The Wolves’ Hidden Scoring Sources: Rubio’s Off-hand Layups, Martin’s Post-ups

William Bohl —  November 19, 2013 — 7 Comments

Rubio Layup

By now, you know all the gaudy accolades Kevin Love is stockpiling. If you don’t know them by heart, it’s owed to information overload rather than apathy. Love was the first player in NBA history with 160 points, 80 rebounds and 30 assists in his first six games of the season (according to the Elias Sports Bureau). He’s first player in NBA history with at least four 3-pointers, 19 rebounds and seven assists in a game (via Sportando). Lengthy homages are paid to his outlet passing. He and Ricky Rubio teamed up for one of the best ESPN basketball commercials in recent memory. Countless, terrific features are being written about him by very talented people. His re-emergence as a dominant force, following a lost season in 2012-13, has been the talk of the league through its first three weeks.

If you care to branch out a bit, you may learn about Corey Brewer, who is garnering attention for being on the receiving end of many of Love’s patented outlets, as well as for bringing energy to the floor every single night. You might consider the blazing start Kevin Martin’s put together, scoring at least 20 points in 9 of the 10 games he’s appeared and hitting nearly half (21/43) of his three-pointers from the left side of the floor. You may have even noticed Nikola Pekovic getting in on the fun, the $60 million man recovering from a slow beginning to average 17.3 points and 8.8 boards on nearly 74% shooting over his past four games.

But why not dig even deeper? The Wolves average more than 102 possessions per 48 minutes — Minnesota’s offense is more than Corey Brewer in transition, Nikola Pekovic in the paint, Kevin Martin shooting threes and Kevin Love doing everything. So what else happens? What can we learn about the team by focusing on a couple of the lesser-known, quirkier elements of their offensive attack?

Ricky Rubio’s Odd Layups

Coming into the season, two areas of Rubio’s game that were targeted by many for improvement were a) perimeter jump shooting and b) finishing at the rim. Thus far, he’s knocked down a respectable 38.9% of his three-pointers, carefully picking his spots to pull the trigger (usually when he’s wide open) and rarely as the offense’s first option on a given possession. His progression in this area has been an encouraging sign.

When it comes to finishing at the rim, however, he continues to struggle. Ricky, a career 44.3% shooter inside 5 feet, is converting just 45.9% of those opportunities this season — and some of it may have to do with the mechanics of his shots at the basket. As a child, every basketball player is taught the same, basic way to shoot a layup; when attacking the rim from the right side, explode off your left foot and lay the ball up with your right hand, and do the opposite when attacking from the left. The normal rules don’t necessarily apply to all NBA players, some of whom can defy gravity and bend the laws of physics, but fundamentals exist for a reason.

Ricky Rubio is difficult to pigeonhole for a variety of reasons — for example, he’s a player from Europe who is capable of executing flashy passes (which fits convenient (and tired) stereotypes), but plays elite-level defense and lacks a great jump shot (which doesn’t). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rubio shuns the standard method of laying the ball in the basket, preferring instead to use his rim-side hand to finish on drives, particularly from the right side. It’s almost as though he attempts to use his back to shield the shot attempt from would-be blocks — a few examples for you:

Here’s a detailed breakdown of Rubio’s attempts at the rim, by location and finishing hand:

Description

FGM / FGA

%

From left, using right hand

6 /11

54.5%

From left, using left hand

3 / 9

33.3%

From right, using left hand

0 / 1

0.0%

From right, using right hand

4 / 9

44.4%

Baseline, right to left, either hand

1 / 3

33.3%

Baseline, left to right, either hand

1 / 3

33.3%

Fastbreak

2 / 2

100%

Or, put another way:

Description

FGM / FGA

%

From left, using right hand

6 /11

54.5%

All other layup attempts

11 / 27

40.7%

It’s a small sample size, but it appears that Rubio is most successful finishing drives under one, specific circumstance: driving from his left, using his right hand. Barring significant overall improvement in the coming months, Rubio’s interior offensive game will again be a weak point. Ricky is most dangerous as a facilitator on drives, oftentimes threading the needle to a waiting big man or even using the threat of the pass to set up an easy two, but it’s important for him to stay aggressive to keep the defense honest. Given his work ethic, I’d be surprised if it didn’t improve as time goes on. It’s clear Rubio worked hard on his jumper over the summer; it’s hard to add multiple facets to one’s game in a single offseason. It can take years to perfect a new skill before it’s ready to be employed in games on a regular basis.

Speaking of which …

Kevin Martin Likes to … Post Up?

