Basketball

Preseason Hoops Post #2: The Offense

Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Isaiah Taylor. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Preston’s Preseason Hoops Series #1: Shaka Smart

I’ll go ahead and say it…if I had to pick one thing that was most to blame for Rick Barnes’ ultimate demise at Texas, I’d choose the lack of offensive production/efficiency.

Far too often over the last seven years of his tenure in Austin were the Longhorns too tentative to shoot; too slow in their ball and player movement; too predictable with their sets; too…well, too much stuff that involved stuff that a) didn’t really feature to the strengths of the players; and b) didn’t result in the ball ending up going through the hoop.

So, what’s Shaka Smart (with many of the same players expected to be contributors as were with Barnes) going to do about it?

The System

“Havoc,” as it was known when the staff was at VCU, is the name of Coach Smart’s defensive philosophy. It focuses on creating turnovers, initiating faster tempo and minimizing the amount of half court defense a team is forced to play.

We know it. We’re excited about it. All good stuff. But what of Shaka’s offense? There’s no gimmicky name? No catchy calling card for fans to remember? No ultra-effective set plays that are sure to score whenever called upon?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Same Ol’ Same Ol’? Well, yes and no.

Coach Smart’s half court offense at VCU looked a decent amount like Barnes’ here at Texas.

Meaning:

*Heavy on ball screens (back and flat screens in particular)
*Dependent upon individual ball handling and primary facilitators being able to turn the corner
*Inside-out by nature in as much as the purpose is to force the action in the paint to open spacing along the perimeter/baseline

Many of the principles were similar

Oh no?!

Well, yes and no.

If you were hoping a Bo Ryan or Bobby Knight disciple was going to run out of the tunnel when we introduced Coach Smart, you’re going to be disappointed. Smart’s offensive system won’t be reminding anybody of the flex (well, other than the screen progressions away from the ball). On the other hand, the differences between Coach Smart and Coach Barnes are far more philosophical in nature.

Meaning:

*Shots early in the shot clock (7-10 seconds, preferably)
*An attacking mindset from all players with ball handling skills
*Confident, immediate perimeter shots from all players in that position (generally everybody other than posts)
*An emphasis on simplistic playmaking and the trust of players to execute in one-on-one situations.

But that all seems so simple

It does, and that’s by design.

What made watching Barnes coached teams so frustrating was that the sets and positioning of the players were generally very good. It truly was an execution issue. Smart believes, and I happen to agree with him, that all these current players need is a true freedom (more so than just a system that’s technically based on freedom, if that makes sense…more on that in a second) and the confidence that they are a team capable of making shots.

How many players over the last six years of Rick Barnes basketball had genuine freedom to express their skills with the basketball, offensively?

Damion James in 09-10? Hamilton in 10-11? J’Covan in 11-12? Felix and Taylor in 13-15?

Every one of those players had some kind of significant (even fundamental, in Javan’s case) flaw. Anybody else? An argument could be made for Joseph or Bradley or Holmes or Turner, but none of those guys were the kind of dynamic playmaker Texas has needed; that every high level team needs.

Will the confidence approach work?

Tough to say. It’s an intangible approach to a tangible problem.

It will make things easier that Texas’ numbers in creating turnovers should go up (they pretty literally can’t go down), which should both improve scoring because of easy, transition baskets and because of the increased tempo it will create.

A focus on quicker, more purposeful playmaking should, too. Shaka has the good fortune of having added three gifted offensive players to a squad with an existing makeup capable of putting points on the board, as well. So, the scoring the basketball is a distinct possibility.

The Endgame

Again, if readers came in to this article hoping for some divine, informative piece about the new, slick offense Coach Smart would bring in…sorry to disappoint.

That said. The offense we will be running can certainly be effective (it sure was from 02-08 for the Longhorns). Now, the emphasis for Coach Smart will need to be two fold:

1. He needs to extract the personal best out of his veteran players; and

2. He needs to do a good job of recruiting high level guys who can fit into this system.

We’ll see in less than three months.