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Kentucky Basketball: Wheels Within Wheels

I, along with others, have expressed concerns about implementing Calipari's now-famous Dribble Drive Motion Offense next year due to a lack of perimeter shooting, and there has been much give and take on that point.  We all know how the DDMO is supposed to work -- players attack the rim with the objective of a layup, a dump-off to the big player on the weak side, or a skip pass to the open shooter depending on where help comes from.  Simple.  Elegant. Effective?  Well, yes and no.

The obvious hole in the scheme is shooting.  In order for the DDMO to be effective, you must have people capable of making the three-point shot.  Kentucky has almost no proven perimeter shooting now that Jodie Meeks has moved on to the NBA.  Does that mean that UK's season is doomed to failure?  Can Calipari even run the DDMO with this bunch?

Before I attempt to answer that, let's take a look at this interview with Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal by Bluegrass State Basketball which does much to validate my concerns and provides an excellent opportunity for fans of the Big Blue to comment not only on the DDMO, but on all things John Calipari.  But first, I want to look at some of Wolken's comments to BSB:

As far as the DDM itself, it’s definitely wide open; guys have freedom in that system, and it’s a good sell on the recruiting trail. Otherwise, I’m not a huge fan of it. I saw Memphis get taken out of that offense way, way too much by zones and junk defenses, and it can look downright ugly when that happens and shots aren’t falling. The fact is, when teams go zone, you can’t really run the DDM. You have to have make shots and force teams to go back to man. That was really the flaw for Memphis last year, and Calipari knew that. Every time I talked to him, he lamented the fact that they hadn’t recruited enough shooters and was really in the process of changing his recruiting approach to get more guys who could make shots even if they weren’t as athletic. If you look at the game tapes, Memphis barely ran the DDM at all last year. There’s no doubt that going to the DDM when he did made Calipari think differently about basketball, and I think it really rejuvenated his career. On the other hand, I know a couple coaches who would take you into the film room and just trash it. At the end of the day, it’s really all about players.

So can UK run this offense with the current players it has?  Well, the answer to that may not be what you think, and there is still a lot we don't know about our perimeter shooting this year.  But what I find even more fascinating than how effective the zone and junk is against the DDMO is Wolken's comments on recruiting. 

I think Wolken validates perception that I pointed out on this blog some time back.  The reality is (at least in my opinion), the DDMO is more valuable as a recruiting tool than as an actual offensive system.  Does it work?  Absolutely, under the right conditions.  Can it be stopped?  Sure, and the zone is the easiest way to clog up the works.  But there is a much larger method to this madness.

The DDMO works best with big, quick, athletic players who can shoot.  Well, let me tell you that basketball in general works best with big, quick, athletic players who can shoot, no matter what offensive style a team runs.  Calipari is an innovative coach, but not in the way that many people have been lead to believe, i.e. adapting Vance Walberg's progenitor, the attack-attack-skip-attack-attack offense into some kind of X and O marvel.

No, Calipari's innovation is much more subtle and powerful.  He has developed a system that he doesn't really need to run all the time, because its true value is how it is perceived by recruits throughout the country.  They see the DDMO as a way to showcase their individual skills, and it absolutely is all of that, and when teams try to play man against UK next year, they are going to see just how effective it can be.  But in reality, it can only be run well against a man-to-man defense.  It is easy for good coaches to design defenses to make this scheme look and play ugly and ineffectively... BUT (and this is a big, big BUT), even the greatest defensive scheme in the world will not give the opponent bigger, quicker, more athletic players

Calipari understands perfectly well that the DDMO is vulnerable to the zone.  That's one big reason it isn't just a straight copy of Walberg's system.  Walberg may be considered a guru by some, but his system is not only imperfect, it is downright vulnerable to a zone or junk defenses.  And sticking with it in a zone without good shooting is a recipe for disaster, which is perhaps why Walberg is coaching at Pepperdine UMass and not Indiana or UCLA.

But Calipari's real genius is how he has marketed and packaged this stuff to appeal directly to the best basketball players in America, and if you don't think it does, just take a look at his recruiting success since he implemented it.  If you put teams that include four or five first-round NBA draft picks on the floor, it doesn't really matter what kind of a scheme you run -- these guys are generally going to be too good for most teams under all but the most adverse of circumstances.

Now for another interesting tidbit:

BSB: How do you see Kentucky’s season playing out? How do you see Memphis’ season playing out?

Wolken: It will be extremely interesting to watch Kentucky this year with a whole team of guys who have never been coached by John before. Obviously, they’re loaded with terrific players, but it might take awhile for things to click. Derrick Rose wasn’t an elite college player until mid-February. Tyreke Evans was horrendous until mid-January. Even with guys of that ability level, it doesn’t happen automatically. Kentucky will certainly be a Sweet 16 caliber team. They’ll have an opportunity to go further if they figure out who’s going to make perimeter shots, since that seems to be an area of concern right now

I think this is a great point by Wolken.  I know that everyone is all excited about this great recruiting class and all the marvelolus athletes and players UK has coming in, but we do need to take a reality pill -- it is rare for teams as young as UK will be next year not to have some growing pains, although for a fact, it has been a long while since this much freshman talent has been present on one team.  But if guys like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans struggled early on, you can best believe that even John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins aren't going to step in and be elite players from day one in the college game.

But if Wolken's examples hold true to form, there is a good chance that UK will be very dangerous by February, and that's when it counts.  I think we will muddle through on superior talent in the early and mid part of the season, but it could get really exciting when these young freshmen begin to turn into sophomores.  And of course, Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson will be there to provide leadership both on and off the floor.

Be sure and read the whole interview, it is jam packed with good stuff.