Mid majors don’t crack the top five in adjusted offensive efficiency often. Let alone a mid major picked to finish 12th in the Atlantic-10 preseason poll. Yet here we are in late January with Bob McKillop’s young Davidson team sitting right in between Gonzaga and Duke in AdjO.
The Wildcats haven’t played the strongest of schedules, but they have hardly lost a step in the few games they have played against top defenses. Davidson traveled to Virginia and scored 1.15 points per possession against one of the best defenses in the country. To put that into perspective it was the most points per possession Virginia has allowed at home since 2011 and the third most ever under Tony Bennett:
Earlier this week Davidson dismantled Dayton’s strong defense at home to move to 4-2 in Atlantic-10 play. The Wildcats did so without star guard Jack Gibbs due to a slight meniscus tear. The sophomore leads Davidson in assists and is currently having a 40-50-90 shooting season.
I went back through the Dayton game to breakdown this unique offense. It’s hard to watch a Davidson game and focus on any one individual player. McKillop’s motion offense is fast paced and beautiful to watch. I absolutely don’t mean to take anything away from the Davidson players. The roster is loaded with great shooters that can put the ball on the floor and make a move. It’s the combination of the system, players, and coaches that makes this offense unlike anything else in college basketball right now.
The Basic Action
The amazing thing about the Davidson offense is how they create. The Wildcats rarely use pick and roll relative to other teams around the country. Even crazier, Davidson doesn’t even use dribble penetration all that much. Drive and kick offenses have become so common in basketball, but not for Bob McKillop. Instead Davidson creates off the ball. Setting screens at an extremely fast pace (sometimes 10+ pin downs in one possession) and driving the defense crazy with reads.
Davidson initiates the offense in different ways, but their primary way against Dayton was by starting with a scissor cut. Take a look at the step-by-step action below:
A lot of teams run this initial action to get their guards in the corners. What follows from Davidson is really just a slightly different version of basic flex offense, but one of the things that really separates Davidson from a basic flex team is the superior spacing.
As you can see in the image above, the guard in the weakside corner is the one with a decision to make. This is another big improvement from a rigid flex offense. There is much more room for improvisation based on reading the defense in McKillop’s system. The sharp curl (similar to the baseline cut in flex) is so much more effective than flex due to better spacing and the unpredictable nature of the cutter.
The first cutter (Watkins) chose to curl the screen and probably had his man beat, but Aldridge chose not to make the pass. This then shifts the decision making over to Kalinoski (#4). Notice Kalinoski’s defender helps on Watkins for just a split second. Kalinoski reads the play perfectly, sprints to the three-point line, and knocks down the shot.
Here’s the basic motion in GIF form:
The offense looks very simply when broken down in steps. However, you need to watch the team play and execute for a full game to appreciate just how great it is. I have more clips below, but I would highly recommend taking the time to watch a Davidson game in the near future.
Now we know the groundwork for the basic action in the motion offense. Next I’ll try to answer the question:
Why does the offense work so well?
1. Player gravity
Like I said earlier, Davidson is loaded with players that can shoot the lights out and put the ball on the floor when necessary. Dayton is a very good defensive team, but the Flyers looked silly trying to defend Davidson’s motion. The result was Dayton losing their man-to-man principles and instead simply chasing guys around. Take a look at the image below of Dayton’s positioning on a dribble hand-off:
A player’s ability to pull his defender with him to certain parts of the floor has become known as gravity. As you can see above, all Dayton off-ball defenders are tight to their men. This is because Davidson will pick you apart in their motion action if you sag off. However, on this play Davidson takes advantage of the defense with a dribble hand-off followed by a quick dive to the basket with the lane wide open.
2. Constant weakside motion
Not only does Davidson have great spacing (leaving the lane wide open), but the Wildcats also keep their players not directly involved in the current action on the move. Watch below as Watkins (#2) makes a pass and cuts through the lane:
Curls like this for wide open layups are common for Davidson. Their shots at the rim don’t come as a result of penetration like most teams. Instead they space the court and read the defense, in this case curling all the way to the basket when the defender trailed.
3. Reads, reads, and more reads
I could take any single play from the Dayton game this week and point out a Davidson player making a read. However, the one below was my favorite from the game because you can literally see Brian Sullivan point to the open man before the play even happens. He reads that both defenders took a step towards him and then simply starts running back on defense, knowing his teammate is about to get a wide open three. Amazing basketball:
This play really sums up the struggles for a defense when playing against Davidson. The two Dayton defenders involved in the action get so confused they actually run into each other as Aldridge nails the three.
I feel pretty comfortable in saying that Davidson is the very best NCAA team right now in terms of team offense. This post was designed to give you an idea of the basic action and concepts, but only watching a full game can do Bob McKillop’s system full justice.