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BYU Basketball Film Study: Practice Observations

You can’t take too much from an open practice but check out some things to keep an eye on.

BYU Men’s Basketball / Twitter

BYU hoops is closing in on two weeks to their first game of the season on November 7th. With the Blue and White game coming up this week and the now annual tradition of a televised practice early in the year, the fans are able to get a sneak peak of what this new team will look like after so much roster upheaval. Though it’s been a few weeks since their open practice on September 26th here are a few things that I noticed that I’ll be looking for as we’re able to see BYU on the floor more and more.

Gideon distributing

Gideon quadrupled his assists from his first season while only playing in six more games last year. With a career usage percentage around 22% and as one of the key returning players this year, Gideon should get a lot of opportunity with the ball in his hands to make a play. After solid strides to become less of a shoot first guy last year it’s good to see that things have carried over to this year. Check out this nice find to hit Braeden after drawing the extra help down low.

I also like the single dribble to regain his balance and see what his options are. Noah reacts to that dribble by taking a step towards the closest offense player and Gideon is able to whip it through the newly created window for an assist.

Here, though in a manufactured disadvantage setting, he does a good job attacking to draw the attention of the second defender. He also draws the help defender down towards the baseline before hitting Rudi with a no-look pass.

Any time you can pass out to a 44% three point shooter that’s great shot quality. Gideon averaged 1.2 assists last year and It’d be great if he could get up to around 2.5 with some 5+ assist games this season (his career high right now is 4).

Jaxson off the bounce

In a recent mailbag, Robby McCombs talked about Jaxson Robinson being a surprise player for this team heading into the season. His P5 level experience and strong rankings out of high school have definitely created a sense of promise when it comes to on court results even if he hasn’t been able to flash his complete skillset yet. While well documented that he has a sweet stroke from beyond the arc despite his lower 30’s percentage so far, it would be huge if he provided another threat to get downhill and attack the paint. He hasn’t had a chance to really show that part of his game at the college level yet but it seems like he’s taking advantage of his new surroundings and role to purposefully attack off the dribble.

There’s definitely some things to iron out but I really hope he doesn’t lose this aggressiveness as we get deeper into the season. He needs to work on finishing and Coach Pope talked to him about not bailing out with a fadeaway but the last clip in that series is promising, especially with the left handed finish thrown in. I also really liked this play where he threw the lob to Atiki.

It used to drive me crazy when we had leapers like Caleb and Gavin that guards wouldn’t throw the lob and let those guys use their athleticism. If, as the guard, you read the big as still backpedaling and being too detached from the roller, throw that thing up there (especially with a guy like Atiki as the receiver). Maybe it’s because Jaxson is used to playing with SEC athletes that can finish these but I like the comfort to just let his big go make the play. Looking forward to Atiki finishing one of these with a clean dunk for an and-1.

Buy Richie Stock

Richie Saunders is back from his mission and we finally get to see the Wasatch Academy prospect take the court. While what’s been talked the most about Richie’s skillset is his shooting acumen, I was impressed with his all around game and feel for what’s happening on the floor. Take this play, for example, that ends with a dunk for Gideon.

Once Fouss tracks down the loose ball, Richie is wide open for a second but sees that Gideon will have a clear path to the basket so tries to signal to Fouss to get it to Gideon. When the ball comes to him, he’s ready to quickly touch pass it to where it needs to go. My favorite part about it is that he’s wide open at the time but instead of looking for a catch and shoot (which would have been disrupted by Spencer’s speedy recovery) his only goal is to get to the extra pass. Every good offense needs connectors, guys that are able to be release valves that make the simple but right plays and if Richie can do stuff like this consistently he has a great shot at being in the rotation. Robby also mentioned Richie as a surprise player and I’m buying Richie stock right now and hope to someday soon be posting this meme:

Who plays the 4?

Coach Pope mentioned in media day recently that BYU will be leaning into playing smaller this season.

Going with more of a small ball style is again necessary this year as the tallest guy on the roster (Noah) is actually more of a small forward in skillset so it’s natural to try and use your talent to the fullest. While it was no surprise that Noah was slotted at the 4 in one of the lineups, it will be interesting to see how much run Richie gets there as most of his reps in 5-on-5 situations came as the second “big”. While I’m sure Gideon will shift there at times, I think the staff is hoping that Richie can manage the backup 4 minutes so that Gideon can stay at the 3 to keep as much talent and shooting on the floor as possible, especially with Trevin on the mend and the rotation behind him being very green. Noah and Richie both got some reps at the 3 as well so some fun options will be in the mix. One of the things I like about this roster is that, while unproven and undersized in the frontcourt, there is a lot of variability to shift guys around and potentially find some advantages in matchups.

