Fred Hoiberg Nebraska head basketball coach

Fred Hoiberg speaks to the crowd at the Husker Hoops Preview event at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Last week, we covered how Hoiberg uses a higher pace in his offense and the benefits which that higher pace brings. This time, we’re covering Hoiberg’s emphasis on spacing, in particular the philosophy of spacing the floor, and why spacing the floor is an integral part of basketball today.

One of the most important terms is “motion-heavy offense,” as spacing is most important under this kind of offense. What motion-heavy means is that players don’t stay in the same spot throughout the play. They move, screen and frantically execute off-ball coordinations. Hoiberg believes in this style of play, and as a result, spacing is important to him.

“I love shooting threes in transition and before the defense gets set,” Hoiberg said. “If we can come down, run a ball screen, make a team execute pick-and-roll defense early in a possession and play off it with good spacing, we’re going to have a chance to get great looks and great shots.” 

An example of this is below:

Spacing or stretching the floor is a term that’s important in the modern game, but not everyone knows exactly what it means. It’s not just shooting 3-pointers, though that’s a part of it. Good spacing means that players are spread out enough from each other in order to not clutter passing lanes, cut off possible opportunities or force poor shots. Basketball is a game of movement as much as it is a game of points, rebounds and assists.

3-pointers factor into spacing because of how the defender reacts to a player being on the 3-point line. Basically, if someone is defending Stephen Curry, they’re going to want to be on him if he’s at the 3-point line because they’re afraid that he’s going to make that shot. Replace Curry with Ben Simmons, and defenders are less likely to meet Simmons at the 3-point line because he’s probably not going to try it or make it. By doing this, the defender is sitting back more in the paint, thus cutting off possible opportunities for a low-post entry pass or cutters.

Having a good 3-point shooter is more valuable than just the threes which that player scores. It requires the defense to keep them in mind during the course of a play. It forces the defender of that player to open up space. A stretch forward can help to space the floor because their defender can’t sit on them in the paint. This opens up lanes for a guard or cutter to exploit. 

Hoiberg understands this well. Sometimes, the threat of a 3-point or mid-range shot is more important than actually scoring that shot. As a matter of fact, the 2014-15 Iowa State team ranked 100th in 3-point attempt rate (a measure of how many possessions ends in a 3-pointer). His offense has a tendency to end in shots right under the basket if it was dumped off to a forward or in a mid-range shot from the ball-handling guard. By having that player who is a 3-point scoring threat, the mid-range game is opened up as well as the low-post entry pass.

In college basketball, spacing is less important than the pros as play is still relatively dominated by individual exceptionalism and simple motions. But, as coaches like Hoiberg successfully implement an emphasis on spacing, the term’s relevance in the college game will increase.

To carry out a Hoiberg offense requires a significant amount of stamina. Hoiberg’s players are running up and down the court a lot throughout the course of the game, and rarely ever have time to rest. Along with this, Hoiberg needs smart and disciplined players who can subscribe to a system as rigorous as Hoiberg’s is. He thinks he has those kind of players on the team that can instill his system. 

“I’m going into this with an open mind, and I know this is a group of guys who are going to work extremely hard,” Hoiberg said. “I loved the meeting today, you looked up and everybody had eye contact.”

For the last part of this series, we’ll cover exactly how Hoiberg takes advantage of this idea of spacing the floor and how he uses the role of the off-ball guard in his spacing of the floor. Though no one knows exactly what his starting lineup will be, seeing how he uses his off-ball guards and seeing the skill sets of the guards on his roster are useful in projecting the future starting lineup of the team.