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Every NBA Team's System Summed Up in 1 Highlight

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

Every NBA Team's System Summed Up in 1 Highlight

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    As the Los Angeles Lakers will tell you, personnel doesn't necessarily dictate scheme in the NBA.

    Finding the right players that are able to mesh within a particular coach's scheme is a difficult task, but once the proper mix of bigs, shooters and defenders is assembled and directed under one philosophy, cohesion can ultimately lead to positive results.

    In a league with so many varied styles of offense and defense, we're here to break down how each team's unique mix of personnel is employed.

    Note: All Stats have been retrieved from Basketball-Reference, unless noted otherwise. 

Atlanta Hawks

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    With shooters (Kyle Korver, John Jenkins and the injured Lou Williams) and athletic bigs (Josh Smith and Al Horford) the Hawks have been a steady, but not a great, offense under Larry Drew.

    Currently ranking 16th in the NBA in offensive rating (104.3 points per 100 possessions), the Hawks have found ways to sustain a proficient offense, while their defense has taken the reins (seventh in opponent's points per game).

    Although the clip above is a tad dated, it shows the staples of the Atlanta offense. Namely, a nice drive-and-kick from Jeff Teague to Josh Smith who passes up (!) an open mid-range jumper in order to find Al Horford, who's situated at the elbow.

    With bigs who are capable of playing down in the post and out to 15 feet, they have found a number of ways to spread the floor.

Boston Celtics

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    Ever since the beginning of the Big Three era in Boston, Doc Rivers' teams have been known for their stout defense above all else.

    One variation, which can be seen above, is Rivers' pressure zone defense. This zone is really more like a three-quarters court semi-trap with both Rajon Rondo and former Celtic Mickael Pietrus keying in on ball-handlers before they can cross half court.

    Once the Nets get set in their offense, we see another staple of recent Celtic teams—superb defensive rotations.

    Watching this tape it's clear that the loss of Rajon Rondo is so big, not just because he helps facilitate the team's offense, but because he directs the Celtics defense as well.

Brooklyn Nets

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    This may just be a simple pick-and-roll between Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, but it shows the luxury the Brooklyn Nets have afforded themselves with a slew of big moves in free agency.

    With Lopez quickly establishing himself as one of the league's best offensive centers, the Nets now have a potent inside-outside game that centers around Lopez, Williams and Joe Johnson.

    Lopez sits at fourth in the NBA in PER, according to ESPN, and his offensive versatility has helped propel the Nets into the league's top 10 in offense rating.

    Another staple of the Nets' system would be the anti-seven seconds or less (Mike D'Antoni's favorite) approach, as Brooklyn sits dead last in the NBA with a pace of 88 (possessions per 48 minutes), per Basketball-Reference.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Why point to Kemba Walker's game-winning shot against the Minnesota Timberwolves as a summation of the Charlotte Bobcats' system?

    Well, it's not exactly, but Walker represents a potentially bright future for a team that has recently fallen on hard times. That, and Walker's shot demonstrates the type of desperate, clutch performances the Bobcats need to turn in just to have a chance at tasting victory.

    Currently in possession of the league's worst record (11-34), the Bobcats have turned to Walker as their all-in-one offensive creator, averaging a team-best 17.8 points and 5.7 assists per game.

    Walker also leads the team with a PER of 19.3, while his shooting percentages have improved by seven percent from the field and four percent from beyond the arc from his rookie season.

Chicago Bulls

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    Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls have been all about heart, hustle and defense.

    And based on the clip above, it's clear that his message has gotten through to the players.

    No player on the Bulls epitomizes what Thibodeau stands for more than center Joakim Noah, whose play this season recently earned him his first trip to the NBA All-Star Game.

    Noah scraps for every loose ball, fights mercilessly for rebounds and does all of the little things that coaches adore.

    While Noah's antics may enrage fans throughout the league, there's no denying that he's a unique brand of center that's rare in today's NBA.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    I'm going to get overly simplistic here: Kyrie Irving is all you need to know about the 2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers.

    The kid is 20 years old, and in just his second season has made the leap from a very good point guard with potential, to appointment viewing on League Pass every single night.

    I can't remember the last time one player made it so enjoyable to watch a team with a 13-33 record, but Irving has found ways to do it on a nightly basis.

    It's a shame that we won't see what this Cavs team is really made of until Anderson Varejao returns at full strength next season, but for now it's time to sit back and watch the league's next great point guard develop before our eyes.

Dallas Mavericks

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    The first half of the 2012-13 campaign hasn't been all that kind to Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks.

    Dirk Nowitzki's absence for 28 games hurt the Mavs from a leadership perspective, but in terms of defense, Nowitzki's return hasn't helped all that much.

    This year's edition of the Mavericks are similar to the Houston Rockets, in that they rely on simply out-gunning the opposition to secure victories. 

