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January 22, 2013

Nash's problems are rooted in OSU's system

Yesterday's 64-54 loss to Baylor was ugly (Though now as ugly as last year's loss there), yet Le'Bryan Nash showed up for the game with 24 points and Marcus Smart racked up 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.

The rest of their teammates missed the bus. What's the solution?

I've noticed a pattern with this team. Everyone can't be "on" at once, on meaning scoring consistently and conservatively (taking good, smart shots).

I keep referring to Nash, Smart and Markel Brown as OSU's "Big Three", yet they've all scored double-digits in the same game just twice in conference. Sure, most of that is due to Nash's lack of scoring lately but you still have to have more from your three big guys on a consistent basis.

As far as Nash goes, the first thought I had was "Maybe other teams are focusing on him in their defensive game plan?" so I asked Texas Tech coach Chris Walker after their game on Saturday.

"You don't want him near the basket," Walker said of Nash's nine-point performance. "That's the number one thing, and you want to give him the chance to shoot threes and see if he can make them. Some of their posts who don't shoot on the perimeter, you have the chance to clog the lane up a little bit. The number one thing is getting back in transition because he can score in transition. I don't know if it was a function of what we did so much, I think their other guys had good games where he didn't really have to try and take over the game."

A lot of coach speak, mostly filled with what we all know-Nash is capable of shooting from the outside, but he's much better when he's going all LeBron James-like to the basket and in transition.

But there's one thing that caught my attention in there, and it was "… Some of their posts don't shoot on the perimeter, you have the chance to clog the lane up a little bit…"

I thought over that quote for two days before watching the Baylor tape last night. I wanted to know if it was really just the lane being clogged, or if it had to do with OSU as well, and Baylor didn't really help me much but I saw a few things.

One: Oklahoma State's big guys (Philip Jurick and Michael Cobbins) aren't a threat from further than five feet out. Kamari Murphy has more of a mid-range attack, but he isn't quite where he needs to be yet on a consistent basis. Next.

Two: Nash is a lot better in transition than he is in the team's half-court set.

Three: This is the BIG one so try and follow me. OSU's half-court offensive sets aren't active enough. Keep reading.

Baylor is known around college basketball for their mixture of zone and man defenses. Yesterday they mixed them up on the Cowboys, just as they did last season.

Oklahoma State countered with a slow-moving offense that seemed to emphasize mid-range shots instead of getting into the guts of that defense.

Usually against a zone, you'll see three players on the perimeter (one at the top of the key, one on each wing). The other two players is where schemes change from coach to coach. Some put a player on the baseline that can run from corner to corner while the other works the high-post (free-throw line area), trying to expose the bottom of the zone for easy layups by the baseline runner or cuts from the top three. Other coaches run a four-out system with one player working the triangle, or the area between the high-post and both blocks. While the low-post does that, the other players cut and the ball moves, which also can work against a man defense if done correctly.

What those do is not only keep the zone defense moving, but it also opens up lanes. It's simple, the more you make an opponent move on defense, the more likely it is that he makes a mistake.

Yesterday, on multiple occasions, the Smart would dribble down to the left wing, hand off to Brown, then run the baseline circle to the opposite wing. Then Smart and another player, usually Phil Forte in the corner, would work the triangle with the big down low. Meanwhile, Nash is flashing to the high post and retreating back while Smart works the perimeter for an outlet if things get messy, or to swing the ball back to the other side.

They hardly ever hit either option.

Obviously, coach Travis Ford was trying to work the low game as they may have thought they had an advantage there, I get that and I'm definitely not questioning it. Ford knows a lot more about basketball than I do.
The key I'm focusing on is that the ball is slow-moving in that set, and it's one of a couple of examples I saw yesterday.

With an offensive player like Nash, and a player like Smart likes to be, those sets aren't effective. Sure, the low-post game may work here and there, but there's a higher probability of running high-energy sets that emphasize swinging the ball around the court while having organized screens and cuts, and simply taking what the defense gives you.

The second half of that quote that seems so far back in this story is that the posts can't shoot from the perimeter, which is what Ford is trying to play on.

At Baylor, Forte played 30 minutes, while Michael Cobbins logged 30 and Jurick got in for 14. With Forte in, he's at the two, while Smart and Brown are outside with him. That bumps Nash to the four, and Cobbins to the five.

What does that mean? Four players who can shoot from the perimeter on the floor instead of three, which makes the defense cover the three-point line more and thus opens up bigger driving and cutting lanes.
This is one log in the journal of trying to figure out what's up with Nash, and Ford is putting him in the right position with the Forte lineup. Where are they coming up short? The offensive sets aren't quite right yet.

If OSU wants to play up to their potential, they have to speed up those sets and emphasize getting to the rim. If they do that, it also opens up the three-point game.

Pick your poison.


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