The better your team can read and react to a defense, the more success you’ll have on the offensive end. These are four instances in which Cal executed the offense to perfection against different defensive sets.
As Jaylen Brown began to assert himself in the Cal offense, teams started to throw double or triple teams at him when he drove to the basket. The Bears struggled to capitalize off the collapsing defenses early, but some of the complementary players, namely Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, learned that they could get prime looks by moving off the ball around Brown. This play, in the March 5 win over Arizona State, starts with a standard Brown, Kameron Rooks pick-and-roll at the top of the arc. Rooks sets a pick to Brown’s right, which prompts Rooks’ defender to hedge to prevent Brown driving to the rim.
But he hedges too far up and allows Brown to split the pick-and-roll. On his way to the basket, Brown is initially met by Mathews’ man, who is far out of position. The freshman forward grew to attract this sort of attention where defenders show in the lane to deter him from driving. He has the option of kicking out to Mathews here for a three-pointer on the weak side, but he knows that his defender, who got caught up on Rooks’ screen, can recover in time to contest it. Instead, Brown drives past Mathews’ man and forces Wallace’s defender to rotate over. Left alone in the corner, Wallace cuts straight to the basket and receives the dish from Brown. Ivan Rabb’s defender tries to rotate over in time but is too late and ends up on Wallace’s poster.
Out-of-bounds plays can be an excellent measure of creativity, and coach Cuonzo Martin pulls out a beauty here, in Cal’s Feb.21 win at Washington State. It looks like Sam Singer, inbounding from one of the most challenging areas behind the basket, is supposed to float a pass to Ivan Rabb posting up on the block. Cal clears that side of the floor by positioning Stephen Domingo and Mathews on the opposite side to clear Rabb’s would-be path to the basket. To take advantage of the lax interior defense, Brown sets a backpick on Rabb’s defender, allowing Rabb to curl around toward the basket. Brown’s defender, sandwiched between Brown and Rabb’s man, doesn’t switch on the screen and allows Singer to lob a pass for the alley-oop jam,
Spacing often becomes an issue for Cal when it plays a traditional two big lineup with Wallace and Brown on the floor. Luckily for the Bears, they have an elite three-point shooter in Mathews who can manufacture his own looks from deep by moving through a flurry of screens. This is a floppy set for marksmen, during Cal’s 87-65 win over USC. It starts with him under the basket, ready to streak to either side of the court depending on the action. Mathews has the choice of running his man through a Brown screen on the left side or a stagger screen through Kingsley Okoroh and Rabb on the right. Mathews chooses to go right where his defender is screened off by Rabb at the three-point line. Rabb’s defender was supposed to switch at this point to prevent an open look from deep but couldn’t because he sagged too deep into the paint. Wallace sees the off-ball action and delivers the ball to Mathews in time for the right wing three-pointer.
Among the most disturbing issues for Cal early on in the season was its impotence against any type of zone. The Bears boast three talented individual scorers, but none of them are reliable, consistent shooters from range. The result was numerous teams employing a zone to try and force them to make jumpers. But Cal soon figured out multiple actions to break zones and even more wrinkles to expose its weaknesses. In this play, during the Bears’ 20-point win over Oregon on Feb. 11, Singer, already aware that Oregon is playing zone, takes the ball the length of the floor and gets to the middle. Getting the ball to the middle is the fulcrum of zone offenses as it pulls in defenders near the area, giving shooters spotting up on the three-point line that extra inch of space to get off a shot or build momentum on a cut to the basket.
Brown is waiting behind Singer, ready to receive the ball in case he isn’t able to create any action while Mathews spots up on the left wing with Jabari Bird in the left corner. Once Singer approaches the free-throw line, he is met by two defenders, the man closest to him and the man closest to Bird. Left alone in the corner and no one protecting the basket, Bird sneaks behind the zone and cuts into the paint where Singer dishes a timely pass and dunks it.
Winston Cho covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho