The World According to Tommy Dee

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I love building things and the Xs and Os it takes to get it done. I worked at the number one media company in the world. Then I helped build a digital community that resulted in 45 million page views and an Emmy award and numerous national TV and radio appearances. Today, I'm focused on being a husband and a father first and taking down Ticketmaster, StubHub and Eventbrite from the ground up.

That's the tech stuff. Then there's basketball. I'm a former varsity high school player and coach and current college and professional scout. You can find me in a gym somewhere during the fall, winter and spring or hanging with my family, who you'll see here too.

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Triangle 101 Part III: Lack of Player Movement Stops Ball Movement

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In my humble opinion people unfairly blame Carmelo Anthony for being a “ball stopper.” You hear it so much and from so many different outlets that it’s become a commonplace narrative in NBA circles. The numbers do support the idea, but I believe, until now, Melo hasn’t been put in the proper offensive system to fully utilize his skills. Is Melo most comfortable in pinch post and low block isolation sets especially late in the shot clock? Certainly. Does his career 31.7% usage and 33.1% over 4 years in New York scream iso-heavy? Sure.

But, if you take a deeper dive into the Knicks offensive strategy they play to just one of Melo’s strengths, which is when he has the ball. But the lack of support of teammates making cuts without the ball has hampered what they’re able to accomplish as a team. The design of the offense is predicated by making sure he gets a touch, but what the Knicks offense wasn’t designed to do, even Mike D’Antoni’s pick and roll and space heavy offense, was leverage cutters. That’s where The Triangle can really take Melo and the Knicks to the next level. 

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Stop me if you’ve seen the above. A pinch post entry that allows for Melo to go to work followed by him making the decision based on defensive reaction. 

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The iso would end in a nice pass to Tim Hardaway Jr., who would bury the wide open jumper resulting in a victorious possession.

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Here, again, Melo posting and reading the defense. I love Shumpert attempting a cut, but the result would again be a kick out pass for a spot up attempt from Hardaway…

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…which he would again bury. 

The Knicks were far too reliant on the three point shooting this past season and since Melo has come aboard. They were 5th in the entire NBA last year in attempts and 6th in makes and that model creates many offensive holes. They were 28th in the NBA in both Free Throws Attempted (20.4) and Made (15.5) and when you consider Melo took 7 of those 20 FTAs it’s easy to see that the offense often got stagnant. Far too often the ball moved AWAY from the basket resulting in long, contested jumpers. 

So how can The Triangle help solve the Knicks lack trategic cuts to the basket that are baked in to the principles of the offense. The first cut is actually NOT designed to free player for a simple layup, it’s designed to free a teammate cutting towards the basket. It’s called an "action zone speed cut" and it’s executed perfectly by Lamar Odom here.

The beauty of this play, specifically, is that it happens early in the possession, which is the exact opposite of what the Knicks used to do offensively. How many times did you see the Knicks get the ball to Melo in the post LATE in the shot clock? Here, the ball gets to Gasol EARLY in the clock before the defense is set and the AZSC attacks the defense before they are set. 

Another subtle wrinkle cut is what’s called the "banana cut" in The Triangle. Metta World Peace executes the banana cut here:

The purpose of the banana cut is to trigger the potential reversal of the ball or the two-man game. Here, Fisher chooses to reject the pick from Gasol and reverse the ball to Kobe who can isolate straight on for an easy pull up. It’s a subtle cut but it allows space to continue and for the ball to find their best player in a great spot to square up off the dribble.

Another cut critical to continued movement within The Triangle is the “rebound screen cut” whose purposes are clearly defined by Joon Kim:

It’s called the rebound screen cut because the cut has two priorities:

First, to rebound any shot that may have been launched from the emerging two man game on the opposite side of the floor.

Second, to screen for the man in the corner (here, Fisher, who step fakes on the baseline to set his defender up before coming off Artest’s screen ).  After the rebound screen cut, you can cut baseline to the basket, or as Ron does, step back to the corner.

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This is a cut that is also a core concept of the flex offense. Artest can cut from the corner to corner via the baseline for a layup should the read be there. That’s an action that I wish the Knicks implemented more against the Pacers in the 2013 playoffs to loosen Roy Hibberts command at the front of the rim.  

