2015-16 UConn Preview pt 1 - Daniel Hamilton, King of the Chessboard

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It would be an overstatement to suggest that the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors bear an especially replicable template for any college team – even the very best ones – to mimic. Their year-long assault on the NBA was triggered by a variety of variables, the most preeminent of them all taking the form of the best shooting backcourt of all-time. Their high-volume, hyper-efficient pairing of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson enabled them to revolutionize the sport at the games highest level; never before had we seen such a rapid tempo of play sustained by imposing offensive and defensive units. In many circles, tempo, jump shooting, and defense were considered to be somewhat mutually exclusive; at a certain point, some believed, this brand of free-wheeling basketball would inversely effect efficiency on at least one side of the ball. Style would eventually yield to the demands of structure.

Injuries certainly played a role in smoothing Golden State’s path to the crown, but aside from some brief blips against Memphis and Cleveland, the machine never did dip under optimal capacity.

While there are no teaching tapes to simulate the expeditious shooting reflexes of Stephen Curry or the graceful foot ballet of Klay Thompson, the 2015 NBA Finals – and, specifically, the lineup deployments Steve Kerr and his staff used to win the series – reveal quite a bit about the shifting landscape of the NBA and basketball in general. “Small ball” continues to spawn new, revised definitions that advance the concept to extremes none of us ever deemed feasible. Game five of the finals featured an extensive stretch in which 6’7 Draymond Green manned the center spot for the Warriors while the 6’8 LeBron James patrolled the middle for Cleveland. For those who were just warming to the idea that Chris Bosh or Anthony Davis or Serge Ibaka could suffice as a center in the NBA, this version of bizzarro world basketball must have seriously challenged their long-developed conceptions of the game.

The sport had been building towards this point for a while, though, and in watching the Warriors smash long held basketball tenets, it was difficult not to think back to another coach, at another level, applying those very same principles en route to another unlikely, small-ball-infused championship. That coach, of course, was Kevin Ollie (ironically, Kerr – still a broadcaster at the time – sat in the booth casting his approval of the young Husky coach’s adaptability).

Make no mistake, size and strength are vital to every team’s life span, and the application of small ball – which is, to create spacing offensively and mobility defensively, among other things – only serves to embolden the value of big men who can function within schemes predicated on these principles.

However, in today’s climate, it is frequently just as viable to find a player of smaller stature capable of duplicating the rebounding and rim protection skills of a big man than it is to recruit one of the opposite qualifications. As such, although it is important to illustrate the tremendous tactical adjustments of Ollie in prior seasons, his apparent commitment to further application of these philosophies, and to obtaining the necessary pieces to enable that style of play, is really what bares relevance as we sit here to discuss the 2015-16 season.

Although it is an obvious concession that the UConn Huskies do not possess the talent that the Golden State Warriors did and do, it is similarly apparent that talent must prelude production. Basketball, then, even in its most eloquent form, is sustained by its most archaic fundamentals – namely, dribbling and shooting, the two skills one must learn in the solitude of their own driveways, streets, or basements before being fit to exist independently within the fray of chain reactions and movements that are distinct to the game of basketball.

This is some preview. I never knew that dribbling and shooting were important. Tell me more.

The point is, basketball, at some stage or another – no matter how much game planning, film study, and scouting is poured into it – reverts back to its primitive nature, with one player trying to score and another player trying to stop him.

Talent is still the essence of the sport, and when the sport is stripped down to its bare bone and robbed of its spontaneous rhythm, talent is very often the only thing that remains.

Such was the case with last year’s UConn team, and although that isn’t said to completely exonerate coach Kevin Ollie, whose third season wasn’t much of an encore for his first two, it is difficult for anyone in a suit to tone down the sort of hyper-aggressive defenses that confronted the Huskies all season unless empowered by at least one player capable of out-finessing or over-powering his initial defender en route to a basket.

As such, it is unsurprising that teams notable for their aggressive overplay schemes (such as West Virginia, Duke, and SMU) or flexible switching (Cincinnati and Tulsa) caused a young Husky team devoid of any ball-handlers or shot-makers aside from Ryan Boatright trouble.

As it works, design is always at the mercy of personnel. This, again, seems obvious, but in the moment – in the midst of an agonizing scoring drought – our conception of that very design can become easily distorted.


“Why aren’t we running any offense?” The discourse in the chatroom and at bars and even in the arena will quickly intensify from hushed murmurs to belligerent protests with every wasted possession.


Any synchrony of passing, cutting, and screening can quickly be disassembled by a defense that smells blood. A defense that can smell blood is one that can guard every position on the floor, switch liberally, and conquer screens. Unless somebody on your team demands attention beyond his primary assignment – whether that attention is exacted through a great screen, a busted trap, or simply a swift move off the dribble, doesn’t matter – even the finest precision-based offenses will succumb to the mercy of that personnel, as they’re beautiful array of backdoor cuts and meticulous passing devolves into a bad game of nursery school tag.


