Basketball is heading away from a post-follow-up. Such a statement is not exactly breaking news. Watch Inside the NBA On any given night, you’ll hear countless metaphors about how the game isn’t physically playing as low as it once was. Instead, we headed more towards the 3-point shot and at The NBA FinalsThe Boston Celtics They were models for this transformation. against the Golden State Warriors41.6% of their shots came from downtown.
For a few years now, I’ve always wondered what would be required for the pendulum to start swinging backwards in the other direction – away from such a heavy attack and capture and more towards a post-continuation. There are a few obvious things that stand out: dominant players at a low level, a size advantage to make it work, and enough 3-point shooting to properly ground the ground around so that the kick-off pointer 3 is as surviving as the post-continuation itself.
Doesn’t this team look as bad as the upcoming 2022-23 Boston Celtics? To be clear, we’re not calling them back to the ’90s and running the Triangle crime. Alternatively, there may be an opportunity here for Ime Udoka and the crew to incorporate the genre more into the playbook as a comparative advantage.
Last season, the Celtics had 286 subsequent shots (about 3.5 per game), their 12th in the NBA. However, C was the fourth most efficient team in the shooting type, lagging behind the likes of Denver Nuggets (Feeded by MVP Nikola Jokic) and Brooklyn Networks (With Kevin Durant leading the lion’s share of their attempts.)
Subsequent entries are reserved for the elite league players these days. Adults like Jokic and Joel Embiid are so dominant below that they need those looks, while Durants, Jayson Tatums and Luke Doncics of the world get there because of the mismatch of power within.
Below is a screenshot of the Celtics’ individual post-run numbers from last season, and it shows across the board that it was a positive type of play for the group.
Efficiency and size are intrinsically linked. There is a risk of increasing the volume of post-proceed attempts because the more something becomes part of your game plan, the more opponents will get into it and spend time eliminating it.
For brilliance, the Celtics have added players of size and payoff this summer in Danilo Gallinari and Malcolm Brugdon. Gallo is an effective postal scorer, As we covered before, which is really effective for forcing keys with smaller defenders. His one-legged stride in the middle of the goal conveys Dirk Nowitzki’s sentiments.
On the other hand, Brogdon has always been reluctant to sign up for the post, even with a sturdy, stocky frame. It has not registered any holdings in operations beyond last year, three in 2020-21, and two in 2019-20. We’re not advocating for Brogdon to suddenly change his lines, just because he’s the perfect shooter to corner other deployments. Brogdon’s captured and shot numbers are strong enough to help space out other players working in the post, while the likes of Derrick White (31.8% C&S) and even Aaron Nesmith (31.1%) have struggled last year.
Spacing is critical to any post-follow attack having any effect – especially with mismatched posts. The playing field must be turned when the smaller man goes down, which means that the center must be able to raise to the 3-point line to provide spacing. Al Horford, Grant Williams and Gallinari provide this type of reversal, making rotations and traps more difficult for the defense. Robert Williams can stand in the spot opposite the dunk and has the gravitas, where he can knock the house into any cracks or bounces that prevent him from being left alone. All the other Celtics on guard and wings are good shooters too, leaving no weak ties to help.
From there, two questions remain for Ime Udoka and the staff when examining whether more subsequent deployments will come up: Who do they run, and how do they get there?
The first question is easy to answer – who has the distinct size advantage.
Back in the Brad Stevens era, there were bits of game writers and wrinkles in all of their collections for Marcus Smart to move into the position. Now that Stevens has moved into the front office, the younger guards who used to play with (Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and Isiah Thomas) are gone and Smart has the lion’s share of his record at one point. More than ever, and I’ve always felt giving Marcus a few of those rules of the game opportunities helps keep him engaged as a ball-motor and extra passer.
The rules of the game have changed a lot since Stevens’ days, but you can see how easy the coaching staff was to sometimes throw bones in the SMART fashion:
Last year, Smart took 25 snapshots of follow-ups and scored 48% of them. Those numbers are higher than either of the previous two seasons, but the vast majority of them came from background dribbles or mismatch recognition as opposed to tailored play calls. The Eastern Conference has very few smaller (or skinny) guards who can enjoy their food. Trae Young, Darius Garland, Jalen Bronson, Therese Halliburton, and Kyrie Irving would give up a significant advantage on the block.
The real key to getting this job done are the efficient, fast moves from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Post-Grant and Gallo operations are less determined and more a way to punish the defense for a foul during possession. The real pull comes from Tatum and Brown learning to thrive in the post-middle way as the other dominant All-Star wings have done in the past.
Jaylen has been exceptional over the past two years coming in every season with an extra trick in his bag. While nothing should replace the need to clean his handles this summer, adding more confidence to his later game won’t hurt. He’s already good at jumping a light dimple low, yet he’s not pulling a ton out of his bag. On either block last year, Jaylen turned right in the fadeaway and scored 50% of the time (10-20), according to play tracking data from Synergy Sports.
Tatum has that deep bag of mid-range transformations and fades in his favour. He also has long strides and a nimble foot movement but doesn’t seem to use it in the post. In the past year, the vast majority of his subsequent attempts ended with the jump. 39 of his 59 attempts on the right or left block (no confrontation) have been lackluster.
Tatum would benefit greatly from adding an up and down or step-by-step motion to his bag, punishing defenders who expect jumpers. He must seek inspiration from his idol Kobe Bryant on the step-by-step effect when fading is so deadly.
As the stars progress, go to the Celtics. This is not exactly news. But if Udoka and the entire organization find a way to prioritize this type of play from their stars, it could make a huge impact on the team in the league and post-season. All of the best wingers over the past 20 years that have won titles have a mid-post isolation bag, from Kohei Leonard to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade. More time with the back of the basket—especially with this roster surrounding them—could be that small step that elevates these stars to a whole new dimension.