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30Q: What will Mike Brown bring to the Kings schematically?

Taking a look the X's and O's behind the Warriors defense and how it can help the Kings.

In the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors often turned to old friend Nemanja Bjelica off the bench against the Boston Celtics. Bjelica would play critical minutes for the Warriors on their way to a championship. Incredibly, the Warriors would even happily switch Bjelica onto the Celtics' best players, including reigning Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jayson Tatum.

Bjelica was much-maligned for his defense with the Sacramento Kings, often seen as the weakest link in a chain made entirely of weak links. Surely, Bjelica is BBQ chicken in these matchups, right?

Interestingly, no! Believe it or not, Bjelica held his own, and the above clip wasn't an isolated incident either.

How? How could it be that Bjelica, who was routinely eviscerated as the reason the Kings stunk, could successfully give a team key minutes in a run to the holy grail?

The answer, of course, lies in how the Warriors defend as a whole. Basketball is played five-on-five, and the best indicators of success on defense is the communication, effort, gameplan, and execution by which the five defend.

The brains of the Warriors defense was Mike Brown, who has now taken the helm of the Kings. While we won't be able to see the other elements of team defense until the team actually takes the floor, here are a few schematic tweaks Brown can bring to rescue a team defense that has languished at the bottom of the league for basically sixteen years.

God of the Gaps

Since the start of the seasons, the Warriors have been playing "gap" defense, which means sending a help defender into the driving gap in the middle of the floor. The idea is to put bodies between the slasher and the rim, making them think twice about driving into the middle of the paint, and if they do, wall off the slasher to prevent paint touches altogether.

Here is how it works in real time:

Curry is switched onto Tatum on the wing, but Wiggins sags far off his man into the driving gap to stay in Tatum's line of sight. Tatum decides to spin away from the help but meets Kevon Looney at the rim.

Gap defenses are an enormous help for switched defenders, particularly smart defenders who can funnel their mark into help. Watch the Bjelica clip again above and see how he funnels Tatum away from the middle of the floor, while Draymond Green stays in Tatum's line of sight from the wing, ready to help if Tatum goes in that direction.

Gap defenses doesn't just help switches. Here, Wiggins stays disciplined against Jaylen Brown, with help in the gap at the top of the key.

Klay is the gap defender here, and notice he doesn't move from his spot as his man floats further into three point territory; Thompson's arms are out, focused on the ballhandler, ready to plug the gap if need be. Brown decides not to drive middle, and goes baseline, stepping out of bounds for a turnover.

Now lets look at a defensive possession from the Kings last year, where they didn't play gap defense.

Brown bullies Justin Holiday all the way to the rim with no resistance... well, anywhere. The key is Davion Mitchell, who is all the way at the top of the arc; the slasher doesn't even know he's there as he barrels into the paint. In a gap defense, Mitchell would be much lower near the free-throw line, showing his hands to the slasher to deter the drive into the middle of the paint. This has the effect of both limiting paint touches as well as shielding the backline of defense from constantly having to help on drives.

Gap defense is the Warriors' main defensive "innovation" this year. I say "innovation" in quotes because really its ripped straight from how defense was played in the early 00s once the zone defense rules were relaxed. Here are the Pistons playing gap defense against Kobe Bryant in the 2004 finals. Watch Rip Hamilton at about the free-throw line showing help to stop Kobe from getting to the rim. His man is left open for three but the defense will absolutely live with that.

Gap defense fell out of fashion in the late 00s at the 3 point boom began. You can almost still hear coaches agonizing over "helping one pass away" because it became so fundamental defensively to stay attached to shooters over the last decade plus. But its time to scrap that rule; leaving shooters to protect the paint is vogue again.  How did this happen? Because...

TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE.

Gap defense is a great convergence of scheme, team communication, and individual Intelligence on defense. I'm excited to see it come to Sacramento.

