We already laid out Missouri’s struggles getting to the rim in 2017-18. Now, let’s take a look at how its system can create those opportunities and what facets worked last season.
When Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin tapped former Iowa State assistant coach Cornell Mann to join his staff, the intention behind the hire was clear: install a version of the offense devised by Fred Hoiberg and used in Ames.
“Fred, in my eyes, I don’t want necessarily want to say (he’s a) genius but very close to genius, in terms of how he handled offense,” Mann told writers last summer. “It will be NBA-esque offense. The thing about it is Coach Martin wants those guys to go out and play and not look to the sideline throughout. That’s how it was at Iowa State, where Coach Hoiberg would get guys the way to play, flow was the terminology used, and let those guys play without looking over their shoulder but understand the game. … With the guys we have right now we have good enough players to handle that without a problem.”
In addition to what that NBA-inspired system system entails, Martin said earlier this spring that he envisioned his program following the same path as national champion Villanova and it’s embrace of positionless basketball — a transition that was already underway last season and will influence how the staff sculpts the roster in the years ahead.
A hallmark of Hoiberg’s style, though, is playing at a faster clip, attacking early in the shot clock and showing little hesitation in lofting up 3-pointers. In Hoiberg’s last season guiding his alma mater, the Cyclones ranked 10th nationally in adjusted tempo, ninth for shots attempted within 10 seconds of a rebound and ranked a respectable 61st in 3-point shooting.
Dig deeper into the data, though, and you’ll see that ISU didn’t abandon driving the ball.
Around the Basket Scoring - Iowa State
That same system contains a multitude of ways for Missouri, which ranked 318th nationally in shots taken around the basket last season, to get the rim without using a traditional post-up.
At ISU, Hoiberg’s teams used secondary breaks to wreak havoc, getting quick outlets and pushing quickly ahead and, if nothing presented itself, using drag screen set by a combo forward to drive the ball down the lane.
On trips where a lead guard like Monte Morris rejected a screen set by Georges Niang, he could hand the ball off to another guard on the wing, who immediately dribbled into another ball-screen by Niang — or what we call a “pistol” action.
The intention is all the same: stress the defense early in the clock with guard driving and a mobile big using short rolls. MU’s personnel didn’t lend itself to that style.
The system also relies on a point forward to initiate actions and direct traffic, an asset the Tigers have on hand with the return of Jontay Porter. And the system’s spacing demands mean you’ll find Porter in a slot on the wing, at the nail, or at an elbow.
Not only does Porter’s presence lift defenders from the paint, but his 3-point stroke keeps them from staying and trying to corral a guard driving the ball out of a high pick-and-roll.
Skim an old playbook long enough, and you’ll see that the offense has no qualms putting mobile bigs on the wing, at the elbow, or the top of the key. Meanwhile, shooters are spaced in a way to force a compromise by help-side defenders.
It’s how you can build in a hand-off action for Kevin Puryear at the top of the key to exploit a switch and still have Tilmon hanging out in the block as a safety valve when defensive reinforcements arrive.
When you flip on film, you can also see MU still had plenty of options at its disposal.
Option No. 1: Stay home, Jeremiah
If Tilmon ever finds himself roaming too far from home, he only needs to remember how his parents punished him for childhood misdeeds: go to his room.
That’s the moniker Hoiberg and Iowa State slapped on the short corner — 40 square feet of hardwood that is baseline area between the low block and 3-point arc. Roaming that piece of real estate made him a lethal scoring threat. The clip below is an ideal example of how keeping Tilmon locked away opens up high-percentage shots.
Dribble handoffs and weave actions remain a staple of the Tigers’ offense, generating side-to-side movement and allowing the wings to hunt for mismatches to exploit. In this instance, ESU guards bungle a switch, forcing another defender to come up the lane to cut off Barnett.
Take a look at how spacing helps, too. Kevin Puryear is stationed on the right wing, using his gravity to pull Stephan Limauel out of the paint. Barnett’s drive forces him to make a decision: Should he lend help and abandon Puryear as an option for a spot-up jumper off a pass out? He stays home. Thomas steps up. Tilmon’s work is simple.
Again, spacing and ball movement are a create an easy shot for Tilmon.
Barnett and Robertson are spaced low on opposite wings, holding defenders in place. Meanwhile, Puryear is just to the left of the slot on the wing.
The Volunteers shut down Geist probing off the left wing, but his pass to Puryear — and the resulting ball reversal — crack UT’s shell. Admiral Scholfield and Grant Williams jump to closeout on Puryear, leaving Derrick Walker caught on the weak side of the floor. When the ball swings to Barnett, a controlled closeout leaves Tilmon uncovered for an easy post feed.
Porter’s vision and instincts weren’t just a boon to shooters.
