How NBA teams are bringing the post-up back to life

How NBA teams are bringing the post-up back to life

The NBA is in the midst of an offensive explosion, with 14 of the top 15 historical offensive ratings for teams achieved over the past four seasons. The Boston Celtics currently have the third-best offensive rating in NBA history, and like so many teams in the new, high-scoring NBA, they do so in part by overloading the ground with shots. Though they’ve cooled off the depths a bit since the start of the season, they’re one of only 13 teams in history to attempt at least 40 triples per game, and they’re connecting at 37.1 percent with four rotation players over 40 percent.

Why, then, in the crunch time of their Nov. 14 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — to cite just one example — did the Celtics choose to take out MVP candidate Jayson Tatum on a post-up well within the 3-pointer -Use and execute bows What many consider to be an outdated and obsolete way of playing?

For one, it was because Tatum is one of the top scorers in the game and was single-marked by the opposing point guard. (It also worked: Tatum used his body to create space, dribbled and turned inside-handed for the layup to help the Celtics eventually grab the W.) But there’s another good one Reason: Because post-ups are actually the most efficient game in basketball.

When used, post-ups have been surprisingly effective

Points per chance by game type during the 2022-23 NBA season

game type Frequency per 100 possessions points per chance
post up 5.9 1,035
isolation 17.8 0.992
Hand off 21.3 0.980
Choose 68.9 0.979

Through games from January 22nd.

Source: Second Spectrum

How did posting “Dead Than Dead” become the best game in the NBA? And does that mean that tall men are really finally experiencing their revival? (While centers may have been the purveyors of post-up buckets in decades past, forwards have actually surpassed them in post-up frequency – giving perhaps Dr. James Naismith’s original positional conception that “forward” is the primary attacking position, credibility confers.)

Still, we should pump in the brakes bit to the idea that the days of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon are upon us again. Perhaps the most rudimentary explanation for the post-up’s renewed success is a form of selection bias: the game is now mostly reserved for those who can do it best. Post-ups occur just 5,887 times per 100 possessions, and the 20 players with the most post-ups in the season collectively account for nearly half (43.6 percent) of the league’s total post-ups. Nikola Jokić alone accounts for an absurd 4.7 percent of league-wide post-ups. Only four teams, excluding the Denver Nuggets themselves, have fielded more than Jokić alone this season, and he’s averaging 1,263 points per chance on plays like this. (The league’s best attack scores 1,065 points per chance.)

For comparison, the 20 players with the most pick-and-rolls in the league together account for just over a quarter (26.9 percent) of the league’s total pick-and-rolls per second spectrum. If the NBA’s pick and roll leaders – Luka Dončić, for example, who scores 1,124 points per chance in pick and rolls – contributed more significantly to the overall share of such games, the style would be more successful than their current 0.979 points per chance (but of course it would also be used at a much lower frequency per 100 possessions).

Thinking about post-ups in a vacuum, however, misses what makes them so valuable in the current NBA. The league is moving away from static games of any kind and towards a fluid state of multiple layered action. The post-up as the primary playcall, where a ball handler dribbles down and throws the ball into the post where a center immediately fights another center before shooting, is over. This exact sequence has only happened twice this season.

Post-ups are now dynamic. The percentage of post-ups that exhibited a positional mismatch — with a center defended by a guard or forward (or a forward defended by a guard) — has fallen from about a quarter in 2013-14 to just over half in 2014 increased this season. per second spectrum. Those discrepancies have to come from somewhere, and such benefits can be created by other events on the court — like pick-and-rolls or handoffs — before being converted into points through the mail.

The waste rate of follow-up has coincided with the increase in handover. Similar to picks this season, about a quarter of handoffs result in switches, creating a potentially beneficial mismatch. (Less than 10 percent of handoffs were switched by defense in 2013-14.) And as the league-wide frequency of post-ups has dropped nearly 6 games per 100 possessions from 2013-14 to date, the handover frequency has increased by nearly 8 games per 100 possessions. But a post-up can emerge from a handoff, especially after the defense is forced to switch or rotate or open another weakness.

At a bare minimum, using a pick and roll and/or a handoff to flow into a post-up can ensure helping defenders are as far away from the offensive player as possible and give him plenty of time to work alone at the post office.

There are correlations between the players who post best, those who are best handoffs, and their teams’ offensive efficiency. Jokić and Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis are two of the most efficient and most frequent post players in the league, and they are also the two most frequent handoffs. And both teams are currently in the top 5 highest offensive stats in history.

One thing they have in common is that Jokić and Sabonis are brilliant goalscorers and passers-by; Using them off-post in both roles is a good tactic. That’s not uncommon: Across the league, possessions with post passes are practically as efficient as possessions with shots coming from post-ups. For today’s multi-talents, the mail can be used as a vehicle between all manner of events on the pitch, rather than as an end in itself.

And yet, across the entire Second Spectrum database (as of 2013-14), the 2022-23 post-ups are the two most efficient game types there are and rarest. In fact, post-ups were the most efficient and least common play type every season in the database except for 2013-14 (when it was the most efficient and second least common play type).

Post-ups produce more but are used less

Frequency and Efficiency of NBA Post-Ups by Season, 2014-23

season Post-ups per 100 possessions points per chance
2013-14 12.4


2014-15 11.9


2015-16 10.4


2016-17 9.4


2017-18 8.7


2018-19 8.6


2019-20 7.0


2020-21 7.0


2021-22 6.4


2022-23 5.9


Through games of January 22, 2023.

Source: Second Spectrum

There’s an inherent tension in a game that slowly gains in efficiency but dwindles in use. Are teams now underusing post-ups? Will yields go down as they become more widely used again? Since (most) teams in the league maximize efficiency and apply Moneyball principles to the NBA, there must be some degree of relative “objective” balance between the frequency and efficiency of each game type.

Other factors affecting where such a balance might strike have not changed dramatically in recent seasons. While 3-point attempts have generally been on the rise in the NBA over the past few decades, they have been steady for the past four seasons. Also has 3 point accuracy and pace.

But unless the rules change, or post-up artists like Jokić and Sabonis lose their skills to alien invaders in a real-world space jam situation, it’s hard to see plays in post becoming less efficient. More likely, their frequency could increase at some point. And wings like Tatum are perhaps the next frontier in regaining offensive attention from the post-up. The Toronto Raptors went all in on non-major post-ups last season. Wings like DeMar DeRozan have long been post-up wizards. But as post-ups become tools to punish discrepancies created elsewhere, or to chain together events like hand-offs and pick-and-rolls, the Wing’s ability in the post will be an important tool in any necromantic revival of the game.

The day the post-up gets its first bill is probably over; no realistic shift in the balance can undo so many years of tactical development. Teams can sometimes turn to the post for simple, static buckets — like the Celtics did with Tatum vs. the Thunder. And it’s important to remember that modern NBA offensive sets are often in flux, with multiple parts flowing together like a complex ballet. How post-ups can fit into the theater around them, as closing moments to take advantage of mismatches, or as follow-up events to move players or the ball across the floor, is changing. There are now many beneficial uses for the post-up in the NBA. And as efficiencies continue to increase, teams are poised to re-enlist more and more of them.

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