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What Went Right Part III: Rotation and Sets

Disclaimer: You all know that I am long winded. This post is big. If you are not a die-hard or a Cougar Basketball junkie, you might want to avoid the fallowing.If you are going to delve into this abyss, go to the bathroom first, and get a snack.

Here it is folks. This is where we get to talk personnel and tactics all at the same time. And it is true that those two things go hand-in-hand because there are some things that you just can't get done when some players are on the floor.

Let's start with this:


With some slight variations, this is the basic offense we've seen from the Cougs most of the year. This is the offense that is run when Daven Harmeling plays at the 4. It made perfect sense with the personnel that Coach Bennett had to work with, and against the lesser opponents, it worked beautifully.

The basic function of the 4-1 motion is two fold. First, the focus is obviously the 5. And we all know that getting Aron Baynes as many shots as possible in the paint is a big deal. Secondly, the perimeter players are in constant motion, keeping the defense moving and on their toes. Patience is at a premium and eventually the defense will break down and you get a driving lane or an open jumper. Simple enough, right?

Well, in the Cougs case, it became simple enough to defend. One would think that this would give all the room in the world for Baynes to work inside while the perimeter players swarm and confuse the defense, but good teams (especially our Pac-10 foes) know that Baynes is the number one option, and many Pac-10 teams have encorporated elements of the Bennett Pack Defense into their schemes. Teams have sagged down to Baynes and that is why his shot attempts have been so low. But like every good offense their is always a counter adjustment:



As you can see here, the defense is fronting Baynes and the weak side 4 defender is ready to help when the post pass is made. This is where the Bennett genius is supposed to come into play. In years past we've all drooled at the thought of Harmeling's defender leaving him to help somewhere else, hence the effectiveness of using him at the 4 spot -- either the four stays on him and Baynes is 1-v-1, or the 4 leaves him and you get and open perimeter shot.

Unfortunately teams have been wise to this as well. Teams haven't left Harmeling to double Baynes (smart move) and have dropped players from other area's (such as collapsing the 1 and the 3 in this example) and leaves you with Thompson and Rochestie getting a ton of shots and not making a very high percentage of them, and Koprivica ... I don't think we really need to get into that right now ... as the perimeter threats. This worked fine against the cupcakes, but failed miserably against like comptetition in the non-conferecnce.

Another variation to the 4-1 offense is the flex, which some of you might recognize as well:


Oh yes, we've seen a lot of this one too. This is designed to get a bit more movement out of the perimeter players to create those shots and lanes to work with. The failure of this offensive set, again is the personnel group. Harmeling and Koprivica simply do not have the foot speed to be effective weapons in this set but Thompson is servicable. Rochestie is perfect for this set and should see plenty of shots coming from off the ball movement, however, he is the only one in this line-up that can be trusted dribbling the basketball, so he has been forced to get his off the dribble, and that has been disastrous thus far.

Enter Caleb Forrest

When talking about personnel rotations and schemes, combinations really are the underlying foundation for success. There is so much more to it that simply putting the best players on the floor. It's about who brings out the best in each other. In the first real line-up shake-up of the season, Bennett recognized the lack of production from Baynes due to the failure of the scheme, and inserted Caleb Forrest into the line-up in search of a post combination that can hold defenses accountable. Let's take a look:


This is the base formation of the High-C (or High low depending on interpretation and terminology) offense. This, in my opinion is the best set for the personnel that the Cougs currenty have, and they have seen succes from it. Placing Forrest at the elbow is a nice because he is a threat from there with his mid-range jump shot, and he can crash down for offensive rebounds. The key here is to get the 5 the ball and let him work; if the 3 defender collapses, kick out of the double for a jump shot, if the 4 defender comes to help, Forrest makes a little cut to the basket and recieves a nice interior pass from Baynes and you get a layup. We saw that early against Stanford, but Forrest couldn't finish (bricking his layup on the bottom of the rim). He did convert one of two free throws, so the possession and the set can be considered a success.

I did notice in the first half that Bennett was not afraid of running the 4-1 motion (as seen above) with Forrest on the floor as the 4. That scared the living crap out of me. There was some sort of hybrid where he would start at the high post, then flash out and move into the motion, and then return to the high post. I didn't get it.

Now that we've got some tactical foundations layed, lets talk personnel

DeAngelo Casto starts the second half

And there was much rejoicing on the CougCenter game thread. I don't know what it was that convinced Bennett to start Casto in the second half, and honestly I don't really care. But the results were absolutely amazing. Nuss is right in saying that the second half defense was really a major component to winning that game, but exactly how did the High-C with Casto on the floor, and the high pick and roll, affect the efficiency of the offense?

Referencing the High-C diagram above, I believe Casto to be more of a threat from the 4 position than Forrest. From this spot, Forrest is fairly one dimensional. How many times have we seen the up-fake/single dribble/jump shot from there? Effective, yes; versatile, no.From there, Casto cannot shoot, but (believe it or not) he can create. His athleticism allows him to put the ball on the floor draw defenders and make the pass to the 5 spot.

The irony in this situation is illustrated in an email conversation Nuss and I had about why Casto wasn't seeing more minutes. Vince Grippi had written on his blog that the coaches felt that Casto was a liability on offense because he doesn't play with his hands in a position to recieve the ball and it leads to turnovers. Three times against Stanford, Casto put the ball on the floor, broke down the interior defense and made a surgical pass to Baynes who couldn't convert a basket. Who's not ready to recieve the pass? If Baynes handles those passes they lead to at least one layup and one dunk and two assists to Casto, and that results in one hell of a post combination to defend. From that position, Casto also managed to get himself to the free throw line, and even though he doesn't shoot them well, that is still a plus.

