VCU struggles to recreate a staple of last year’s offense
One of my favorite recurring sets from last season was VCU’s pick and roll set, which they ran to perfection with Joey Rodriguez handling the ball and Jamie Skeen flashing to the top of the key to knock down the open jump shot. With both those players gone, VCU has struggled to replicate this set with their replacements.
The first problem is that the primary ball handler, Darius Theus, is not as proficient in creating off the ball screens as Rodriguez. The main reasons the play worked last year was that the defense had to respect Rodriguez coming off the ball screen which opened up an area for Skeen at the top of the key. Now, defenses don’t need to swarm Theus, as they do not consider him a major threat coming off the ball screen and Theus cannot make them pay by breaking down his defender and getting to the rim.
Also, Theus does not let the play develop like Rodriguez did and does not allow the flasher to make his cut to the top of the key. In the first play of the below video, Theus tries to create off the ball screen before his teammate is able to finish his cut. Theus settles for a tough elbow jumper instead of being patient and letting the play develop. This frame shows where the flashing player was Theus took the shot. He will likely be open if Theus strings the play out and is patient but he forces a tough jump shot instead.
Rodriguez was so good at knowing when to create and when to let the play develop that it will be difficult for Theus, or any guard on this team, to run this set to a level close to Rodriguez’s. Right now, Theus is struggling at both knowing when to look for his shot versus when to let the play develop and also finishing the shot when he does take one to let the defense respect him. This allows most defenses to play the screen straight up instead of sending an extra man and Theus is not good enough yet to make the defense regret this decision.
The issue with Theus learning to be patient off the screen is that the VCU players who are flashing to the top of the key are not very good at scoring from this position. Skeen shot 41% from 3 last year and was able to consistently hit the open shots off these ball screens. This season, Bradford Burgess is struggling early (4-22 from the field through two games) while neither D.J. Haley nor Juvonte Reddic are any threat to score. When Theus does get them the ball, they are unable to hit the jumper. They don’t have as much space as Skeen did last year, as Theus is not able to draw an extra defender, but they still need to be able to score from these spots.
This ball screen, a staple of the VCU offense last season, is not nearly as effective this season so far. VCU needs Theus to improve quickly on his decision-making and ability to score off these ball screens and Burgess to bust out of his mini slump and be able to hit the outside shot at the top of the key.