    O.J. Mayo has been the largest beneficiary of the Mavs' flourishing offense, but he hasn't made nearly as much of an impact on the defensive end.

    According to Basketball-Reference, the Mavs rank 10th in the NBA in points per game (100.5) but are a lousy 29th in opponents' points per game (103.0).

Denver Nuggets

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    If you're an NBA general manager in need of freak athletes, please consult the Denver Nuggets front office regarding all inquiries of said game-changers.

    From JaVale McGee to Kenneth Faried to defensive stopper Andre Iguodala and speedy point guard Ty Lawson, the Nuggets are loaded with length, speed and dynamic athleticism at each and every position.

    Their fast-paced style is characterized by the clip above, which shows just how quickly the Nuggets can turn solid defense into points.

    With so much length, the Nuggets are able to constantly disrupt passing lanes, thus allowing them to get out on the break, where their myriad of finishers (Faried, McGee, Iguodala, et al.) finish off breaks with highlight-reel slams.

Detroit Pistons

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    If you'll indulge me, I'm going to deviate from the team focus here and take a look at Detroit Pistons rookie Andre Drummond.

    Given the obscene numbers (13.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference) Drummond has posted throughout the first half of his rookie season, it feels safe to say that the Pistons have a monster on their hands.

    The only problem? Lawrence Frank continues to be wary of playing his rookie for significant chunks, as he's limited his freakishly talented big to 20.2 minutes per game.

    Joe Dumars and the Pistons front office would be wise to build around Drummond, as his presence on both ends of the floor has been imposing, to say the least.

Golden State Warriors

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    Year two of the Mark Jackson era in the Bay Area has been characterized by lots of pretty team basketball.

    With the league's most lethal combination of backcourt shooters, the Warriors have been able to wreak havoc on opponents from both inside and outside the arc, particularly when you consider the recent return of center Andrew Bogut.

    Stephen Curry has played the role of marksman and setup man, using his improved abilities as a passer to find bigs like David Lee and Carl Landry for easy buckets in the post.

    As opponents ramp up their efforts to contain Curry, a supporting cast comprised of Lee, Landry, Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson will begin to thrive in even bigger ways.

Houston Rockets

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    If you fall into the category of NBA fans that enjoys plenty of offense and little-to-no defense, the Houston Rockets are your team.

    James Harden's arrival in Houston has given the Rockets the added dimension they had been seeking for some time, as the bearded one has shouldered the scoring load for one of the West's fringe playoff teams.

    In fact, with Harden in tow the Rockets are playing at the league's fastest pace (per Basketball-Reference), while they rank second in the NBA in points per game (105).

    On the flip side, the Rockets rank 27th in the NBA in opponent points per game (102.7).

    The Rockets score in a way that can keep them competitive with some of the Western Conference's elite clubs, but their defense has looked so lazy that it's starting to look like they may have a hard time holding onto the eighth seed out west.

Indiana Pacers

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    As is starting to become a trend in today's NBA, the Indiana Pacers are seeking to win with defense first, an attitude that will serve Frank Vogel's squad well when the playoffs come around.

    The Pacers are currently second in the NBA in opponents' points per game (89.9) and first in the NBA in defensive rating (99.5).

    We saw Vogel's defensive philosophy work wonders in the first round of the NBA playoffs last year, as the Pacers held the Miami Heat to 75 points in both Game 2 and Game 3 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.

    Behind Roy Hibbert (fourth in the NBA in blocks) and Paul George (11th in the NBA in steals), the Pacers have a formidable defensive duo that continues to improve with each passing game.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Los Angeles Clippers' system is characterized by a breathtaking up-tempo style on both the offensive and defensive ends.

    And given his team's athleticism at all five positions, it should come as no surprise that Vinny Del Negro's bunch leads the league in opponents' turnovers per game (16.9 per game), according to TeamRankings.

    What we see in the highlight above is that the Clippers create points off of turnovers faster than any team in the NBA, a big reason why they remain in command of the Pacific Division approach the All-Star break.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Perhaps it's just a temporary adjustment, but until we see otherwise, it's clear that Kobe Bryant has made significant adjustments in order to mesh with his talented supporting cast.

    Within Mike D'Antoni's system, the Lakers have changed in several fundamental ways, but the most notable (and most talked about) is Bryant's move to a role as the team's primary facilitator.

    Yes, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard continue to adapt to new roles in the half court, but Bryant's ability to draw the attention of defenses and pass out of double-teams will be key moving forward.

    Bryant proved that he's more than capable of driving and kicking with the best of them against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and if he continues to do so at a proficient rate, the Lakers will be firmly in the mix for a playoff berth.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Until Dwight Howard proves otherwise, it's hard to argue that Marc Gasol isn't the NBA's best center.

