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Analyzing the Offense pt. 3 – The Mavericks Offense
When we looked at the triangle offense we focused on the system’s emphasis on a particular framework, one that emphasized spacing and reading and reacting to the defense. We then moved to a much more rigid offensive system that the Heat run in their double high post series. In this offensive analysis we’re going to look at a system that combines the two elements to create a mixture of an offensive framework and set plays.
The Mavericks run a combination of motion offense with a variety of sets, some roster specific plays, and isolations in their offense.
Let’s begin our discussion by defining the motion offense.
The motion offense is a read-and-react system where off-ball screens are utilized to constantly free up players to receive an open pass. The system continues until an open shot opportunity develops. Since motion offense is a description of a concept and not a set formation, the two are not mutually exclusive. Motion offense can be used in any set you can imagine and as we’ll see later the Mavericks used this system in the 4-out-1-in set and the 1-3-1 set.
The set the Mavericks favor for their motion offense is the 4-out-1-in set. The set looks like this.
You might be able to recognize where the set gets its name. We have 4 players on the perimeter with the C inside the arc. Let’s see how the motion offense is incorporated in this set. As mentioned earlier, motion offense attempts to free up players to accept a pass through a series of screens – imagine that system in our set. The C is available to rotate for a perimeter screen and the SG and PF are able to screen for each other. The C will also commonly find himself at the free throw line extended to facilitate passing the ball, setting screens, and looking to roll to the basket.
Let’s look at some common movements in the motion offense.
Here we see how the SF and PG can screen for each other for either one to receive a pass off a cut. The same option is available between the SG and PF on the opposite wing with off-ball screens.
Another option is a guard to guard screen shown below.
This would free up the SG for a pass from the wing. Alternatively, the SG could curl toward the basket off the screen. The 4-out-1-in can then be reset by shifting the perimeter players. The C can also drop down to the low block for a post play.
If an entry pass to the post is unavailable the wing can simply pass the ball back to the PG and the C can rotate back to the free throw line, restarting our motion sequence.
This was just one example of how the motion can operate, in practice it’s a seamless, constant motion of screening and ball movement. If you have some familiarity with the Mavericks offense you might be asking yourself, why I’m not calling this the Princeton Offense. The Princeton Offense is a subset of the motion offense. The Princeton Offense is very similar to the one run by the Mavericks but it has some slight alterations. Both systems heavily utilize the 4-out-1-in set but the Princeton Offense tends to favor the 5-out, or “open” for transitioning between reseting the offense whereas the Mavericks favor a sort of 3-out-2-in with 2 at the high post or one player at the low post.
Keep in mind then that the Mavericks are very flexible in their 4-out-1-in set. They’re okay with not extending players all the way out to the perimeter if it means assisting cutters or looking for a mid-range shot.
Let’s now take a look at our first clip to see how this works.
In this clip I want you to simply pay attention to the formation created when the players entered the set. In this clip you can see the basic formation with the exception of the PF who has sunk into the arc slightly. The Mavericks are very flexible with the way they play their offense and are willing to break from their set plays if a better option presents itself. Here, they attempt to set up a 4-out-1-in but since Dirk gained inside positioning in transition, they went ahead with a transition isolation play.
Our next clip demonstrates some of the movement involved in the motion offense.
Our play begins with a 4-out-1-in set and the PG passing to the PF who then hands off to the SF at the wing. The PG heads for a high screen by the C and to the wing position. The C pops out to receive the ball from the SF. The PF continues for a curl toward the basket after his hand off to meet a screen by the SG at the low post. The ball is swung back to the PG on, now on the wing, and he passes down to the PF. From here the play develops into an isolation.
Hopefully you start to see how a series of perimeter screens with assistance by the C created the isolation for the PF.
Let’s take a look at another play to show as a comparison.
Focusing on the key elements of the motion offense let’s review what we saw. The SF used the PF for a screen on the wing, the C was used to facilitate a screen for the SG by the PG, and the SG then curled for the pinch post and eventually found a lane to the basket. While the SG was driving the SF reused the PF screen to free himself up for a passing option.
Carefully reading the defense and freeing up options with screens out of the chosen set are essential to successfully running the motion offense.
This next play demonstrates the importance of reading the defense well. The Mavericks get in their common 4-out-1-in set and the PF calls for the SF to begin rotating early as he sets an early screen (though his man was so far off him he didn’t really need one) in anticipation of the PG’s pass to the corner and curl. The Thunder do an excellent job of denying the curl early so he flashes back out to the wing and the SF is in position from the previous screen to do an on ball screen. The PG quickly recognizes that the Thunder still haven’t found the SF and he passes for an open 3.
A similar start occurs here, this time it’s an early strong side screen for the SG. The C pops out for a ball screen and a driving lane opens up.
Now compare that clip to our next one. We have the 4-out-1-in set again and the C moves to the strong side high post but this time instead of setting the screen he receives the pass. The PG then fakes a screen for the SG as the SF pops off his screen for the PF for an open shot. This was essentially a counter to the play that developed earlier. The defense thought there would be another pinch post for the SG but the weak side set up an open shot instead. Also notice that Dirk is in low post positioning to receive a pass and they can isolate for him if necessary.
Important to note is the formation created, the positions only serve to help describe the formation. The PG stands at the top of the arc with the SG and SF at the wing position. The C is at the free throw line or elbows and the PF is at the low post, usually on the weak side. You may have noticed how the set gets his name. Set names are often derived from the formation created when viewing the set from the half court toward the baseline. We have 1 player at the point, 3 players lined up at roughly the free throw line extended, and 1 player in the post. Hence, the name 1-3-1 set.
What this formation has created is a lot of space on the strong side corner and a central location to pass to. For this reason, many plays out of the 1-3-1 set begin with a pass to the C or movement to fill the strong side corner.
As stated earlier, the motion offense is not exclusive to any particular set. In this clip we see a 1-3-1 set to begin the offense as a means of setting a high double screen which then creates a low double screen for the PF on his curl.
Roster Specific Plays
The Mavericks have done a good job of finding the right set to facilitate their roster and are not afraid to move away from the motion offenses. For example, in this clip we see the formation begin to look similar to the 4-out-1-in with the C moving toward the free throw line and 3 perimeter players outside the arc but they’ve sunk the PF into the low post and begin a screen-the-screener action. The C screens for the PF who then does an on-ball screen. The SG now has an open lane to the basket and, since the C set the low post screen, there’s an open lob available for the C. This play is designed to give Terry a driving lane, Marion a good cut to the basket, a lob option for Chandler, and Kidd and Stojakovic are available as spot up shooters.
Here we see a single double out of an out of bounds play for Terry. Terry, like many Mavericks players, is very good at negotiating screens so they have him in bound the ball and run directly into the single double play. In this case he opted to go under both sets of screens, flare out for the pass, and drive to the basket.
They also run a series of isolation plays for a few players. Here we see a low post isolation for Kidd because of his excellent court vision.
And here’s a quick isolation play for Dirk.
As we saw earlier, the Mavericks also have no problems developing their motion offense into an isolation if necessary.
Let’s put this offense in perspective of the previous two we’ve seen. You’ll notice that the role of the PG is fairly limited, just like our previous two systems. All three systems don’t require our PG to dominate the ball and it doesn’t require extensive amounts of dribble penetration. We see a mixture of the read-and-react concepts from the triangle offense by utilizing the motion offense and we also see some form of rigidity from the Heat offense in our 4-out-1-in and 1-3-1 sets.
Looking ahead we’ll start to see a shift in direction when we take a look at the Bulls.