Go ahead bro, shoot it

The Warriors scheme was happy to leave low volume shooters open, even if they have solid three point percentages. This would let Draymond Green play free safety to help in the paint while basically ignoring the other team's worst shooter, In the Mavericks series, it was Josh Green, who shot 36% from three during the regular season, but on a very low volume.

The Warriors basically chased Green off the court, who would not see any minutes after Game 4. Against the Celtics, the Warriors repeatedly left Al Horford open, a career 36% three point shooter.

Notice how Green in both screenshots wanders into the paint, adding another layer of defense at the rim.

And here is how the defense reaps the benefits in action. Green again completely abandons his man, letting Bjelica deal with both Robert Williams in the paint and the wide open Grant Williams in the corner. Note that Williams shot 37% from three in the regular season. Green is able to muck up the paint and help on Brown's drive at the rim, forcing a tough attempt that isn't even close.

The absolute priority is protecting the paint. And as it turns out, leaving shooters open to shut off the paint is an enormous mathematical win for the defense. In Game 2 between the Warriors and the Mavericks, the Mavericks absolutely scorched the nets from three: 21/45, for a 46% percent mark. They outscored the Warriors by 21 points from the three point line. And they lost by 9 points. How?

Because they got literally nothing in the paint:

Protecting the paint is king. The three point line doesn't matter. The 90s are back, baby. How did we get here? Again...

TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE.

Expect the Kings to put their power forward (most likely Keegan Murray or Trey Lyles) on the opponent's worst shooter, and essentially let them play free safety sagging into the paint. The key will be the player's intelligence and instincts to find the balance between rotating into the paint and overhelping without need.

The Twilight Zone

Another thing recently revived from the dead: zone defenses. The Warriors would go to their zone often as a change-of-pace or to blow up plays coming out of timeouts. Their bread-and-butter was the 1-2-2 formation:

But the most interesting attribute about the Warriors is that it shapeshifts. Players don't stay in one "zone" of the floor the entire possession. Watch here as the Warriors zone changes from a 1-2-2 to a 3-2, as Wiggins takes up a new position at the "nail" on the free throw line while his man clears to the weakside corner.

The 3-2 formation traps Luka Doncic on the baseline as he tries to drive, with helpers ready to rotate on shooters and the paint.

The morphing zone also helped neutralize the Mavericks' "5-out" spacing. "5-out" means that the offense trots out five shooters on the court, which spreads a defense thin and opens driving lanes for slashers. The Mavericks' 5-out lineups, featuring Maxi Kleber at center, completely flummoxed both the Jazz and the Suns, who relied upon their traditional rim-protecting centers (Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton, respectively) to anchor their defense. But the Warriors' zone, with its flexible parts and movement rules, helped match up with the Mavericks' shooters while also protecting the paint.

Watch Kevon Looney and Maxi Kleber in this clip. The Warriors start the possession in a 1-2-2 zone with Looney occupying the right side of the base. Kleber killed both Gobert and Ayton before by using his defender's natural tendency to sink into the paint against them; while the rim protector goes to the paint, Kleber would find space on the perimeter to launch threes. He tries to do this here, positioning himself on the left wing. But Looney sees this, and you can see him pointing out Kleber's movement to his teammates. And then the zone does something truly fascinating: it rotates. Looney moves to the base of the zone on the left side, Green moves up to cover Kleber, and on the other side Klay Thompson sinks to the base where Looney was before. Kleber gets the ball but doesn't have a shot so he passes it back. There is no confusion defensively, everyone is covered, Looney is in his preferred spot near the paint, and the possession ends in a contested three. Its so subtle and easy to miss, but defense is all about small details adding up over the course of a game.

You'll also see the Warriors run a Box-and-1, a variation on the zone where one player stays with his man and the other four defenders form a "box" around the paint. The Warriors threw this out against Doncic often, like in this clip:

Here you see Wiggins denying Doncic from getting into the middle of the paint, and once the ball is out of Doncic's hands, he basically bails on the possession by hanging out on the wing. The other four Mavericks struggle to break down the Warriors' "box" and the possession stalls.

