The Underwood Offense
I'm juiced about this hire. The levels of excitement I currently feel match those I had a year and a half ago when my favored footy team Liverpool hired wunderkind Jurgen Klopp. The parallels are there. Klopp was known for having taken middling sides in Germany and implementing a system that allowed "lesser" talents to maximize their potential. Klopp runs a high energy system with lots of defensive pressure. This allows players with lesser natural talents to succeed by winning the ball high up the pitch in advantageous situations.
Enough about the other football though. This is about Brad Underwood and hoopball. I've made it no secret on this blog that I'm a huge fan of John Beilein. He's an elite offensive coach that plays an exciting brand of basketball. Brad Underwood's system is VERY similar to the one that has made John Beilein's teams offensively elite.
Let's get into the nitty gritty. Brad Underwood runs what can be called a spread motion offense. Its base is a 2-3 high that leverages a ton of cutting and overloads to create easy opportunities to get to the rim. Shots at the rim come from all varieties, cutting, post ups, and dribble drives. The offense is "position-less" in that it plays four guards and a forward/center. Every guard has opportunities to dribble, pass, cut, and post. The post man generally plays out of the elbow, creating two man action with a guard, with plenty of opportunities to slip to the bucket or pop out for three.
The offense looks to initiate in a 2-3 high look. This has two guards up top in the "slots" (imagine them standing on the sides of the lane if it were extended out), two wings at the free throw line extended, and a big at the center of the free throw line or the "nail." With all the players high and above the free throw line, all of the space beneath (read: near the basket) is vacated if the defense isn't sagging off. This creates space for the initial cutting action.
The ball swings to the weak side wing, and the initial passer makes a dive cut for the basket. Because all the offensive players are so high (all at or above the free throw line) there's ample space to cut into. If this pass is open the wing tries to hit it for a lay-up. If the pass isn't there the cutter fills out to the strong side corner.
The second action is the weak side wing running down to the strong side block. This player is attempting to seal his man and allow for a lob over the top. This lob is available since there's no weak side help with the offense is overloading the strong side of the court.
If neither cut is open, the ball reverses to the slot with the five man drifting to the weak side elbow. Given that the two weak side players cleared through there's now acres of space on the opposite side of the court. The guard in the slot plays a two man game with the big at the elbow, either dumping the ball to him and cutting, or receiving a ball screen. If nothing is available the ball recycles to the corner and the wheel motion begins again.
Those dive cuts into empty space on one side and the opportunity to dive the ball into vacated space on the other, means that Underwood's teams consistently pile up high percentage looks at the rim. Underwood believes that if his team gets through 3-4 "cycles" then they should get a good shot every trip.
Underwood has plenty of wrinkles beyond that base action. As someone who's run this offense for years across several programs, he'll have looks to adapt to our unique roster. Speaking of, one of the biggest winners in this transition has to be Michael Finke.
The offense will leverage him at the elbow to hold the ball, pick out cutters, and slip screens to the bucket. We'll also see him get plenty of opportunities to pop out from the free throw line for straight away threes as his man sags off to cover cutters.
Here's an example of some action we'll likely run to get Fink3 going from deep. The action starts as it usually does with a pass to a wing player. Notice again all the space around the basket provided by having players so high.
The two slot players dive towards the basket, causing the center's man to sag to prevent a layup.
As the center's man is attacked by the two cutters (and effectively screened), the center pops out to the three point line to receive the ball from the wing.
And he's open for a shot.
Underwood himself says that the defending center will often sag or play soft given he needs to first and foremost prevent cuts to the bucket going for layups. This allows the center/forward in his offense to turn for easy shots, pop out for long range looks, or simply act as a conduit for the offense.
When defending bigs play tight things really open up for wing players. Here's a wrinkle off of the base action that get a guard an opportunity to shoot or drive.
Things set up with a pass to the five man since the wings are being denied.
The initial passer who would usually make an automatic cut to the basket, starts a dive but flares it out rather than going down the lane.
At the same time the wing player on that same side starts a cut and screens off the slot player's man.
When the original initiator receives the ball again on the wing he'll have an opportunity to shoot a three or drive into the vacuous space created by the high initial look.
These sets create opportunities for players without Iverson like handles to get to the bucket with regularity. The high side overload clears space underneath for straight line drives on defenders closing out. Javon Pickett and DaMonte Williams ought to be ecstatic about this offense.
I could go on and on about the different wrinkles and ways this offense creates the space to get players the ball at the rim. Instead, let's maybe spend some time talking about who should benefit from this offense and who might not.
DaMonte Williams/Javon Pickett/Kipper Nichols/DJ Williams -wing players who do a little of everything benefit a ton from the opportunities this offense creates. Each of these guys will get plenty of opportunities to slash in advantageous situations. Space created by unbalanced formations will allow these guys to drive in straight lines rather than needing to put someone on skates.
Michael Finke - he's going to be a massive part of the offense next year because he's an excellent passer. He'll get a touch at the elbow nearly every possession. The offense will also drag his man to the bucket to cover all of the cutting action, leaving space for him to launch from deep.
Trent Frazier - see: Evans, Jawun.
Te'Jon Lucas - he's a smaller guy and doesn't seem to be a great finisher around the bucket. We know he's a great passer with a tight handle, but there won't be a ton of straight pick and roll opportunities in this offense. If he's going to be successful it will be hitting cutters with pin point passing, and finding chemistry in the two man game with Finke.
Leron Black - I'm not entirely sure how Leron fits into this offense. His best position would be the forward/center spot, but he's not the best passer or shooter. I'm sure Underwood will find the right types of opportunities for him. I prefer him catching on the perimeter to the cover-your-eyes-post-up game he tried on this year. The defense might be a touch too aggressive for him as well.
It's going to be a long wait until games are played again, but I'm ridiculously excited about the offensive system Underwood brings in. The fact that he's successfully implemented this scheme at several stops as both an assistant and head coach has me confident that we'll like what we see. This is going to be fun.