Intellectual Theft: Mike Brown

The Cleveland Cavaliers underwent several dramatic changes this offseason. In an apparent attempt to make the progression from rebuilding pushover to playoff contenders, the Cavaliers greatly increased the base talent level of their roster, drafting Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev, and signing veterans Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, and Andrew Bynum.

Yet, among all the offseason’s new faces, one should be familiar. Mike Brown, after coaching the Cavaliers from 2005 to 2010, was hired to replace Byron Scott earlier this offseason. Following a season and five games as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown returns to a Cavaliers team entirely different from the one he left.

Last season, the Cavaliers allowed 106.9 points per 100 possessions, the third worst defensive rating in the league, according to Mike Brown, considered a defensive specialist, is expected to improve this crippling performance. Under Mike Brown, the 2011-12 Lakers held opponents to 101.7 points per 100 possessions, 14th in the league. Brown’s defenses have experienced even greater success. In 2006-07 the Cleveland Cavaliers held opponents to 98.9 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the NBA, and in 2008-09 the Cavs had the second best defense in the league, allowing 99.4 points per 100 possessions.

While the compositions of Brown’s past and current Cavaliers teams are quite different, the 2010-11 Lakers and the present Cavaliers share some notable similarities. Andrew Bynum, the central piece to the Lakers’ defense, was acquired by Cleveland on a partially guaranteed deal after missing the entirety of last season dealing with various knee injuries. Though Bynum’s presence on the floor is not guaranteed, he may be able to function in a similar role this season.

Under Brown, Bynum took full advantage of his massive frame on defense, dropping towards the paint on pick and rolls, closing driving lanes on help defense, and remaining in position to affect shots at the rim.

Mike Brown’s defensive system did an excellent job ensuring that Bynum was always close to the basket and in position to affect and prevent shots at the rim. Though this may seem to be a basic concept, many coaches do not consistently put their players in the best position for success.


DeMarcus Cousins, despite being a relatively mobile big man, should not be forced to hedge several feet out on Damien Wilkins, the ball handler, and recover all the way to Spencer Hawes in the short corner. Cousins does not always hedge this hard (and under new coach Mike Malone it is likely that he almost never will), but to deny the middle, a basic tenant of most offenses, has to stick on the ball handler for several feet. This makes Cousins’ recovery to Hawes much more difficult while leaving the Sacramento interior defenseless if Wilkins is able to turn the corner.


Contrast this with Bynum defending a pick and roll from a similar location. Rather than hedging on Tony Parker, Bynum drops several feet off his man into the paint, allowing him to prevent a shot at the rim by either Parker or the screen-setter, Tim Duncan.

The Cavaliers, like Brown’s Lakers, feature a high usage perimeter scorer and formidable frontcourt. As it was with Kobe Bryant before him, the interaction between Kyrie Irving and his frontcourt will be key to the Lakers’ success.

This video, grabbed by Conrad Kaczmarek for an excellent breakdown of Andrew Bynum’s ability to score off cuts and off-ball positioning, displays one of Brown’s primary tactics for reconciling Bryant and Bynum in the offense.


Bynum and Bryant are the only offensive players on the strong side. If Bryant drives left, Marcin Gortat, Bynum’s defender, is the only defender in position to help. If Gortat leaves Bynum, Channing Fry, would likely attempt to help. However, a defender entering the play off balance has little chance to prevent Bynum from finishing in such deep position.

If Bryant drives left, either Frye must leave Gasol, allowing an open jump shot and driving lane, or Gortat must help off Bynum. As Kaczmarek shows, Bynum is excellent at finding the ideal position to receive and finish a pass in these situations. Expect Mike Brown to apply a similar offensive strategy to the Cavaliers.

Brown has always been known for his attention to detail defensively. His stint with the Lakers may provide a few offensive wrinkles to bring to Cleveland.

As Bryant rotates through what finishes as a pin down, he sets a screen for Bynum in the post, both giving Bynum an opportunity to establish post position on the strong-side and giving Bryant separation as he releases from the screen. These intricacies, often missing from the Cavaliers offense last season, provide players with slight edges in the battle for efficient opportunities.

As with any team, there are many variables affecting the Cavaliers upcoming season.  If Mike Brown is able to put the talented roster in a position to succeed, the Cavaliers should be an imposing lower-tier playoff team.

Collection of Blue Man Hoop Posts

Here is a list of my posts at Blue Man Hoop since June 19, 2013:

Festus Ezeli’s Injury Could Be Costly For the Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors: Would Thomas Robinson Be A Good Fit?

