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How Dario Šarić could add "pop" to a staple Warriors half-court set
The Croatian big man adds a layer of offensive versatility to a team that needs it.
One of FIBA basketball’s greatest strengths is their willingness (perhaps to the chagrin of head coaches everywhere) to broadcast timeout huddles, in which the viewers can obtain an up-close-and-personal look at how coaches interact with their players and how they draw up after-timeout (ATO) sets.
This is a privilege rarely seen in the NBA, whose fraternity of coaches keep their cards close to their chest and are reticent to share their tactics and play calls with the larger audience. At most, broadcasts show a snippet of coaches’ pep talks — but they are often limited to basketball aphorisms and generalities that, while true most of the time, don’t enrich and add to the common person’s pool of knowledge.
Rarely do people pay attention to what coaches are doing on the sidelines during an NBA game — understandable, given that the stars of the show are the players themselves, while the coaches are merely there as supporting actors and, depending on the team, play a variety of roles ranging from deuteragonist to outright antagonist.
But in FIBA play and most notably in European basketball, coaches take more of a central role — the protagonist, if you will — during games. From the opening set to end-of-game situations, coaches will feature heavily in how a given game unfolds.
As such, I was excited to hear Steve Kerr talk in timeout huddles and listen to the plays he draws up for his young Team USA squad. Never mind that they failed to come home with hardware — whenever there’s an opportunity to listen to a multi-titled NBA coach during a timeout, you take it.
I previously took a look at whether Kerr was going to run similar concepts with Team USA as he typically does with the Golden State Warriors, and whether he will take the very same plays he runs for the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and apply it to different personnel. The short answer: he did, to a certain extent.
I’ve already gone over some of the specific concepts and sets Kerr has transferred over from the Warriors to Team USA. But there’s one specific set I didn’t include that Kerr apparently decided to adopt in the FIBA World Cup.
Listen to Kerr instruct his players what to run during this timeout:
Instructing his players what defensive ball screen coverage to run is quite informative and something rarely heard, but the important nugget to consume is the offensive set Kerr calls out near the end of the huddle.
Another example: this clip where Kerr was caught on mic instructing his players what defensive coverage to run and which set to open the game with against Lithuania:
Again, similar to the clip above, Kerr starts by instructing his players to “red” 1-4 (“red” is coach speak for switching ball screens) and tells Jaren Jackson Jr. to drop against high pick-and-rolls. He then tells them to run “Angle Pop” with specific instructions for each player involved.
So, what exactly is “Angle Pop”?
Breaking down the terminology is simple enough. “Angle” comes from the “Angle” pick-and-roll aspect of the set, where the floor is spread and a ball screen is set for the ball handler. “Pop” comes from the fact that the screener pops out after setting the ball screen, after which the ball is fed to him and 5-out “Delay” action is initiated.
In the instance above, after Jackson receives the ball from Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart “45” cuts (named as such because he cuts at a 45-degree angle) toward the weak side to empty the corner. Anthony Edwards comes from the corner to receive the dribble handoff (DHO) from Jackson, which garners him a rhythm mid-range jumper just above the free throw line.
Here’s a variant of “Angle Pop” Team USA ran against Canada. See if you can spot the difference:
Instead of “45” cutting as Hart did in the first instance, Mikal Bridges sets a wide pindown screen for Edwards, who then receives the DHO from Bobby Portis. This action is collectively called “Chicago,” with the result being another Edwards mid-range jumper against Luguentz Dort.
The ubiquitous nature of “Delay” action in the NBA and the increasing versatility of big men in the league made “Angle Pop” an easy set to implement with Team USA, but its potency exponentially rises if it involves one or several movement shooters. The Warriors happen to possess two of them, along with two capable big men in Draymond Green and Kevon Looney who can run “Delay” action up top and make good decisions as initiators.
Having that kind of personnel makes this set a staple of Kerr-ball, which as everyone and their grandma knows by now, engenders constant player and ball movement.
When it’s either Curry or Thompson running off the action, the choices defenses make become more likely to burn them in more ways than one.
But more often than not, the big man initiating action up top serves as nothing more than a conduit for the ball to find its way to the target of the action. Green and Looney are proven hubs, but most teams willingly sag off of them due to their nonexistent threat as floor spacers.
Smarter teams would buck that convention by having their bigs play Green or Looney tightly in order to pressure the pass toward the mover — or even outright deny it, which disrupts the flow of the set. Green and Looney are capable improvisers, but most teams would live with them putting the ball on the floor, attempting to create shots for themselves, or attempting a long-range shot.
One player archetype the Warriors have historically lacked is a legitimate stretch big that not only could survive alongside Green or Looney, but also punish teams in “Delay” configurations with their ability to shoot the ball. Theoretically, open looks would be generated due to the attention that Curry and Thompson attract around ball screens and dribble handoffs.
This is where Dario Šarić — a career 36.0% shooter from beyond the arc who shot 39.1% in 57 games with the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder last season — comes into play.
Šarić was the only one absent from Curry’s mini-camp with teammates in Los Angeles because of national team duties with Croatia at the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament. His performances in those games served as a brief but tantalizing preview of what he could be as a key role-player for the Warriors.
In five games, Šarić averaged 15.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.6 assists on a 66/44/73 shooting split (2P/3P/FT). He scored at an efficient rate: 67.4% True Shooting.
The eye-catching metric from his shooting split is obviously his three-point shooting. At a fairly decent volume of 4.6 attempts per game, Šarić drilled 43.5% of his threes.
A fair number of those came courtesy of popping out toward the perimeter after setting a ball screen — which, coincidentally, is the initial action in “Angle Pop.” Suffice to say, if Šarić is tasked with being the “Delay” big up top involved in a two-man dance with either Curry or Thompson, his preference for popping over rolling may get him similar looks to these:
It’s also a massive boon for Šarić to have Chris Paul as a teammate again. Both of them have institutional knowledge in terms of working together as a pick-and-roll tandem. Kerr not only has the option to switch to a more spread pick-and-roll based offense in units involving Paul and Šarić — he can also make good use of the duo’s talents to widen the number of options in “Angle Pop.”
If defenses are keen on taking away Šarić’s options in “Angle Pop", the last resort is putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim against a big man unaccustomed to shuffling his feet out on the perimeter (except against some of the best perimeter big-man defenders in the league, but those are the exception). It won’t be Šarić’s primary role on offense, but it’s a plan C worth breaking the glass for in case of emergency.
For a team that ranked third in handoff possessions per game (8.0), handoff frequency (7.0% of team possessions), second in handoff points per game (8.1), and eighth in handoff efficiency (1.012 PPP), Šarić will be a natural fit within the Warriors’ hub-focused half-court offense. The passing and decision-making chops — always in control and never rushed, while also decisive and firm with his deliveries — will garner him trust as the initiator in “Angle Pop” and other actions such as “Open” (another term for 5-out “Delay” action).
Šarić provides more of a versatile option for Kerr — not only in terms of the sets he runs but also when it comes to lineup versatility beyond the starting crew. “Angle Pop” is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Šarić being able to open brand new offensive avenues; being paired with the likes of Curry, Paul, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga gives Kerr plenty more pieces to play with, more configurations to throw out, and more options to resort to.
Be on the lookout the next time Kerr calls out “Angle Pop” on the floor during a Warriors game — and don’t be surprised if Šarić is on the floor to add some “pop” to an otherwise routine set.
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