    So what exactly makes the 7'1'' Spaniard so great? His offensive game is as fundamentally sound as one could ask for, with his passing on the same level as his shooting.

    You look at the clip above and it becomes clear why Lionel Hollins has chosen to run his offense through the versatile big man.

    Gasol's passing ability goes unmatched at the center position, as he calmly reads defenses and makes snap decisions like a quarterback in a collapsing pocket.

    The presence of Zach Randolph in the frontcourt means that the Grizzlies aren't sacrificing any size by moving Gasol out into the high post—a luxury that most NBA teams cannot afford.

Miami Heat

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    The term "elite" is thrown around far too often in sports these days, but there's no question that the label applies in every way to LeBron James.

    James can score from virtually every spot on the floor, but that's not what makes his game so potent.

    What allows the Heat to thrive on offense is LeBron's selflessness, which is displayed, at times, by his brilliant no-look passes in traffic.

    Defenses game-plan around James, and the nine-time All-Star uses that to his advantage, as seen in this clip against the Indiana Pacers.

    By taking two hard dribbles inside the arc, LeBron is able to draw the help defender (Paul George) and calmly threads a no-look bounce pass onto the hands of Dwyane Wade, resulting in an easy bucket.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    It's a shame the Milwaukee Bucks are stuck in such a small market, because they're emerging as one of the NBA's most energetic, high-flying teams.

    The Bucks are playing at the NBA's fifth-fastest pace (per Basketball-Reference) thanks to the electric playmaking of guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

    Jennings has looked particularly flashy running the break with a stable of athletic bigs that includes Larry Sanders and John Henson, and is averaging a career-high six assists per game as we approach the All-Star break.

    With Sanders developing into one of the league's premier shot-blockers, the Bucks are starting to establish an identity as a fun, up-tempo squad.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    No Minnesota Timberwolves highlight would be complete without some trickery from point guard Ricky Rubio.

    With the Timberwolves' roster constructed to play in the half court, Rubio has been a key piece, running the pick-and-roll with Kevin Love (when healthy) to create some magic, as we see above.

    With a core trio of Rubio, Love and center Nikola Pekovic, the T'Wolves have established a dynamite pick-and-roll, one that has several dimensions.

    In this clip we see that Rubio has several options. He can draw the attention of the defense, look off his man and deliver a pass to Pekovic, or, in the route he doesn't take, Rubio can take the dribble handoff from Love and then swing it back to him for an open jumper.

    With Rubio, a stretch 4 and a powerful yet agile center, the T'Wolves are not short for options in the half court.

New Orleans Hornets

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    Get used to this sight, folks.

    As Greivis Vasquez continues to mold himself into one of the NBA's best open-court passers (third in the NBA with 9.4 assists per game), the New Orleans Hornets have a great opportunity to grow along with him.

    Young studs Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon are reaping the benefits of playing alongside a gifted guard such as Vasquez, who has suddenly become the focal point of Monty Williams' offense.

    Should Vasquez continue to develop at this speedy rate, he and Davis have the potential to become one of the league's most potent pick-and-roll combinations within the next two years.

New York Knicks

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    When the New York Knicks come to mind, the first thing you should think of is three-point shooting. That, and lots of angry Tyson Chandler dunks.

    The Knicks, led by Carmelo Anthony, have undergone a bit of a transformation under head coach Mike Woodson, shooting an obscene amount of threes.

    In fact, according to TeamRankings, the Knicks lead the NBA in percentage of points obtained from the three-point shot, at 32.8 percent, four percent higher than the second-place Houston Rockets.

    With Chandler one of the league's best facilitators of fast breaks (via stout defense) and second-chance opportunities (consult Nate Taylor's excellent breakdown of the tap-out for more on this), the Knicks have become the league's most lethal team from beyond the arc.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Regardless of whether it's Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder love to free up space for their stars by way of the pick-and-roll.

    Westbrook, in particular, is extremely lethal when he can pick up steam heading toward the basket, but the same goes for Durant, whose size, length and handle make it nearly impossible for defenders to stop him once he's given just a few inches of space.

    The Thunder's system is characterized by speed, athleticism and plenty of jump shots—whether they're off the dribble or off of the catch.

    Given the team's success in recent years, that formula should hold up for quite some time.

Orlando Magic

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    Once you get past the Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks, the Southeast Division is riddled with young teams who can't seem to climb out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

    Among those teams are the Orlando Magic, who, in year one under Jacque Vaughn, have provided a few glimpses of hope for those wishing for success in the post-Dwight Howard era.

    According to HoopData, the Magic rank eighth in the NBA in field-goal percentage (45.7 percent), thanks to the production they've received from their inside-outside duo of J.J. Redick and Nikola Vucevic.

