Anderson Varejao looked bad for his first few games with the Warriors. In the last game or two, he has started to look more comfortable. His defense is still plodding, but he is starting to show signs of grasping the offense. Let's zoom in on one single play from the Knicks-Warriors "game".
What's impressive about this play is the Warriors show off their Next Level offense fluency by running through four options in single play, and Varejao is a key player in each part.
In 2014-2015, we saw in the first half of the year, the Warriors introduced their basic motion sets. They went too fast and simplified the offense after the turnover festival against the Spurs (which I documented at Notes on Turnovers: The Movie!). Then by the end of the year, they started having second options to plays. This year, we saw them go Next Level, despite not having Kerr for the first half plus the circus of 24-0, by mastering counters to overplaying the initial passes: backdoor cuts, having shooters aggressively screen, and punishing switches in the post. (You can see it unfold in The Explain One Play series index.)
Next Level, Four Quick Options
Anyway, this year, the Next Level also means quickly flowing from one play to another in response to the defense. It takes familiarity with the offense and a certain team-wide rhythm to keep things flowing. Varejao seems to have picked up the offense much faster than Jason Thompson or Ognjen Kuzmic every did.
Watch the following play, and see if you can pick up the four different plays that the Warriors flow through.
Anyway, the four plays were:
1. Floppy. Klay Thompson starts off under the basket, and gets screens on each side of the free throw lane (double on the left, single screen by Varejao on the right). Klay curls up to the wing, where Livingston feeds him. Klay loses his initial defender Afflalo, but is picked up by a Knicks switch, so they flow straight to a second option. (More on Floppy plays: Explain One Play: Warriors + Floppy = Klay 3, plus search the index.)
2. Post-Cross Splits. Klay feeds the ball to Varejao in the post. Then he and Livingston cross, and Livingston sets a screen for Klay. The Knicks switch assignments on the screen, so Klay is covered well again at the top of the arc. This leads to the next option. (More on Post-Cross: One Play: Warriors + Triangle Offense = Barnes 3, plus search the index.)
3. High Pick and Pop. Varejao smoothly comes up to set a screen for Klay, and he bumps off Klay's defender. Varejao's defender sags back to the lane to contain Klay's drive, while Varejao pops out to the right elbow as a release. Klay suavely tosses the behind the back pass (Curry's got everyone doing it... it's got flair but it's practical too) to Varejao. Kristaps Porzingis jumps out to contest the open jumper, so Varejao flows into a fourth option. (More on Pick and Pop here: Explain One Play: The bench blitzes and breaks Durant. Marreese Speights gets a lot of his shots out of this action.)
4. Drive and Dish. Varejao sees the shot clock is winding down, but he very calmly drives (perhaps "lumbers") down the lane to draw two defenders, and dishes to an open Brandon Rush, who cans the open three. Why is Brandon Rush so open? It's actually due to Harrison Barnes. Harrison is doing all the shooting things badly, but he is doing some little things well.
In this case, rewatch focussing on Barnes. He is being guarded by Porzingis to start. Early in the play during (1), Afflalo is switched on to Rush on the floppy screen. Now Barnes waits until Porzingis starts to wander towards the play (and eventually switches to Varejao in (3)). As soon as Porzingis loses sight of Barnes, Harrison goes over and sets a blind side pindown screen on Afflalo, letting Rush sneak over to spot up at the wing. Varejao has enough vision and composure to find Rush at the end of the shot clock.
Here is Andrew Bogut talking about the offense, with focus on the "split cuts" (which I called Post-Cross above in (2)).
By the way, isn't it nice to have Brandon Rush make a tidy contribution off the bench and not have to make a big deal out of it like Lazarus back from the grave? (Contrast: us going crazy when Rush first blew up against the Kings: Explain 1 Play: Brandon Rush Rides Elevator for 3.)
Varejao is clearly on track to being a neutral to positive factor on offense. I think his defense may not be good enough to keep him on the floor in serious situations, and his rebounding and boxing out hasn't struck me as being all that tight either. But if he can eat up minutes, chip in the occasional basket or assist and not miss any easy layups, and play adequate defense, then that's pretty good value for a free guy after the trade deadline.
Except, he needs to catch up to Bogut, Mo and McAdoo and start hitting threes. Get on it, Andy!!
Kerr on Speights 3s and pick and pop -- (3) above.
East Coast Readers: we are currently scheduling these Explain One Play posts to publish at 8am Eastern. Is this okay, or do you want them published earlier, so you can perhaps read them during breakfast before work?