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Kentucky Basketball Freeze Frame: UK’s Lob Play

Analyzing Kentucky’s signature lob play one frame at a time.

NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Kentucky
The result is almost always a Wildcat slam dunk.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Can you recite the wingspans of each of Kentucky’s young and athletic freshmen?

Kentucky’s length has been noted by every TV broadcaster calling a Wildcats game so far this season, almost equaling the repeated mentions of Willie Cauley-Stein’s career as a high school wide receiver.

As annoying as that tired storyline may be, that length and athleticism contributes to Kentucky playing an exciting, above the rim brand of basketball. John Calipari and the Wildcats have used their length in attacking the rim on alley oop plays.

Kentucky’s go-to lob play coming out of a high screen is a trademark of Cal’s offense. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze Kentucky’s signature lob play as we look at two different sets where point guard Quade Green finds an open teammate for an easy play at the rim.

To find evidence of this lob play, we needed to look no further than the first play of the game against UIC. Hamidou Diallo begins the play by coming off a screen set by big man Nick Richards. PJ Washington steps up to the three point line to run Diallo’s defender around a second screen.

Green initiates the offense on the first play of the game.

Kevin Knox runs the baseline, taking his defender with him. That along with the double screen set at the top of the key frees Diallo up for a run toward the rim.

Diallo finds space coming off the double screen.

You can see that Diallo is wide open and scores easily, but that’s not really what we want to pay attention to here. Note how closely Washington’s defender plays him after the screen. We’ll come back to that!

Diallo finds an easy bucket off the alley oop from Green.

Just moments later, Kentucky looks for the lob play on its second play of the game, this time with Richards coming to the top of the floor to screen for the ballhandler. Green and Richards are starting to work the high pick and roll play in more frequently in the early offense.

The Wildcats spread out the floor to allow Green and Richards room to work the pick and roll.

Richards’ defender hedges on the ball screen and both defenders momentarily stick with Green.

Richards sees an opening as both defenders follow Green.

UIC makes a quick adjustment from the play before. Note how Washington’s defender helps down in the paint this time. Diallo’s defender doesn’t respect his outside game and helps as well. Richards still makes the jam, but this is a concerning trend.

Richards scores the easy lob despite three defenders digging in on him.

This is one area in which Wenyen Gabriel’s versatility at the four position can help. Gabriel has knocked down five three pointers already this season (5 of 15), so opposing defenses might not be as willing to sag off him as they are Washington. Diallo’s continued development as a shooter will also help here. Diallo has shot it well from beyond the arc (5 of 14) thus far, but he’s not known as a knock down shooter. As he continues to hit open threes, defenders will be more reluctant to cheat off of him in this situation.

One reason this lob play works so well is Green is a threat to pull up and take his own shot, as he has developed an excellent mid-range jumper. According to hoop-math.com, Green takes 48.4% of his shots from mid-range and he connects on a team high 46.4%. Both of those numbers are the highest of any Calipari era point guard since hoop-math began collecting this data during the 2011-12 season.

Green is proficient at the rim and from beyond the arc too, but it’s his mid-range jumper that sets him apart from most Calipari era point guards.

If Green can continue to develop a pick and roll game comparable to Tyler Ulis, that is awfully good company in which to reside, but the help defense sagging into the lane on Kentucky’s lob play is a concerning trend to keep an eye on. Kentucky has dealt with this before, but is this a good enough three point shooting team to keep opposing defenses honest? Kentucky overpowered UIC with athleticism and length, but as the Cats move on to a tougher December schedule, they might have to knock down some outside shots to free up the lane for the easy lob play.