Bigs Bringing the Ball Up the Floor

We are starting to see this trend a little bit in the preseason and expect it to be a part of the game for the foreseeable future.  Considering that few teams enlist a full court press (zone presses even less) to slow the advance of the ball, and most bigs have been getting chewed out if their man beats them down the court for an easy bucket since the age of 9 it only makes sense that what used to be a pressure release mechanism is evolving into a weapon.

Teams are not afraid to play through a big at the top of the key and let him be the decision maker for the offense.  Most of the time, there is some faux-action to move the defense around a little bit and get the ball into the bigs’ hands around the 14-second mark on the clock.  You see it in the NBA and in the NCAA (think Beilein’s 2-guard offense).  Since nearly every player is being schooled in the fine arts of handling the ball as we have embraced the “position-less basketball” era, it’s time we cut out the middle-man and get right into action.

Layups are easy to make.  They are easier when there isn’t a 7′ athletic guy trying to swat your attempt into the 12th row.  The “stretch big” was a tool that helped draw the big away from the basket to allow the smaller guards to drive to the rim without having to alter their shot over an outstretched hand.  What we are seeing now is the next evolution in keeping the rim protectors away from the rim.

The way the rules are set up, if you are outside the 3PT line, your man is supposed to be outside of the paint.  Bigs can dance in the paint for 2.9 seconds before getting back out and most refs give them a little extra time to reset.  However, if the opposing team’s center is bringing the ball up, the defensive center will not be able to camp out.  We haven’t looked at the numbers, but it’s easier to call defensive 3 seconds when you’re actually paying attention to where the defense is…and if a 7′ is bringing the ball up, it’ll be clear that his man is not defending him and is probably somewhere he shouldn’t be.

Since the defensive big has to be out of the paint at the start of the possession, that means that any basket cuts or dribble penetration in early offense will have a smaller player stepping up to help, creating scrambling situations or inopportune switches.  This sounds like heaven for the tactically sound coaches in the NBA.  As they all continue to preach spacing, this simple tweak will give the playmakers more room to create scoring chances and may even increase the expected points per shot/true shooting percentage/every other statistic based on converting great shots.

This evolution may do something even greater off the court.  It may finally bring the “old school” and “analytics” people together.  Or maybe it’s just because the “old school” guys are finally getting old enough that they no longer have the energy to yell “get off my lawn” to their younger, data-driven colleagues.

So who are the bigs that can exploit this wrinkle?  And how many are coming into the league in the next couple of seasons via the NBA Draft?

Bam Adebayo has already shown more ability to handle the ball than he did all last season at Kentucky.

Anthony Davis was a point guard his entire life, until he grew to be 7′ tall.  Let’s see a lineup with him bringing the ball up and 4 shooters around him.  Just for a minute, just to see how it looks.

This will be fun to chart to see how many teams enlist it when they want to change things up a little bit.

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