Op-ed piece by Mike Slifer, editor of Devils in Detail
In order to keep tabs on the ASU men’s basketball team this season, I usually watch every game twice. First, I watch the game in real time as a fan. Then I watch the DVR version where I look for more details and clarification. Being a former high school basketball coach, my eyes are looking for specific things.
But you don’t have to be a former hoops coach to see that the ASU offense has some issues. Coaching offense in basketball is a strange thing. It’s difficult.
Because of the fluidity of the game, the coach cannot dictate every single movement and decision made by his players. Sure, the coach can have set plays or a continuity offense or a motion offense that starts in a certain formation. He can have rules within his offense and stress certain concepts for screening and cutting. But in the end, proper reads and shot selection are left up to the players.
The players on the floor have to make the right decision and put the ball in the hole. How many times have you been watching a game, see a player take an ugly shot and scream “Noooo!!” only to cheer like crazy when the shot goes in? Coaches do that internally on almost every possession.
Coaches also know that the old days of passing and cutting in a set continuity offense for 20 passes to get a wide open lay-up are over. (The shot clock has something to do with that) So now, coaches have to try to teach their players what a good shot looks like. And it varies from player to player.
In ASU’s case, coach Herb Sendek wants his kids to make plays and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they see it. All coaches want that for their team. Sendek in particular has a weapon in Jahii Carson. His ability to create–to beat his man off the dribble and penetrate causes the defense to react and leads to open teammates. That’s a good thing.
The downside of that option is what we are seeing a lot of now; ASU players standing around and watching/waiting for Jahii to do his thing. It’s not the end of the world, but it creates some issues:
1) It puts a lot of pressure on Jahii Carson to perform.
2) It’s not as effective if Carson is having a cold night.
3) It allows the defense to relax a little and pay more attention to Carson.
4) When Carson isn’t in the game, the players on the floor have to change the way they are playing offense.
5) ASU becomes predictible, by limiting their options.
Let’s be fair here, ASU and coach Sendek are not the only teams with this phenomenon going on. But ASU fans would probably like to see more sound principles being executed on offense; more screening, more movement, more cutting. All these basketball concepts stress the defense and make them work. Making the defense work harder fatigues them and increases the chances of them making a mistake. That’s basketball.
A team might defend a strong downscreen correctly once or twice….but will they defend it correctly 5-6 times in one possession? ASU needs to find out.
Don’t get me wrong, a 19-7 record is an accomplishment. And unless ASU falls apart, they’ll win a few more games and make it to the Big Dance. But wouldn’t it be sweet if they actually made a run in the post-season? Won 25 games?
I think they could if they would move more on offense. Carson can still do the bulk of the ballhandling. He can still push the tempo and try to create. But standing around for 20 seconds and then setting a high ball screen for him with 10 on the shot clock is getting tough to watch–especially when it appears that the defense is ready for it. Just an observation.
Only the players and coaches know what is actually being taught and discussed in practice and games. I’m sure coach Sendek and his staff are not instructing the players to be lazy and then take a frantic shot as the clock is winding down.
To close, I don’t want this to come off as an indictment or the rantings of a Monday morning quarterback. I would argue that this has been a problem even in the games that ASU has won. The offense needs more purposeful movement and better execution on spacing and screening to create better looks for all players.