Even more impressive still was how the Warriors disguised their zones, transitioning seamlessly between zone and man defenses.

In this play, the Warriors start in a standard man-to-man scheme. Eventually, the small Jordan Poole is switched onto Tatum. Tatum decides to take Poole into the mid-post, and in response, the Warriors smoothly morph their coverage.

Your man-to-man is now a 1-2-2 zone! Tatum sees a wall of defenders between him and the rim and burps up a contested midrange jumper. That's a win for the defense.

Seizing the Schemes of Production

Like mentioned earlier, a defensive scheme is only one part of a successful defense. No amount of X's and O's wizardry can cover for players who don't put in the requisite effort, who don't communicate on defense, and who consistently make mistakes executing the scheme. The team has to buy in to what Mike Brown is selling. But if they do, I am incredibly curious to see how Brown's schemes translate from the Warriors to the Kings. The Kings definitely do not have the same caliber of defensive talent, and there are some real challenges in trying to make personnel work. But if there is anyone who can figure this thing out, it's Mike Brown.

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1951
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September 22, 2022 10:29 am

There can be only one conclusion to draw from this analysis:

Kings are winning it all.

aplumley
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September 23, 2022 7:34 am
Reply to  1951

I have said it over and over again. 82-0

Kosta
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September 23, 2022 10:46 am
Reply to  aplumley

Say it again!

82-0

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Last edited 8 days ago by Kosta
catterj
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September 24, 2022 7:07 am
Reply to  Kosta

Not 98-0? Haters.

andy_sims
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September 22, 2022 10:47 am

Really tremendous analysis and breakdown, particularly for those of us with a less-discerning eye.

Best to you and the family, Omer!

mdeedublu
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September 23, 2022 6:09 am
Reply to  andy_sims

I agree, this is outstanding! I love this type of content. Omer should make this a monthly thing during the season! I can only imagine how much time it took to put this together.

Hobby916
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September 22, 2022 10:48 am

Nice breakdown Omer. Maybe a simplified scheme will create more consistency on the defensive end.

Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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September 22, 2022 11:33 am

How many Lone Stars were harmed in the writing of this article? Brilliant.

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catterj
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September 22, 2022 11:38 am

This is my favorite type of content. Bravo. You gave me plenty of terms to google, and that’s awesome.

One term I started to google is gap defense, but one of the examples you gave looked like typical NBA defense in response to a pick and pop in which the ball handler begins to beat his man on the drive. I have reproduced the video that is above in gif:
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Poole switches onto Brown after the screen. Brown is too strong for Poole. The first line of help is Draymond who traps the box against Brown, meaning leaves his own man on the low block to meet the driving ball handler at the rim. Bjelica, on Grant Williams in the corner, sinks into Robert Williams to cover him in case Brown makes his easiest pass which would be to the Timelord. Meanwhile, Wiggins fills the gap between Grant and Tatum, effectively playing a makeshift zone between them. We don’t see this but if Brown had made his next easiest pass to Grant in the corner, Wiggins would have closed out to him while Bjelica would have been responsible for Xing-out to Tatum in case Grant made the pass to Tatum. Draymond would have had to recover onto Robert Williams.

I just knew this as rotations on defense from the links I posted at The Basketball Dictionary. Regardless, I very much appreciate this post. I should start a Go-fund-me for Omer so he can take time off at whatever job he has and can do more X’s and O’s articles. If he’s swamped, more money so he can outsource the work LOL.

PretendGhost
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September 22, 2022 11:40 am

I remember a quote from Nick Nurse during the Raptors championship run in 2019, where he was asked how he gets his team to play such good defense and he said something to the tune of “we just have smart defensive players,
and it makes it easy.”

hopefully Mike can bridge that gap for the more defensively challenged members of the roster

HongKongKingsFan
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September 22, 2022 6:22 pm
Reply to  PretendGhost

For this roster, how many “smart defender” do we have.