Finally, we’ll talk about the UCLA cut, which is a cut that is a staple in many NBA offenses to this day because so many still implement UCLA high post sets.  It’s a cut that the Jordan Bulls used often, and it’s one designed to free the lead guard from his defender in hopes of getting a lay up. But if the lead guard reads he doesn’t have a chippy he can peel off and create quick, open shots for his shooters.Here, Jordan recognizes this and peels off to the pinch where a quick hand off frees Kerr for the make.

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In the end, the Knicks offense over the past few years has been stagnant and, while I understand some of the criticism Carmelo Anthony receives, I don’t believe he’s the sole reason for the team’s lack of movement. Labeling him the culprit is unfair. I think The Triangle will allow for more cutting opportunities which will trigger ball movement. I think there’s a misconception when there’s a lack of ball movement because many times the ball stops moving because the offensive players have stopped moving first. If the Knicks wing players like J.R. Smith, Cleanthony Early and Iman Shumpert can learn these cuts you will see much more ball movement towards the basket and a far more balanced team offensively.

Triangle 101 Part II: The Importance of the N-2 Pass

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We took a deeper dive into the basic principles of The Triangle offense where we looked at the “Moment of Truth” while quickly referenced the N-2 pass. As I’ve kept studying The Triangle the N-2 pass is a principle that I continued to come across signifying the magnitude it possesses within the structure of the offense. And when looking deeper at examples, you realize it is the linchpin of triggering ball movement in the offense making the player or players responsible for making the N-2 pass essential to the success of a rhythmic offense. If there’s a flaw in the Knicks roster in my mind it’s that right now they don’t have the natural ball moving forward needed to facilitate the offense.

Is it Iman Shumpert? 

What about Shawn Marion? 

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Once again I will enlist the help of the great Joon Kim who defines the N-2 pass as follows:

The offense is able to read and react to the defense based on two offensive theories: initiating the offense against pressure at the moment of truth and lining up and reading the defense by forming the triangle along the line of deployment.

Once the ball has entered the wing position, a triangle has been formed on the strong side (ball side), and the defense is lined up, the players are asked to execute whichever “Number 2 pass” the defense is willing to give up ( it’s called N.2 pass because the ball handler in transition typically makes the first pass to the player in the wing position).

As you can see in the diagram the N-2 pass has four options, or reads, and the beauty of the principle, in my opinion, is how it can seamlessly integrate with a secondary break following the Moment of Truth. The goal of The Triangle is to get the ball into a post position and this is where your big men are so critical to the offense. It’s also why Shaquille O’Neal was able to flourish with Kobe Bryant. 

When Shaq was at his best he always had the ability to not only get down the floor, but to establish deep post position that after receiving an N-2 pass would result in dunk after dunk. That’s when the Kobe/Shaq Lakers were unbeatable and often times those N-2 passes would result in alley-oop lobs that were simply unstoppable.

Now, the Knicks obviously don’t have a player near the caliber of O’Neal, obviously, and, to me, it’s going to be their biggest weakness this year. It’s why targeting a post passing big man like Marc Gasol, or even a David Lee (or both) is critical over the next two years of free agency for the Knicks. It’s also why the Knicks tried to obtain Pau Gasol, who fit so perfectly when receiving an N-2 post pass which by definition is the 5th option or read, but one that can be ultra effective if it’s selected first. 

What a thing of beauty.

But the Knicks don’t have a big of that caliber and it will be interesting to see if Andrea Bargnani can be a fit or if they will add another via trade before the start of the season. We will see.

Another read with the N-2 pass is the pass to the top of the key which as we mentioned triggers the proper reversal in a secondary break and spreads the defense out laterally. It’s also a foundation of the lag principle that Kobe and Jordan were so effective at and why shooters like Derek Fisher are so critical to what The Triangle is. The third read is what is referred to as the “backdoor step” where the ball is on the strong side and the N-2 pass is to the opposite wing player (usually the SF in the offense) which opens up backdoor cuts from the top from the SG in the offense. Stop me if you ever saw this action from Kobe over the years…

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Can Iman Shumpert be the Ebanks (the passer) in this situation or is he the slasher? Both? Is that role made for Tim Hardaway Jr. and/or J.R. Smith? That’s very much unclear but what is not is the idea that the Knicks need some cleaning up to do which is why my man Ian Begley is reporting that they are shopping said guards in potential trades. 

