EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Deron Williams has that “Oh boy, here we go again” look on his face.
“Oh s---,” Williams says, upon hearing the question.
Prior to training camp, Lionel Hollins wanted input from his point guard on what type of plays the Brooklyn Nets should run in 2014-15. So Williams, who thrived while playing for Jerry Sloan in Utah, drew up some sets for his new coach which featured the same “motion” or “flex” offense that made the veteran floor general so successful with the Jazz.
It is important to note, Williams was being asked about what Hollins said to him, and the three-time All-Star wanted to make it abundantly clear that he wasn’t in charge.
No controversy necessary, please.
"[Lionel's] definitely incorporated some of Utah's offense into what he's doing this year, but some other stuff as well. So it's similar, but it's different." Nets point guard Deron Williams
Williams cursed, shook his head and laid down on the bench the minute he heard the words “drawing up plays” and “coaching” from a reporter.
Then he got up and laughed.
“No. No. No,” Williams said. “I’m not coaching the team. [Lionel has] definitely incorporated some of Utah’s offense into what he’s doing this year, but some other stuff as well. So it’s similar, but it’s different.”
Williams is coming off the worst season of his career. Plagued by ankle injuries that simply wouldn’t go away, he averaged just 14.3 points and 6.1 assists. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, he failed to score, missing all nine of his shots.
During the summer he underwent surgery on both of his ankles. He says he’s mostly healthy now. He certainly looks it in practice, anyway. And Hollins is hoping to be the coach who maximizes his max player’s talent.
Since becoming a Net in February 2011, Williams has shown flashes of being the player he was in Utah. But injuries, confidence issues and systems unfit for his style of play have prevented that from happening on a consistent basis.
So how will this new system change all that?
To figure that out, we enlisted the help of a former NBA scout. While the Nets have yet to play a preseason game, the scout has a thorough knowledge of X’s and O’s and watched Hollins coach in Memphis and Sloan coach in Utah.
This is an analysis on what could happen based on what has happened before.
How might it work
Pick-and-roll. Pick-and-roll. And more pick-and-roll.
“From what I’ve gathered, I mean, everything [Lionel’s] gonna do will be based off pick-and-roll actions, which is very common, with motion off-the-ball sets and actions, a lot of things where basically you’re running a pick-and-roll on one side of the court and there’s some type of screen or action happening on the opposite side of the court,” the scout said. “Then they’re going to switch sides of the floor likely for another pick-and-roll with motions off the ball on the other side too, hoping to create a switch on one or both of those actions to get a mismatch they can exploit in the secondary pick-and-roll.”
As for Sloan’s flex offense, which often begins with “UCLA” or flex cuts, the scout said, “It’s a mirror image of what happens on both sides of the floor and the ball rotates elbow to elbow, looking for a cutter along the baseline to the basket. The play never comes to an end unless you shoot or turn the ball over.” (To learn more about the flex, watch this video).
The flex gives Williams two advantages: (1) It puts him in opportunities off the ball where he can get easy baskets on cuts to the basket and open looks at catch-and-shoot 3-pointers off screen actions, and (2) it gives the Nets a way to get Williams off the ball without having to play him at shooting guard.
The scout said the flex offense is very different than what Williams has run so far during his tenure in Brooklyn. The Nets have been running a lot of isolation, a set Williams doesn’t thrive in. In fact, last season, he ranked third-worst in turnover percentage among guards who ran at least 100 isolation plays, according to data from Synergy Sports.
“Everyone is moving almost all the time and they’re moving with a purpose,” the scout said.
Brook Lopez is incredibly gifted offensively. He’s one of the best low-post centers in the NBA. And he can shoot from the perimeter.
But don’t expect Lopez to get as many post-ups as he has in the past.
“He will get them, but it will be much more late in the shot clock-type scenarios,” the scout said.
“I don’t expect Brook Lopez to be posting up as a primary option very often. Most of the time, when Lionel posted up in the past, he’s done it if they’ve run pick-and-roll with motion, swing the ball and don’t get anything and the shot clock is running down, then they’ll go to a post-up.
“They’re not just gonna dump it into him and play off of that.”
In Memphis, Marc Gasol became a focal point for the offense, with Hollins utilizing his big man’s passing ability out of the high post.
That won’t work in Brooklyn -- unless Andrei Kirilenko is doing the facilitating.
“He’s not a bad passer,” the scout said of Lopez. “But he doesn’t have the passing ability to make the fluid, skill-type passes to play the Marc Gasol role.”
A disadvantage becomes an advantage
The scout said many stereotyped the Hollins-led Grizzlies as a grind-it-out team that played phenomenal defense while relying on Gasol in the high post and Zach Randolph down low.
“It was the final result of their offensive plays, but it wasn’t their initial plan,” the scout said. “Memphis was hampered by the fact that they did not have quality wing players offensively, which gave them no floor spacing. But by putting Gasol in the high post, it allowed their wings who couldn’t shoot in the corners to make straight-line basket cuts.
“Their primary offense was not Gasol in the high post. It was pick-and-roll with side actions. But [using Gasol in the high post] gave their wings a chance to be threats on the court.”
“The Nets have the personnel to fit his initial offensive system, which will be even more effective,” the scout said. “They should be able to do some really cool things. It’ll be interesting to watch.”