How NBA teams are bringing the post back to life

How NBA teams are bringing the post back to life

The NBA is in the midst of an offensive explosion, with 14 of the top 15 all-time offensive rankings for teams in the past four seasons. The Boston Celtics currently boast the third-best offensive rating in NBA history and, like so many teams in the new high-scoring NBA, they do so in part by overloading the court with shooting. Although they’ve cooled off a bit since the start of the season, they’re one of 13 teams in history to attempt at least 40 3-pointers per game, and they’re shooting 37.1 percent on four turnover players above 40 percent. .

Why, then, at the crux of their Nov. 14 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, to take just one example, did the Celtics opt to use MVP candidate Jayson Tatum on a post, well inside the 3-point arc? points, running what many consider to be an outdated and outdated type of game?

For one reason, it was because Tatum is one of the best overall scorers in the game and was defended in single coverage by the opponent’s point guard. (It worked, too: Tatum used his body to create space, grabbed a dribble and spun to the rim for the layup with his inside hand, helping the Celtics finally grab the W.) But there’s another good reason: because the posts are actually the most efficient game in basketball.

When used, post-ups have been surprisingly effective.

Opportunity Points by Game Type during the 2022-23 NBA Season

game type Frequency per 100 possessions Points per opportunity
publication 5.9 1,035
Isolation 17.8 0.992
Free hands 21.3 0.980
To choose 68.9 0.979

Through games of January 22.

Source: Second Spectrum

How did the publication of “more dead than dead” go to the best play in the NBA? And does this mean that the great men are really having their renaissance at last? (While centers may have been the purveyors of post-up buckets in decades past, forwards have actually surpassed them in post-up frequency, perhaps lending credence to Dr. James Naismith’s original positional conception that ” striker” is the main attacking position).

Still, we should pump the brakes a a little about any notion that the days of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon are upon us once again. Perhaps the most rudimentary explanation for the post-up’s renewed success is a form of selection bias: the game is now mostly reserved for those who do it best. Post-ups occur just 5,887 times per 100 possessions, and the 20 players with the most post-ups on the season account for nearly half (43.6 percent) of the league’s total post-ups. Nikola Jokić accounts for a ludicrous 4.7 percent of all-league postings for him. Only four teams, excluding the Denver Nuggets themselves, have accomplished more than Jokić this season alone, and he scores 1,263 points per chance on such plays. (The best offense in the league scores 1,065 points per chance.)

As a point of comparison, the 20 players with the most pick-and-rolls in the league combine for just over a quarter (26.9 percent) of the league’s total pick-and-rolls, according to Second Spectrum. . If NBA pick-and-roll leaders, say Luka Dončić, who scored 1,124 points per chance on pick-and-rolls, contributed more significantly to the total share of such plays, the type of play would be more successful. than its current 0.979 points per chance (but then again, it would also be used much less frequently per 100 possessions).

However, thinking about posts in a vacuum misses what makes them so valuable in today’s NBA. The league is moving away from static plays of any kind and toward a fluid state of multiple overlapping actions. The up post as a lead play, with a ball handler dribbling down and flinging the ball into the post, where one cross quickly battles another cross before shooting, finishing; that precise sequence has happened only twice this season.

Post-ups are now becoming dynamic. The percentage of posts that have featured a positional mismatch, with a center guarded by a shooting guard or forward (or a forward guarded by a shooting guard), has increased from about a quarter in 2013-14 to just over half this season. by Second Spectrum. Those mismatches have to come from somewhere, and such leads can be created by other on-court events, such as pick and rolls or handoffs, before converting to points in the mail.

The frequency of the post-up drop has coincided with the increase in the transfer. Similar to national teams, around a quarter of transfers result in changes this season, creating a potentially advantageous mismatch. (Less than 10 percent of trades were traded by defense in 2013-14.) And as the leaguewide frequency for post-ups has plummeted by nearly 6 plays per 100 possessions from 2013-14 to today , the frequency of transfers has increased by almost 8 plays per 100 possessions. But a post-up can arise from a trade, especially after the defense is forced to switch, rotate, or open up some other weakness.

At the very least, using a pick-and-roll and/or handoff to flow to a post can ensure help defenders are as far away from the offensive player as possible, giving him plenty of time to work. only in the post.

There are correlations between the players who are best in the post, the best in transfers, and the offensive efficiency of their teams. Jokić and Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis are two of the most efficient and frequent post players in the league, and they are also the two most frequent transfer providers. And both teams currently rank in the top 5 offensive ratings in history.

A common thread is that Jokić and Sabonis are brilliant goalscorers. Y passersby; using them in any capacity outside of post is a good tactic. That’s not unusual: Across the league, possessions with passes off the post have roughly the same efficiency as possessions with shots off the post. For today’s multi-talented giants, the post can be used as a vehicle between each type of event on the pitch, rather than an end in itself.

And yet, in the entirety of the Second Spectrum database (as of 2013-14), the 2022-23 post-ups are the most efficient game type on record. Y the least frequent. In fact, posts have been the most efficient and least frequent play type in every season in the database except 2013-14 (when it was the most efficient and second least frequent play type).

Post-ups are producing more, but are being used less

NBA Post Frequency and Efficiency by Season, 2014-23

Station Post-ups per 100 possessions Points per opportunity
2013-14 12.4


2014-15 11.9


2015-16 10.4


2016-17 9.4


2017-18 8.7


2018-19 8.6


2019-20 7.0


2020-21 7.0


2021-22 6.4


2022-23 5.9


Through games on January 22, 2023.

Source: Second Spectrum

There is an inherent tension in a work that slowly grows in efficiency but declines in use. Do teams now use post-ups infrequently? Will there be diminishing returns if they are reused more often? With (most) teams in the league maximizing efficiency and applying Moneyball principles to the NBA, there must be to some degree a relative “target” trade-off between frequency and efficiency of individual game types.

Other factors that impact where such a balance could be struck have not changed drastically in recent seasons. While overall 3-point attempts have been on the rise over the past few decades in the NBA, they’ve been flat for the past four seasons. So does 3-point accuracy and pace.

But unless the rules change, or post-up artists like Jokić and Sabonis lose their skills to alien invaders in a real Space Jam situation, it’s hard to see post-up plays becoming less efficient. . Most likely, its frequency will increase at some point. And wings like Tatum are perhaps the next frontier in reclaiming offensive attention from the post. Last season, the Toronto Raptors went all-in on not-big posts. Wings like DeMar DeRozan have long been post wizards. But as posts become tools for punishing mismatches created elsewhere, or a means to chain events like transfers and pick-and-rolls, the forward’s post ability will be an important tool in any resurrection. necromantic play. .

The post post day you receive the first billing has likely been done; no realistic amount of balance change can undo so many years of tactical evolution. Teams can certainly turn to the post for simple, static buckets at times, like the Celtics did with Tatum against the Thunder. And it’s important to remember that modern NBA offensive kits are often in flux, with multiple pieces flowing together like a complex ballet. The way posts can fit into the theater around them, as finishing moments to exploit mismatches or follow-on events to move players or the ball around the court, is changing. Now there are many advantageous uses for the post in the NBA. And as their efficiency continues to increase, teams are poised to re-engage with more and more of them.

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