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Breaking down some basics of Rick Barnes’ offense and projecting new roles for 2020-21

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NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve always been a words guy. I enjoy dad jokes, puns and plays on words of all kinds. It’s kinda lame and nerdy, but I own it. It’s who I am. That’s my strength, and so that’s my lane. I try to stay there as much as possible.

But, in the process of trying to become a better writer and deliver you guys more comprehensive coverage, I’ve been reading up on Xs and Os for football and basketball. I think sometimes media people, or bloggers, get discredited because “we’ve never played the game. Your numbers tell you that but I’ve played and my eyes tell me this.” You know, that kinda stuff.

In this piece, I wanted to share with you guys a video that displays some of the main tenets of the motion offense Rick Barnes runs. Basically, a motion offense involves players moving, often in some sort of (set or unscripted, depending either the situation or the coach’s typical stylistic preference) rotation to create spacing advantages and ideally open lanes to attack the basket. Somebody hand me the Dramamine. I got motion sickness already.

I’m going to take cuts from the video and go through them one by one, and then at the end I’ll embed the whole video so you can watch if you want.

These cuts are from the Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield days, and I think they’re great examples because I think that trio was perfectly aligned with some of the main ways Barnes’s offense likes to attack defenses. Hopefully the new squad flourishes, too.

  • EARLY RIM ATTACKS

Jordan Bone posted better number than any other player at the combine in the standing vertical leap at 36 inches and the shuttle run at 2.78 seconds. I couldn’t find the end-to-end speed test numbers, but I thought he beat everybody else at that, too.

Simply put, Bone was one of, if not the fastest, end-to-end guard in college basketball in 2018-19. His speed quite literally made the Vols go that season.

We see Bone get what’s like a feigned-pick and use his speed to get to the hoop. I’m not sure anybody on the current team has that kinda quickness, but still — possibilities abound: Vescovi drive and kick, Keon Johnson is fast enough and goes straight to the rack or Josiah Jordan James gets enough of a step on his defender to draw help and hit a trailing Pons for an open three. More on that trailing 3 play later.

  • Establishing a post player deep in the post early in the shot clock

I don’t think anyone could overstate what Grant Williams meant to this basketball program. From his recruitment story (Ivy league offers until Barnes came calling), the development from a chunky, undersized post player to an SEC Player of the Year, to a first-round NBA draft pick — I mean feel good stories can’t make you feel any ‘gooder’ than that.

He was so good at using his low center of gravity and height disadvantage (in most cases) to get dang-near directly under the rim with just seconds gone off the shot clock. That led to so many elbow-hook/ spin move layups or easy dunks and finishes at the hoop.

This team doesn’t have Williams, but newcomer, grad-transfer EJ Anosike fits the mold. He’s not that tall — listed at 6-foot-6 — but he tips the scales at a burly 250 and is fast enough to get down court and use his low center of gravity and height disadvantage (sometimes) to beat his man to his spot, seal him off and wait for an entry pass.

Fulky showed us last season he can score in a variety of ways. He’s tall enough, but in certain situations he’s gonna need to use his quickness to get to his spot and immediately make a move. Pivot and hit a hook/ push shot or spin underneath and go reverse layup to use the rim as extra protection from the defender.

I wasn’t impressed with Uros Plavsic last season, but he was just a redshirt freshman. He’s a different kind of player than Williams and Anosike, but I think a conservative comparison to Kyle Alexander is fair here. It took Alexander a couple years to find out how to mesh his lean body but substantial height with decent footwork to get into good post position early. Uros has that same potential. Maybe Plavsic isn’t strong enough to hook-and-seal to a dunk like Williams could, but he’s tall enough with ample touch around the rim to hit a baby hook over the top of a shorter defender.

  • HIT THE TRAILER

The Bone, ‘Scho and Grant team was so good because it could beat you in lots of different ways, as we’ve gotten a reminder of from the clips above. Hitting a trailing teammate can also look a lot like it’s just a pick-and-pop play. Depending on the situation, the plays can look nearly identical or nothing alike — as I, a known idiot, understands. When I first the watched third segment of the video, it reminded me of Schofield’s “boot-on-ya-throats, I just dropped six 3s and 30 points to y’all’s domes while hitting the game winner on y’all overrated, fake No. 1 [expletive deleted (butts)]

I’m gonna play the replay of Schofield’s game winner, then play the clips of Tennessee’s offense hitting the trailer in various situations so you can see the nuanced similarities and differences.

I hope Barnes lets these guys get out and run because Tennessee’s athletes can beat the defense down the court, draw some help, and hit JJJ standing wide open at the top of the key for an easy, knockdown 3-point bucket. The motion offense wants players moving around and then other player rotating to take the previous player’s place. That should open up for chances to hit teammates in rotation and defenses a step or two behind that rotation.

I know this was long, and I hope you guys stayed with me. As always, if there are any readers out there who know more about all this, please comment and educate us all.

Shout out to Adam Spinella, who put this video together. Thanks, dawg, it’s very informative. There’s a couple more sections in the video that go a little beyond my scope of knowledge, but I encourage you to watch them anyway, just like I did, and try to pick little things up here and there.