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Explain One Play: Warriors swarm Andre Drummond

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A video analysis of one long play from the Warriors win over Detroit, where the Dubs switch defenders, and swarm Andre Drummond with double and triple teams.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Warriors showed their excellent switching and swarming defense against the Pistons last night. The Warriors won through a combination of good defense, lots of fast break points (35 to 13 for DET) and a burst of Leandro Barbosa juice.

In this wild sequence, we'll look at how the Warriors defend a clever Pistons play with savvy switches and double-teams of the young beast Andre Drummond, and force two near turnovers.  The possession is complicated enough that we've broken the video into three parts.

Part 1a. Quiz: Which Play Is This?

The Pistons start with the ball early in the third period, Warriors up 60-46 on back-to-back threes. The Warriors are threatening to turn this into a blow out.  So Stan Van Gundy calls this play.

First, watch and try to identify the kind of play this is, then enjoy the scrambling. (Hint: were you paying attention last One Play?)

You have a Pistons shooter going under the basket with screens on each side of the lane. If you remember our last One Play, this kind of play is called a Floppy. I don't know why it has such a silly name. First one shooter goes under the basket, taking the left screen, then a second one takes the right screen. But this is all a smokescreen for the real purpose...

Part 1b. Mission Free Drummond

This is more than a simple Floppy. In fact, the purpose of this is not really to get an open shot for the Floppy shooters. Rewatch the play, but pay attention to what happens to the Stephen Curry's man and Festus Ezeli, who starts off guarding Drummond.

(Go, I'll wait.)

Did you notice that after the Floppy shooter came out, Stephen Curry's man Kentavious Caldwell-Pope set a hard screen on Ezeli ?  This is the point of the play.  While Ezeli is hung up on the screen, Drummond almost has a free run to the hoop for a dunk. However, Curry alertly switches to Drummond, preventing a pass for a dunk. I love Curry's defense, but that is a serious mismatch, so as soon as Ezeli can switch back to Drummond, Curry bolts out of there, looking for his man.  If KCP had bolted to the near wing, he might have had an open 3.

Instead, the play devolves into an Isolation post-up for Drummond on Ezeli, as Marcus Morris feeds Drummond and clears out.

Part 2. The Blitz

Okay, so now we have Drummond posting up on the left low block. Morris is clearing the side to give Drummond an isolation. Except watch what happens.

The Warriors scheme is clearly to double team Drummond when he isolates in the post. However, there is some confusion here about who should be double teaming. Is it Harrison Barnes, whom Morris is trying to drag to the other side?  Or is it Klay Thompson who leaves Reggie Jackson alone in the far corner?

Well, they both try to blitz from the baseline, and they triple team Drummond. This is obviously a mistake... I don't know who was supposed to be the blitzer in the scheme. Klay defers to Barnes in this play, but if I had to guess, I'd guess Klay should be the blitzer, as his man is a harder pass to make.

While the Warriors are triple teaming Drummond and leaving two shooters open on the arc, you may recall that we left Curry searching forlornly for his man. He runs into an unguarded Ilyasova cutting to the basket, and briefly covers him before letting Ilyasova cut to the basket, just as Morris cuts to the basket. That's no good for Detroit. Miscommunication with Ilyasova is a theme that will return in Part 3.

Meanwhile, back with the main action, Drummond is blitzed by Barnes and Ezeli and he has a hard read to make with two shooters and two cutters.  Ezeli knocks the ball away, but KCP (who has wandered the whole court hiding from Curry) recovers the ball.

Part 3. The Swarm

The Pistons are lucky to recover the ball, and they get ANOTHER chance. Here they have to improvise and there is a miscommunication. Here is the rest of the play. See if you can track how Curry, Green and Ezeli end up making an f'ing wall, forcing Drummond into a wild pass with a surprise ending.

Drummond thinks this is another isolation post-up. But Ilyasova thinks this is a chance to cut to the hoop from the top. Ilyasova makes a nice cut, and perhaps a perfect pass would have been a dunk. But Curry alertly covers Ilyasova down the lane (remember Curry switched onto Ilyasova when KCP went on walkabout in Part 2)?  Either Drummond has tunnel vision and doesn't see Ilyasova, or sees him and says, hey YOLO and figures Ilyasova can rebound a miss over Curry. I'd bet on tunnel vision.

To make things more crowded, Draymond blitzes the post as soon as Drummond spins toward the middle. This leaves absolutely nowhere for Drummond to go. But he does see a man wide open on the weak side... if only he can get a pass over there. He throws a hot grounder into the hole which is nicely caught by Marcus Morris, Klay gets caught ball watching and Barnes switches out to Morris, who makes a fortunate three as the clock expires.

Final Thoughts

The Warriors have been pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in big man double teaming.  The Warriors are gambling that they can double team unsavvy big men in the post and recover if necessary through switches.

Missing Barry asks the good question: why double team Drummond? You don't need to double someone mediocre in the post.

The Warriors don't double because they MUST, they double because they CAN. They gamble that they win more in live ball turnovers, confusion and fast breaks than they lose in open shots.  Most teams double team only if they are forced to; the Warriors are doing it as attack defense.

It's interesting because I don't know of any other teams that blitz the post.  The Clippers were most famous for blitzing the perimeter pick and rolls, for similar reasons, but they've given that up this year. And many teams blitz Curry now, but that gives up a 4 on 3.  But who else is doubling in the post just because they can?

On the Good Side

  • In this play, the on-ball pressure is so intense, that the Warriors get away with being a disaster of coverage off-ball.
  • The Warriors show great savvy, communication and trust as the freely switch men and blitz the post multiple times from the baseline and from the top.
  • The Pistons were very fortunate to hit a three as opposed to giving up another fast break.
  • The Warriors stopped a clever floppy play which was really a interior cross screen for Drummond, then stopped multiple post-ups.
On the Bad Side
  • But as Drummond becomes a better passer and reader, and as the Pistons get more experienced in their offense, they may well punish this kind of sloppiness with open threes.
  • In general in the game, the Warriors looked okay with their weak side defense on the double teams. But this play shows gaps in the clarity of the scheme and suggests that until the Warriors master this scheme, they will be relying on energy and lack of poise from the blitzed rather than sound weak side D.
On the Other Side
  • I'm not sure why Stan Van Gundy bothers to post up Drummond. He's still raw and he got stopped repeatedly by Ezeli and even dizzy Andrew Bogut.  The Warriors don't usually post up to score any more, except for when Draymond, Klay or Shaun Livingston has a small that they can punish. But just as in the triangle offense, throwing the ball to the post opens up lots of cuts and curl options. I didn't think it was effective when SVG posted up Dwight Howard either back in the Magic days.
  • In theory the Warriors will get punished for sloppy blitzing of the low post. Except... who is going to punish them?  Possibly Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge. Other than that, who has the savvy and supporting system to discourage the blitz?

The Whole Play