Monday, August 24, 2009

Mixing it up on offense

There are several ways to mix it up on offense so as to keep the defense honest. You can run different stacks, you can vary the emphasis on the long game, you can run set plays and counters, you can try motion offense or you can be deliberate, and other variations. How much do higher level teams do this and what form does this take?

In our heyday, DoG really didn't do a lot of this other than shifting the names in the four-person play. Then again, the offense was built around giving the cutter options and taking what was given, so any mistakes or adjustments the defense made automatically gave a new look to the offense. What made it work (beyond talented players) was that we could operate successfully in a couple different modes, the jam-it-up-the-line mode as well as cut-deep-and-put-it-out-there mode.

Now, we will shift from vertical to horizontal stack if it feels right, but we won't flip back and forth. Our long cuts are a little more deliberate, too, as it's kinda tiring to run deep if you're not going to get it.

But all this is a long way to get to the point of this post, how to rotate the usage of players for maximum effectiveness. Braess's Paradox says that in certain circumstances, closing a major road will actually lead to improved travel times. With the road open, it's in each person's best interest to take the main road, but it will lead to an increased average travel time. If instead a certain percentage took other routes, the lesser travel on the main road would prevent clogging and those who took it would be much better off, more than enough to make up for the extra time the others take.

This guy decided to apply these principles of networking to basketball, though the target could just as easily be ultimate. For a single possession, it makes sense to go to your best option, but if you go to it all the time, it will get clogged. I discussed this a little bit a few years ago, taking the idea of usage vs efficiency from the seminal work on basktetball analytics, "Basketball on Paper" by Dean Oliver (who also chimes in on a discussion of the linked article at APBRmetrics. The idea is that a player's efficiency decreases with increased usage (defined as % of a team's touches he gets when he's on the floor) as he has to shoot more on less than perfect looks and there is more defensive pressure applied.

So how do offenses deal with this, especially in the case where there is a clear "best play" (I'm less interested in what you do when every option is a very strong one)? Do ho stacks place their lane cutters in the same lanes as always but run the play to different people? (I'm presuming that teams call some sort of four-person play or a set play on every point; does anyone ever run complete free flow?) Do teams instead run counters, plays that appear to be the same as always but in fact the first cut from the main cutter is just a decoy? (In this case, you lose a bit of the benefit as the main cutter still gets fatigued.) What is the right amount of going to your lesser options in order to keep things honest?