Carl Landry: Revisting His Most Likely Suitors

How Will Tyreke Evans Effect the Golden State Warriors?

Golden State Warriors: How Does the Addition of Andre Iguodala Affect Their Future Salary Situation?

What Makes Andre Iguodala Such a Good Defender?

Golden State Warriors: 5 Teams That Could Be Like Them In 2013-14

Golden State Warriors: Will Marreese Speights or Draymond Green Have a Bigger Impact?

NBA: 10 Players Likely to Break Out Next Season

Analyzing the Golden State Warriors 2013-14 Schedule

Projecting the Golden State Warriors’ Record Using RAPM

Golden State Warriors: Why Keeping Bazemore Was The Right Decision

Golden State Warriors: 5 Keys to Becoming an Elite Team

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard?

Analyzing the Warriors Best Plays

(Written For Blue Man Hoop)

While the Warriors’ offense often boiled down to a simple high pick and roll, they featured many complex set plays and reads to increase scoring efficiency.

The Warriors’ most distinct offensive play is the “Elevator”.  This play is generally initiated out of a Horns set.  Horns begins with two high posts and a player stationed in either corner.  The player intended to come through the double screen, generally Stephen Curry, typically starts the play at the wing.  The Warriors also developed a few misdirection variations of the elevator play.  In one version, Curry will begin with the ball at the top of the court and make a pass to the wing. He then runs towards the corner, typical of a horns set, but quickly reverses direction and cuts back up through the double screen.

While it appears to rely on a single outcome, the beauty of the elevator play is that if the initial action is well defended it flows directly into a basic horns set.  The Warriors will generally simply have the two big men who set the elevator screens run a double screen with the ball handler.

The emergence of Klay Thompson as an offensive weapon led to an increased reliance on the “Corners” set.  This constant motion offensive set leads into several screen and rolls, pin downs, and spot up jumpers.  Teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and, most consistently, the Minnesota Timberwolves rely on the Corner as the basis of their offensive system.  While the Warriors were not as committed, their use of this set increased as the year progressed and players became more comfortable with the reads and wrinkles.

The Corner set allows the Warriors to decrease their reliance on Curry as the offensive initiator but, with the pick and roll opportunities, does not limit his role as an on-ball scorer.

Against teams like the Miami Heat that aggressively hedge on and off-ball screens, this set opens opportunities for the Warriors’ excellent passers to find open layups and weak side spot ups for teammates, while more conservative defenses are susceptible to giving the Warriors a damaging extra step on pick and rolls.

The Warriors were often simplistic in their offensive approach.  Basic Flex sets consistently led to high pick and rolls and there was an unnecessary reliance on motionless post ups.  However, many of the wrinkles that were added were very effective in leveraging the Warriors’ significant offensive talents.  As this core gains more experience after an injury-interrupted year, expect an increase in the complexity and effectiveness of many of the Warriors’ sets, as well as the addition of further plays.

Play of the Day: Pacers X-Cuts

(Written for Pelican Debrief)

One action common in the Indiana  Pacers’ offense is the cut across a big man with the ball.  This generally occurs in the high post, but the Pacers use this action in several situations, allowing wings like Paul George to catch the ball on the move off a faux-screen from the big man, and clears space for the big man with the ball if he does not make a pass.

This action is often generated as part of a motion strong set. If the intial pass to the big man in the low post is denied, the Pacers will often run a cross-screen, or simply have the big man flash, to open a pass to the high post, creating an x-cut opportunity.

This X-Cut set has a few interesting wrinkles:

While the Pacers generally rub cutters off a big man in the high post, this set is initiated in the low post, and involves a pre-planned screen by one wing for the other.

Here is another iteration of the low-post x-cut:

This type of action could be useful in the New Orleans Pelicans offense.  It requires the big men to decide between keeping the ball and passing to one of his offensive options, but does not force the big man to create the offensive opportunity.  This decision-making responsibility could help further the development of Anthony Davis, while clearing help defenders could benefit his post game.

Also, allowing Eric Gordon to catch the ball on the move, whether off the high or low post set, would help him create more efficient offensive opportunities.

Adding a weak-side back scree could free shooters for wide-open corner three point attempts, an ideal result for any offensive possession.

Wrinkles such as these will help improve the efficiency of the Pelicans’ offense, and hopefully aide the development of the players.