This combination, to me, is a no brainer. Casto should start at the 4 and play 30 minutes every game, Forrest should come off the bench give him and Baynes a blow. Now, I don't know what Bennett is going to do with the starting line-up tonight. I think it is obvious what most of us would like to see, but something tells me Forrest gets the start again. I don't like it, and if what we've seen with the naked eye isn't enough then everyone should take a good hard look at these Kenpom Player Stats. If Casto had but just 1.3% more player minutes he would be nationaly ranked in at least four catagories. He leads the team in OR%, is basically tied with Baynes in DR%, has what would be the 25th nationally ranked Blk%, and leads the team in FTRate. Case closed.

What to do with Daven

So, we've seen that using Daven at the 4 position hasn't really benefited the Cougs all that much. Hence his removal from the starting lineup for a more traditional post-up 4. But I think most of us would agree that an effective Harmeling does vastly improve the Cougs offense. And one would naturally assume that some minutes at the 3 would be in Harmeling's future.

Apparently not.

Harmeling did see some minutes at the 3 when Bennett made the move to Forrest, but this past weekend Harmeling's minutes were exclusively at the four, and he curiously played exactly zero minutes in the second half against Stanford. Uh oh. Now all of a sudden we are seeing Abe Lodwick (I am going to avoid talking too much about Lodwick in this post, but you can refer to his player grade here for my take on where he fits in the rotation) as the first backcourt player off the bench, ahead of Harmeling.

The problem with playing Harmeling at the 4 -- which the coaching staff seems to think is the most effective spot for him -- is that the offense grinds to a halt when he's there, and it was plainly obvious that he was the fourth option as a big on Saturday. Harmeling as been pigeonholed, and honestly I don't know what can be done about it. It seems like a waste of a weapon to have him relegated to the bench, but this is where the concept of combinations really proves itself. Lodwick may play a better 3 than Harmeling, and it was obvious that that is exactly where Harmeling's minutes went last weekend.

Taylor Rochestie's increased efficiency

I've bashed on Taylor a lot. I admit it. I stand by it. I've also said that he has been misused. But something else changed in the second half against Stanford. The team was looking to get Rochestie shots off the ball.

Already noted on this site is the missing element of Derrick Low's Rip Hamiltonesque ability to move without the basketball and get open for catch-and-shoot opportunities. For the first time all season, we saw a concerted effort to make that happen for Rochestie. Rochestie really is the only player on this team that posseses the ability to do this, and it is something that this offense needs. And wouldn't you know it, it came from a set that looks a lot like that High-C diagram.

From this set, Rochestie can get Klay Thompson the ball on the wing and move straight down the key and cut towards the baseline off of a screening 4. Thompson recieves the pass from Rochestie moves towards the top of the key, compacting the defense and shifting the stong side opposite the direction Rochestie is cutting. Thompson quickly turns back, hits Rochestie on the sideline (open thanks to a screen from the 4), Rochestie catches and shoots. Two points. Thompson and Marcus Capers both executed this pass to assist Rochestie on made baskets.

Another option is to start with moving the ball to the three. Essentially the play is exactly the same. If the shot does not come open immediately, then Rochestie cuts baseline, hesitates, and reworks his defender off the 5's screen. Rochestie is the best player on this team at manipulating his defender off an off-the-ball screen. On his three point basket in the second half he made his defender look absolutely foolish, and that is a talent that this team needs to exploit.

So why haven't we seen much of that this season? Last season Rochestie had plenty of those opportunities, and it was because Low and Kyle Weaver were trusted to handle the ball in the half-court sets. As I said in my player grades post, I believe that Thompson and Capers can facilitate this role in the half-court, to get Rochestie the looks that this team needs to be successful.

Which brings me to my final point. If you all haven't fallen asleep yet.

Who's the missing piece?

In talking about the rotation, or more specifically the starting line-up and who should get the majority of the minutes, I think that it is obvious that Rochestie, Thompson, Casto, and Baynes need to be getting a lot of minutes. That leaves us with Forrest, Harmeling, Koprivica, Lodwick, and Capers as the players to fill in the supporting roles.

I think Forrest's role is obvious; he should spell the devestating defensive wall of Baynes and Casto, and nothing else. Alledgedly, Harmeling is deep down the bench as a backup 4 man. Koprivica has been starting, and Lodwick was obviously his backup last weekend. And Capers gets very few minutes to spell Rochestie at the point. However, Capers and Rochestie saw some time on the floor together, and I got excited. (This is where I make my case for Capers.)

Thompson is clearly this team's second best perimeter player, and I would love to see him and Rochestie circling their respective sides of the floor working off screens without the ball and making things happen. Of the three remaining backcourt players (Koprivica; who's performance speaks for itself, Lodwick; who I don't see as a facilitator for Thompson and Rochestie, and Capers) I see Marcus Capers as the player who could put in solid minutes, helping get Rochestie off on offense. I wouldn't expect the kid to do much scoring, but we know he can move, he's energetic and I think he has more to offer than the others.

I believe that Koprivica has manned this spot because he is a known commodity, and I think that with Capers you just aren't sure what you are going to get. But I believe that if they both played at their best, you'd get more out of Capers that would benefit the team. Again, this is about combinations, and a Rochestie/Capers/Thompson back-court is something that can maximize the potential of the team's best players.

Forrest, Harmeling and Koprivica have been role players their whole careers at WSU, and I think they need to stay right where they are at. I think getting Casto and Capers more time is the infusion of athleticism and the wildcard upside that brings out the best in Rochestie and Baynes. Interestingly enough, Casto and Capers had the highest +/- scores on the team against Stanford. If Capers was +4 in only 8 minutes, I wonder what that would have looked like if he'd played 20-25?

That is what I would like to see this weekend in Oregon, but I am curious as to what all of you think: