Talking about strategy, tactics, Xs and Os, and the nuances that permeate throughout an NBA game isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
I get why most people would rather just sit back, relax, and enjoy a game without having to worry about the hows and whys of a bucket or a defensive stop. At the end of the day, the NBA is an entertainment product. How one likes his or her basketball to be entertaining is subjective, and no one should have to tell you how to enjoy games.
However, it’s of my view that the way basketball is presented by the mainstream sports media is... a work in progress, to put it mildly. Hot-take journalism with a sprinkling of surface-level analysis dominates the main networks. Loud personalities who say just about anything to draw eyes toward their programs are front and center — and to be fair, it has largely worked, or else they wouldn’t be paid the big bucks.
There’s a place for this kind of content, but if it’s the prevailing and dominant theme rather than a complementary part of the overall media experience, then there’s an unhealthy imbalance. For comparison’s sake, the NFL also has its share of loud personalities who don’t really delve into substantial analysis, but that’s because they don’t need to — there exists a significant and loud part of NFL media that focuses on the Xs and Os of football.
Such a healthy balance between loud and nuanced content is why the NFL remains the king of American professional sports.
The NBA can and should take cues from what the NFL is doing — and to be fair, they’re starting to take notice of the importance of actually educating its audience about the game of basketball.
It’s by no means as accessible as what the NFL has to offer, but it’s a start. The revamped NBA App/League Pass offerings can be hard to find if you’re not actively looking for them, but once you do stumble upon them, you’d be surprised to find a show (called Coaches Corner: Film Breakdown) that brought in actual NBA head coaches to break down film.
The Golden State Warriors’ very own Steve Kerr was one of those coaches; he broke down a pet half-court action that I myself have gone over a few times before on this site. But obviously, an NBA head coach’s voice holds more weight than a mere basketball junkie of a writer.
Without further ado, here’s the clip:
I’ve called this virtual three-way split “modified” split-action (because it’s a modification of the classic low-post split) and “Bilbao” split action (named after a professional basketball team based in Bilbao, Spain where this action apparently originated). It’s been called post staggered split by other writers/analysts because it’s a split action with two staggered split-cut screens.
As Kerr mentioned above, their term for it is “Gaggle” action. There’s no correct way to refer to this set — terminology differs from coach to coach, team to team, and even country to country. But what does matter is the mindset and rationale behind this action, and how it maximizes the skill set of the team’s players.
For example: Kerr mentions that he has their center (usually Kevon Looney) set the split-cut screen because more often than not, Looney’s defender isn’t particularly wired to defend out toward the perimeter. If Looney catches the split-cut beneficiary’s defender clean, no one will be at the level of the screen to contest or switch. Nikola Jokić is the example given above.
In the instance below, it’s Steven Adams:
The curl/dive off the first screen by Andrew Wiggins typically serves as some sort of decoy action that also doubles as a “brush” screen of sorts. It also serves to confuse defenders. Do they switch? Do they stay at home?
It also takes advantage of one fundamental defensive principle: never commit two defenders to one person, or else it’ll leave someone open and create a massive disadvantage.
Case in point:
It’s rare that the curler/diver off the first screen gets open, but Klay Thompson manages to wiggle free of his man and Draymond Green finds him on the cut. This forces the weak-side corner defender to panic and help on the cut — which leaves Wiggins wide open on the wing for the three.
Here’s another instance of Thompson drawing two defenders, but as the beneficiary of the split-cut screen:
As opposed to Looney’s defender staying in the paint, he goes up to the level of the screen to switch onto Thompson, whose defender also sticks to him. This creates an opportunity for Thompson to thread a pocket pass to the rolling Looney, who completes the finish.
The neat thing about this set is that the pieces are highly interchangeable. Thompson, Steph Curry, and Jordan Poole can all be either the first screener/split-cut beneficiary or the initial curler/diver.
With Curry as the curler/diver, the Warriors have previously whipped out some quirky twists out of this set:
The versatility of this set knows no bounds — and of course, of all people to give another dimension to a classic Warriors set, it would be Kerr, whose love for split action wavers from the realm of mad genius to being notoriously overdependent on it (to the chagrin of those who want him to run more ball screens).
But the point of all this is that Kerr was given a platform to explain something about the game of basketball to an audience that most probably isn’t cognizant of it. Even more amazing: that Kerr and the other NBA coaches on the segment — notoriously secretive and who typically opt to keep their cards close to their chests — agreed to break down film of their own sets.
More of this content should be made widely available. There’s a place for it alongside the typical hot-take fare. Not only will it satisfy the demand from certain segments of basketball fans; if done exceptionally well, it will create demand from others who may not have been previously aware it exists.