The Dribble-Drive Motion Offense: A Recruiting Tool Disguised as an Offense

Much has been written about the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, John Calipari's now-famous adaptation of Vance Walberg's strangely named attack-attack-skip-attack-attack offense.  Coach Calipari has said that it "unleashes players" in a way that other offensive schemes do not.  He has also intimated that it requires players to be very athletic and talented off the dribble.

This offense, of course, is nothing new to the ranks of the NBA.  They have been using DDMO-like sets for years, and still do.  The DDMO, at it's core, is a fundamental NBA set that isolates players and forces one-on-one situations by creating driving lanes and space between defenders that makes it difficult to help.  The idea is for the initiator to get to the rim, first and foremost, for a layup, but like the spread option offense in football, it provides the initiator with several different options depending on how the defense reacts.

But the real beauty of the DDMO is that it is a wide-open style, much like the the offenses run by AAU teams.  The fact that the emphasis of this offense is more on athleticism, ball-handling and shooting from the wing position makes it a favorite of high-school players.  Why?  Well, when Calipari says it "unleashes players," what he is really telling you is that it allows them many one-on-one opportunities, and that is a situation in which the most talented players obviously thrive.  But it also allows good shooters to get open looks by spreading the floor and forcing defenses that can't guard the ball-handler one-on-one to try to thwart the drive by helping.  When help comes from an inside rotation, the big man stationed on the block opposite the seam that the attack is coming from is an easy target for a layup.  When the help comes from the wing, the pass goes to the open shooter who's man just left him for an open three.

Of course, all offenses have an antidote, and the antidote to the DDMO is the zone.  That forces teams into more conventional offensive sets that we might see elsewhere, as a zone will force the dribbler into help, and close the driving lanes on which the DDMO depends.  But getting set up in the zone against the DDMO is hard -- the offense is designed to initiate before the defense can set itself, and that combined with the more athletic players required to play the DDMO makes implementing a zone much more difficult than it sounds.

OK, so far there is nothing new here, right?  You have heard all this before.  But one aspect you may not have considered is why John Calipari adopted this offense in the first place.  That's what I'll be talking about next.

John Calipari coached five years at Memphis, between 2000 and 2005 winning only one NCAA tournament game in that time, despite decent recruiting including Darius Washington Jr., Shawne Williams, Sean Banks and Rodney Carney, who was largely unheralded at the time of his recruitment to Memphis.  But after meeting Vance Walberg in October of 2003, Calipari listened to how the AASAA worked and developed his own version which he implemented in 2005-06.  Of course the results were impressive, as we all know.

But the real benefit of the DDMO offense is not in the offense itself, but what it takes to play it -- essentially very skilled and athletic players.  The other side of this coin is that when presented with the option of playing a style that puts up 80+ points every game or one that puts up 60, virtually all of the best high-school players will pick the former.  It's similar to what they are used to in AAU, and it gives them what they crave the most -- a chance to play a lot of one-on-one basketball to showcase their talent.

Ultimately, the DDMO is not a great college offense in a pure basketball sense.  A slow-footed, good passing and shooting team would not be able to use it.  It is not flexible or particularly amenable to modification.  It has the benefit of being relatively easy to learn with few sets to memorize, but it is an offense that can only be run to its potential by future professional players, or by players at least equal in athletic skill and ability to their opponents.  No, the DDMO is not a great offense in the sense of the Princeton offense, or others that almost anyone can run effectively.  But it does have one virtue that elevates it over all other contenders -- it is the offense that the best players in the nation want to play.

Now think about that.  Forget Calipari's terrific marketing and sales techniques for a moment, just consider that he is on the same level with everyone else in that regard.  Even if he were, the DDMO would attract great players -- he proved that at Memphis, and is proving it again at Kentucky in his very first season.  If you watch Boston, Denver or soon New Jersey play, you will see the DDMO on some sets (not all, of course, it is less of a philosophy for the league than an offensive option).  Without doubt, the DDMO is a powerful recruiting tool, perhaps as responsible for Calipari's remarkable recent recruiting success as his skill at persuasion.  Virtually every recruit of Coach Cal's has cited his style as a good way to prepare for the next level.  Vance Walberg himself saw it just that way:

"If I'm a kid, do I want to pass-pass-pass?" Walberg said. "I think the style that we play is a recruiting tool."

Can an offensive style recruit players?  You bet it can, and it does.  Which is why UK's rivals will be very displeased that Coach Cal is at Kentucky, and Kentucky fans will love it.

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