Designing a Great NBA Offense: Slice Reverse Play Breakdown

Cranjis McBasketball —  September 7, 2017

I’ve released my proposed ideal Laker playbook for next season, but it’s time to break it down. The playbook is comprised of 55 plays and grouped together in 9 chapters. I’ll be going through the playbook play by play and breaking down each of the plays I think the Lakers should run. Today is the fourth play of the playbook we’ll be breaking down.

Prerequisite Background Information

If you haven’t first read my earlier Forum Blue & Gold piece about Designing a Great Offense, which covers the 7 principles I think every great NBA play and offense NEEDS, check that out first. Each of those principles will be referenced in these play breakdowns, but for an explanation on the principle itself you’ll need to reference that original piece.

What This Includes

I’ll start with background info on each play, including its name, which team was seen running the play when it was diagrammed, the actions involved in the play, who (me or a FastModel contributor) diagrammed the play, and what alterations I may have made to the original play to make it #good.

After that short background, I’ll dig into how each play incorporates or could use improvement on each of my 7 principles of a great NBA offense.

Today’s Play: Slice Reverse

It’s time to kick it up a notch

Play: Slice Reverse

Original Team: Boston Celtics (the Rondo, Pierce, KG, Allen Celtics)


In the main sequence: Flex Cut, Cross Screen – Down Screen combination (“Screen the Screener” or “Rice” action)

In the counter: All the same actions except for a Back Screen instead of a Down Screen

In the post entry: Split Cut, Down Screen

In the continuation: Flex Cut, Ram Action – Flare Screen combination, Pick and Roll

Play DiagrammerCraig LeVasseur

Alterations by Tim: Everything in frames 3-6

Vocab to Know

Flex Screen: This is where a player is cutting baseline off of a screen

Cross Screen: This is where a player one one block sets a screen for a player on another block

Down Screen: This is where a player sets a screen toward the hoop for a shooter to run toward the 3-point line looking to spot up

Back Screen: This is where a player sets a screen facing away from the basket so that their teammate can cut backdoor toward the hoop

Split Cut: This is where two players come together and one sets a flare screen for the other and then the screener slips to the basket

Ram Action: This is where a screen is set for a player who then runs up to set a ball screen

Flare Screen: This is where a shooter has a screen set for them to spot up for (usually) a 3-point shot

Action Over Motion

This play is packed with action to generate good offensive opportunities. Shots can be created at the rim with the flex cuts and cross screen + players spotting up for (ideally) open shots off of the down screens and flare screens. Plus, throughout the play the offense is putting constant pressure on the defense.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Weak Side Action

The weak side action in this play can be seen in frames 2, 3, 4, and 6. Sometimes it’s a simple relocation of a shooter to prevent their defender from helping defend a player coming off of a down screen. Other times, we have a down screen on the weak side (as in frame 4) or a flare screen (as in frame 6) to try to generate some good shots by targeting specific pressure points in the defense. In either scenario, the defense can’t fall asleep or try to help when defending a weak side offensive player, enhancing the action going on strong side.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Run Action the Right Way

For this component in this specific play, the key here is spacing and which players are doing what actions. The spacing for each action and complementary weak side actions prevent help defense from impeding on the success of the strong side actions, so we’ll focus on the personnel in each action instead.

A flex cut or cross screen between two guards or two forwards doesn’t do much for you. Both our flex cut and cross screen in frames 1 and 2 have a shooting guard and a center, making them effective and hard to switch. Our flex cut that starts in frame 5 and finishes in frame 6 is between a point guard cutting off of screens from a power forward and a center, putting a lot of pressure on the defense and keeping them from switching unless they want to give up a mismatch with a 1 defending a 5 right next to the basket.

Likewise, down screens or back screens with two guards or two forwards are easy to switch. Our down screen and back screens in frames 2 and 3 are between a power forward and a shooting guard, eliminating this possibility (unless the defense wants to give up a major mismatch we can exploit in the post or on the perimeter). The down screen in frame 4 is between a power forward and a point guard, so everything checks out there.

