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What an “NBA offense” might mean for Missouri basketball

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Cuonzo Martin knew he had to change up his offensive approach to capitalize on Michael Porter Jr. That’s where Cornell Mann comes in.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest concerns associated with Missouri’s hire of Cuonzo Martin was his pace of play offensively. We’re going to quickly find out how much he’s loosened the reins. He brought former Iowa State assistant Cornell Mann to town as an assistant, and we’ll see if he lets Cornell Mann run wild with this ISU offense.

Missouri won’t be rolling out Georges Niang and Monte Morris on next year’s roster, but Michael Porter Jr. and Terrence Phillips aren’t too bad of a replacement.

Since we’ve got until November 10 before actual basketball happens, I figured we could go through some of the Iowa State offense and try to catch a glimpse of what we can expect to see from Martin’s Tigers this fall.

x&os cuonzo

Today I’m going to focus on the Zipper cut, and Iowa State’s Zipper series of set plays. The zipper cut is a frequently-used NBA action designed to get a playmaker the ball in space, usually to enter into a set play.

First, in its most basic form, here is what a zipper cut looks like:

zipper cut
Basic Zipper Cut fig 1

Simple right?

The premise is to alleviate pressure for a playmaker. Think about how Iowa State would isolate Deandra Kane or Georges Niang, and imagine those isolations going to Michael Porter Jr. or possibly Jordan Barnett.

I’ve spent more time than I care to admit watching Iowa State basketball from 3-4 years ago, and ISU added a slight wrinkle to the Zipper cut. Instead of starting on the block, the cutter would sometimes just be in the corner or on the baseline, effectively cutting underneath the ball handler.

The first play we’re going to see here is a basic set for Iowa State — they would very often start sets with a two-high-post look, with the two wings positioned in the corner. From here the weak side post runs a rub off the ball-side post to setup a double screen or a stagger screen. The wing in the corner simply runs off the stagger into the open position at the top of the key. Diagram below:

Iowa State Set Double Zipper
Double Zipper fig 2

And now the .gif of the play.

ISU Double Zipper
Double Zipper Set

Beauty in simplicity. This form of the zipper cut forces a man-to-man defense to make tough decisions on switches or fighting through screens. Fighting through means the defender is almost certainly going to be in a trail position, putting immediate pressure on the help defense. The play results in an easy setup for former Iowa State forward Will Clyburn to attack the rim.

An advantage of having a mobile four, or playing small ball and having someone like Michael Porter Jr. on the roster, is simple wrinkles to basic plays become dangerous for a post defender who isn’t quite ready to defend someone who is more than just a screener. That is why I like the follow-up wrinkle to this play.

The Double Zipper Fan sets up an inverted screen once the wing runs off the stagger, freeing up a good three point shooter, Georges Niang, on the wing.

ISU Double Zipper Fan
Double Zipper Fan fig 3

If Jontay Porter indeed reclassifies, you could easily see this play being run for either Porter, or Kevin Puryear for that matter. It looks like this:

ISU Double Zipper Fan
Double Zipper Fan

The last set plays off of the initial zipper cut but sets up cross screens for a post look.

Once the first post player of the stagger screen sets his pick, he releases across and sets a back screen for the opposite wing, who runs a flex cut to back pick the second post player. So once the ball is reversed to the opposite wing after the initial zipper cut, there’s a very easy post entry from big to big.

Confused yet? Images are sometimes better.

ISU Double Zipper Rip
Double Zipper Rip fig 4

Here’s a gif to see the full play.

ISU Double Zipper Rip
Double Zipper Rip

As you can see, the swing crosscourt opens up the flex cut pretty quickly. Maybe ignore the terrible shot attempt that comes from the play and look at how quick the action takes place. It takes roughly five seconds from the time Monte Morris crosses half court to the time the ball hits the hands of Jameel McKay.

These plays were aided by having Niang, a mobile post who could handle the ball. Again, this is why playing MPJ and/or Jontay + Puryear in that position is important. You want somebody who can handle themselves on the wing.

If we start seeing offensive possessions that take five seconds once the ball is across half court, we’ll know that Martin has officially given Mann the reins.

I’ve got more exploration of the Fred Hoiberg offense coming up, but in the interim, I want to give a shoutout to Zak Boisvert, an assistant coach at Army West Point. Zak provides amazing video breakdowns on his YouTube channel. So if you’re a basketball nerd, get caught in the rabbit hole.