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Spacing: A Lesson Learned On Offense

We've seen a steady improvement from the offense since the start of the season, one big reason... Spacing! And why it matters.

Lessons are good things. Young teams need to learn lots of lessons. And there's no mistaking that the Missouri basketball offense has left something to be desired most nights so far this season. So I thought I'd take a moment before SEC season starts to show you all just how things are getting better offensively, and why.

Spacing the final frontier

Spacing. It's the final frontier (sorry, this whole Star Trek thing just sort of happened; that font is pretty cool though)... these are the voyages of a young basketball team that must set out to learn the important and vital lessons of spacing on offense.

What spacing enables you to do is dictate to the defense, force them to spread out further and further away from the basket, leaving open lanes to drive and pass. It's the same principle of the spread offense in football. Creating space for your athletes to make plays in. When you don't have a player who can just jump up and score a basket when you need one, you have to be good at other things offensively. You have to be able to do the little things. You should definitely be able to do the big things, and spacing, is a big thing.

Bad spacing :(

First, let's go back and revisit when Missouri was bad at spacing. As little as 4 games ago, they beat Elon. To start I thought we could look at a few examples of pick and roll's that were happening with Wes Clark and Johnathan Williams III. This play actually ended well thanks to Clark burying a mid range jump shot over the bigger slower defender, but THAT'S BESIDE THE POINT!

Elon Pick & Roll 1

First thing you'll notice is how far away Wes Clark is from Johnathan Williams III. JW3 doesn't a nice job of still locating the defender to set the screen, but Clark is not doing his job of going shoulder to shoulder with his screener. Then, the worst possible thing that can happen in a pick and roll happens. Somebody decides that maybe he should post up! Ryan Rosburg drags his defender into the middle of the lane and camps out. The end of the play looks like this.

Elon Pick & Roll 2

Rosburg deciding to post up in the middle of the lane effectively kills the purpose of the pick and roll.  On top of that, both Shamburger and Deuce Bello are not in the corner. If they're in the corner, their defender has to flatten out so he won't get back cut (the whole ball-you-man aspect of man to man defense). Like I said before, Clark finished the play by hitting the jump shot, but there is no drive to the basket or a roll to the basket because there is a big red X in the way (I may have put that there to illustrate the point).

About the only guy who did his job there might have been JW3.

Good Spacing :D

Against Lipscomb, this same play looked a LOT better, and not only because this looks to be in High-Def vs. the other low-res images.

Lipscomb Pick & Roll 1

So we start with the same basic formation, just with a more two guard front rather than a 4-flat. Keith Shamburger and Tramaine Isabell setup opposite the ball. D'Angelo Allen is around the low block ball side. He drifts to pull his man out towards the three point line. Shamburger drifts to the corner. This sets up two shooters in the corner, and on the wing with Isabell. Allen provides movement that the defender has to honor, which pulls him away from the basket.

Clark sets up the screen beautifully, leaving virtually no space for the defender to squeeze over the screen. The defensive player on JW3 is playing in a more pack-line way by hanging off ready to switch if his teammate can't get through.

Lipscomb Pick & Roll 2

As Clark is turning the corner, there is a hesitation from the man guarding Isabell (because he can shoot it pretty good) and the low help (on Shamburger) commits to the ball enough that Clark stops with two guys in his way to the basket. But the big white circle in the middle signifies the amount of space that the defense has given up in the middle of the floor because of every single offensive player being spaced perfectly. Good spacing leaves giant holes in the defense.

So with two players threatening to stop the ball, JW3 executes a brilliant roll to the basket, the defender who was on Clark initially is forced to play from behind on the cut, and all Clark has to do is drop the ball between the defenders and JW3 should have an easy score.

Lipscomb Pick & Roll 3

The end result looks like this. Two points.

Lipscomb Pick & Roll

With Shamburger in the corner, the player defending him is a smaller player who will have no chance to block a layup attempt by JW3. Since the ball is still on one side of the floor, the low defender on Allen has to respect that side of the floor and can't stray into any kind of help position. Isabell, a threat to shoot a three, causes hesitation from his defender, and Clark makes a great pass. Done.


This time in the first half. I don't have a gif for this, so you'll just have to deal. But it's another great example of wonderful spacing on offense.

Lipscomb JW3 Postup 1

I love this isolation for JW3. He's off the lane a bit, which gives him room to operate and take advantage of his athleticism. Clark has spaced himself higher on the court, which will draw the defense away from a dig on the post up. Shamburger and Montaque Gill-Caesar are positioned opposite the ball on the weakside and are there for a kick out in case of a defensive collapse, and Jakeenan Gant is in the best possible position for the opposite post player, the short corner. Being in the short corner means that he's pulled the defender to the other side of the rim, and almost on the baseline. He has to honor a potential flash or even a pass if JW3 attacks the rim, so he can't commit to help right away.

Then JW3 makes a move.

Lipscomb JW3 Postup 2

Now you see what I mean. The player guarding Clark can't help on the post because he's too far up the floor. Now the only help defender has to make a choice of guarding the basket and trying to block the shot or seeing if he can move over fast enough to take a charge. There aren't many big men who can get there quick enough to take a charge, remember he has to be set and have his feet outside the half circle. IF, and that's a big if, he can get there in time to affect the shot, a simple dump off to Jakeenan Gant for a dunk is option 2.


Needless to say, they're not perfect yet. But they are getting there. The spacing on the floor has gotten so much better game after game. And even when they weren't playing all that well, they were still able to execute enough on offense to keep themselves close because they were spaced so much better than in the past. Things are obviously going to get more difficult with the SEC schedule starting up, and more athletic players defending them. However, you have to like the direction that things are going with the progress of the team.