Based on above clips, Davion is a good defender, but not that smart.

Meanwhile, KZ / Moneke is a complete unknown.

So, Mike Brown need some magic to work on the players and make them more smart.

Jack
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September 22, 2022 6:39 pm

What about Ellis?

Hamlet1989
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September 22, 2022 10:14 pm

Smart is as smart does. I wouldn’t have figured this shit out, but now if someone taught it to me…

GlassCleaner
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September 22, 2022 11:54 am

I love this article! Excellent breakdown Omer.
I really enjoy reading about the technical details of defensive (and offensive) schemes.

Jack
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September 22, 2022 12:21 pm
Reply to  GlassCleaner

I really enjoyed the article.If I was 40 years younger I would have loved to be an assistant under Brown. You look at any sport that has players playing defense and you will find them up at the top. An old old statement still prevalent today is “Offense wins games, Defense wins championships.”

Daydreamer
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September 22, 2022 12:23 pm

My wish is that Kings players read this superb breakdown of team defense to help them get ready for camp.

DutchKingsFanInUK
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September 22, 2022 1:28 pm

Fantastic breakdown Omer. Feel like I’ve learned multiple things reading it. Thanks for that 🙂

Kingsguru21
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September 22, 2022 2:11 pm

Great piece Omer. I believe MB can coax an average defense out of this group if they buy in. But…as always we’ll see. And, it starts with Fox really.

Jack
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September 22, 2022 2:16 pm
Reply to  Kingsguru21

If Brown can coach some defense so as to be somewhere between say 12 and 18 out of 30 teams I think the team will be very successful.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 22, 2022 8:29 pm
Reply to  Kingsguru21

Fox definitely needs to play any form of defense for the first time in his career. He doesn’t lead this team though.

Kings-Rebuild
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September 23, 2022 7:42 am

Yes fully agree.

Hamlet1989
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September 22, 2022 10:17 pm
Reply to  Kingsguru21

I’m not sure the Kings defense needs to start with Fox. Does the Warriors defense start with Curry?

Kings-Rebuild
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September 23, 2022 7:41 am
Reply to  Hamlet1989

It doesn’t start there but Curry is a better defender than the casual fan recognizes. Fox has the tools to play defense but up until now it hasn’t happened. Curry to date is a much better defender than Fox.

andy_sims
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September 23, 2022 9:02 am
Reply to  Kings-Rebuild

All that is true, but doesn’t really address Ham’s question.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 23, 2022 7:56 am
Reply to  Hamlet1989

If Fox is the defensive leader then we have another decade at least.

Hamlet1989
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September 23, 2022 12:37 pm

It’s been said that the best defense is a good offense. If they can increase they’re shooting %, that will go a long way toward improving they’re defensive ratings.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 23, 2022 1:36 pm
Reply to  Hamlet1989

True but, I also think that has been this teams strategy for almost two decades. They are easy to beat.

Kingsguru21
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September 23, 2022 11:53 am
Reply to  Hamlet1989

I think so because Fox is capable of it IMO. Curry isn’t that type of player, and Thompson is their backcourt stopper really.

Part of it is Fox has to be productive defensively for this team to have a shot at winning anything substantial.

He might not be ultimately capable of it. But, I don’t think that’s the case. I think the issue is whether Fox can commit to that or not.

Kings-Rebuild
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September 23, 2022 1:54 pm
Reply to  Kingsguru21

Agree 100%

murraytant
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September 22, 2022 3:12 pm

Thanks Omer

New schemes plus a few potentially good individual defenders (Davion, Ellis, KZ) ought to make a difference.
We may see more zone this year and some short-term trick schemes, like Box and One.

Sacto_J
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September 22, 2022 3:24 pm

Excellent, excellent break down!
The only thing I contend with is “How could it be that Bjelica, who was routinely eviscerated as the reason the Kings stunk” this statement. I don’t recall Bjelica being routinely eviscerated for anything, and in fact…
F*ck it. He deserves it…

andy_sims
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September 22, 2022 3:59 pm
Reply to  Sacto_J

I also don’t recall Bjelica catching that kind of blame about defense. There was, and remains, plenty to go around.

