Cherry Picking as NBA Strategy

It's the ultimate lazy man's offense, right? It's the sign that your pick-up game is going to hell. It's the art of the unconditioned ballplayer.

But Michael Bloom is arguing that once in a while it makes sense.

You're watching your favorite team -- let's call them the Pistons. One of the players on this team -- let's call him Rip Hamilton -- fails to get back on defense. Arguing with the refs. Or, tying his shoelace. Or, adjusting his face mask.

This is horrible, devastating... could you *be* more annoyed with him right now? Get back on defense! Your team is now playing 4-on-5 defense... nothing good can come from this.

Or can it?

Tayshaun Prince blocks a shot. Or, Rasheed Wallace rebounds an air ball. Or even, Chauncey Billups collects a made shot. And he throws the ball down court to the wide-open Rip Hamilton for an easy, all-but-guaranteed bucket. Two points.

This happens all the time, but never intentionally. It usually is the product of an accident or laziness. But why don't NBA teams cherry pick strategically?

If you leave a player behind at your offensive basket, then you will be at a disadvantage defensively, sure. But a team need only play zone to minimize this disadvantage. Provided the cherry-picking team can quickly gather the ball before the other team can get back, they have an easy two points at the other end. The upshot is that the cherry-picking team (playing 1-0 on offensive, 4-5 on defense) is better off than the non-cherry-picking team (playing 5-4 on offense, 0-1 on defense). They are almost assured 2 points offensively, while still able to defend the ball decently.

If the other team somehow isn't wise to it, and assuming you can pull off the full-court pass necessary to take advantage, you are essentially giving your opponent one play of 5 on 4, and in exchange you get one play of 1 on 0. Those numbers favor the cherry-picking team, surely.

My hunch, and Michael and I discussed this earlier today, is that the devil is in the details. If your opponent scores, (and they will most of the time playing 5 on 4 -- but not all the time, of course) and is remotely alert, surely they can frustrate or delay your inbounds pass a millisecond or two. And don't forget, that inbounds pass takes time to travel the length of the floor to whiny Richard Hamilton. A speedy defender doesn't need long to get far enough downcourt to mess up the catch or the shot.

The nightmare is that you give up an easyish basket, and then follow it up with a turnover. The other problem is that you're giving up your basket in advance. It's like a non-refundable down payment, that may or may not result in a payout.

But somebody should try it, just to see. Why not? It's tanking season, anyway.