Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The birth of an offense

Interesting article in the NY Times recently that demonstrates how basketball coaches aren't afraid to adopt innovative schemes -- regardless of who creates them.

Had a post here awhile back about Coach Calipari studying schemes from a JC coach that he found to be effective.

In this case, it's Vance Wahlberg, then a high school coach in Fresno who coached briefly at Pepperdine, and is now an assistant at UMass, developed a unique dribble-drive motion offense, "which has since piqued the curiosity of several N.B.A. teams, [including] the Sacramento Kings, the Denver Nuggets and the Atlanta Hawks, while the Boston Celtics used selected sets from it during their championship run."

Nets head coach Lawrence Frank intensely studied the offense, "which relies on penetration from the guard and kick-outs to the wings."

According to the story, Coach "Frank is quick to say he is not overhauling his offense, but trying to play to its strengths in certain circumstances."

Said Coach Frank:

“Every coach has a system, and within that system, every coach has to have a system that’s flexible enough to accommodate different things. The beauty of it is, you’re attacking with different guys with different spots from different angles. That guy from the corner may finish at the top and vice versa.”

As is the case with many great inventions, the offense was born out of necessity. According to the article:

Wahlberg developed the offense when Chris Hernandez, who later played for Stanford, continually beat his defender off the dribble, only to be met by a congested lane. To open the court, Wahlberg tried to space out his players and rarely called for screens.

He moved the center to the weak side, told Hernandez to penetrate and, when that did not work, to penetrate again. The goal was for Hernandez to have a path to the basket or for a defender coming in to block his way to leave his man open for a kickout pass.

Based on Hernandez’s movements, his teammates moved as though they were tethered together, and Hernandez always knew where to find them.

“On the collapse, you’re going to know exactly where your teammate is,” said Wahlberg. “If you’re running a motion, you don’t know where guys are once you attack. If you have shooters, you are going to need defenders that stay closer. If you have guys that can take it to the hoop, they can’t defend them, so the two kind of play off one another.”

Wahlberg estimates he has tutored about 800 different coaches throughout various levels who have come to him with hands out and pencils ready, eager to learn about the offense.

“I think it’s geared for the N.B.A. because there are great one-on-one players,” Wahlberg said. “When you have guys that are able to get to the rack, I think it’s very effective. When you space people out, you open things up.”

Regardless of the scheme, Coach Frank contends that simply changing an offense doesn't guarantee success:

"It’s the players and the trust you have in each other. That’s what’s going to make you win."