The motion offense conundrum

NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – I wrote about the death of the motion of offense in today’s dead-tree edition of the Post and Courier.

The motion offense that former Indiana coach Bobby Knight popularized in the 1970s and 80s, the offense Brad Brownell brought to Clemson, is losing market share to a more individual expression of the game: pick-and-roll, and dribble-drive based offenses.

Brownell and other coaches who favor the motion scheme face a conundrum: should he stick with his offensive philosophy or continue to run more sets and ball-screen plays as he has done this year?

Don’t like the reliance on pick-and-roll offense? Blame this guy

The motion offense has obvious benefits as Brownell outlined. It can be a great fit for mid-major type programs. It can aid underdog programs, like Clemson, that will rarely if ever get the Kyrie Irvings or Derrick Roses that are superstars in dribble-drive and pick-and-roll based offenses.

“I think it can still be relevant because it’s an equalizer of talent,” Brownell said. “You can dictate tempo with it. You can grind another team by making them defend multiple actions. One of the great things about it is it is more difficult to prepare for. You can have all different kinds of options and angles. It’s more unique than team that just runs set plays of ball-screens.

“There’s a lot of reading by the offense, so kids that play in a motion system learn how to play the game. So when things breakdown they are a little more comfortable. They learn how to play rather than just learning the plays.”

So there are obvious benefits to the scheme:

*It’s hard to prepare for.

*It teaches kids the game.

*It’s an equalizer of talent.

But the problem is basketball, like society, has become more selfish and less trusting. Players don’t want to give up the ball, and without the incentive of passing, there’s little reason to move without the ball.

At the AAU and high school levels, it’s becoming more and more a dribble-drive game in part due to NBA influence.

Prospects simply aren’t used to playing in motion offense. So do coaches have the job security, confidence and patience to teach it at the college level? Will star-level players want to play in a motion offense system? Will players buy in?

In some ways it’s becoming like option offense in college football, as the Greenville News’s Mannie Robinson told me. It’s a good analogy. In some ways it’s like the pressure-defense paradox:

Oliver Purnell led Clemson to four straight NCAA appearances using full-court pressure defense, which took advantage of the raw athletes in his recruiting footprint, and was effective against teams with lesser guard play — and in rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum. But in the neutral environment of the NCAA Tournament, facing teams with better guard play, that could better handle pressure, it was not as effective.

It can take you to the Tournament but it can’t take you to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Is that good enough at Clemson?

There are no easy answers to these questions of scheme. There are no easy solutions (like recruiting five-star after five-star like at North Carolina). But such is life of the underdog, which if nothing else, can make for more interesting stories and decisions.

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