Milwaukee Bucks “Ghost” vs Switching

There are a couple of different philosophies when it comes to attacking switching defenses, and the primary way for NBA teams is to get the mismatch you want and then attack 1 on 1. Overall the 3 main ideas when it comes to facing switching defense are:

  1. Keep it moving – get the ball moving side to side and allow the defense to make a mistake.
  2. Pick your matchup – try and exploit the matchup you want, but rely on 1 on 1 play and focus on players to make plays.
  3. Designing plays – having plays in your playbook you can run against switching.
Mike Budenholzer has been one of my favorite after time out coaches to study, and he designed a great special during tonight’s game to take advantage of the Nets switch-everything defensive scheme.

Before we dive too deep into the play breakdown, let’s look at “Ghost” action and what it is designed to do.

Ghost Action

One of the hardest actions in basketball is the fake screen into a pick and pop – typically a guard to guard screen. I call this action “Ghost” because there is no screen even though it looks like a ballscreen is going to be set. Here are some examples of Steph Curry setting these Ghost screens and the problems it presents for the defense.

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Steph Curry Ghost Screens

Even though I term this action as Ghost, the playcall when we run this with our high school team is completely different.

No Screen = No Switch

Defensively when teams switch on and off-ball screens the number one rule is no screen then no switch. When teams switch on defense they should “Touch, Talk & Take” to execute the switch. Since there is no screen then there is nothing to touch, there is nothing to switch. This was highlighted prominently when Anthony Davis beat the Nuggets with his game-winning 3 when Plumlee did not stay on him and assumed the switch with no screen.

Chicago Ghost Breakdown

Now that the context of why Ghost screens work for the offense and how defense adjusts to no screens, we can look at this special from the Bucks tonight. The play starts out with “Chicago” action or a pindown into a dribble hand-off on the wing.

Once the dribble handoff occurs, the player in the Dunker’s spot (Nwora) sprints up toward the player with the ball (Hill) and fakes a ballscreen and Ghosts to the slot.

This creates confusion with Carter because Harden correctly stays with Nwora, but Carter opens up and anticipates a switch out to the pop which opens up a lane for Hill to drive into.

Once Hill drives this forces help from the low man (Aldridge) and the help the helper (Mills), to react to the drive. When NBA teams help they usually open up their body to split the 2 players who are spotted up on the wing and the corner, but this situation is more unique because of what Brook Lopez does.

Lopez starts in the Dunker’s spot but then relocates to the corner as the drive occurs, leaving Mills anticipating to help low on the drop-off pass to Lopez.

When Lopez relocates to the corner, Mills takes a peek to see where he went and this is when Connaughton cuts right behind him into space for the dunk finish.

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Coach Pyper

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