Brad Stevens is infinitely smarter than I am.
There’s a reason the guy is an NBA head coach: he is great at managing personalities, overseeing skill development improvements, tactically slicing-and-dicing his opponents and knowing what buttons to press and when. I’m not trying to tell him how to do his job.
But through watching the playcalling and sets run by the other 29 teams every morning, I’ve seen a lot of actions that would only enhance this Celtics offense and give coach Stevens one more ace in his deck.
With this group, Stevens shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel or add whole new formations into the playbook. Instead, deepening the level of wrinkles within what they already have is the way to not only catch defenses off-guard as they hone in on what the Celtics do, but further opens and strengthens what they already run by keeping the defense on its toes.
The Celtics run a lot of walk-up possessions and half-court sets that begin with what is commonly known as a “ram screen.” Two players stack just around the lane lines, with both corners filled and the ball up top. The top player in the stack screens for the bottom, who floats out to the wing for a catch.
Boston loves to do this for Jayson Tatum, bringing him to the wing for either an isolation or for a side pick-and-roll. They got to it early on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns:
It’s easy to see how the play can get stale if Tatum is coming off the screen every time. Predictable isolations come next, ball screens can be called out and rarely do catch-and-shoot looks emerge.
That’s why Stevens moves around the pieces, sometimes putting Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson as the one coming off the screen.
When they do, much of their offense comes from engaging in dribble handoffs quickly with the man in the corner, who usually is a shooter like Carsen Edwards or Jaylen Brown:
As those two have been hot lately from the perimeter, it’s time for Stevens to add a wrinkle to capitalize on the attention they get. Most opponents will try to “top lock” Brown before his handoff, meaning they instruct his defender to jump high-side and deny him from running to the handoff and force him baseline, away from the action.
A corner backdoor by design would be a great option for the coaching staff to generate an easy look for Brown.
Both the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors have run similar actions, putting their lethal shooting threats Joe Harris and Stephen Curry in the corner. A major playmaker, like Kevin Durant or Draymond Green, will come off the ram screen for a wing catch. One dribble towards the corner engages the defense to top-lock, opening up the backdoor:
What I love most about the Warriors’ version of this play is their use of a staggered screen on the weak-side to occupy the help defense. That’s what generates the open kickout for Andrew Wiggins. If Boston is worried about manufacturing spacing around the Brown backdoor due to lack of shooters, that movement can do enough to occupy defenses.
Plays like these are pressure releases. When Brown is in a zone and has hit a few shots, call up a backdoor set for him out of a timeout. It gets the defense off him so he has room to breathe, cut and make them think twice before denying him on the next touch. The same can be done for Tatum, or Kemba Walker if he finally gets hot.
Boston has a ton of talented frontcourt passers, from Tatum to Theis, and Grant Williams too. It’s not a difficult wrinkle to add and requires very little, if any, practice.
Consider this my official application for the Celtics video coordinator position. Coach, I expect to hear from you soon...