“They’re working on trying to make a move in the backcourt,” the NBA source familiar with the Knicks’ thinking said Sunday. 

The idea that the Knicks are trying to make a trade to balance the roster isn’t earth-shattering. President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills have mentioned the Knicks have a surplus in the backcourt, with Mills saying last week the Knicks are “heavy” at shooting guard.” 

Finally, the fourth option is an N-2 pass to the corner, which can be tricky as good defensive teams often try to pressure the ball in both corners especially if the guard is small in stature. Those traps can kill offenses which is why your player has to have some size and be sharp to get the ball out of the corners quickly before a trap can be set. This is why the Ron Harper’s, the Brian Shaw’s, and the Lamar Odom’s are so critical to this option. 

Interestingly, this is a pass that was implemented by the Knicks in the summer league and one that can be very effective with Amar’e Stoudemire on a quick corner pick-and-roll in my mind, especially with Shane Larkin or Prigioni should they be able to scamper out of the corners quickly a la Derek Fisher.  

So what does this mean for the current Knicks roster? There are pieces in place and there are some holes, especially at small forward which is why they took a long look at Lamar Odom before letting him go and why they are reconsidering Metta World Peace. To me, Carmelo Anthony can play the SF but he should be a pinch post, cutting, ball reversing option. If he can learn the position and move the ball quickly he will be a prime fit. But who else do that have at that position if they want to move Melo to the 4? Shumpert definitely COULD be and that, to me, is going to be one of the biggest things to watch early in the season should he not be traded in the meantime. If he can find a home at the 3 and be a cutter and passer then he can find a home here for years to come. I think Cleanthony Early will be the perfect SF in this offense off the bench at some point but I don’t think that time is now. And in terms of options out in free agency or via trade you’d have to think that Phil Jackson is thinking about bringing in a guy like Devin Ebanks, who also has experience in the position. 

Triangle Offense 101 Part I: The Basics

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There was a moment, a half of a day in fact, where Steve Kerr decided to accept Phil Jackson’s offer to be the next coach of the New York Knicks. Immediately Kerr, who was working for TNT sports and covering the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs, began having second thoughts and ultimately settled on accepting a coaching gig with the Golden State Warriors spurning New York and his former coach and mentor. Undeterred, Jackson quickly turned is attention to Derek Fisher, another guard who had ultimate success in the offensive system that defines championship basketball, the triangle, to be his first hire in his quest to bring basketball glory back to the Gotham City. 

People asked me on Twitter every day who I thought the better coach for the Knicks would be, Kerr or Fisher and my answer was it didn’t matter.Literally, either would have sufficed. Kerr had his pros despite the knock of a lack of coaching experience having been out of the league for a few years. He watched it closely, however, in the same manner Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson did in gaining their experience. Fisher, on the other hand, was coming right off of a pretty successful season in Oklahoma City and, to me, is the best point guard that has ever played for Jackson in the system. What guard has hit more big shots that Derek Fisher? And who better to teach the Knicks young guards like Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin and Iman Shumpert how to play off of a superstar in Carmelo Anthony than Fisher. Not to mention Pablo Prigioni and perhaps the best PG Melo has every played with not named Chauncey Billups in Jose Calderon.

Why I was okay with either hire was because both have a firm grasp of playing in the triangle, and the more I study the system the more I continue to believe that it’s the perfect offense for Carmelo Anthony. This offense highlights the pinch post, a place where Melo is easily one of the game’s best, but it also allows him to have the proper space to go to work. Melo is an underrated passer who will be able to improve those numbers even more so. Most importantly for Melo in the words of Tex Winter, “the offense should be able to utilize it’s best players and put them in the best positions to score.” 

So what exactly is the triangle and why will it succeed with Melo and in New York? Well, here’s a brief breakdown for the Knicks fans interested in seeing what’s in store for the Knicks this season and going forward. For us folks who fell victim to solo cuts, the 2 pass and Jordan’s post ups off N.2. passes during the 1990s we became experts by repetition but I’m happy to dive back in to put myself through a refresher course.

