Besides the new players that were brought to the Warriors this summer through the draft, trades and summer league, the one thing that hasn't been mentioned is their new offensive schematics. Keith Smart is indeed a Don Nelson disciple but remember he also has had coaching stints as an interim coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers and played under Bobby Knight. This season coach Smart has decided to use some portions of Nellie's offense but also use a version of the Flex offense. This new offense gives a lot more balance and structure to the Warrior offense in the half-court, where as previous years they have had major trouble.
So what exactly is the Flex offense?? To know the flex offense all we have to do is watch some Utah Jazz' games. Jerry Sloan has been running his own version of the flex for however long he has been head coach of the Jazz (seems like a century!). The Jazz like to 'grind' offensively and defensively and although many of us dislike the Jazz for what they did to our We Believe team, we all know their offense is terribly efficient. Besides their all-stars, this is partially because of their flex offense that focuses a lot on screens, back cuts and slashing lanes. What Keith Smart looks to accomplish by installing the flex is a move away from Nellie's playbook (Isolations and 3-pt shots) and bring structure to the half-court offense.
Identifying the flex offense is simple because it usually takes a familiar form when first running it. Like the triangle offense, the initial movement of the flex offense is very predictable. The flex almost always begins with the ball handler up top, Biedrins/Lee at the free throw/elbow corners, Wright and Ellis or Curry (depending on who is the ball handler) behind the 3 pt line while also forming a straight line with Biedrins and Lee. The image below shows what the offense would look like should Curry be the ball handler.
(Notice the straight line the players form across the free throw line)
After that formation, the ball handler would almost always pass the ball to either of the wings (either the 2 or 3) and then several screens and back cuts would occur. These movements would result in efficient percentage jump shots or layups. Now I don't know all the X's and O's of the flex but one thing is for sure, it is a lot better than Nellie's half court offense.
Nellie's Half-Court Offense :)
Ahhh, how much fun was Nellieball when it worked. Mismatches left and right, 3-pt shot attempts and isolation plays that when successful made Nellie seem like a genius. But my god, when the shots weren't falling it was AWFUL. First off, when people spoke of Nellie and his mismatch preference, they were really referring to mere isolation plays. Since Nellie almost always used smalls against bigs, many times the Warriors found one of their smalls being guarded by a bigger, slower defender. Well what would happen next after the Warriors found that mismatch isn't an offensive play but rather getting that player the ball and isolating him; if it was a big vs a small then there would be a post attempt where the big would back his smaller defender down and attempt an over the top shot, or if it was a small against a bigger defender then a potential jump shot or crossover/drive to the basket. Regardless, it was an isolation play where everybody else on offense would just stand and watch :/. How many times did we see unsuccessful Baron Davis freethrow elbow isolation plays. Or Stephen Jackson iso's and within the last two years, Monta Ellis elbow isolations. Heck, we complained many times that our superstars wouldn't pass the ball around (ex: Stephen Jackson post Baron, Monta post Jackson/Baron, Maggette, so on). Nellie's offense was good in the up-tempo and when the fastbreak was working, but against half-court defense, our offense was too iso-prone and downright horrible many times. Even though many of us argued that since we did not have a low post threat, our offense should defer to our perimeter star players, we could/should have used a more complicated offense to create and screens, passing lanes and cuts to the basket as opposed to constant elbow, isolation plays or pick n rolls with bigs that couldn't finish.
Though not always great in the half court, every once in a while, Nellie would bust out the old school sets and use a series of offensive sets known as Horns that were pretty good, especially when we had Al Harrington (and especially when Al could make his jump shots).
(Nash signaling for a Horns play with his right hand, notice the devil horns used as the symbol for the play, used throughout the NBA)
The Horns offense is widely used by many NBA teams that want to space the floor. It was used by Nellie quite frequent at first and if you remember when Nellie was first hired as coach of the Baron Davis lead Warriors, his first season he said he would install a simple offense with several options. That offense was the Horns set. The offense spreads the floors by putting the two wing players on both corners of the floor for spacing and 3-pt shot attempts while the PF and C come towards the PG by the free throw elbows.
