While head coaches around the association fret about their All-Star Game reserve choices (which, in fact, many immediately hand off to their assistant coaches who actually see most of the players play through hours of advance video work), I am busy fretting about some very different all-star selections.
That's right, it's time for the inaugural "ebeATO Coaching All-Stars." As spelled out in my very first column on why some coaches draw up better ATOs (after-timeout plays) than others, the ideal ATO action:
Is part preparation; part matchup(s); part advance scouting work and a large part of spontaneous creativity ... In my experience, the best ATOs are based on what your team does well, not on the opposition ... success usually comes down to what your team already excels at doing.
So, without further ado, here are the "ebeATO Coaching All-Stars" of the first half of the 2013-14 season. Game. Set. Match.
The second-year Blazers bench boss has been on-point with everything, from run-of-the-mill early game actions to critical late-game situations, specialty ATOs. He makes full use of players who not only spread the floor, but are also threats to score. He has drawn up crucial plays for Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge. Whether it has been "need a 3," "short clock" or "lobs to the rim" scenario, Stotts has been hands down the league leader in quality ATOs.
The longtime Spurs assistant has shown Cain-like skill at snatching the pebble from his Master's hand. He's taken many of the Gregg Popovich actions with him to an empty Philips Arena, and has prospered in a number of close games to come up with some outstanding ATOs. Despite having a more limited roster than Stotts or Popovich, Budenholzer has been able to use the threat of Kyle Korver's three-point range to get a variety of quality looks for others. Both Jeff Teague and the now-injured Al Horford have benefitted with game-winning scores by executing Budenholzer's plays.
The Spurs keep chugging along and Pop's attention to ATO details keeps pace. Wash, rinse, repeat.
After an unexpectedly solid start to the year, the Lakers have regressed, as they've suffered through both a rash of injuries and an overall talent deficit. That means D'Antoni has had limited opportunities to flash his creative ATO brilliance.
But I don't care because Mike makes my ATO list EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yes, I'm biased. In fact, very biased, as I consider Mike both a friend and a mentor. But he'd make my list just for this little before-halftime jewel in Detroit alone.
I know KD is not a coach, but he makes the ebeATO squad based on his amazing late-game play. Actually, Durant makes it for all of his play. It is not just taking and making tough shots, but also his ability to get his teammates open looks down the stretch. This skill has become even more apparent as Russell Westbrook spends more time on the injured list.
KDTrey5 has even managed to elevate Scott Brooks to the lofty heights of "ATO of the Week." That is an accomplishment in itself.
"ATO" OF THE WEEK
Certain teams and coaches show up with great regularity in the space. Up until this point, the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat have not been part of my cavalcade of after-timeout excellence.
You might ask why. A lack of close games? Early-season disinterest? A sizable point differential that usually creates uninteresting ATOs? The ability to create quality looks based simply on the high talent level of the Heat players? The answer is a little bit of all of the above.
Plus, Miami has shown an unmatched ability to turn lemons into lemonade on broken plays and chaotic ATO situations. Chris Bosh's three-pointer earlier this season on the errant Dwyane Wade behind-the-back pass. Ray Allen's Finals-changing three-pointer off the mass bedlam that was Miami's original ATO. Sometimes, individual talent wins out over timeless architecture and elegant ATO design.
That is not to say Erik Spoelstra and his staff haven't drawn up some ATO gems in the past. They have. And they did again this week.
This play comes from Sunday's nationally televised game between San Antonio and Miami. In the surprise of surprises, it is not a Spurs action. It is actually a variation of a sequence for Ray Allen that has evolved over the years from Seattle to Boston to Miami. I was lucky enough to see versions of this set many times in Seattle's KeyArena. Miami's version is the evolutionary result of years and years of ATO Darwinism.
Here's the most recent sequence.
Heat 55, Spurs 50, 18.3 seconds left in second quarter. Spurs with a foul to give.
After a Tony Parker missed jumper, LeBron James walks the ball into the frontcourt and Erik Spoelstra decides to take his 20-second timeout. You have only one 20 per half. Use it or lose it, Coach.
With over 18 seconds remaining in the half and 14 seconds on the shot clock, it would be fair to assume that Miami would play for the last shot of the half. The Heat lineup out of the timeout is in a basic formation, with Mario Chalmers (covered by Tony Parker) taking the ball out of bounds near center on the opposite side from the benches. LBJ lines up above the three-point arc (marked by Boris Diaw) in a line with Chris Bosh (Tim Duncan defending) at high post and Ray Allen (Marco Belinelli guarding him) at the low block. Dwyane Wade (checked by Manu Ginobili) takes the spot at the opposite high post from Bosh.
Before the referee even hands the ball to Chalmers, Ginobili and Belinelli are discussing how they are going to deal with any cross screens between Wade and Allen. Using my psychic powers, I would deduce that they are going to switch them.
Because of the time left on both the game and shot clock, San Antonio doesn't really apply a lot of pressure on the inbounds pass. Chalmers hits LeBron with the pass approximately five feet from the center line. As LeBron turns to face the basket, Allen moves slowly across the key to the opposite block, looking like he will continue on his merry way out to the corner. After inbounding the ball, Rio heads down the sideline to replace the spot vacated by Walter Ray.
At this point, the Spurs are all well-positioned defensively and preparing for an action to begin in around six to eight seconds. But what did every elementary school coach ever say about "assuming" things? As Allen walks across to the low block, he suddenly veers hard right, with speed, up the lane off of a Wade pindown screen. No problem for San Antonio defensively, right? Obviously, Manu and Marco will switch this same-size action, nullifying the head start Ray has coming off of the screen, right? Nope, doesn't happen.
Free for a moment, Shuttlesworth heads up the lane, straight for LBJ's defender in Diaw. The Frenchman is already peeking over his right shoulder, anticipating a screen coming for the league's MVP. Boris' job on any pick-and-roll with James would be to force him in one direction, regardless of where the screen is coming from. As Allen gets closer to screening Diaw, Chris Bosh also takes a couple of steps towards the action. Chalmers and Wade are clearing out to the perimeter on what will soon, potentially, be the ball side.
Due to the non-switch by Ginobili and Belinelli, Marco is now trailing Ray Ray by a good three steps. This highlights how important it is for Ray to be approaching Diaw to set the screen with SPEED. With Belinelli so behind the play and Allen moving so quickly, it stops San Antonio from "bracketing" the screen, which basically amounts to a soft hedge on the main pick by both defensive players. Like brackets.
Since San Antonio is now in defensive scramble mode, Allen doesn't even need to make contact and set an actual screen on Diaw for LBJ. Ray goes with the "David Lee Tribute" touch-and-go screen because he's about to be screened for himself by Bosh. This screen-the-screener or flare screen action was a staple for the all-time three-point leader in both Seattle and Boston.
Ray catches at 13.4 on the game clock and shoots at approximately 12.7, and that's after executing a full turn and pivot before launching the three. Damn, that's fast. Duncan closes out as best as he can, but it's too late. In reality, the Spurs were doomed when Manu and Marco didn't communicate and switch the initial pindown screen by Wade.
Job well done, extremely talented Miami Heat players. Job well done, coach Erik Spoelstra. You went against the grain with a quick-hitting "need a 3" style ATO action where most teams would have held for one shot. Rather than play it safe with a lead, you went for the halftime jugular with outstanding results. Game. Set. Match. "Bienvenidos a Miami."
If you have an ATO to suggest, please tweet or email me with #ebeATO.