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David Blatt Is Infectious: What The Cavs Are Getting With Their New Head Coach

Jun 25, 2014; Independence, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt (left) and general manager David Griffin speak to the media at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

By now we’re all well aware of the news that David Blatt is the new coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s been so long since the news broke, in fact, that a refresher on Blatt seems to be in order. He helped the Russian national team to a gold medal in 2007 at FIBA’s Eurobasket and a bronze four-years later in 2011. Blatt also coached the Russians to a bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. He’s a renowned coach on the international level.

He’s coached NBA talent in the past, but Blatt has not coached in the NBA. In name, then, he is a rookie head coach with an abundance of experience. There will be a transition period as Blatt learns the NBA game, of course, but he’ll have Tyronn Lue, a touted assistant coach, working beside him. The Cavs made Lue the highest paid assistant coach in NBA history.

Blatt played at Princeton University from 1977-1981, and his offenses have exhibited similar fundamentals that were bestowed upon Blatt in college. Necessary is floor spacing, back-door cutting and constant motion from every player on the floor. The ability to make shots is also ideal for players hoping to thrive in this philosophy.

The following images simply portray tendencies of teams coached by Blatt in previous seasons, but not against NBA competition. These aren’t designed plays to get a specific shot, but rather possessions where Blatt’s teams are rhythmically playing within the flow of a game. These should be considered the offenses proclivity– many variables make predicting the specific X’s and O’s Blatt will instill with the Cavs theoretically impossible.

Example #1. From the EuroBasket Tournament in 2009.

Blatt positions a guard in the bottom corner [of the image below] while having a big man stand at the free-throw line. The guard goes from the bottom corner to the image, to the top of the key, around the screen, before cutting to the basket. The guard coming off the screen has the option of flaring on the left-wing or, like on this instance, cutting through the lane by using a screen set by the big who began the play at the elbow on the far side.

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The big man lurking around the free-throw line is busy. He first sets a screen for the guard who started the motion going from the baseline to the FT line, and then immediately sets a second screen for the, now, new ball handler standing in triple threat position at the top of the key– now there are a number of ways to create offense with substantial time remaining on the shot clock to find a good shot.

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We have shooters on each side of the ball, so the ball-handler uses dribble-penetration — which may draw defenders toward the painted area and away from the wings — trying to get to the basket.

On this possession, despite penetrating, the Russian player is unable to get to the rim, but, he is able to find a teammate near the baseline. Here’s where we end up.

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With the Slovenian defenders leary of the ball being located on the low-block, the Russian shooters have some separation to work with on the perimeter. If the ball is kicked to them from the post, this enables open looks at three-pointers.

Movement away from the ball will also expose lackadaisical defending tendencies, such as ball watching.

Blatt’s personnel will execute instinctive off-ball/backdoor cuts or they won’t play for him.

That’s how Russia was able to score on this possession.

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The result of Russia’s possession was not by design. The offence moved fluidly, and ultimately got an open look near the rim because they worked throughout each second of the shot-clock.

#2. Olympics 2012

It’s very easy for this offense to simplify itself instinctively, this is a byproduct of any scheme.

Cavs players feeling the hot hand, eager to handle the ball in a pick-and-roll situation, can choose to be active early in the possession. Each player must commit to the scheme in any variation of the Princeton or the offense as a whole is susceptible to going stagnant because it is prone to forcing players into isolation situations.

When a guard achieves penetration, it becomes more likely that the offense will score, but off-ball movement is still equally, and even arguably more important.

Below, the point guard passes the ball to the left-wing before heading toward a screen. Going around the pick on the far elbow allows the guard in motion to flare at the three-point line with space to quickly fire a shot, if a defender goes under the screen.

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Although the shot attempt was unsuccessful, it was open. It’s also worth noting that the on-ball defender on this possession was in recovery mode within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.

Zachary Bennett