Having a great post player, obviously, is the most important aspect of the triangle because it allows for late shot clock pinch post to bail out poor possessions and because the object is to get the ball into the post. However, maybe just as important is a guard who doesn’t dominate the ball, which is why flashy and explosive point guards were never on the menu in either Chicago or Los Angeles when Jordan and Kobe were holding court. The point guard in this system needs to do two things really well. First, they have to be able to make what’s called the “two pass” or the second pass in the particular set if the first pass can’t be a post entry. Since the purpose of the triangle is to feed the post, either the low block or pinch post, the post feed is critical. What happens when the post is becoming an advantage is that the defense will adjust and deny that entry pass, which is why the two pass was created. It’s essentially a reversal if the ball can’t be entered. In the video below, Matt Barnes triggers a two pass to Steve Blake who quickly moves the ball to Odom who then passes it back to the strong side to Shannon Brown then back to blake in the pinch resulting in a beautiful pick and lob.

Ball movement… For more on the two pass check out the awesome work of Joon Kim here.

The beauty of the two pass is that it can also trigger off ball cuts that can lead to entry passes and quick kick outs to the corner. Here Steve Blake capitalizes but how many times did we see Fisher make a wide open catch-and-shoot, corner 3? 

E1vbj8 on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Another key role for either guard in the triangle and why ball dominant PGs don’t mix is what is called the “Moment of Truth.” When the guard enters the front court they must recognize the line and the defensive pressure that triggers the first pass ideally to the post. This eliminates over dribble and high pick and roll/spread sets that are generated by the point guard. Far too often in these possessions only 1 player touches the ball leaving 4 players not ready to catch, shoot or be ready to receive the ball. The theory of the triangle is the more people touch the ball on a possession the more active they will be in the rhythm of the offense leading to a more balanced attack. The key to that is to get the ball out early and get the ball moving. 

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As part of the Moment of Truth, especially in transition the Lakers run their version of a “secondary” reversal. In the clip below Fisher applies the “lag principle” in passing to Kobe who passes to Bynum then back to Fisher. The lag pass is the reversal that causes quick passing to see what the other side of the court can present. After finally getting the ball to enter the post, Gasol throws a perfect skip when he feels the double team and Artest then makes the extra pass to Fisher who has gone corner-to-corner on a baseline quick cut for a wide open jumper.  

One of the many options the two pass gives the system is the ability to have players cut from either side depending on where the ball is being reversed. Thus “solo cuts” have put many a defense in very awkward positions. Here, Artest feeds the post and solo cuts for a handoff and an easy basket. Amazing how terrible Artest was with the Knicks last year. It was clear he was a fish out of water in a very telling difference between the offense he had played in LA and the one he played in last year in New York.

So where does Melo fit in you ask? Well if you’ve been checking out the summer league thus far Derek Fisher has been able to see some of these principles in action. In their game the other night against Portland the Knicks ran triangle left then the two pass found Tim Hardaway Jr. in the right pinch post and he went to work. You can imagine Melo will get those looks but if the double teams come expect solo or backdoor step cut. 

Here’s another basic wrinkle that the Knicks have implemented where it’s triangle left with Jeremy Tyler ultimately ending up in a nice pick and pop action. That is a great wrinkle for Melo, but also for Amar’e Stoudemire as well.

We’ll talk more about the triangle here going forward but this is a good reference point. If you’re looking for immediate reference head to Joon’s blog TheTriangleOffense.blogspot. 

Deeper Dive: Kyle Anderson’s Skill Set

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Kyle Anderson
UCLA
Point Guard/Forward
6’9
230

Key Stats:

14.6 PPG
6.5 APG
8.8 RPG
48% FG
48% 3PT
74% FTs

Quotes:

" I think he’s a modern-day Magic Johnson. I think that let him play the point. He gets everybody shots. You don’t have him back defensively balancing the floor, you’re wasting him. But you let him do a lot of what the point guard stuff entails. But then also defensively you don’t bother guarding him on the little guy. Put him on maybe the three man or even sometimes the four man if he’s a step-out player. And now you have a guy like Larry Bird who anticipates. He gets a lot of deflections and steals. He’s long, he blocks shots. And then when he gets a defensive rebound, you got a fast-break started already.” - Bob Hurley

Will an NBA head coach give him minutes given his defensive liabilities?” one GM said. “That’s my first concern. And if he gets minutes, will an NBA coach put the ball in his hands, because that’s when he’s special. If he’s just a power forward, there are much better prospects. I just don’t know. I know he has as good of a feel for the game as anyone in this draft. Everything comes easy to him.” -NBA GM

In a world that continues to be soaked in advanced data one statistic that continues to be washed away is perhaps the only one that matters. 