    Redick has been true on 46 percent of his looks from the floor this season (and 40.5 percent from three), while Vucevic has been one of the league's biggest surprises, averaging 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, shooting 52.6 percent from the field.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    There's nothing spectacular or particularly unique about this highlight from Jrue Holiday, but it demonstrates much of what the Philadelphia 76ers offense has become this season.

    The Sixers are notoriously over-reliant on mid-range jumpers (second-most FGA from 16 to 23 feet, per HoopData) and isolations, and they're fortunate enough to have a player like Holiday, who's adept at scoring from every spot on the floor.

    For the most part, Philly's offense lacks movement and rhythm, but Holiday's play in tandem with Thaddeus Young has been enough to keep the team afloat while they await the return of Andrew Bynum.

    However, once Bynum does return, the system will undoubtedly change to a more balanced inside- outside attack.

Phoenix Suns

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    Take a quick glance at the Phoenix Suns roster. Not much to get excited about, is there?

    Lindsey Hunter has been dealt a tough hand as the team's interim head coach, but it didn't take him long to realize that Goran Dragic is his team's best playmaker.

    Seeing as the development of Kendall Marshall is going to take some time, the Suns offense can only really function properly when Dragic has the ball in his hands, as he's the team's leading scorer (14.1 points per game) and far and away the Suns' best passer (6.4 assists per game).

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Damian Lillard's big-play ability has added a much-needed dimension to the Portland Trail Blazers offense.

    Lillard's speed and change of pace are a matchup nightmare for a majority of the league's point guards, and it's those attributes that have made him one of the treasures of the 2012 NBA draft.

    With their new man running the show, the Blazers offense has looked sharp in the pick-and-roll, particularly with J.J. Hickson and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

    While Hickson is more adept at slashing to the basket off of the pick-and-roll, Aldridge has a lethal mid-range jumper that has been put to use off of pick-and-pop action.

Sacramento Kings

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    Recent developments have basketball fans in California's capital frustrated with incompetent ownership, but there have been some bright spots on the court for a raw, young team led by head coach Keith Smart.

    Led by the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, the Kings have been anything but consistent, although their potential (whether it be in Sacramento or Seattle) should not go without mention.

    In Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins the Kings have found themselves a frontcourt that can compete long-term, while Isaiah Thomas continues to make a compelling case as one of the league's brightest young point guards.

    The Kings play with a sort of unfiltered energy that often results in turnovers and sloppy possessions, but there have been several promising moments that lead me to believe that this team has real potential to be a fringe playoff team in a few years.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Let's play a little game of word association. When I say San Antonio Spurs, what's the first thing that pops into your head? If "textbook execution" wasn't the first thing, then you probably need to watch more Spurs basketball.

    The way the Spurs, particularly Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, run the pick-and-roll is practically flawless.

    By this point, I'm pretty sure they could run that play based simply off of muscle memory. Gregg Popovich has his guys playing arguably the prettiest brand of half-court ball in the NBA, and while casual observers will argue it's too boring, purists will tell you the exact opposite.

Toronto Raptors

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    The Toronto Raptors' system may be changing with the acquisition of Rudy Gay, but the trade also ensures that we'll be seeing plenty of high-flying dunks in the near future.

    With a roster composed of athletic specimens (Gay, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan), you can be sure that Dwane Casey will want to get out and run.

    The real problem for the Raptors now that Gay is in tow will be defense. Gay is an above-average perimeter defender, but the Raps lack all sorts of size now that Ed Davis is donning clashing shades of blue down in Memphis.

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz can roll out talented big men in waves, wearing down opponents with size and strength in the post.

    Although the Jazz face tough decisions about the futures of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, the team's starting frontcourt has been the glue holding Ty Corbin's bunch together.

    Jefferson excels playing in the low post, but his shooting stroke has improved considerably, as he's shooting a career-best 42 percent on 5.4 attempts per game (also a career high) on shots between 16 to 23 feet, according to HoopData.

    For a team that's not exactly keen on running (17th in the NBA in pace, per Basketball-Reference) the emphasis on getting Jefferson and Millsap involved early and often has become crucial to the Jazz's success.

Washington Wizards

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    For those of you who are unaware, the Washington Wizards have been one of the league's best defensive squads throughout the 2012-13 season.

    Just in case you are learning of this now, here's a little nugget from ESPN's Tom Haberstroh that shows just how far the Wizards have come on the defensive end:

    Good gracious, the Wizards have been a top-5 defense since Jan 1. #nene

    — Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 1, 2013

    For all of their shortcomings (see: Martell Webster corner three, above) on offense (last in the NBA in points per game and offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference), the Wizards have been energized by their play on the defensive end, thanks to the play of John Wall and Nene.

    They may not be a playoff team just yet, but make no mistake about it, Randy Wittman's squad has its eyes on a postseason berth sometime in the near future.

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