In the case of the 2015-16 Huskies, the commencement of any successful design – however simplistic or sophisticated – will be identified in the form of Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton, a 6’7 forward from Los Angeles, averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists during a campaign which earned him the honor of AAC Freshman of the Year.

For as versatile as Hamilton was, his usage rate during the 2014-15 season was limited not in quantity, but in variety. Much energy was expended by Husky big men in the half-court sets to free Hamilton from whatever shackles defenses threw his way; they would bump trailing defenders, reverse screens at whim, and slam any holes that cheating defenders may try to dart through. Hamilton frequently received the Ray Allen treatment not so much because of how good he was, but because it was the default setting on an offense that often lingered in the red.

Oddly, this off-ball screening – generally designed for knockdown shooters or at the very least players comfortable pulling up off one or two dribbles – seemed to be intended to relieve Hamilton of the pressure points that accompany a set defense. In other words, through all the wheeling and shifting that took place even before the catch, scrambling secondary defenders were less fixated on the ball and more vulnerable to blowing their help assignments. These are the situations in which Hamilton did the bulk of his damage – the step of separation from his original defender that was created by the screen was enough for him to penetrate the teeth of the defense and freeze help defenders caught between stopping the ball and maintaining contain.

As the season progressed, however, and help defenders abided by their initial assignments, Hamilton struggled to punish defenses at the rim or in the mid-range. By years end, his field goal percentage had plummeted to 38%, and his free throw rate – just 2.4 attempts per game – did little to compensate.

While Hamilton was supremely skilled for his age – displaying the court vision of a point guard and the handle of a two guard – it is vital to the overall health of the Husky offense that he evolve to enable Kevin Ollie to utilize him in multiple capacities. The maze of off-ball screens that were constructed to liberate Hamilton were as much to quell his deficiencies as they were to capitalize on his strengths, and while that sort of offense is palatable in moderation, in extended application it tends to resist to the principles (pick and roll, ball movement, post-ups, spot-up shooting, etc.) of modern basketball ideology.

For instance, Hamilton did not at any point during the season grow comfortable using ball screens. Defenders opted to guard him cautiously, sliding under the screen and forcing Hamilton into inefficient jump shots. And as previously alluded to, he struggled to initiate a spread offense due to his inadequacies operating off the dribble from the pressure points of the defense.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Hamilton arrived in Storrs unequipped to shoulder the load of a primary screener. This isn’t his fault, given his stature and billing, but it is nonetheless an imperative development that must take place during the offseason.

His timidity in that capacity evoked memories of a young DeAndre Daniels. Daniels, much like Hamilton, came to Storrs a talented but undefined wing player who did not initially realize his value as a screener, particularly in a 1-3 or 1-4 ball screen. By the end of his junior year, however, with Daniels a threat to both pop and post, he and Shabazz Napier eviscerated defenses with a two man game that nobody in the country could guard. They would either string out the screen, tempting the fate of a 42% three point shooter, or they would switch and be forced to watch a smaller defender die on a post touch.

https://youtu.be/6SbT7kTJdiI?t=173
upload_2015-8-4_20-43-30.png


Daniels’ screen on this play isn’t even particularly effective, as he barely grazes Monte Morris. Nonetheless, we see how the design bends the Iowa State defense. Even the slight bump from Daniels was enough to allow Napier to get the defender on his hip, which forces Dustin Hogue to briefly abandon Daniels and sag into the paint.

Now, normally, when defenses defend a pick and roll – particularly one featuring the shooting power of a Napier-Daniels high ball screen – they will elect to send help from the weak side. Here, Iowa State has the option of allowing Melvin Ejim to stray off Brimah and thwart Napier’s driving lane while DeAndre Kane crashes down from the weak side corner to eliminate a potential lob pass.

The problem with this, though, is that Napier – one of the more gifted passers in the country – is capable of either lobbing a present to his rim-thirsty seven footer or threading the needle to an awaiting Boatright in the right corner. This forces Hogue to venture further off Daniels than he’d like, and as Napier is about to turn the corner, he pivots, spins, and passes to a wide open Daniels for a three.

If Iowa State had to do it all over again, one might advise Fred Hoiberg and his staff to instruct Matt Thomas to provide more help from the strong side. Thomas, guarding Terrence Samuel, a reluctant shooter if we are being generous, may have been poised to disrupt the two man action without opening up a wormhole for one of his teammates to get sucked into.

