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Explain One Play: JaVale McGee alley-oop dunk variations

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A look at different ways the Warriors get alley-oop dunks to JaVale McGee, who did fine work to help polish off the Trail Blazers in Game 2 on April 19, 2017.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
gimme five / way up high / way down low — TOO SLOW
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you don’t understand some terminology below, check out the glossary at the end.

JaVale McGee had an electric impact on a sleepy second quarter and helped jump start the Warriors to a blowout of the Blazers. The Blazers missed Jusuf Nurkic on a day when the guards were misfiring and the W’s three-headed center was tormenting the Blazers. We’ll see if Nurkic’s return can help the Blazers defend home court.

The Warriors’ players love to get alley-oop dunks for McGee. They run it A LOT. First, it’s a high-percentage shot. It also really gets the crowd going and the team energized, as he’s a well-liked character. So let’s look at some of the ways Golden State gets McGee his thunderous alley-oops.

#1. Chaos and confusion

Many of them don’t come from half-court set plays, but rather when there’s chaos or a numbers advantage and McGee is the happy finisher. For instance, Curry gets a steal and sneaks the lob to McGee at the last second.

It’s actually a telling little play. The sequence begins with the Blazers running a quick action that’s very basic to their offense: the flare screen. The play begins with Lillard getting Curry on a switch. Off ball at the top of the arc, #21 Noah Vonleh sets an off-ball screen for #23 Allen Crabbe. Instead of switching the screen (as the Warriors often do) and letting Crabbe attack McGee on the perimeter, Andre Iguodala fights past the screen. The Blazers look confused and don’t know what to do. Vonleh gets the ball back and tries to reset to Lillard, and that’s when Curry gets his steal.

In general, the W’s remain alert to these little flares, which narrows the Blazers’ offense to be more about isolation or simple pick-and-roll actions.

#2. Vanilla pick-and-roll

For the first part of the season, while the Warriors were trying out their new toy, Dunk-o-matic 2000, JaVale McGee’s alley-oops came from simple pick-and-rolls.

For instance, here, McGee sets a high screen for Stephen Curry, the defense gets sucked into Curry’s gravity, McGee runs for the rim, Curry tosses up the alley-oop and McGee out jumps everyone.

But if a defending team knows this is the play, they can front the pass or guard it from behind. For instance, in Game 1, the Blazers thwarted this alley-oop:

Evan Turner does a great job to get a hand on the pass.

Technically, this isn’t a simple pick-and-roll. Kevin Durant comes in to set a back screen on McGee’s man, but he only serves to bring the defender, Turner, into the play. Then you can see that Turner switches from guarding Durant to guarding McGee. This is the general switching approach the Blazers had in Games 1 and 2 to defend the McGee lob.

So, the W’s ran a couple of variations to disguise the alley-oop.

#3. Big-big second pass

Here is the most common other set play to get McGee an alley-oop. Get a pick-and-roll, but instead of the ball being passed directly to McGee, go through a third man stationed at the post (usually Draymond Green).

Here’s one from last night.

You can see Green’s defender, Al-Farouq Aminu, computing here. McGee is breaking free to the basket, so Aminu should switch to him. You see him looking and starting to switch. But the pass goes straight to his man, Green. So he stops for a second to compute. Then, it’s too late.

And, just for kicks, here is another one from Game 1.

#4. Staggered screen pick-and-roll

Here’s a slight complication of the vanilla pick-and-roll. Curry gets a screen from Green and then McGee, and McGee rolls to the rim as usual. What’s complicated about that? It’s complicated because Curry’s and Green’s and McGee’s defenders have to coordinate who is switching to whom. That’s a lot of possibilities compared to a simple pick-and-roll (where the decision is switch or don’t switch). Watch them navigate the decision:

Well, no one ever got fired for sticking with Curry. In this case, ALL THREE defenders choose to go to Curry. Even when Curry is not shooting well, his gravity warps the defense. That’s how Curry can go 6-18 and still lead the team in plus-minus with +32.

Even if Meyers Leonard could somehow elevate to take away the lob (Narrator: “He can’t”), Curry would still have on the weak side one defender guarding a curling Klay Thompson and a popping Green.

Final thoughts: the definitive McGee dunk videos

If you can’t get enough McGee dunks, here are three videos: all of the Curry-McGee dunks this year.

And here are the big-big post dunks, charmingly called the Big Trio dunks:

And here are all 64 alley-oops from the season:

God bless the internet.