Wins.

UCLA super sophomore and former St. Anthony’s (Jersey City) standout Kyle Anderson knows a little something about accruing dubs. Having started his high school career at Patterson Catholic Anderson completed his final two years under Coach Bob Hurley. Over his 4 year career, Anderson compiled a 119-6 record and in hast two seasons his teams were 65-0 and included two NJ state Tournament of Champions title. 

While drawing comparisons to some of the greatest who have ever played the game, including Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Anderson had what many consider to be a modest first two years at UCLA. 

I disagree. I believe right now Anderson is every bit the most complete player in this draft and is one of the most complete prospects for teams looking for a winning piece to the puzzle in the last 5 years, Anderson was the first player in the Pac-12 since Bill Walton to have 300 rebounds and 100 assists. As a team, the Bruins were 28-9 this season finishing the year strong by knocking off top-rated Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament before advancing to the Sweet 16. If you watched the San Antonio Spurs dismantle the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals you saw the beautiful combination of ball movement and valuable possessions, which is exactly what allowed UCLA to finish 5th in the country in assists per game (17.2) and 10th in the country in team field goal percentage (49%).

Offensively, his instincts and length help make up for a lack of foot speed. He’s able to create space based off of crossover and hesitation dribbles and has the knack of rarely taking the wrong shot. Simply put he’s just a complete and smart offensive player.

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He knows where he needs to be on the floor at all times. So he finds his spot. High level instincts.

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Reads the defense and feels utilizes his strength as a 3 point shooter to cause the defense to react.

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Quick, hesitation gets the close out defender to lose balance for a split second.

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Allowing him to attack the block and draw a shooting foul. 

He’s not a volume shooter despite handling the ball so often and his numbers reflect it. This past year he averaged 10.5 FGAs while shooting 48% from the field and an astonishing 48% from behind the arc in 58 attempts on the season. He’s a surgeon who values every single possession which means that wherever you plug him in, regardless of the position or situation, he’ll be a threat to score but not a threat to create a poor possession. His 110 turnovers this year (3 per game) were up from last season but when you consider how much he handles the ball per possession per game, that’s not many. 

Two areas that Anderson particularly excels at offensively are his ability to see the court and make the great pass along with his ability to create mismatches and easy baskets utilizing his skills as a smart post player. 

PASSING

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From the jaw dropping…

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…to rebounding starting transition and pushing up the floor…

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…to the text book simple entry pass, Anderson’s feel for the game from a passing perspective is unmatched in this draft. 

POST UP ABILITY     

What really impresses me most about Anderson is that he possesses a skill that so few players of his generation have. He can post up his defender. The beauty of post up ability is that it allows him to play to strengths in match ups but it also allows for the ability for a quality shot to occur out of a not so quality possession. It forces double teams which leads to kick outs and ball movement almost always resulting in an open shot.  

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Very capable of posting up on a wing and facing up…

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Or posting on the block and finding the open man.

Anderson certainly has his weaknesses as a player. His footwork is slow and plodding and his athleticism leaves a lot to be desired. I wouldn’t expect him to advance to a superior athlete. His first step, while savvy, is slow causing faster defenses to close on him which makes his ability to draw and kick that much more critical at the next level. Physically, Anderson is going to have to get stronger particularly at his base to prove that he can handle a full NBA schedule. Defensively, despite incredible length and ability to anticipate deflections and steals, Anderson can be bullied by bigger players and can beat by faster players off the dribble. He has a ways to go before he’s a solid two-way player, but he certainly has the tools to be.

It will be interesting to see where Anderson lands. Right now the mock draft sites have him anywhere in the mid-to-late first round and word out of his workouts is that the Hawks, picking 15th, want him in for a second look.  Tracking Anderson’s landing place will be one of my top story lines of the week and one worth paying attention to. Players with this complete of a skill-set don’t come along often

Crushing stuff at Kiawah

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