But Ollie is very likely privy to the tendencies of college basketball defenders. It is extremely difficult for a freshman – particularly one not heralded for his defense – to reverse instinct on the fly after having been taught how to defend the play the entire season. It is then my best educated guess that Ollie stationed Samuel in the strong side corner intentionally, knowing that Iowa State was likely to send help from the weak side.

That’s coaching, though – forcing nineteen and twenty year-olds into spontaneous decisions, illuminating potential weak spots, and positioning your players to play to their strength. The willingness of DeAndre Daniels to initiate this wave of motion with a screen – albeit an irresolute one – allowed him to reap the rewards of a well-executed play.

Young players, especially those as talented as Hamilton and Daniels, sometimes need reminding that the grunt work they do away from the ball – such as cutting and screening – often precipitate a defensive crisis that leads to the pot of gold landing on their door step. That is not to say that Daniel Hamilton is an unwilling learner, or even that he does not understand the value of these roles. He very likely does. However, that he may appear more vigorous in his on-ball movements than his off-ball movements is only consistent with human nature and the self-obligation to perform most diligently when the spotlight is on you.

However many flaws permeated Hamilton’s game during the 2014-15 season are only documented so extensively in this space to demonstrate the responsibility that mirrors his immense talent.

And part of that responsibility entails nurturing the delicate process that an offense must endure over the course of a season, a season that which – for the best players – never really begins or ends in the orderly intervals we tend to assign meaning to as fans. The painful imports of body muscle and component bits of muscle memory recall of today dictate the composure and precision with which UConn executes their offense against the blood-thirsty, dialed-in defenses of March.

Hamilton must oversee all of this, from the micro advancements of his current game this summer – changes of which must include a sharper jumper, a tighter handle, a better application of body usage and control, particularly against smaller defenders, and, as previously alluded to, an increase in efficiency as both a screener and cutter – to a postseason process that represents a manifestation of his mental and physical sovereignty of the chessboard.

It is precisely the tilted nature of that chessboard – and the fortune of UConn to have possessed the one player with unyielding power – that has won the Huskies their last two championships. And as has been stated in previous carnations of my ramblings, a great player may not be able to guarantee a positive result, but he can guarantee a sound process.

Hamilton must reach the point where he can consistently beat bigger defenders off the dribble, shoot with accuracy over smaller defenders, and punish help defenders with passes that should be there where they were not a season ago. It may not be in his nature to allow his scoring to unlock passing lanes (he would probably prefer the inverse), but he will have to prove that he can create a shot – even if only a 40% shot – whenever he wants to truly shake the infrastructure of a defense.

That 40% figure is key. It is a popular basketball theory that once an offensive player is stripped of his self-sustaining diet of shots – the spot-up jumpers, the transition baskets, the put backs, the opportunistic cuts – that derive from the natural flow of the game, it is then that the very best offensive players are able to tap into a reserve tank of 40% shots that stabilize a quavering attack.

And it is precisely that reservoir of offense that tends to halt to a dried-up well during the biggest possessions of the biggest games, particularly at the college level. Affirmation for that theory exists in the not-so-distant past of the Huskies’ 2011 and 2014 championships, and no two games quite exemplified that quite like the 2011 semi-final and 2014 final, both against the Kentucky Wildcats.

Napier kept the Huskies north of the 40% mark in Arlington by drilling a series of preposterous threes that by that point he had patented to such a degree that virtually everyone in the stadium realized that the opposition was at his mercy. Three years prior, in Houston, it was Kemba Walker who scored 18 points on 6-15 shooting, as the Huskies managed to shoot 47% from the field compared to 34% for the Wildcats.

It would be an over-simplification to state that Walker and Napier played at a level that would have invariably allowed their teams to win those games. Much else, more than we will ever know, contributed to those victories, and it is just as viable, had Kentucky made a few more free-throws, that the narrative could have been framed differently.

But this isn’t a narrative so much as it is a litmus test, and so it is unsurprising that the vast majority of champions, at any level, have featured one or multiple players of whom the opposition could not viably contend with one on one. The 2015 Huskies figure to boast multiple of these players, but it is decidedly apparent that Hamilton poses the biggest threat among them to be one consistently. There must come a time where he, like other UConn greats that came before him, must gaze at the defenders to the extent that he count their eyebrow hairs, manipulate their movements, and create for himself a 40% shot.

Sometimes, basketball is simple. And simply put, at this time, with these players, Daniel Hamilton is the King of the Chessboard.
 
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What ever happened to the warnings before long posts!!!

Great write up, kind of envious that you can dissect so much from a simple play. Please go find a girlfriend or something and enjoy the rest of your summer.
 

