Slightly before Big Blue Madness, Kentucky coach John Calipari publicly ruminated about what kind of team he's got on his hands this year. Nobody doubts their talent, nobody doubts that they could make almost any offense work to some degree. But what offense is best, and when?
Calipari has always been about innovating on offense when necessary, and changing to whatever works. Last year, the Dribble Drive Motion famously did not work well for Kentucky, so Calipari transitioned to a more or less standard set offense with plays and high screens. He tried running Terrence Jones in pick-and-roll sets, which worked, but not well enough.
Then, for whatever reason, he tried running pick-and-roll handoffs with Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson. He pretty much knew right away he was on to something when Harrellson started getting easy dunks and putbacks, Knight started getting more open looks both of the bounce and off the Harrellson screen, and when the opponent tried to close that down, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller started knocking down big three after big three off ball rotation.
Jones, realizing his talent was needed elsewhere, started hitting the glass hard and was no longer the feature of the offense. The rest, as they say, is history. Kentucky, seemingly built for an up-tempo running game, became a deliberate offense based around the high pick and roll. It got them to the Final Four, and it was Calipari finally finding the right button to push offensively that made the difference.So what button to push this year, Cal is wondering? Should we do handoffs with Terrence Jones, or ? Should Calipari go back to the Dribble Drive Motion, a standard motion, baseline screens, plays, what? That answer is obviously not clear to anyone at the moment.
This team has the ability to run the DDM well because of their shooting. The DDM, as a 1-in 4-out offense requires all the 4-out players to be reliable 3-point shooters in an ideal world. Kentucky can field just such a lineup with Lamb, Miller, Teague, Jones, and Davis. In fact, that is the perfect DDM lineup. Both Jones and Davis, by virtue of their superior ballhandling skills, would be capable of taking their defenders off the dribble, and woe be unto the power forward who attempts to defend Davis one on one. It fairly boggles the mind.
High-low sets? Sure. Davis to Jones or Wiltjer. Wing pick and rolls? Why not? With Davis, Wiltjer or Jones, you could run the pick-and-pop just as easily. Imagine teams in a switching defense forced to put the point guard on Davis on the the high pick. Hopeless.
This team has such incredible versatility that there is almost no offensive set that I can think of where they would not be situationally comfortable. Double-teams will come at the price of leaving a high-percentage 3-point shooter unopposed, or a slasher like Kidd-Gilchrist a path to the paint on a hard drive.
While North Carolina is nominally more talented, their parts are not nearly as flexible or hard to defend. The same goes for UConn, and Ohio State. Flexibility is what will make this team potentially the greatest since 1996. All Calipari has to do is figure out which combinations work best in what situations. It's a nice problem to have, but it is still a problem.
I can't wait to see how Coach Cal sets about solving it.