Breaking Down What Makes an NBA Offense 'European'

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Breaking Down What Makes an NBA Offense 'European'
Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

If you check the NBA standings, you'll notice there are not any teams in Europe. Yet if you watch enough basketball, you'll hear abut the "European offense" and how it's impacting the NBA.

So what is a "European offense and what makes it "European?" 

To illustrate that, it's best to first take a look at what is different in European basketball, and by doing that, how the European basketball evolved differently and how the NBA in the last 10 years has made rule changes which can make the European style advantageous to NBA teams. 

The primary distinction is in how the lane, until 2010, is constructed. While the NBA lane has the rectangular shape, the FIBA rules had a lane that tapered inward towards the free-throw line, making a "trapezoid" shape and was known as a trapezoid lane because of it. 

Because the lane was narrower at the top, big men would post up higher than in the American game. This, in turn, had an impact of "clogging" the lane from driving guards. This issue is exacerbated by the lack of a three-second defensive rule in the FIBA game, which allows for defensive bigs to camp out. 

To compensate for this, the European game utilizes "stretch forwards," who are big men who are able to shoot with range versus posting up under the rim. Their opponents are forced to guard them because they are able to knock down shots from deep (which is enabled further by FIBA having a shorter three-point line). 

This draws their opponents out to the perimeter, which in turn, opens up the court for ball-handlers to drive into the paint and score or kick the ball out to their three-point shooters, even the big men. 

When the NBA instituted a series of rule changes over the late '90s and early '00s, which favored perimeter players, it gave NBA teams incentives to implement aspects of that strategy. Pulling big men out to the perimeter and putting the ball in the hand of your best ball-handler made sense. 

No team has utilized this type of offense better than the San Antonio Spurs, so we'll use them as our example of how teams are utilizing European inspired offenses. 

The first thing that European offenses do is what is commonly referred to as a "pick-and-pop," which is different form a "pick-and-roll," though they are the same at the outset. Both plays begin with a big setting a pick for a ball-handler. 

Where they differ is in what the big does after setting the pick, though. On the pick and roll, he goes toward the basket, "rolling" to the rim. Karl Malone and John Stockton used this famously.

This requires your ball-handler to be a spot-up shooter, as he is your outside scorer and the roll man is your inside scorer. Think Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. 

The pick-and-pop, though, is where the big comes out, away from the rim opening up the lane and allowing for the ball-handler to either drive the lane, kick it to the screener or pass it out to another shooter.

One characteristic is that the picks are set higher because the big is a better shooter. In the screen cap below, notice how high up the Spurs bigs are set when they are starting the play. 

Here's Tony Parker running the basic pick-and-pop play, but electing to keep the ball. 

Here, though, the defense comes out to trap Parker, so he goes with a little behind-the-back pass to feed Duncan for the "pop." 

The European offense also tries to take advantage of three-point line. Here, when the defense comes into stop the driving Manu Ginobili, he kicks it out to the wide-open three. 

When the drive gets stopped, the screener doesn't have a shot, and the ball-handler can't find a shooter, he kicks the ball out to another ball-handler who can either reset the play (you'll often see the Spurs run two or three pick-and-pops in one possession) and wait for another screen or pass the ball to an open shooter, which is more often than not the case, such as in the play below. 

The end result of the European offense is that it enables a team to generate a bulk of its points either at the rim or behind the three-point line, the two most efficient areas of the court. For example, last season, the Spurs were second in three-pointers made and were sixth in shots made inside the restricted area. Not surprisingly, they were the Association's most efficient offense based on offensive rating. 

Not every team has the personnel to make it work, but that's why point guards like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo who can drive the lane exceptionally well are highly coveted. It's also why power forwards like Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love are on the rise. 

For now, it's still European ball, but more and more, it's being adapted into the NBA game. 

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