry.
It also changes the angles for the cutters off the ball action. Attempted passes have to travel further and, particularly against an opportunistic Indiana defense, those attempts were being tipped or picked off with regularity.
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Screening is hard work, we get that. You have to absorb contact every time you set a pick that a ballhandler opts to use.
But a poor screen in many ways is worse for the flow of the offense than no screen at all, because a poor screen draws another defender to the area of the ball without creating any space to execute.
Allen’s shot attempts against the Knicks as opposed to what is available from the game in Indiana (not all the shots were on the video reel) show the difference. When Allen commits to a solid screen, he’s almost always available for an interior pass.
When the screens get — for lack of a better term — lazier, there is much more defensive resistance when the roll occurs. Instead of a wide open lane and an uncontested shot, there’s traffic.
So what is the bottom line? The Brooklyn Nets don’t have the luxury of superstar talent that allows them to drift on offense and get bailed out, either with a star-power call from a referee or a superstar finding something when nothing appears to be there.
If the Nets are going to improve, the commitment to running the sets has to be consistent. We’ve already seen in just three games that when the execution drifts, the ball starts hopping around the bad way.
While it can be argued that Brooklyn could easily be 2-1 if the game in Detroit turned out differently, it can also be posited that the Nets should be 0-3 based on a 61-31 difference in turnovers over the first three games.
That number is astounding — Brooklyn is turning the ball over an average of 10 more times per game than its opponents have.
Not a winning formula. Not even close.