The Motion Offense and the Point Guard

I had this originally as a comment, but it was too long, so I decided to just make a fanpost. If this is the wrong spot for this, feel free to let me know. I figured we might as well centralize that discussion rather than continuously rehashing the same points over and over again.

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about whether or not Seth Allen would be a viable option as the starting point guard because of his greater athleticism and shooting ability in comparison to Pe'Shon Howard, and while the arguments on both sides are generally solid, one concept I feel that is getting lost is the type of system Mark Turgeon runs. The offense that MD now employs under Turgeon is a version of the motion offense, which relies on generating mismatches and open shots using a continuous series of cuts and screens and swinging the ball quickly from point to point without much dribbling or holding the ball. The motion offense consists of a set of rules which define where to cut and how to react to the defense. There is almost no isolation of the ball handler, and many passes are made before the final one on most possessions (think about how many times 4 or 5 guys touch the ball on a play in our games this year). The reason for the high number of assists overall on the team, despite the modest (though still impressive) number from our PG, is that the PG initiates the offense by directing the motion initially and making the first pass, but the last pass is often from the wings or a kick out from a big.

The most important characteristics in a motion offense point guard are the ability to read the defense accurately, make quick decisions, protect the basketball and pass the ball efficiently. Those are all things that Pe'Shon Howard is undeniably very good at. Because the option is not a set-play offense, the motion continues until a player is open, there is no need to "reset" the whole offensive set so even if Pe'Shon gets the ball with little time left on the clock, he should still have someone available to pass it to.

The primary argument is that not having a viable shooter at the point means man defenses can help or double team and zone defenses can sag away from him, but based on how the motion offense operates, space is not created by defined positions around the perimeter, but rather disciplined spacing, moving quickly and decisively across the floor and reading the defense correctly. Being disciplined and unselfish does way more for opening up space than any point guards shooting ability, and the point guard doesn't need to shoot lights out to prevent defenses from helping on him, he just needs to demonstrate good decision making so that teams have to focus on him.

Would we be a better team if Pe'Shon could shoot 60% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc? Of course, but the argument is not whether or not Pe'Shon could be better, it's whether or not Allen is a better option. The reason why our team has so many turnovers is in my opinion due to guys getting used to playing in this offense. They need to anticipate movement and make passes no matter what position they play, which leads to turnovers from the players other than the point guard. This is why Turgeon is always emphasizing the need for his players to stay disciplined and play smart; the turnovers are the result of lapses in mental focus or trying to operate beyond the scope of the offense (ie dribbling too much, misreading the defense, not spacing the floor properly, moving to the wrong spot). Pe'Shon's decision making at this point is far superior as far as I have seen, and Allen's tendency to want to dribble the ball too much is exactly the opposite of what this offense is founded on. You need a solid foundation, and in the motion offense, that foundation is a good pass first PG. Turgeon could hardly run his offense last year with Stoglin and regularly complained that he had to simplify concepts and dumb down his offense for the team.

Also I think Pe'Shon's shooting woes are magnified by when they occurred. Had he shot at the rate he began the season at some other point in the middle of the season, we would just say he's in a slump, but because he started out shooting like that, we had no basis of comparison, since he had been injured pretty much all of last year. I can't say if he's more like the guy he's been the past few games or earlier in the season, but it's probably not one or the other, and somewhere in the middle is good enough for this team. You can't really double guys effectively against a motion offense, other than the ball handler because if run properly, the players would continue the movement until someone else was left open at that spot. The reason Turgeon's teams tend to be slower and more methodical is that the motion offense with lesser athletes uses continuous motion until someone eventually gets open. Think about Aronhalt's shots, and he finds himself more open on the wings or off of screens, not spots where Pe'Shon is going to be the primary option.

The point guard is the primary catalyst in Turgeon's offense and he needs to be able to make the right read and send the first pass, which initiates the motion. He's not supposed to break down the defense off the dribble or hit the first cutter, the fact that he gets the number of assists he does is just a testament to his ability. I think what's lost in the Allen/Howard debate is the type of system that Turgeon runs, which does not benefit that much from having a shooting point guard as much as a traditional passing one, and the most important factors in a motion offense are discipline in sticking to the set of rules specific to this version, maintaining spacing, and quick decision making. What we are seeing when we see Pe'Shon miss open jumpers is not the result of teams not guarding him, but the offense working correctly. In those cases, he made the right decision by taking the open jumper, and actually it's not so much the rate he makes them at so much as the possibility of a shot that is important, especially with our offensive rebounding ability. Turgeon's frustration early in the season was not Pe'Shon's poor shooting %, but rather that he completely abandoned his shot for the first third of the season so far following the Kentucky game. If teams know you won't even shoot the open jumper, they'll just crowd passing lanes, and he just makes the game harder for himself. Because of the continuous rotation, the shot that Pe'Shon finds open could just as easily be any of the other guards or wings, so in setting their defenses, teams need to have that mindset.

Now if Pe'Shon ends up shooting like 15% from the field for the season, we have a bit of a problem, but I really think that is impossible. Even if he manages something around 35% for the season, which should totally be doable, that would be enough to keep him on the floor. His free throw shooting adds to his effectiveness, though in this system, he probably won't be shooting a ton of them. His stroke looks nice and consistent, though his release is a bit slower than I would like, and he doesn't seem to allow poor shooting to affect the way he shoots, which is important. He seems quicker than he was to start the season, especially pushing the ball up on the break, and his on-ball defense is definitely one of the best on the team. For Allen to beat Pe'Shon out for the point guard spot, he needs to show more in terms of decision making in initiating the offense, playing within the gameplan, and having a high level of discipline because he could shoot lights out and it wouldn't be as valuable in this offense at the pg spot.

I feel like I repeated myself a bit in writing this, but hopefully it makes some sense. I know it won't convince everyone (or maybe anyone), and I am admittedly a Pe'Shon Howard homer, but I thought this might be some helpful info for people new to some of the basketball offensive strategies. Also, I've always been biased towards true point guards, so maybe that's why I prefer Howard, but in any case, my arguments make sense to me, lol. If you have any specific questions about motion offenses, I'd be happy to share what I know, obviously there's more to it than I included here, but I'm not an expert by any stretch, just a basketball fan who likes X's and O's. Also, all this talk of motion offenses makes me nostalgic for Gary's flex, not that it was better or anything, but as a Maryland fan for about 20 years, I grew up watching the flex, so it'll always have a special place in my heart.

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