Andrej Lemanis and the Australian Boomers stole our hearts at the 2016 Rio Olympics, thanks in large part to their tremendous offensive system. Now coaching the Brisbane Bullets, Lemanis looks like he is trying to install that same devastating offence.
As the NBL reaches its quarter mark, things seem to be working out nicely for Brisbane. After some early growing pains, the Bullets are fourth on the ladder with a 6-5 record. Even more impressive, though, has been Brisbane’s offence. Lemanis’ squad is scoring 109.9 points per 100 possessions, the third-best offensive rating in the league.
One of the main elements to a successful offence is continuity – something the Bullets don’t have. With this being their first season back in the NBL, Brisbane’s roster had never played together, or under Lemanis, prior to the Australian Basketball Challenge preseason tournament. It makes Brisbane’s hot offensive start even more impressive, as they have been forced to learn how to play with one another in regular season games.
“I spoke to the group earlier about how we are a brand new team,” Lemanis said, after the Bullets’ 105-87 round seven win over the Adelaide 36ers.
“Yes, we are carrying the Bullets name, but we are not rolling over any players or office staff, so we have a brand new team. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with 100 pieces and we chipped it out. And now it’s trying to get those little pieces to fit, and it takes time.”
There is no cheat code to accelerate the process of gaining chemistry and familiarity with teammates. This holds true for the Bullets, but having a team made up of experienced NBL heads definitely helps.
“What makes Brisbane so good is they’ve got a lot of maturity on their roster,” former NBL champion and current NBL TV analyst, Brad Robbins said in a recent broadcast.
“You’ve got Daniel Kickert who has played 10+ years in Europe, Adam Gibson has played about 1,000 NBL games since he was 17, Torrey Craig is settling in over the past three years. You’ve got all this experience, Jermaine Beal, two-time champion.
“That’s why I think they can get to that next level and potentially play in the finals at a steadier pace than maybe some of the younger teams.”
Having these veterans around helps, especially when you’re running a system that requires as much focus and attention to detail as Lemanis’.
At the Olympics, Australia built their offence around some main pillars. It was an offensive scheme based on an avalanche of screens, heavy off-ball player movement, backdoor cuts and wonderful passing. In this play against Serbia, all these attributes are seen.
Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut all play a hand in setting either an off, or on, ball screen in this play. Ingles cuts from the top of the key to the corner, with Matthew Dellavedova basically following him from the wing. The set culminates with an open Ingles triple, as the defence is left confused from the slew of movement and screening.
Lemanis hasn’t got the same amount of talent in Brisbane compared to the Olympics, so that has meant some of his playbook has been simplified. However, some core principles from Lemanis’ Rio Boomers team have been seen with the Bullets.
On the above Boomers play, you see four Serbian defenders gravitate into the paint, while the fifth is hesitant to help off Patty Mills. Lemanis’ offence is meant to get defenders in disarray like this, with the chaotic movement eventually leading to defensive breakdowns.
While the nuances of the play are different, look how lost the Sydney Kings’ defence gets here.
Every pass and subsequent movement in this set is in sync and meaningful. All five Bullets know where they need to be, and the constant passing eventually leads to the paint being wide open. This is where Brisbane makes their attack.
When Gibson has the ball on the wing, Kickert (albeit a step slow) sets an off-ball screen for Beal. This is where the simplicity created from the confusion pays off, as Beal is able to get a free lane to the bucket. Kevin Lisch gets stuck in the screen, while Greg Whittington doesn’t want to leave the shooter, Kickert. The perfectly executed set is a Lemanis staple, as it involves all of the components of his offence.
The disciplined offensive fundamentals Lemanis has brought to Brisbane opens up another easy scoring opportunity. As Anthony Petrie enters a post-up, the four other Bullets clear the strong side of the floor.
With the off-ball Brisbane players starting to set screens and cutting across the perimeter, Petrie is able to deliver a pass to Shaun Bruce. As soon as Bruce gets the ball, Kickert screens Jerome Randle, which allows Bruce to start his drive. With Nathan Sobey giving up size to Petrie, Bruce immediately feeds the ball back into Petrie, who moved into position as Sobey was distracted by the on-ball action.
This leaves Petrie under the basket for the easy finish. Another kink in this set is the multiple options Bruce has once he gets the ball. Kickert’s defender, Daniel Johnson, gets lost on the screen, leaving Kickert wide-open at the three-point line, which would have been a good shot, too.
Using the screener
Screens aren’t just stationary walls in Lemanis’ offence. We saw Bogut’s full offensive repertoire in Rio, as Lemanis gave the big man the freedom to move around the court. Look here, as Bogut cuts at the last second instead of setting the screen, which leaves the defence flat-footed.
Lemanis has utilised his screeners in a similar way in Brisbane, as Kickert displays here.
As Kickert goes to set a screen to get Craig open, Aleks Maric stays under the action, and Brad Newley gets sandwiched by the screen. Instead of carrying on with his cut, Craig then turns into the screener, as he gets out to Maric, eliminating the threat of a closeout on the shooter. The play leaves Newley disorientated, who is left with his back to the action.
The final result leaves Kickert, a 38.9 percent three-point shooter, wide open.
Like most Lemanis sets, this play involves more than one screener. Keep an eye on Petrie, though, whose pin-down screen for Beal begins the action. After Petrie sets the screen, he moves into the corner, as his defender, Majok Deng, is already solely focused on the ball handler.
Mitch Young sets the on-ball screen, who proceeds to dive into the middle of the lane. Deng has no choice but to account for Young, after Johnson follows Beal around the screen. As this is happening, Petrie bypasses a potential screen on Randle, choosing instead to pop out to the three-point line.
When Petrie, a 57.1 percent long-range shooter, gets the ball, Deng is deep under the rim and Johnson is in no mans land. Brisbane’s persistent player movement, screening and passing forces the defence to make constant decisions, which eventually leads to numerous miscommunications.
The off ball weapon
There is an old coaches adage that reads, never leave the player with the ball because he is the only one who can score. This is true in theory, but if you’re playing against a Lemanis-coached unit, the players without the ball are just as dangerous as the one with it.
Bogut’s screen on Klay Thompson is effective, allowing Mills to sprint towards the basket. DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t notice Mills cut in behind him, and Dellavedova is able to deliver a simple pass to Mills for the lay-in.
Look how Craig is used in a similar way to Mills on this possession.
With the floor evenly spaced, the middle of the lane is left open. As Petrie sets a screen for Craig, the Bullets’ leading scorer is able to sneak behind Stephen Weigh and Nate Jawai. Weigh got caught in the screen, while Jawai cannot leave Petrie open, as his three-point shooting expertise is well known. Mark Worthington tries to contest the shot, but he gets there too late.
This isn’t the only time we have seen Lemanis implement Craig as an off-ball option.
Craig curls to the front of the basket off the Kickert screen, with Brendan Teys trailing behind. Despite a slight fumble from Craig, he still has enough space and time to finish the shot. Once again, this shows how the off-ball movement is just as deadly as an on-ball player in Lemanis’ offence.
Brisbane’s offence, despite being ranked third in the league, still has room for improvement. The Bullets are second-last in assist percentage and first in turnover percentage, rates Lemanis certainty wants to see increase. However, this could be a by-product of new players not understanding each other’s tendencies on the offensive end, so a small benefit of the doubt can be granted.
Don’t be fooled by those statistics though. With the way the Bullets have executed their offence –one that replicates the Boomers’ attack in Rio– they’ll be a headache for defences to deal with.