“These statistics can tell you whether a player who is scoring a lot is really doing it like Mike or if he’s doing it like Isaiah (Rider). The star players will have high ratings and use a high percentage of their team’s possessions. The good role players will have high ratings and use a low percentage of their team’s possessions. It’s a good idea to have your efficient players also scoring the most.”

Key Takeaways:
  • With & Without Jordan
  • Perimeter vs Post
  • Best Offense has ‘The Big 3’

If you have been living under a rock like the rest of us, then I am sure #TheLastDance is familiar to you by this point. In the least surprising news ever Michael Jordan was a statistically great offensive player. With interest in the documentary, Jordan revealed apprehension to the switch from head coach Doug Collins to Phil Jackson because of differing offensive philosophies. Coach Phil Jackson became close with Tex Winters who is famously attributed for the installation of the ‘Triangle Offense’ that the Bulls would implement during the 6 championships won with Jackson, Jordan, & Co. Despite being the focal point of Collins’ offense having a higher points-per-game average during the ’86-’89 seasons; according to Basketball-Reference, Jordan’s offensive ratings were consistently higher with Jackson and had a usage rate comparable to the days with Collins.

The triangle offense operated through principles of triangular spacing to effectively choreograph player and ball movement for optimal shot selection. In other words, ball movement makes the defense shift and maybe, the ‘Bad Boys’ of Detroit can’t all load up in the paint ready to apply the Jordan Rules.

But is it the offense or the star that accentuates the offense?

If we are making predictions, I’d be willing to bet that Jordan would not have been denied a championship ring or two by the end of his career regardless of the offense employed by the Bulls. Was the Bulls offense better without Jordan? Of course not. But, the drop off wasn’t as dramatic as you’d think – considering in 1993 their offensive rating was at 112.9, while in 1995 with an improving Toni Kukoc they were competing at a 109.5 rating. It was during the 1996 season where the Bulls simply seemed unstoppable with a 115.2 offensive rating driving them to a 72-10 record. For coaches it is something to consider when having a dominant offensive player.

  • How can we get the ball in their hands most often in a position to score at the most efficient rate?
  • Does the offense optimize role players’ contributions?

But, there is something about the triangle offense that is often overlooked. By emphasizing increased ball movement and player movement, players subsequently became more involved in each possession forcing role players to become more reliable from a scoring, playmaking, and decision-making standpoint. So, while Pippen was blossoming during the first dynasty run of the early 90s and Toni Kukoc started to figure things out while Jordan was away in 1994-’95; the offense developed into a well-oiled machine during the ’96-’98 dynasty.

Perimeter vs Post

During the entire Bulls run, the offense never ran through a traditional post position. Luc Longley or Will Perdue were not asked to play with their backs to the basket at a high volume. The Bulls weren’t introducing the decay of the big man because there was an overgrown child in the name of Shaquille O’Neal that put the league on notice during his days with the Lakers by the early 2000s.

“But, consistent with the prevailing wisdom, there just aren’t many good offensive big men anymore.”

Shaq was one of the very few traditionally-styled big men that had a high floor percentage (think usage) with high efficiency as a scorer – others approaching were Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Yet, with the tendency of low free-throw percentages associated with big men and the rise of the three-point shot; the writing was on the wall as early as the 21st century that playing through the post was not a winning formula. Up until the Basketball on Paper was written the highest offensive rating was Reggie Miller. When you think of Reggie Miller what comes to mind? Ignore the Knicks fans. High-volume three-point specialists that had the ability to not only get to the free-throw line but convert at a high percentage were considered the most valuable offensive roles. So, it comes to very little surprise that outside of a Shaq-lead Lakers (which is a debate of its own with Kobe fans) NBA champions since the early 2000s have been dominated by teams with perimeter-oriented stars and styles.

The Big Three

“The best offenses all have at least three players at the top who are both well above average in their offensive rating and who use at least 20 percent of their team’s possessions. 

The best offenses had three primary scoring options – welcome to the era of “The Big 3.”

  • Spurs – Duncan, Parker, Ginóbili or Leonard
  • Celtics – Pierce, Allen, and Garnett
  • Heat – Wade, James, and Bosh
  • Warriors – Klay, Steph, and Durant
  • Cavaliers – Kyrie, James, and Love

The question is for the coaches that don’t have the luxury of paying for talent, how does this relate?

First, regardless of the offense, there has to be a capacity of skill. Pick any offense you want, if the roster lacks the KSA (knowledge, skill, and ability) to put the ball in the hoop at a high rate it will be a long season.

Second, understanding the capacity of the personnel.

  • Do we have disruptors defensively? Creating turnovers into high percentage shots seems like a sure-fire way to inflate the offensive rating.
  • Do we lack playmakers, but have shooters? Possibly continuity actions that create basket-cutters for high percentage shot-attempts or 2-man actions on the perimeter for set shots from beyond the arc.
  • What is the makeup of athletes? Offensive rebounding philosophy plays a role here with how many to send to the glass. Second chance opportunities are high percentage shots, whether it is immediate putbacks or inside-out three-point attempts.

Whether the roster is compiled or developed to consist of three high-level scorers, the odds are in your favor to compete at a high level. The biggest challenge for coaches is identifying the system to put in place for all three to flourish while still empowering role players. And let’s not forget defense wins championships, so you can’t just keep trading buckets.


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