The Texas Longhorns are not by any measure a strong offensive team. But even by their modest standards, Saturday's game was one of Texas' worst offensive performances of the season.
Rather than a broad and high level look at the game, today we will examine a single half-court possession run out of one of Texas' most common sets. In it we will highlight some of the things that are currently bogging down the Longhorn attack.
The setup is shown in the photo below, where Matt Coleman has the ball. Both of Texas' big men (Mohamed Bamba and Jericho Sims) are at the elbows, while Texas' two other perimeter players (Eric Davis Jr. and Jase Febres) are in the corners. The initial pass to initiate the action will go to Sims at the nearside elbow.
The initial action that this play calls for is what is called a "pin down" screen. Coleman is to set a screen for Febres, and the two players need to read the defense and respond appropriately. When Coleman sets his screen Febres will have one of three options. He can either use the screen and come out on the wing, he can use the screen but curl to the basket, or he can reject the screen and cut backdoor. The option he chooses will be dictated by how the defense plays him.
Febres' defender works to beat him over the screen and deny the pass. Febres reads this and cuts back door. Coleman angles his screen to help Febres seperate from his defender. The moment as he is cutting is shown in the photo below. Febres makes a good cut to the basket, and while he is not open this cut draws help from Coleman's defender, and creates Texas' first opportunity to attack the defense. Things are looking good.
The next photo shows where everyone stands after the action has advanced. Coleman's defender has helped prevent Febres from getting a layup. Coleman is coming out to catch a pass, which Sims will throw to him and follow with a quick ball screen. Coleman's defender will be out of position, and a more experienced player would use this situation as a chance to take the ball screen and attack. But Coleman will miss the chance to make the play, and the window for action will quickly close.
Meanwhile, Febres and Bamba are setting up for the next action of the sequence — a cross screen for Bamba.
As we advance ever so slightly, we see the situation below. Febres is screening for Bamba inside. Meanwhile, Sims is moving in to screen for Coleman. This is the moment where Coleman should take that screen and attack, but he doesn't react quickly enough to press his advantage.
But you know what? No big deal. Opportunities are missed often in the game of basketball. When this happens, you just go and find the next one. Bamba is coming free into the post and will shortly establish decent position inside. Meanwhile, Febres is working his way out to the perimeter.
Coleman doesn't take advantage of any of this, but instead takes a single dribble off the ball screen and throws the ball out to Febres. An opportunity to make a play has been missed.
So it’s time to make another opportunity. With the initial actions complete, Texas now sets a high ball screen for Febres. Febres isn't Texas' best man in a ball screen, but the action here makes it hard for him to do much. Sims' defender is sagging off in a soft coverage. A player comfortable with a ball screen (which Febres is not) would attempt to dribble into the paint, challenge this second defender, and make a play. The problem is that Coleman is now too high, and his defender is taking away Febres' gap to attack (something he probably wouldn't have tried to do anyway). Coleman needs to be more towards the baseline to give this any chance.
So, Febres takes a dribble, Sims rolls, and Febres reverses the ball to Davis, as is shown in the photo below. Again, Texas is going to have options for play. Sims rolling out of the ball screen has a step or two on his man, and ends up beating him to the block. If Davis were to feel confident about throwing the ball into Sims in this situation, Texas would get a nice chance to try to put the ball into the post to score.
This brings us to the image below. The defense has recovered, Sims is posting up, and Bamba is preparing to run out and set a wing ball screen for Davis. There still is some life in this possession yet.
The photo below shows the start of the next action. Bamba is going to ball screen for Davis, while the defense is going to work to force Davis towards the baseline. At this point, Sims is no longer going to have a chance to get the ball in the post, and is just clogging things up. He needs to be preparing to move to the opposite side of the lane as Texas sets up the wing ball screen. But he stays where he is.
Let's advance things a few moments, after Davis has been forced away from the screen. At this point, all sorts of things are breaking down. First, Sims is now simply in the way. If he is on the opposite side of the lane, he can stretch the defense, and potentially be in position to receive a pass from Bamba. Instead, both he and his defender are clogging things up.
And then there is the issue of Bamba. When a defense forces a ball screen to the baseline like this (the "ice" defense), Bamba has two choices of how to position himself. Bamba is in the perfect spot for a player who is a dangerous three-point shooter. Bamba can make the occasional shot from the perimeter, but no one is going to confuse him for Connor Lammert. Instead, Bamba should be asking himself "what would Tim Duncan do?" (WWTDD is a question that a young big man should often ask.) Duncan would be positioning himself somewhere around the free throw line. This would give him the chance to score by diving or driving to the rim, pass to a properly positioned Sims, or reverse to an open shooter.
Instead the ball goes to Bamba, and he takes a shot that the defense is probably happy to let him have. It is late in the shot clock, so he might as well shoot it. It misses, and Baylor rebounds.
This is why offense can be hard. Coleman doesn't yet have enough reps to know that he can force the action early in the possession and create a chance to score. Febres isn't comfortable using ball screens, and Coleman is messing up the spacing. Both Bamba and Sims come open in the post at different points in the possessions, but the guards (perhaps wisely) decide against throwing the ball inside. And then late in the possession things bog down when both big men our poorly positioned. Getting only one or two of these things right would have resulted in a much better shot for the Longhorns.