How The Grizzlies Disguise Plays For Ja Morant
A breakdown on how the Grizzlies punish their opponents defensive schemes.
Ja Morant is not a good shooter. I know this isn’t breaking news, but his career-high in 3-point percentage was 35% - his first year in the NBA. The past two years have been at 34% from 3-point land and the scouting report for NBA teams defending him has been somewhat simplified when Ja is off the ball: sag in the gap to contain others and on the closeouts shade him to his right-hand. We will look at how the Grizzlies take advantage of this mindset and defensive scheme by using “fake” plays to get Ja downhill off the ball.
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Note: This is best viewed in the app, and I have included the full YouTube playlist of all the sets at the bottom of the breakdown.
Gap & Decoy ISO
NBA teams and defenses are becoming more and more complex and smart with all of the new data and information dictating defensive strategies. Most NBA defenses are designing their help to come from the ‘Gap” since they are looking to stop drives first against 5-Out offenses and live with 3 point variance and the possibility of giving up open 3s.
While not every NBA team has this scheme, most schemes are going to try and stop dribble penetration first and then closeout/rotate/switch from there.
This is oversimplifying NBA defense of course since you could come up with an hour-and-a-half breakdown on just one game in the NBA on the defensive side of the ball, but the point is to understand that “Gap” help is common in the NBA - especially off non-shooting threats.
I first noticed this action with the Boston Celtics under Brad Stevens when he took over to create driving lanes for players like Jae Crowder & Jaylen Brown.
A lot of times this action would start off with a ball-screen or a handoff into an action then a quick reverse to attack off the catch.
The Mavericks under Carlisle would use this action by sending a player off an Iverson cut side to side and then faking a double ballscreen.
When both players would go it creates a natural driving lane downhill toward the players right hand, and since the corner man typically does not help the downhill drive becomes harder to guard.
The Cavs under Lue would run this for LeBron who likes to go to his left and spread the floor with a single ballscreen to swing and attack off of.
More often than not the initial action is all just a disguise before the action they really want to try and create, here the Jazz start off the play in Horns flowing into a side hand off.
When teams play aggressive in ballscreen defense like hedging or higher up the floor this action works great, something the Jazz used to punish teams with.
On the Magic here we can see Vuc up higher in ballscreen coverage and when the ball gets swung quickly to Mitchell he is out of position and too late to recover on the drive.
Ja Morant this season is shooting 35% on catch and shoot 3’s, but only 4% of his shots are coming off spot up catch and shoot 3 attempts - so clearly teams are not going to view him as a threat spotting up. Here are some examples of teams helping off in the gap and around the nail to stop other players drives.
The same thing will happen when other players run a pick and roll, if Ja is the closest player or even on the weakside then his man will creep in closer to the paint and tag the roll man helping off him.
Although this is a weakness in Ja Morant’s game, the Grizzlies use this against the defense for special plays for Morant to get him driving downhill.
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