The ram screen, seen in slide 6, where 3 sets a screen for 5 (and 5 immediately goes to set a ball screen, which is what makes it a “ram” screen) is between a small forward and a center, making it difficult to switch without giving up a mismatch. The ensuing ball screen is between a point guard and center, so we’re in good shape with that action as well.

The one area where the defense may be able to switch is the flare screen in frame 6. It’s not idea to have a 3 defending a 4, and a 4 defending a 3, especially if the Lakers don’t have a small lineup on the court, but it’s the most doable of all of these actions.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Synergistic Action

This is the first play in this series where we truly have some great synergy between actions. Before we’ve had actions after each other exploiting potential help, but this play constantly preys on a defense trying to defend the first action by hitting it hard with the next. Here are the combos to look out for:

The cross screen into a down screen “screen the screener” combo. Since the cross screen is between a 2 and a 5 and the defense can’t switch (and has no easy help defense), 2’s defender will likely try to bump and linger for a second defending 5 before recovering to his man. The immediate down screen exploits that help by 2’s defender by running 2 off of a screen just as his defender would be helping on the cross screen. Don’t be surprised to see 2 wide open running off of the down screen.

The flex screen – ram screen – ball screen – flare screen combination is the stuff of a defensive coaches nightmares. The synergistic part I’ll cover is the ram screen into the flare screen. 3 is setting a screen for 5, who runs up to set a ball screen. If 3’s man takes any time helping or trying to bump 5 so that 5’s defender can recover and prevent a 2-on-1 ball screen, he’ll be exposed by the flare screen 3 is immediately running off of after setting the Ram Screen.

Verdict: Thumbs Very Up

Spacing & Usage of Personnel

This play has good spacing, even if 4 can’t shoot well. Sagging off of 4 will likely still leave his defender toward the free throw line, too high to help on the flex screen or cross screen and out of position to defend the down screen. The way 4 and 5 are used in this set makes it so that even if those players are non-shooters it won’t diminish the effectiveness of the set.

For that reason, I’d have no issue running this with any combination of Laker players in their normal positions. We just need 1 and 2 to be able to shoot (all of ours can), 2 to be able to finish a lob (KCP and Clarkson can), and 2 to be able to score off of a ball screen or hit an open man (KCP and Clarkson can do this as well).

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Disguising Plays

This play has the same alignment and begins the same as the other plays in this series, making it hard to diagnose and defend for the other team. The counter play is also exactly the same until the back screen, making it completely disguised until it’s too late.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Set Counters & In-play Counters

The counter in this play works well because it looks at how the defense is likely defending the down screen in frame 2 and directly counters that defensive gameplan. If 4’s defender positions himself next to 4 in a position to step out and try to deter the pass to 2 before 2’s defender can recover, the back screen works perfectly.

If 2’s defender tries to cheat the screen and go straight from helping on the left block on the cross screen to running directly to the top of the key, he’s way out of position to help on the back screen.

This counter is great to run after running the play normally once, or you can even start out with it. The cross screen-down screen combination is a common one in the NBA, and the defense will likely have a plan to defend it and will default to that before even seeing this play run normally once in that same game.

Due to the ram screen, there’s almost no chance the ball screen in frame 6 will have to deal with any double teaming or hard hedges. If they do, hitting 5 on the short roll would be ideal, as he has a fairly empty paint in front of him and would likely have a 2-on-1 with him, 4, and 4’s defender.

This counter should be extremely effective and should also keep the defense honest on the down screen, making the regular action of the play more effective.

Verdict: Thumbs Up

Overall Play Thoughts

I’m pleased with this play and believe it’d be a solid option for the Lakers to add to their arsenal of plays. This entire series is full of plays that space the floor well, have good set and in-play counters, and put players in prime positions to score. Having the whole series installed will keep the defense on their toes and lead to good offense.

Cranjis McBasketball