When Kevin Martin signed a 4-year, $30-million free agent deal this past offseason, he instantly became the best shooting guard the Timberwolves have ever employed. He’s a natural scorer, and would be a terrific fit on just about any team, but his game is tailor-made for Rick Adelman’s corner offense (there’s a reason that refrain’s been repeated so often it’s almost a cliche). Spot-up shooting, off-ball cutting, finishing in transition, occasionally running the pick and roll: all skills Minnesota was sorely lacking in 2012-13, and all a part of Martin’s repertoire.

What Martin’s added in 2013-14 is a penchant for posting up — and succeeding when he gets post touches. Per Synergy, Martin is scoring 1.1 points per possession on post-ups, oftentimes taking advantage of his size (6’7 and lanky) to back down smaller guards when they’re tasked with defending him (he has at least three inches on Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Avery Bradley, Randy Foye and J.J. Redick, and has successfully posted up all of them this season). Another bit of value he brings on his post-ups is drawing fouls, particularly when young or undisciplined defenders are involved. Adept at drawing (and/or manufacturing) contact, Martin will swipe the ball through the raised arms of unsuspecting opponents, earning a trip to the line, where he’s a career 87% shooter. Take a look for yourself:

Using the post-up as part of his two-man game with Kevin Love has kept defenses off balance on the perimeter. When the two are isolated on the left side of the floor, which is the hot shooting zone for each, it’s important for the defense to see multiple looks throughout the course of a game. Both can shoot threes, and both can post up — defenders can’t simply key on one threat. That Martin is succeeding at something on the offensive end isn’t really news — but it is worth noting that the 30-year-old, ten-year NBA veteran has never posted up at this high a rate, with a majority of his past usage coming as a cutter, off hand-offs, as a spot-up shooter or in transition.

The percentages of Martin’s possessions that include post-ups, over the past five seasons (courtesy of Synergy):

Season

Team

% of post-up possessions

2009-10

SAC – HOU

0.7%

2010-11

HOU

0.5%

2011-12

HOU

0.7%

2012-13

OKC

1.7%

2013-14

MIN

9.1%

Martin’s shown an obvious preference to spin right off the post-up, usually into a fadeaway jumper or a dribble drive attempt, which is something teams ought to be adding to their scouting reports — but knowing Martin, he’ll find a way to add wrinkles to his post moves to continue being successful.

Like Rubio’s attempts at the rim, Martin’s post-ups provide the Timberwolves with additional offense – and while neither is as integral to Minnesota’s attack as Love or Martin’s perimeter shooting, Pekovic’s post-ups and offensive rebounds or Corey Brewer’s transition finishes, both are methods of scoring that opposing defenses have to respect. Rubio’s shooting percentages have struggled mightily from inside the three-point arc, but it’s important that he persists in attacking the basket. Martin’s got obvious preferences out of post-up situations, and defenders may be onto it, but getting the ball into Martin’s hands usually brings positive results.

One has a strength (Rubio finishing with the off hand) to explore, the other is a new toy (Martin post-ups) for Adelman to play with. Hopefully, neither play is a primary option for long stretches of games but each can get the Wolves buckets if the situation is right. And that’s what having a diverse, successful offensive attack is all about: the stars can’t do it alone, and options 2 through 4 may not always work, either. Knowing their strengths, Rubio and Martin can provide points in unconventional ways, strengthening the offense as a whole.

 

William Bohl

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7 responses to The Wolves’ Hidden Scoring Sources: Rubio’s Off-hand Layups, Martin’s Post-ups

  1. Great article! Interesting to see Rubio does indeed do better with the right hand on the left side. I guess I can kinda see that now haha.

  2. great piece. got me thinking about one of the all-time great off-hand-wrong-side finishers: nick van exel. there was nothing prettier than watching the left-handed van exel come flying into the paint and finish off-handed (right) on the left-side. looked awkward and pretty at the same time. not sure if it’s to shield would be blockers with your backside or if it’s just to catch people flatfooted as the expect a traditional finish at the rim. either way it can be as effective as a steve nash wrong-footed runner.

    tried to find some van exel video, but ended up in a sean rooks, del harris, and eldin campbell wormhole. could’ve been worse.

  3. Nice article, Bill.

    It’s kind of funny, just the other night my friend texted me, “I didn’t know Kevin Martin had a post-up game?” My response was, “Well, he hasn’t really throughout this career.” What an interesting development.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Bushytop: I loved everything about that comment, and thank you.

    John: I was surprised to find out Martin had never really posted up much prior to this season. For it being a “new” skill, he’s pretty refined at it.

  5. Now I’m worried that this will become a new stereotype about white, foreign, flashy-passing point guards.
    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/12775/steve-nash-vs-the-regular-ol-layup

  6. Nice write up. I learned something.

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