V. 'Cats Postgame: Half-Court, Holiday, Endgame Experiments, Lineups

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 V. 'Cats Postgame:  Half-Court, Holiday, Endgame Experiments, Lineups
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-Huskies' half-court offense decisive and productive for much of second half;

-UW's offense stagnant and turnover-prone with Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton together in the backcourt;

-Coach Romar's late-game lineup experimentation hurt Huskies @ UCLA and tonight;

-Justin Holiday an important factor in offense's productivity, and a game-changer on defense;

-Holiday, Pondexter, Suggs and Gaddy moved ball well in mid-range area of the floor all night long.

 

1.  For the majority of the second half, the Huskies' half-court offense looked as good as it has all season.   

The dynamic that stood out to me was the pace of ball movement.  The PGs got the ball out of their hands at the very beginning of the posession.  Off the ball movement was excellent:  decisive and purposeful.  Passes shared that dynamic.

The pace was by the most rapid I've seen from the Huskies, and it looked really good.  Players received the ball in positions to make moves against their man, and got a lot of looks and lanes.

Justin Holiday played big-time starter's minutes, and my perception was that this was a central factor in the Huskies' efficiency and productivity in the half-court.  Holiday, as has been his wont, kept the offense moving when he had the ball in his hand, making quick, incisive passes, or making offenses moves to open up passing lanes.  He really is a pleasure to watch, with his excellent basketball head and passing skills.

A second essential element was the complete change in style of Isaiah Thomas.  Typically Isaiah has initiated the offense in one of two ways:  either driving the lane, or dribbled extensively along the perimeter before making short passes to either a wing or the high post. 

In the second half, Thomas was getting the ball out of his hands IMMEDIATELY, allowing Holiday, Pondexter, and Suggs, most notably, to initiate the offense with sharp movement without the ball and crisp, productive passing.  It was a pleasure to watch.

Venoy did the same.  Movement with and without the ball was productive and decisive.

2.  For some reason, the offense melted into sludge at exactly the point when Overton and Thomas were put on the court together, for the first time in the second half.  As I recall, the same happened in the first half.

I think the main reason the offense dies so badly with them on the court together is that they both have very limited skills in the space inside the three-point line and outside the lane.  While Thomas has a serviceable midrange jumper, Venoy does not, and has little ability to put pressure on the defense from that distance. They are both weak passers from that area of the floor. 

Contrast their midrange skillset with the acumen that Holiday, Pondexter, Suggs, and Gaddy have demonstrated, and it perhaps becomes clear why the ball largely stays on the perimeter with Overton and Thomas on the floor together. 

Watching Thomas with Overton, I also started to get the sense that Isaiah, with a second point guard in the game, tends to direct most of his passes to the other guard, instead of entrusting his wings with the ball. 

Regardless, with Thomas and Overton in the game together, the ball rarely got past the perimeter, except on errant or stolen passes.  It was an alarming contrast to the wide-ranging and decisive movement that had characterized the offense for much of the half. 

3.  When he is guarding a wing (or the point), Justin Holiday is a dominating player on the defensive end.  

I wrote above that Justin Holiday was a central factor in the Huskies' productivity in the half-court offense.  He altered the game immeasurably on defense as well.  He had numerous blocks and shot alterations; tipped passes and altered passes; and rebounds, all while denying his man the ball for every second of the game. Holiday is a PLAYER, and deserves to receive big-time starter minutes in every game.

  To be most effective, however, he needs to be defending the wing (or the point), not banging inside.  On the perimeter, he is able to utilize his outstanding skillset to be a game-changing force on the defensive end.  His outstanding length and quickness and excellent positioning enable him to deny his man the ball, while disrupting passing lanes.  His elite recovery speed and quick rise enable him to be a dominant help defender, blocking and altering shots from behind and from the weakside, and getting his hands on numerous rebounds.

On the block, Holiday's length is negated, and stronger players can push him out of many plays.  His special abilities as a defensive basketball player are marginalized to a tremendous degree.  While it is tempting to play him down low due to his length, placing Holiday on the block disallows him to make the dominating, game-changing contributions to the Washington defense that he is fully capable of producing for 40 minutes.  Holiday is a productive enough player, on offense and defense, to configure the lineup to ensure that he is defending a perimeter player for 30-40 minutes every game, every weekend for the remainder of the season. 

4.  Coach Romar's late-game experimentation has hurt the Huskies in their last two close games (@ UCLA, Arizona).

This is the second straight close game (@ UCLA being the other) in which, late in the game, the coach has inserted a lineup that had not played together at all during the contest.  In the UCLA game, Romar put Overton and Gant on the court together for much of the final third of the second half.  I've written elsewhere that that is an especially weak offensive combination for the Huskies.  The outcome was that the Huskies offense deteriorated into ash for the final several minutes of the game, and Bruins were able to outscore the Huskies dramatically and even the score.

Tonight, the coach firstly inserted Thomas and Overton together for the last third of the second half; they had played together rarely during the game. The offense was stagnant and turnover prone for the remainder of the contest. 

Secondly, Coach Romar took all of his big men out of the game for the last 3-5 minutes of the game.  The result was that, time and again, the Wildcats were able to drive the lane and get an easy 2, whereas previously Breshers and MBA had effectively deterred such moves.  Worse, the Huskies were badly outrebounded, giving up multiple baskets on second-chance opportunities. On offense, UW lacked a player down low who could catch feeds on drives and generate offensive rebounds, or clear the boards for teammates to do so.

In both games, the Huskies were playing their best ball of the contest, generating notable margins and momentum, when, in the final segment of the game, the coach inserted a lineup that had not played together at all during the match.  The half-court offense deteriorated markedly: the Huskies struggled to get any kind of shot, and turned the ball over with forced passes and drives.  The opposition, taking advantage of the long scoring draught, outscored the Huskies and evened the score.

Lineups are about combinations of players that complement one another and make each other better. Each lineup is a system; changing a fifth or 2/5s of that system can produce seemingly disproportionate change.  It seems to me a decidedly losing gamble to insert a combination for the endgame that is untested, when several of the lineups used during the evening have been very productive, with the combination of five men--five personalities, minds, and skillsets--clearly complementing each other effectively. 

I recognize that lineup generation is influenced by the personnel inserted by the opposition; however, my impression is that that does not play a dominant factor with this team, especially as many of the players are versatile enough to play against multiple opposing lineups. 

It therefore seems like sticking with proven lineups in the endgame is a strategy that is likely to help the team.  If one does choose to implement a new combination, I believe a quick change is warranted if the offense slows markedly or the defense struggles to make stops, very preferably to a lineup that has played productively that night.

  --

This was an exciting win, and it keeps the Huskies in the race for the title.  I feel renewed hope each game, as the team seems to improve frequently.  I firmly believe that lineup choices will be the most essential factor in determining the shape of the remainder of the season.

 Watching the Huskies over the course of the season, it has seemed to me that there are certain players and combinations that fit together very poorly, and others that have excelled, or shown the potential to do so, and not played together nearly enough.

It is very understandable that it would take a long time to find good combinations on a consistent basis.  It seems likely to me that this has been an especially difficult group of players to separate into lineup combinations.  With an abundance of backcourt players, I would guess that it has been difficult to differentiate the players from one another in terms of their skillsets, athletic abilities, basketball smarts, and fit with one another.   Yet, finding the combinations that are able to excel together is a foundational step to success. 

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Regardless of their success the rest of the way, I always enjoy watching and rooting for the team.  The Huskies have a special place in my heart, in no small part because I know that the students on the team receive the opportunity to develop as persons and students, as well as athletes.  Go Dawgs! 

 

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