(Ignore the scribbles and the X1 in the middle and you see the Horns set in its initial stage)
This offense is especially useful when there is a big man with a jump shot, such as Al Harrington, and a good roll man, like Andris Biedrins. The horns offense was used a lot and especially against the Houston Rockets where Al Harrington was playing the 5 spot and forced Yao Ming to guard him from the 3-pt line which he could not. This offense encourages the PG to make decisions and since the defending SG and SF have to guard their players at the corner 3-pt line, it allows for plenty of spacing for the PG to drive and pass to the open man. Again, a team using horns AND with a 3-pt shooting big is difficult to guard because it requires the defense to stretch which creates driving lanes. Besides the fastbreaking, no wonder the Warriors and Suns offense were compared together so much, they both used Horn sets a lot (Harrington/Marion/Stoudemire/Frye). Nellie used the Horns offense a lot with the 'We Believe' team and many of you will recognize the set if you watch the Warriors playoff run highlights on youtube. Though later on Nellie moved away from the simple offense and used slightly more complicated sets, still this season so far, I have seen Keith Smart used some horn sets and that obviously must be Nellie influenced.
What to make of this
Well, with the Warriors using more motion, screens, passing and backdoor cuts with the flex offense, the Warriors should be more fundamentally sound resulting in higher percentage shot attempts. The drawbacks of this is the Warriors won't be looking to fastbreak or forcing the fastbreak as much since they will feel their half-court offense will produce high percentage shot attempts and not rest on isolation, mismatch plays. Not to mention that the flex offense doesn't emphasize 3-pt shot attempts as much as it focuses on screens to create easy shots. The combination of the flex and horns offense should result in a half-court offense that is much more efficient and harder to predict and defend.
If the Flex is so good, why don't other teams use it?
Here is what makes me feel good about being a Warrior fan. Lately, the Warriors have been blessed with good passing big men; Biedrins, Turiaf (no longer) and now David Lee. Not only do you need a big man who isn't selfish, but a big who can make the pass. We've seen in the past Biedrins dishing out assists and David Lee in his prime with the Knicks was dealing almost 3 assists per game. The flex requires good passing big men as well as guards. We know on any given night, Ellis and Curry (though mostly Curry) can do some serious passing which is why the Flex works better with teams that can move the ball around than with those without it.
I may be a bit off on this thought but I believe the Warriors, Bulls and Jazz have a couple things in common regarding their PG and PF positions.
* Stephen Curry, Deron Williams & Derrick Rose - I am not going to argue who is better or who would we rather have, but one thing for sure is all three of these guys can score and most importantly pass the ball. Crucial elements for the flex offense
* David Lee, Paul Millsap & Carlos Boozer - Each of these players are low post threats, whether it be on the low post, offensive boards or low post passing, they each require the defense to focus on these players. Not to mention that these 3 players are the primary low post threats for their respective teams. (by the way Millsap is killing right now, he not only whooped on the Heat, but he is outplaying teammate Al Jefferson as the primary low post scorer at the moment).
This being said, several other teams could run the Flex, ex. Lakers, Thunder, but the fact is not EVERY team can run it which is why it feels pretty good that the Warriors can use the offense and have been successful so far with it.
Allow the rant; the Warriors bench hasn't been as bad as we all thought it would be thanks to Reggie Williams... One thing that will greatly help is Lou Amundson coming back since he should bring as much energy as David Lee when on the floor and we should see less of Radmanovic... I feel bad for the Rad-Man but until he can hit that 3-pt shot consistently or unless we are playing against a small ball lineup, I'd rather hope we not see him at all... I am not so convinced with Jeremy Lin because a lot of people are hyped off of him just because of his one summer league burst against John Wall. Remember we were all hyped on Belinelli's ENTIRE summer league which resulted in a dud... how are we now going to be all hyped after ONE summer league game where Lin shined..? Lin seems to have good hands and he played well against Calderon and the Raptors but they do not have speedy point guards and I don't have much faith in Lin guarding quick or stronger PGs... The Warriors need more slashers because without Maggette, we don't have wing players attacking the basket.. Dorell Wright seems to shy away from doing that even though he looks like he can be explosive.
Lastly, WE BELIEVE is GONE! There is no rebirth of We Believe and to continue to reminisce about a completely different team that played about 5 years ago is dumb and rather sad. We all had great memories of that magical playoff run but that was seasons ago. The year before the Warriors made it to the playoffs, the Clippers made a deep playoff run where the beat the Iverson/Anthony lead Denver Nuggets in the first round and pushed the Phoenix Suns to a 7 game series. Then the Clippers sucked again, but one thing they are not doing is hoping for a second coming of that old playoff run, they r looking for a new playoff run and that's what I believe we should look to. 'We Believe' is soo '07 and naming this team as We Believe pt 2 is like having the USA Olympic team being named the Dream Team again. No team wants to be named after something prior, they want to make their OWN name that is why we should drop the We Believe slogan, that was THEN this is NOW.