Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ON THE BALL: Pine’s win over LSC no fluke


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In this issue of On The Ball, Nation basketball writer Justin Marville starts a new series called The Breakdown, where he analyses the Xs and Os of a particular team, match-up or play in the Co-operators General Insurance Premier League.
YUP, this is what the super team was built to look like.
Well, sort of.
It’s really no state secret that Smalta Pinelands had a certain side from Husbands in mind when they went about acquiring the services of Junior Moore, Ramon Simmons and Halley Franklyn to add to a talent-laden side just removed from the finals.
So with Jeremy Gill, Charles Vanderpool and Rico Thorpe already in the fold, the Pine, in theory, would have more than their fair share of firepower for any future shootout with Lumber Company LSC’s well documented arsenal.
But that shootout never ensued. And maybe that was the plan all along.
In case you haven’t heard by now, Pinelands won that first match-up last weekend by utterly shutting down their opponents’ much vaunted offence – in “the College” of all places.
There wasn’t anything fluky about the 12-point drubbing either, as it’s not like LSC were just “off”, although there were a couple open looks Keefe Birkett and Adrian Allman especially regret not converting.
Of course, LSC’s coaching staff would have you believe there were mere execution issues, and they may actually be right, but those problems were far from self-inflicted.
Then to break down what issues Pinelands posed is to better understand what their opponents do.
As prolific as the champs are, there’s nothing sleight of hand to their offence, which initially wants to get the ball moving from one side to the next as quickly as possible.
To assist in that action, one of their more commonly used sets will have a “big” (customarily Ormond Haynes or Andre Boadu) popping out to the top to receive a pass and reverse the ball to a weak-side guard, either by way of a pass or hand-off.
That said big man usually sets a screen for the same guard, who now has a head of steam and presents some unwanted options for an opposing defence, which will probably choose to use a marker from the opposite side to help on the ball and thus invariably leave a shooter open.
History, and those four league titles, has proven LSC come out the better for such decisions – decisions Pinelands clearly weren’t willing to make.
Instead of then opting to use a weak-side defender to help with the ball-handler, Pinelands brought the man defending the screener (usually Charles Vanderpool) to hedge aggressively while the initial on-ball defender recovered to get back his man.
This ordinarily wouldn’t be a huge deal if not for the fact that Vanderpool was so aggressive in his hedging that he was basically double-teaming the ball by the time the initial marker got back.
While it sounds rather basic in principle, this action proved catastrophic for that LSC set simply due to the particular make-up of the roster.
From Birkett to Allman to Jamar King, each of LSC’s ball-handlers in those situations measure six-feet or shorter, making it near impossible for them to see most of the floor while being rerouted by the six-foot-seven Vanderpool.
Haynes was well positioned to be wide open at the free-throw line for any release, but he is merely six-foot-one at best, thus rendering him an invisible and improbable target for a short guard trying to throw the ball back over Vanderpool’s impressive wingspan.
Even if Haynes were to get the ball, Pinelands all but dared everyone not named Mark Bridgeman to take a free lane to the basket knowing well enough that LSC’s primary offensive weapons are not equipped, or willing to do such.
This is the fundamental flaw in LSC’s squad that was badly exposed as Lakers’ primary scorers were shown up to be system players who rely on jumpers and can’t readily create consistently.
To further illustrate the point, LSC initially countered by bringing the taller Ian Alexander (six-foot-six) at the free-throw line, and that still didn’t help any, once Pinelands were willing to chase him off the spot.
The result was a couple of strips and some awkward attempts at the ring in traffic when Alexander had to put the ball on the floor after catching it around the foul line area.
Bridgeman, with his abilities to take people off the dribble and finish around the basket, is the only one truly suited to make things happen when all things break down (as happened last Saturday) – supported by the fact that he was the only Laker with multiple field goals in his side’s atrocious third quarter.
But his equally bad decision-making and poor passing (a game-high seven turnovers) also prevent head coach Francis Williams from using him for long stretches.
Make no mistake, these blemishes are downright negligible against the rest of the league, and virtually indiscernible with a talent like Andre Lockhart at the controls as his playmaking gifts and scoring gifts hide these flaws.
Contrast that with the other side of the ball, where Pinelands simply barraged them with superior individual talent.
This isn’t to say that LSC’s defensive effort wasn’t great, because the champs were equally as stout at that end, especially in initially keeping Pinelands’ particularly bigger frontline off the glass and limiting the damage Vanderpool had in the paint.
However, there’s just no accounting for the elite ability to create something from nothing, which players like Jeremy Gill and Ramon Simmons did in abundance while hitting seven contested treys between them.
Without Lockhart, LSC had no player with such skills, at least for a couple possessions in the third quarter that were necessary to keep them in the game.


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