Gordon Hayward’s Game-Winner

The forefather (in my mind, at least) of NBA strategy analysis in blog form, Sebastian Pruiti (God rest his Twitter account), had a regular series of posts in which he would always analyze the plays that got an NBA team a clutch basket/game-winner. This is me bringing that back. 

Following a failed Aaron Brooks isolation by the Kings (that resulted in a steal by Jamaal Tinsley, who played well but got away with a foul on the play), the Utah Jazz called timeout with 12.6 seconds remaining in their 102-102 game on the road against the Kings Friday night. The resulting play out of that timeout was a simple and effective one that resulted in a wide-open Gordon Hayward game-winner (his 22nd and 23rd points of the game on fairly efficient shooting/ball-handling).

The play opens with Marvin Williams inbounding the ball, Jamaal Tinsley in the middle of a sort of 1-1-2 low setup, with Derrick Favors setting up at the nail/elbow area, Gordon Hayward on the left block farthest from the inbounder, and Al Jefferson on the right block, nearest the inbounder. The Kings are pressuring Marvin Williams as he inbounds and thus are man-to-man on everyone else.

As Williams receives the ball to inbound it, Tinsley comes from the middle of the paint to receive the inbound receiving a half-hearted rub screen from Favors on the way, and then dribbles out to the left elbow-extended area, waiting for the clock to get down to about 10 seconds before the play starts in earnest.

At this point, Marvin Williams has made his way down to the baseline farthest from the ball, and Gordon Hayward is giving Al Jefferson a cross screen down on the baseline, seemingly to free him up for a quick, short hook/or post-up possession.

Things are looking iffy for the Kings after this initial action, as they apparently did not set up any hard and fast rules in the huddle (or in practice when discussing late-game defense) in terms of what, when, and where to switch. But the real trouble begins later. First things first, though.

We’ll see here that James Johnson will essentially hedge the screen with DeMarcus Cousins trailing Al Jefferson (and you’ll see in the video Cousins getting picked well by Hayward). This prevents an easy quick hook or deep catch in the post for Jefferson, although considering Aaron Brooks’s pressure on Tinsley (who is still out pretty high at this point with the ball), I’m not sure the Kings were ever in too much danger of giving up an easy look there. Anyway, the play was almost assuredly designed for Hayward, as we’ll see here as he gets a screen around the elbow area as he comes off the screen he set for Jefferson (screening the screener is always a good idea).

We see that James Johnson was trailing Hayward by far too much to be able to cover him as he pops out from the Favors screen, this due to Johnson’s earlier work showing to prevent a pass to Jefferson. Tyreke Evans was in position to take on Hayward, allowing James Johnson to cover Marvin Williams, who has been hanging out in the corner this whole time. Instead, we see that Evans is taken by surprise that his help was needed, he responds late, and takes a semi-illegal screen right in the chin as he rushes to try to get out on Hayward.

And there’s Hayward’s wide-open look, which of course he hit, or we wouldn’t be talking about the play. Also of note is the fact that the timing of the play resulted in there being 4.5 seconds remaining on the gameclock when the ball went through the net, a product of the Jazz (I presume) wanting enough time on the clock for a possible putback (the Kings were out of timeouts). This had the adverse effect of giving James Johnson enough time to dribble downcourt on the inbounds, just missing a 10-or-so-foot floater that would have sent the game to overtime.

But moving back to our play of choice, we’ll also see on the video that at no point did Jason Thompson consider hedging off of Favors’s screen for Hayward, likely because doing that in this situation usually leads to a wide-open lob/dive to the rim and layup for the big man there, unless the staff explains to the defense beforehand unique rules regarding zoning up in the paint/switching everything, or what have you (playing a pure zone being far more common in shorter time situations, where teams are likely to run a lob right off the inbound, rather than the intentional clock-running we saw to open this play). You couple that non-hedge to make Hayward run out farther to make his catch with the fact that James Johnson couldn’t just trail Hayward the whole way, and Tyreke Evans’s poor awareness, and you have a successful Gordon Hayward game-winner

That’s a pretty nice play from Jazz head coach Ty Corbin, but I don’t think I’m being harsh calling the Sacramento Kings’ defensive execution subpar.

But hey, let’s not end on such a dark note. Rather, here is a bonus picture of what James Johnson looks like.


  1. New York Knicks: Examining the Knicks' early-season success -- and struggles | The Point Forward - SI.com says:

    […] On the bright side for the Kings: James Johnson’s taste in facial hair is exquisite. (See the bottom of this post.) […]

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