Can OSU Become A Positionless Team

Kyle Porter —  November 8, 2012 — 6 Comments
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Photo Attribution: US Presswire

Positionless hoops is all the rage these days. You might not have heard it called that but I bet you’ve heard of the young man down in Miami ringleading his group of defending champs and shucking any sign of the five traditional basketball positions to the side1.

The Heat are attempting to provide a name for what they essentially did for six weeks of postseason play last year: give the ball to LeBron and get out of the way.

This works functionally for them because LeBron can’t stop doing LeBron things which means everyone else can be marginal and the Heat will roll. But it also works because they have exceptional athletes.

Here’s LeBron on what they do:

If we had conventional guys, we wouldn’t be able to have a position-less team

This type of game, positionless hoops, has really become air raid offense of basketball2 — essentially gather the best athletes you can find and organize them into something coherent.

And I’m pretty sure OSU is about to see if it will work on the college basketball level.

The moment Travis Ford declared Marcus Smart the starter at point guard, whatever feeble inkling there was left that OSU was going to play a normal 1-5 lineup went out the door.

Bethlehem Shoals wrote beautifully about the positionless revolution five years ago in McSweeney’s. It was there that he penned this amazing bit:

Maybe only one or two players in the [NBA] are truly beyond positionality; this does not mean, however, that coaches cannot organize a team as if their entire roster were. Creative combinations and unorthodox dynamics require discarding the anonymity of the Old Basketball Order for a deeper, more personal understanding of a player’s capabilities. What matters most is not finding omnipotent individuals but most effectively distributing the finite resources of those available.

Basically, just throw your five best basketball players out there — no matter their height, weight, size, or strength — and let it ride.

And if you don’t think OSU is already doing this, you obviously haven’t seen the projected starting lineup tomorrow night:

Smart
Brown
Nash
Murphy
Olukemi

Don’t look it up (because it will terrify you) but Nash is the biggest guy out of that group.

So it’s not a matter of “when will Ford institute the positionless revolution” but rather a question of whether or not that’s what we’re calling it.

On the Heat, everybody learns every position. Where to go on sets and what to do on inbounds plays. They understand not only what they’re supposed to do but intrinsically what everybody else is supposed to do as well.

It’s beautiful and it works. Partly because they have LeBron.

But OSU has its own version of LeBron (albeit a homeless man’s version) this year in Marcus Smart and he’s going be a matchup nightmare for Big 12 contenders.

Smart is built like an F-250 at 6’4 225 but quick enough that Ford considers him the best defender on the team.

Because of that, Ford should build around him. Let him and Nash go down low and bang a little bit — use those matchups (remember Nash is your biggest guy right now) to your advantage. Let them run and don’t worry about who brings it up (Markel, Nash, Smart, Forte, whoever) only that your plays and your team center around Smart and Nash.

This is what Ford should have been doing the last two years but instead he was too worried about trying to pigeonhole everybody to certain spots which is how we ended up with Keiton freaking Page dribbling the ball up the floor every game.

Ford also shouldn’t worry about rebounds because you weren’t going to rebound anyway (finite resources, remember) and instead just run teams down. Trap them, annoy them, out-athlete them with Nash, Markel, and Smart (these are the unconventional guys LeBron was talking about).

I feel like I write this same piece every year about Ford — I try to give legs to what he always says he’s going to do (run! have fun! fast breaks! tough D!) yet never follows through on{3. Side note here: Luke Winn wrote a great piece in this week’s Sports Illustrated about a Loyola-LSU game back in the early 90s and it talks about why coaches say they’re going to run and then don’t.].

This time there’s a model though, the best team in the NBA is doing the exact same thing. And while I don’t envision any banners hanging from Gallagher-Iba this time next year, I think Ford’s best shot at the tournament is opening things up, letting the Nash-Smart-Brown trio create off the dribble and hit open guys3, and then just praying something good happens on defense.

That’s what I’d do anyway.

  1. Simmons wrote briefly about it here and how it relates to Dutch soccer. Fascinating, I know.
  2. Think about the air raid? Gone is the need for traditional wide receivers (and what is a tight end?!) — all you need is a quarterback who can fling it and a coach who can run it. It works not despite of, but because of its quirkiness.
  3. When’s the last time we ran a successful set play anyway? 2007?
  • http://@prich1087 Pat

    Solid article. I think we saw a little of this in the second halve at Kansas last year. I these guys can do a lot this year, and I am thanking whatever basketball coach told ford that Jurick, isn’t, and should never be a starter.

  • BBinKC

    The Loyola-LSU article is can be found here. I just happened to have read it earlier in the week. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/luke_winn/10/22/LSU-LMU-scoring/index.html

    • http://www.pistolsfiringblog.com Kyle Porter

      Linked now. My bad, I just assumed it wasn’t because they usually don’t put their magazine articles online until a week after the mag comes out.

  • Jake

    So, who is starting at quarterback this weekend?

    • OSU-Bill

      Like

  • http://None Kevin

    Isn’t Kamari Murphy listed as 6’8″? That would make him the tallest in the starting lineup, albeit not by much. Based on the various sources on him he is pretty athletic and probably gives Ford flexibility playing a faster tempo game with transitory positions. I wouldn’t expect him to be a scoring machine, but he might be able to grab 7-8 boards in a game even with this smaller lineup on the floor.