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Reconsidering the High-Post

A critical review of the much ballyhooed move by Coach Romar to implement the high-post offense last off-season.

Abdul Gaddy has struggled in the Huskies new high-post offense.
Abdul Gaddy has struggled in the Huskies new high-post offense.

Facing the prospects of not having access to an elite 1:1 scorer and having on-boarded a guru new assistant, Coach Romar made the decision to implement a version of the high-post offense last off-season. On paper, the move made sense. On hardwood? Not so much as the Huskies have sunk to the some of the lowest levels of offensiveness that they've ever ventured under Romar's leadership.

Naturally, the putrid state of Huskies offensive game raises the question: Is the high-post to blame?

If you accept the notion that Romar felt compelled to implement the high-post, the offensive scheme that he played in as a collegiate PG, because his own assessment led him to believe that he lacked the horses to run his traditional motion offense all of the time, then any assessment we have about the effectiveness of the high-post in Seattle has to be made relative to what we would be seeing out of this current roster in the old scheme. That is a difficult comparison to imagine as it can't well be measured except for in those instances where the Huskies break out their old motion sets in games (which seems to be more and more frequently as the kids quit on the high-post). Still, Romar has said repeatedly that the idea of the high-post is to create opportunities for players to get open looks at baskets as they are going to the rim. He also maintains, as one would expect, that his players have been getting these open looks and that the shots just haven't fallen. Obviously, there is a bunch of coach speak going on here as any casual observer will tell you that a fadeaway jumper by Abdul Gaddy from 17 feet out hardly qualifies as "an open look". The truth is that no matter what offense the Huskies have run - whether it be high-post, motion or transition - they have consistently failed to execute. The high-post clearly isn't the only problem, but it most certainly has been a problem.

So, what in the name of James Edwards is going on around here? The high-post offense is a basic basketball offense that many kids get taught in high school and many teams in college run some version of. It is also common in the pros and, in fact, Tex Winters' "triangle" offense is a well known derivation. The idea for the high-post is to have the offense initiated by an entry pass from the PG to a post player somewhere away from the hoop, usually the at the elbow. The big man then executes the offense by becoming the point and creating a shot with either his back to the basket (drop pass to a cutter or kick out to a shooter) or face to the basket (pass to a cutter or shot for himself). Theoretically, having the big man up high should draw one of the opponent's tougher interior defenders away from the hoop and create opportunities for more athletic players around the rim. But it really isn't working for the Huskies, and there are several reasons why.

1. The Players Don't Fit

The first requirement of the high-post is that you have bigs who can pass and who can hit shots with their face to the basket. We used to have those players. Mathew Bryan-Amaning would have been great in this scheme. Mike Jensen could have been even more productive in this offense. Spencer Hawes would have become a legend instead a "one and dud". However, neither Aziz N'Diaye or Shawn Kemp Jr. are natural facilitators of this offense given their intrinsic skill sets. I haven't been able to watch all the games this year, but among those that I've seen, it has been a common sight to watch Andrew Andrews or Gaddy bring the ball down, make the entry pass and then sit around and wait for the post to make a move. Bail outs are frustratingly common as the post can't find a play and they kick it back to the PG so as to have to re-initiate the offense. These kick backs indicate that the post player can't find a play or doesn't know what to do with the ball and, more often than not, result in the offense breaking down and a player (usually Gaddy, Scott Suggs or CJ Wilcox) having to make a low percentage attempt. Relief valve bail outs are a necessary part of the offense, but they can be frustrating for the other players who are theoretically exerting the effort to set down screens or get past defenders to get open, but not getting anything to show for it.

The second requirement is movement on the wings. The high-post requires activity among the players without the ball so that the passer can have options to exercise. At any given time, we should be seeing players setting screens, flashing into lanes or popping out for open threes depending on the play being called. For a variety of reasons, the Huskies don't demonstrate a ton of activity in their half court sets. I can't really explain this other than to say that, physically, we don't have a lot of guys who are killer screeners and, mentally, we may not be fully trained and proficient in the offense, especially when the post passes out to re-initiate.

2. Transition Defense is Compromised

If you've watched the Huskies a lot this year, you've undoubtedly found yourself cursing at your dog while watching a Husky turnover get turned into an easy fast-break for the opposing team. Every strategy has a weakness and one of the great compromises of the high-post is creating a vulnerability in your transition defense. The reason for this is simply a matter of positioning. If you have a big man at the elbow and you have two wings low - one setting a screen and the other creating a basketball move towards the basket - a turnover due to a mishandling by the big man or a fumbled pass by a slasher automatically becomes a play where, at best, your transition defenders become your point guard and - maybe - a spot up shooter who is able to get back in the play. On the flip side, the opponent will certainly have several guys in the play including whatever big man was playing defender on your high-post initiator. If the Huskies were shooting at a normal 46-49% clip and their turnovers were relatively low, this likely isn't a problem. But shooting at a 40% clip with more frequent turnovers is a recipe for disaster and explains why the transition defense has looked so poor.

3. Our PG is Neutralized

Abdul Gaddy has been much-maligned this season. The reasons vary from his declining assist to turnover ratio to his poor outside shooting to the perception that he isn't making enough plays. Personally, I think this criticism has far over-exceeded the reality of his play. In truth, Abdul has probably been one of our two or three most consistent players all season and, in my mind, is probably playing the most consistent basketball of any player on the roster over the course of this ghastly 2-8 stretch that we are currently enduring.

The problem is that the high-post is a poor fit for Gaddy.

The PG can, obviously, play a number of different roles in a high-post scheme depending on how it is implemented. The Huskies appear to be asking Gaddy to initiate the offense and then stay on the perimeter as a bail out for the post player. Too often, that means that the PG is either forced to become a jump shooter as a plan B or a dribble driver when the cutters can't get open. It also means that the PG is more often than not the player least likely to be creating an assist for other scorers. In short, Abdul's greatest weaknesses are emphasized and his greatest strengths, including his shiftiness, his ability in the pick and roll, his passing and his ability to post up small guards, are neutralized. This incarnation of the high post is a bad fit for Abdul Gaddy and both his production and his stature among the fans have taken hits because of it.

In fairness, the high-post hasn't been all bad for the Huskies. Fans who don't cherry pick just their favorite memories of years past would agree that the Huskies ability to execute in the half court has been a painful sore spot for much of the Romar era, in particular during the years when guys like Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman, guys who couldn't get their own shots outside in, were our best scoring options. There have absolutely been times, as Romar has argued, that the offense has gotten good looks for players and they just haven't fallen. Furthermore, the high-post definitely looks like it could fit this team better going forward, in particular when UW's incoming transferees arrive and guys like Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews are on the floor together. Furthermore, can you imagine the options you would create out of this offense if a guy like Aaron Gordon were plugged into it? There are reasons to like this offense as a core strategy for next season.

The painful part is enduring it through the rest of this one.