Hamlet1989
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September 22, 2022 10:21 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I do. And I remember thinking “he’s not the problem.”

AnybodyButBagley
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September 23, 2022 10:58 am
Reply to  Sacto_J

Could not have been Hield, Fox, Bagley, or any of the other highly coveted core on billboards.

catterj
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September 24, 2022 7:14 am
Reply to  Sacto_J

Aaron Bruski disliked Bjelica’s defense. Very often, he would call it out. When tweeters pushed back, he captured short clips of Bjelly getting beat one-on-one. Nemanja was not the best at that for sure, but he does play a solid part within a standard defensive helping system. His advanced defense numbers, specifically his defensive rating (which I know is a team stat to a great deal) was always one of the higher ones among the Kings.

UsedToLoveTheKings
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September 22, 2022 6:17 pm

Excellent analysis of a complex defensive scheme that was beautifully executed by the Warriors. Requires alot of thinking, reading action, and knowing where to go–and then get the rebounds! This would be really fun to watch in Sac’o… if it’s done right.

Hamlet1989
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September 22, 2022 10:25 pm

It requires a lot of practice to do it without thinking. If you have to think about it, your not doing it right. There isn’t time to think.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 22, 2022 7:04 pm

This is such a good article and analysis. Well done Omer, well done.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 22, 2022 8:19 pm

If he watches the tape of the other team before game instead of tape of the Kings collapse after the press conference this team is better.

ArcoThunder
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September 23, 2022 7:31 am

Exactly!! I used to think this all the time!

How about you watch tape on the other team before the game starts and come up with a plan to stop them instead of re watching your unprepared team get embarrassed again and again you dumb [email protected]%

Kings-Rebuild
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September 23, 2022 7:37 am

On defense I will be looking for some basic things I haven’t seen the Kings do consistently. Do they force to the baseline. When ball is in corner do they keep them there and not let the offense rotate out. Away from the ball, are the players properly positioned if they are more than one pass away. Are defenders taking away the passing lanes and do they play proper help defense and rotate effectively. Do they play screens properly and switch appropriately. Okay for small to defend big on perimeter and big to guard small near the rim the opposite is unacceptable.

On offense, I want to see the ball move like the Warriors move it. After a pass, a player should either drive to the basket, ball screen, or screen away. We should see a read and react offense with some flex concepts and we shouldn’t see players standing around. I will watch to see if they are filling properly on offense and seeing if they are properly spaced. I will also watch their set pieces coming out of timeouts. Steve Kerr is absolutely the best at that hands down.

Kings-Rebuild
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September 23, 2022 7:50 am

The idea is to put bodies between the slasher and the rim, making them think twice about driving into the middle of the paint, and if they do, wall off the slasher to prevent paint touches altogether.

This actually occurs automatically if you’re properly positioned away from the ball. The position changes depending if your player is one pass, two passes or even three passes from the ball. It also is critical that the on ball defender forces or influences their player to the baseline. Just those two things are half the battle. Of course there has to be a willingness by each player to play defense.

catterj
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September 24, 2022 7:21 am
Reply to  Kings-Rebuild

It also is critical that the on ball defender forces or influences their player to the baseline. 

Did you mean sideline instead of “baseline”? If you meant baseline, could you explain why? I mean obviously you don’t want to force the ball handler to the rim on the baseline.

Kings-Rebuild
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September 24, 2022 4:54 pm
Reply to  catterj

Yes mainly semantics but yes force to the sideline and baseline. For example if a player has the ball in the corner you force that player to the baseline and don’t let him rotate out. We like to influence to sideline of weak hand but once ball is at the wing the only direction that player is allowed to go is to the baseline and never to the middle or interior. Fair question however

TerzoM
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September 23, 2022 8:08 am

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