Fred Hoiberg

Fred Hoiberg coaches on the court during the Huskers' exhibition match against Doane University at the Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Last week, we covered the concept of spacing the floor in basketball and how head coach Fred Hoiberg attempts to properly space the floor. Now, in the last part of this series, we’ll cover how Hoiberg uses his off-ball guards in specific plays which either benefit from or aid in spacing. 

Nebraska’s players will benefit from this emphasis on floor spacing in a number of ways. First, guards Cam Mack and Jervay Green will be able to exploit the pick-and-roll game due to the space opened up by the two and three being in the corners. Here’s a simple pick-action which results in a low-post layup:

Expect this kind of motion often from Mack and Green and Yvan Ouedraogo and Kevin Cross during the season. Near the end of the play, both No. 4 and No. 2 crash the offensive glass once the shot is started. Then, at the end of the play, two guards are staying at the top of the arc in order to try and prevent the defense from collapsing on the ball-handler. It would’ve been efficient for the ball-handler, instead of taking a layup, to give it back to the guard who gave him the ball for an open 3-pointer.

For Hoiberg’s wings, he needs players who can wreak havoc on the defense without the ball in their hands. They need players who excel in catch-and-shoot situations and will be satisfied with a role where they may not touch the ball every play. Senior guard Haanif Cheatham is a wing player who can greatly benefit from the pace of a Hoiberg offense. Cheatham can operate both as a primary ball handler and an off-ball pick-and-pop/floppy scorer. 

Cheatham will probably be used as the off-ball wing, with some playmaking duties should Hoiberg wish to institute more complex movements requiring several ball-handlers.

Junior guards Shamiel Stevenson, Dachon Burke Jr. and Thorir Thorbjarnarson will also be able to play the role of Matej Kavas and Cheatham. Freshman guard Charlie Easley impressed in the preseason trip to Italy with his shooting ability, and will also play in the off-ball guard position. Thorbjarnarson, Stevenson and Cheatham could all also play as a wing-scoring small forward if given the opportunity due to their size.

Kavas can also operate as the spot-up shooter for the team — boasting an impressive 44.7% 3-point percentage throughout his career. With his 6-foot-8 200-pound frame, some have called for Kavas to be used as the team’s stretch-four. However, Kavas’ ability as a rebounder and passer are untested, and therefore Hoiberg will keep him as the pure scoring small forward. Here’s a highlight from Kavas’ time at Seattle and the kind of play you can expect from the guard:

However, Kavas has shown some small issues in his understanding of good spacing. 

For example, he chokes up on the ball handler in this next highlight, which forces an inefficient mid-range jumper with a defender in his face:

The better play would’ve been to stay in the corner to give the on-ball guard space to operate. If his defender committed to help defense on the on-ball guard, Kavas would’ve had an open corner three, one of the most efficient shots in basketball.

The off-ball guards will also benefit from this play set up by the off-ball screen. The spacing in this play gives the forward the ability to effectively neutralize the shooter’s defender, and the main action of the play happening in the right half of the court helps to draw attention away from the open shooter:

One of Hoiberg’s favorite weapons is a play known as the floppy. If you look, you can see it at every level of the game. At its core, the floppy is a play where two shooters are under the basket, then a shooter and a forward screens for one of the two shooters. The shooter who is not screening then runs a curl to the wing. This opens up both a low-post entry for the forward or an open wing shot. If the primary ball-handler holds onto the ball, the second shooter curls out onto the other wing to open up another open 3-point shot.

It’s particularly tailor-made to quick players who can run around screens well and get their shot off quick. Players like J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson and Reggie Miller all have played the floppy and used it to great effect. For Nebraska, Cheatham, Kavas, Stevenson, Thorbjarnarson and Easley will be able to play the floppy for Hoiberg. The floppy is a play that is designed to get two shooters open and to allow both of those shooters an outlet. 

Here’s one of Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams running the floppy. It doesn’t come off perfectly, as the two shooters never get open, but you can see the movement from players numbered 21 and 25 in this clip.

Plays like this will be common under Hoiberg as he likes to fashion 3-point opportunities from off-ball play rather than leaving it up to a particularly savvy shot-creator. Another example of this kind of off-ball movement can be seen in this double-screen baseline cut, which shares some characteristics with the floppy (notice number three peeling out at the end to allow for the wing three if needed):

Expect to see Hoiberg’s off-ball guards benefit from this kind of play. Kavas, with his quick-draw shot and intentionally high release, may be able to make up for being a step-behind (Kavas will be guarded by guards, who may be quicker than him due to the height disadvantage), and as a result be dangerous off of this motion.

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