Since taking over as the head coach, Tony DiLeo has compiled a record of 25-18. Let's be honest, we've all had some questions about rotations from time to time. Three-point defense has been an issue. There have obviously been bumps, but this is the guy's first job as a head coach in the NBA. He deserves some leeway, just like rookie players are given. After the jump I'm going to shine a light on something I've noticed over the past couple of games that tells me DiLeo is more than a suit from the front office taking up space on the bench.
Think back, for a second, to this team's offense under Mo Cheeks. Can you recall a single offensive play the team used, not including isolaton? Occasionally, they'd go with some kind of Princeton offense with backdoor cuts for lobs, but otherwise, there wasn't much strategy going on.
When DiLeo took over, you could see the team implementing some rudimentary pick and roll offense. Ball screens were used more often. They used down screens effectively to shake Willie Green loose for elbow jumpers once in a while. But overall, I still feel like there's no cohesive offensive strategy for the team, for the most part. I will say this, though, DiLeo seems to be learning.
Fast forward to the game against Orlando on February 28th. In that game, Stan Van Gundy was using a play that I can't recall ever seeing before. It was brilliant in its simplicity and the Sixers really had no answer for it. The point had the ball on the right side of the floor, outside the three-point line. Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkuglu (or Rashard Lewis) flashed to the top of the three-point line, and set a double screen on the ball. Howard dove to the hoop, Hedo popped out to the three-point line. More often than not, Hedo wound up wide open for a three.
Tony DiLeo stole that exact play from Stan Van Gundy, and he's been using it whenever Donyell Marshall is on the floor. You know what, it's been working too. Check out the diagrams below to see how and why:
For the most part, DiLeo has run this play with Lou on the ball. This is the initial setup: Miller and Iguodala are on the weak side of the floor, sucking their men as far out of the lane as possible. Dalembert (or Speights/Evans/Ratliff, whoever's playing the 5) sets the first screen, sucking his man up. Marshall is about 5 feet away from him, setting the second screen. Also sucking his man up. From this position, Lou has several options right away. He can blow by his man on the baseline, if neither of the bigs react quickly enough, he's got an easy layup. He can use Dalembert's screen and then split the double down the lane. He can use both screens, and turn the corner after the second. Or he can use both screens and then see what happens.
OK, now let's assume he uses both screens. If they're set well, this is what the play should look like. Dalembert screens the point, Marshall screens the center, and the PF will probably have to show to stop Williams penetration. This is all going to happen pretty quickly, and how the defense reacts is going to dictate what shot the Sixers get out of the play. Watch the Sixers' player movement on this next slide.
The basic movement off the ball for the Sixers is pretty simple. After setting the screen, Sammy will dive to the hoop and Marshall will slide out to the three-point line. The problem, for the defense, is that there's just too many people occupying a small space on the floor. The point has an immediate decision to make, it's going to be nearly impossible to fight over two screens, so he's either going to have to switch onto Dalembert, or go under both screens and hope to cut Williams off on the other end. If he switches, Sammy basically has him sealed with the lane wide open behind them. If he goes under, he's going to get caught up in the wash of Sammy cutting to the hoop and it's going to be hard for him to get there in time to stop Lou from turning the corner.
After setting the screen, Marshall will slide out to the right wing, behind the three-point line. By that point, the PF will have a tough decision to make, if he leaves too early, Williams has a clear path to the hoop. If he stays too long, there's no one to cover Marshall for the three. Typically, he's going to stay too late, but even if he tries to follow Marshall, you've got Sammy, the opposing center and the opposing point guard all moving in different directions trying to get through the same spot on the floor. He's going to get caught in that wash eventually.
This is what the floor should look like once the play has developed:
Wide-open shot for Marshall from his favorite spot on the floor. It seems like a complex play, but at its core, it's so simple. The offense forces defenders to make decisions, something is going to be open, so what should they choose:
- Sammy diving to the hole unguarded
- Sammy diving to the hole with the point on him
- Lou turning the corner on the second screen with nothing between him and the hoop
- Or Marshall open for the three.
Just about every coach in the NBA is going to choose the three out of those options. It's the lowest-percentage shot.
There are obviously ways to combat this offense, but all of them involve trade offs. The beauty of the play is that for every different method the defense uses to stop it, the offense can read and react. There's a nice little wrinkle that may work better with Speights than Sammy at the 5. Check it out:
In this variation, Speights would initially set the screen on the point to free Williams and start the play. Then, instead of diving to the hole right away, he turns around and sets a screen on the power forward to free Donyell. At this point, the defense needs to decide how to handle the second screen. If they switch, Speights has the PF on his back for a wide-open dive to the hole. Odds are, though, that the center isn't going to be quick enough, or willing, to close out on Marshall at the three point line. Either way, you have a huge advantage for the Sixers.
It was heartening to see the Sixers incorporate a play that was run so effectively against them. I'm glad Tony was paying attention and I think this bodes well for the team going forward. Keep an eye out for this one during the game tonight.