At times last season, opposing defenses would send hard doubles to stifle Porter, forcing him into turnovers roughly 22 percent of the time. Once Porter acclimated, though, he punished foes who were eager to send pressure from across the lane.
Aagainst Arkansas, Barnett clears out along the baseline, dragging his defender — and potential trapper from the wing — along with him. The Hogs’ double team is poorly disguised, allowing Porter to position his body and favored shoulder to receive a clean post entry pass and still keep a favorable passing angle.
All Tilmon has to do is hop into the lane and snag the feed for a dunk.
Option 2: Dive, Kevin
Not a lot went right for Puryear last season.
The junior, who lacks the size of a traditional post player, struggled at times to finish contested shots at the rim. And once SEC play arrived, his outside shooting went missing, with the the Blue Springs native connecting on just 16 percent of his attempts.
So he became a scavenger, subsisting on stick backs and dump-offs inside and sneaking away when a defender’s peripheral vision lapsed. Those plays aren’t glamorous, but they’re productive and — at certain junctures — acted as reserve tank for MU’s offense during stretches when 3-pointers weren’t dropping.
Against UCF, Puryear’s covered by a guard who picked up the Tigers’ stretch post on a switch. His gaze, however, is fixed on Barnett. Tilmon takes a feed from the wing, and with three defenders worry about two of his teammates and now a help defender close by, Puryear darts down the lane.
Again, Puryear’s defender is preoccupied with action on the strong side of the floor, turning a blind eye — or a back, in this case — to Puryear. He trots down the lane and into some space near the restricted area for a wrap-around pass by Porter, uses a head fake to get a Rebel airborne and uses a nice reverse pivot to relocate.
You know the theme now. Porter’s defender cheats down to give help, resulting in a 2-on-1 situation on the weak side of the floor.
A switch earlier in the possession, though, set the stage for Puryear. A pick-and-pop action at the top of the key matched Porter with a Commodores guard. On the right wing, Robertson worked against pressure to get an entry pass off, but Puryear’s defender also noticed glaring size disparity and cheated down in a bid to give early help.
Spacing also mattered. Waiting on the left wing, Barnett stood ready to relocate for a cross-court kick out — a threat the held his defender a step off the lane to quickly be in Barnett’s face on any catch. The gravitational pull of Porter and Barnett opened up a seam, and Puryear was more than happy to fill it.
Option 3: Get your roll on, man
There’s a temptation to consign big men of Tilmon’s vintage to the dustbin.
Over the last five years, hybrid offenses have made traditional bigs increasingly obsolete — if they can only snare entry passes from the wing and struggle to move laterally in space. There’s a reason Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., was coveted by NBA franchises. The fourth overall pick in the NBA draft switches all positions defensively, protects the rim and knocks down face-up jumpers.
(Let me pause to remind you that Martin told scribes this spring that Tilmon is putting up 1,000 3-pointers a day.)
When Tilmon managed to stay on the floor, his footwork, quickness and soft hands hinted that he’s comfortable playing away from the block. And while he’s still working his way along a developmental curve, he was at ease playing in the two-man game, especially high pick-and-rolls.
You can pick apart this action with ease.
Tilmon sets an angle screen and rolls off, all while Geist bolts from the baseline to the top of the key. All in all, it’s just a different spin on a roll-and-replace action the Tigers commonly used out of a well-worn Horns set.
What matters is the personnel grouping and the mismatches created.
First, there’s Robertson. By late January, the graduate transfer showed comfort reading out high pick-and-rolls. Shooting 46 percent behind the arc on those possessions also kept defenders from cheating too far under or jumping the screener as they rolled down the lane.
You can see how Tide guard John Petty scrambles over the top, while Daniel Giddens hangs back to cut off a drive. The attention paid to Robertson lets Tilmon get a clear runway to the rim — space created by Geist’s clearout off the baseline. Also, notice how the wing defender can’t give too much help and leave Barnett alone for a wide-open corner 3.
Before we talk about a pick-and-roll welded on to a dribble handoff, study the spacing.
Cullen VanLeer and Jordan Barnett have pulled two defenders to the weak side of the floor. Tilmon starts out at the elbow, keeping his defender from clogging up the lane. On the left wing, Robertson’s V-cut yanks West Virginia’s Jevon Carter back to the 3-point line — effectively vacating every bit of space under the arc.
The handoff itself exploits the Mountaineers preference to not switch screens. When Robertson gets the handoff from Geist, Tilmon’s defender gets wide and shows to contain the MU wing, allowing the Tigers’ big man to slip to the rim and become a big target for an entry pass.
You could use this clip as a textbook example of how to run a Horns set. Robertson tabs Tilmon as his screener, and once Robertson draws help he has an easy down the lane. For all its simplicity, this set was a nightmare for opponents when Porter was replacing Robertson at the top of arc — his face-up shooting keeping his defender from hassling Tilmon on his way to the rim.