A team is only as strong as their weakest link.

Watching the NBA Playoffs, there has been a trending talking point amongst pundits regarding hunting preferable matchups. The Mavericks are a great example when considering the game within the game on both sides of the floor:

  • How do we hide Luka defensively?

“You can always ask for help, but you’ve got to participate and Luka has done that for us in this journey. And so he’s going to have to do it tonight. He’s going to have to defend.”

Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Jason Kidd responding to Phoenix Suns going after Doncic defensively
  • Who is Luka going to hunt offensively?

Mismatches occur organically within the flow of the offense, or from intentional player and ball movement. With the game stretching primarily to the perimeter, ball-screen manipulation has become the predominant action to put the ball in a playmaker’s hands versus a switching defense.

How To Exploit Preferred Matchups

This is where coaches can get creative because like anything else, there are a variety of ways to manipulate mismatches during any given possession. Arguably the three ways most often employed come from exploiting size, skill, and spacing.

Size

There is the mouse in the house, where anytime a little (guard) is stuck on a big having to defend the paint. Or, when opposing teams switch ballscreens, you will see situations similar to the clip above where Deandre Ayton was tasked to fruitlessly defend Luka Doncic.

Again, numerous ways to get there just a matter of how deliberate the offensive action is to seek out the matchup. Here’s an example of former Holy Cross head coach Bill Carmody hunting a matchup in the post within the Princeton offense.

Clips provided by Radius Athletics via YouTube

SKILL

The staff puts together a scouting report, then decides matchups accordingly. Fully aware, that if at any point an inferior defender is expected to guard a talented offensive player it can be a recipe for disaster. There is the phrase, “let the ball talk” suggesting to trust the offense will find the right player at the right time for consistent scoring opportunities.

First person that comes to mind is Steph Curry with the Golden State Warriors. The combination of being such a dynamic ballhandler with the lethal accuracy beyond the arc makes him a tough guard simply 1-on-1. But, the biggest challenge can come from defending the player movement. The luxury for the Warriors (one of many) is the ability to distract defenses for scoring opportunities by using Steph as a decoy, or by executing so many 2-man actions that the ball finds the ideal matchup.

SPACE

Spacing is offense and offense is spacing. Off-ball movement is great, but without the necessary spacing to create long closeouts then advantages can become limited. Hunting matchups can facilitate improved spacing, and one concept to consider is by shifting the defense for increased angles or challenging defensive discipline. Sometimes executing simple shallow cuts, ghost screens, or boomerangs offensive players can create enough separation between on-the-ball and off-ball defenders to attack with a winning angle or force a second defender to help, then it becomes pitch-catch-shoot!

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