Welcome to Atomic Wonder, where we break down a little thing with big ripple effects. This week we are talking about the slip.
A few years ago, the change in assignments on pick-and-rolls temporarily solved basketball’s most popular game, triggering an off-road emergency for basketball freaks.
At first, individual scoring seemed to be the only solution. The Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, led the movement against ball movement.
Those days are gone, however, thanks to the popularization of slip, a cut in an open space after putting down an opening pick, an adjustment that has become so ubiquitous that it has overtaken the vocabulary of coaches and Boy Scouts. The slip is a triumph of evolution, of collective necessity leading to collective problem solving and adoption.
The name is true to its nature. There is a moment after each switch is called, but before it is executed, that the pick-setter is configured between two defenders but guarded by neither. This is when they can literally slide under defense (the element of surprise is important) and cut a juicy opening.
Slippage is nothing new. It’s a fusion of two popular and effective games: pick-and-rolls and cuts. Chris Bosh loved sliding after setting picks for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but like most innovations spawned by the Heatles, the Golden State Warriors got most of the credit – small ball, switching, positionless rosters, n ‘ anyone?
This happened for several reasons.
The Warriors’ success, unlike the Miami Heat Big 3, had no easy explanation. Reporters searched for one, rallying around coach Steve Kerr, hoping to gain bits of insight through an assortment of coach speeches. But Kerr provided some real answers as fans grew more curious about the X’s and O’s.
The slip, thanks to writer Nekias Duncan – whose eye is a gift to the basketball conversation – has even become a meme.
The Warriors named everything they did, inspiring an unprecedented copy. In defense, the warriors have swung. In attack, they started to slip. It was as if they were having a conversation with themselves while the rest of the NBA listened to them.
Here is Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis using the slip against the Warriors. Unfair, really. You hate to see it.
Ironically, it was the Heat 2020 that really broke the “slip” of a hipster NBA password into the vocabulary of advertisers and fans. Heat’s NBA Finals run – led by Jimmy Butler when his fans were at their lowest, a pair of late lottery picks and undrafted players – also demanded an explanation.
Miami’s rise was the product of so many things, but on the court nothing exemplifies the Heat better than their reading and reaction game. Slippage has become a signifier of their collective intelligence, their ability to anticipate the part, the fit par excellence of fitters par excellence.
On the last clip, the Heat bring up the Celtics in their second pick-and-roll attempt. As soon as Celtics big man Daniel Theis prepares to contain Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo slips into the paint. Like Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson and Kelly Olynyk love to pretend to sift through before they fly off for three.
The Celtics eventually adjusted by tying a body tightly to the pick-setter or sending aid to the rim, but that only created openings elsewhere. Below, Adebayo slides, Jaylen Brown assists, Robinson splashes – a triumph for the passing big man.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert doesn’t slip much. He likes to touch opponents, brutalize them, and rack up those nice onscreen assists, which makes him all the more powerful when he does.
The defenses have become wise with the slip, which presents other possibilities.
When Bojan Bogdanovic slides here, the defense naturally overreacts. It just leaves Donovan Mitchell open, which leaves Royce O’Neale open in the corner. From there, it’s up to Mitchell to make the right decision.
Slippage is not a quick fix. It can be neutralized. The best way to guard against slipping without sending help is to be physical, to keep your body on the screen so you know where it is going.
Slip is just another possibility, but its emergence has reopened the possibilities for closing switches. Now pick-and-rolls are once again the unfair fight they always were for defenders, who are perpetually at the mercy of reacting to a range of potential moves.
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