What’s also interesting in this regard is what you didn’t see. There were no Jaxson or Fouss reps at the 4 even though Jaxson essentially played at the four for a decent amount of time with Arkansas. Fouss at the four has also been an interesting idea for his development but it was nowhere to be seen in practice. Now, this is definitely a place for disclaimers as you can’t really take a lot from lineups when the team is facing off against each other but it will definitely be something I’m keeping an eye on.

R.I.P Weave?

Folks, there is a chance that the “weave” has gone on to greener pastures, at least for this season. As the team was going through their offensive actions, conspicuously missing was the continuous ballscreen we’ve come to know and love (or, for some people, hate). Just as a quick refresher, here’s a quick clip showing the action, pay particular attention to the weakside big rising up to be ready to turn into another DHO (dribble hand off).

In that clip alone we have three ballscreens until we get to an empty side (no on in the strong side in the corner) on the last one. In the open practice, those multiple ballscreens were not as abundant though, to be fair, there wasn’t much second side action shown at all. Here’s what the first look usually looked like when the four was trailing.

You’ll see it clearer in a clip to come but this play started with Rudi dropping it off to Richie to immediately reverse the floor and go into a pick and pop. A few key differences here compared to the first weave clip. First we used to hit the guard initially and let the big follow but here we’re going straight to the big to turn it and do the follow ball screen. Second, almost every time this action happened in other reps the 4 man popped instead of rolled. And third, notice how rather than looking for the step-in, Fouss is staying spaced on the opposite block to give more room for a possible drive. Also notice that in this rep, Fouss isn’t even thinking about rising up the key to be the hinge point on a DHO to the second side. At the very least we’re trying to get to the empty side faster to see if we can catch the defense in a botched switch.

So while the last clip could just be a rep to quickly get to the pick and pop for whatever shooter will be at the 4, I was more keyed into a possible move away from the weave when I saw what we were looking for on the second side.

Here’s that better look at the initiation for our base look when the four is trailing. Also, here’s what we may be looking to get to on the second side which is very much not a turn through the big for another DHO. Rather Rudi looks to set a pin down for Gideon instead of running all the way through to the corner. It works here as the off ball switch happens late. In general there are a ton of pin downs in the new offensive focus as you can see in these next situations where the 5 trails.

To set up this clip, pretend we came down in transition and here our 4 man, Noah, ran to the rim. With the five man trailing we’re looking to get into a stagger for our shooting 4 right off the bat.

Now, this action looks a lot more similar to the weave as Atiki chooses not to hit Noah but go into a follow screen with the next guard coming up. Other times in practice I saw Noah come off this to shoot, take the handoff into a ballscreen type look with the 5 or take it and get to the pick and pop look on that empty side. Add in the possibilities for any of those three players in the screening action to back cut or slip and there are some fun options (see Golden State’s offense). Again, notice that there is no effort to have anyone up top to turn and continue through the weave action.

Finally, this last basic action with the five trailing is completely different at the start from any weave concepts.

While we do get to the handoff at the end, the first action is what’s often called “Floppy”; dual pindowns happening on each end of the floor. It then transforms into empty side action, which is something that I think we could have leveraged a lot more last year. You probably know the answer to this by now but once again what’s missing? Any look to turn the ball to keep the alternating DHOs going on the second side. Instead, Tanner is going to try and set another off ball screen for Richie who wisely doesn’t use it to ensure space for the primary action (another subtle reminder to buy stock now people). This clip more than the others feels like a specific look more so than a basic action so we’ll just have to see as the season progresses.

So is the weave dead this year or have I exaggerated reports of its demise? It’s hard to know for sure with such a limited look at things but the indicators I talked about, especially with using the 4 man in the primary action rather than as a release valve and not having the 5 rise up the lane to turn the ball, make me think there’s a good chance we at least see the weave less this year. I’ll also say that I don’t remember seeing the typical weave a single time in the reps that were on camera. Regardless of if the weave is being phased out or not, what can be said is there is a lot of focus on getting to empty side actions and off ball screening which hopefully will help with some of the stagnation that’s plagued this team at times. This all plays back to Coach Pope’s comment that they want to try and force people to guard in space. By abandoning the more scripted action and especially keeping the big low to take away a help defender closer to the perimeter, we’re at least more set up to try. The pindown actions also provide a lot of possibilities if we actually use them and don’t just go through the motions. I’ll be very interested to see in this week’s scrimmage to see how the offense looks in live situations, not only to see if the scheme changed, but how we are coming along in reading these screening actions.