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Film Room: Coach Ewing’s Playbook Part 3: Stagger Series

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NCAA Basketball: Providence at Georgetown Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

A staple of Patrick Ewing’s playbook in year one became the use of stagger screens. A stagger is simply two consecutive screens set for a player (generally a guard) that occurs away from the ball.

For Georgetown, with a roster without much individual ability to create in the back-court this was a series and action to get movement away from the ball and try to generate space and open looks. What the Hoyas will have to do in furthering this action is expand the range of possibilities that go along with it. Often times, it was simply used as a pin-down to create a quick hitting action. The two that usually came off of the stagger action were the freshman - Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair.

One of the benefits of the stagger is the alignment rarely allows the ability for the defense to switch. Bigger players are setting a screen for a guard, if the defense does switch, it’s going to create mismatches. The onus falls on the defender to fight through screens.

One thing I’d caution with Jamorko - be patient. Can see here examples of him being too anxious and not letting things align, and results in tight spaces and awkward positioning:

If Blair has a flaw working off of these staggers - it reflects a flaw on the larger scale with him, a quick trigger. He is shoot first and can find himself taking a bad shot every now and then and not progressing the offense:

21 on the shot clock, another player coming through on the back-end and still throws it up while being closely guarded.

The execution is important. The bigs have to be spaced correctly - enough room in between the two to make the defender fight through both, not so close that he can fight through the stagger at the same time. The attacking player needs to do his best to stay as connected - shoulder-to-shoulder- with his screener, not leaving any crack open for the defender to stay attached undeterred. Jamorko does a nice job of this, and makes up for his lack of patience originally by staying shoulder-to-shoulder and because of that, the defender gets knocked back twice:

If the first initial look was not there, Ewing would send a second wing through the same stagger sequence. I have to think this is just again to get bodies moving and try to create gaps that can be attacked. The group of guards last season needed help to have lanes pried open and this was one way to manufacture that.

Here, a tiny crack that allows Pickett to take a half step draws the defense in and results in an open three:

The following possessions are where this offense hopefully is headed towards. Movement and guys playing freely and attacking gaps while sharing the ball:

A system aligned with NBA sets isn’t there to manufacture shots, grind the clock and hold anyone’s hand. Stripped down, it can do that and turn into a point A to point B offense. We did get that a lot this year - they had to feed the post, they had to try to hit a quick hitter on a stagger. The roster couldn’t handle much more than leaning on a few options and at times, force-feeding the more talented parts. But at it’s best and where this hopefully is headed to is an offense that allows for plenty of freedom and playing off of each other quickly.

Notice here how much Xavier is tied to Derrickson and the second stagger lets Pickett find a seam:

With that said, a great benefit of having good shooting and offensive bigs with Derrickson and Govan was how much of a threat they can in theory offer out of the stagger alignment. It limited the thought of defenses switching and Ewing put a twist on the stagger screen by going further and setting a flare with the screen set by the corresponding big:

I personally enjoyed when Ewing deployed this action on sideline out-of-bounds:

What you would like to see more of, and which can happen with more talent and smarts on the floor is continuous action, both with the ball and away from it. Here the guard operates with a ball screen while the weak-side help is flushed out with the stagger screen away from the ball. It’s a great attack - 2 on 2 with a ball screen with the other 3 offensive players occupy the rest of the defense.

Overall, the stagger action is likely to be a keeper in Ewing’s playbook with Pickett and Blair returning on the wings.

Lastly, here’s the pros doing it and you can see the options that can come with it:

And in full, all of the stagger action Georgetown ran this year:

In case you missed the first two parts of the Film Room Series, you can find them below:

Film Room Part 1: Iverson Series

Film Room Part 2: Horns