BUConn10

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Nice writeup 99, you're going to have to get a new username one of these days ;)
 
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as always solid analysis. Hamilton is interesting. he isn't gifted with a plus differential on his wingspan, so floaters/creative lay ups are not a innate skill he has. i'm of the volition that all these teams going under screens vs him should pay immensely. Bottom line he needs to be a much more consistent shooter. His jumpshooting form (waist up) is actually damn near elite, he is talented shooter. KO has morphed him into a very solid man2man defender; combine that with more aggression on catchnshoots as well as when defenders go under screens on him , man that kid can be a special player.

however i disagree on his passing/ballhandling. i can't even recall him whipping a skip pass to a weak side ( maybe he has small hands idk). he also has terrible posture when dribbling, he needs to be more upright with his head up. He got a lot of junk assists ( see russell westbrooks assist average), i think he can get even more assists if he reads help better.

I envision him as a guy who can fill it up a la kevin martin, but also REALLY get after it on man2man due to KOs coaching ( while not a great vertical athlete he is good side to side'). Thats a very unique player at the D1 level as well as the pro level. This season i expect a serious leap in scoring, and a serious dip in rebounding.
 
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I mean solid analysis I guess if you can actually like to think and write that much. But reality is he'll be better with more weapons around him and less people will hammer on his ball handling ability if he just finishes and makes better decisions rather than forcing things. Good news for him is there will be much more space.

He'll be really good this year!
 

Jaybo

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Like if your # king eyes and Brian hurt now!

A for effort, you actually kept me reading the whole thing!and it's midnight and I'm a 12 pack in.
 
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as always solid analysis. Hamilton is interesting. he isn't gifted with a plus differential on his wingspan, so floaters/creative lay ups are not a innate skill he has. i'm of the volition that all these teams going under screens vs him should pay immensely. Bottom line he needs to be a much more consistent shooter. His jumpshooting form (waist up) is actually damn near elite, he is talented shooter. KO has morphed him into a very solid man2man defender; combine that with more aggression on catchnshoots as well as when defenders go under screens on him , man that kid can be a special player.

however i disagree on his passing/ballhandling. i can't even recall him whipping a skip pass to a weak side ( maybe he has small hands idk). he also has terrible posture when dribbling, he needs to be more upright with his head up. He got a lot of junk assists ( see russell westbrooks assist average), i think he can get even more assists if he reads help better.

I envision him as a guy who can fill it up a la kevin martin, but also REALLY get after it on man2man due to KOs coaching ( while not a great vertical athlete he is good side to side'). Thats a very unique player at the D1 level as well as the pro level. This season i expect a serious leap in scoring, and a serious dip in rebounding.

I don't disagree with you here, but it is tough to get a gauge on how adept he is at finding weak side shooters until we can actually space the floor with them (which we should be able to do better this year).

Good point on his wingspan. If it was longer he's probably gone by now.
 
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You must do meth. No other way you have that much energy and singular focus

Believe me I didn't write it all at once, lol. There is a good chance I die from dehydration/exhaustion before part two comes out so I hope you enjoy this.
 

OkaForPrez

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"a great player may not be able to guarantee a positive result, but he can guarantee a sound process."

I love this line and I believe it whole heartedly, but where I scratch my head on last year is I believe Boat had that kind of talent. He was a threat that needed full attention at all times and could create for himself and others. So what went wrong?

I'd like an answer in 50,000 words or less. Thanks @champs99and04
 
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I love this line and I believe it whole heartedly, but where I scratch my head on last year is I believe Boat had that kind of talent. He was a threat that needed full attention at all times and could create for himself and others. So what went wrong?

I'd like an answer in 50,000 words or less. Thanks @champs99and04

It's a fair question, and one that I would have probably answered differently had you asked me at the beginning of last season.

My short answer would be that Boat was a brilliant college player who played on a team whose pieces did not fit. Purvis and Hamilton weren't decisive enough as playmakers to ever enable Boat's drive-and-kick ability to be used to full capacity, and our frequently used two-big alignments did a number on spacing and allowed defenses to swarm ball screens. Plus, Boat's peripheral vision was never that great (likely because of his size), nor did he have the passing tools that somebody like Napier did.

But I don't want to make it sound like it was the process that was the primary contributor to our struggles last season, because I think it was execution/the limitations of personnel. We didn't score many points, but there would be games where that was simply a product of missing shots.

Honestly, I expected us to struggle offensively last year, even with Boat. That's what happens when you lose four of your top five scorers and you're not Duke or Kentucky. I had hoped that by year end, some of our complementary pieces would have developed to the extent that Ollie and Co. could forge a functional offense. But needless to say, they didn't - I was at all of those AAC tournament games and they would have droughts where it was almost uncomfortable just to be there...the sort of feeling you get when you go to a stand up and nobody is laughing at any of the jokes.

The other side of the ball is, in my mind, what cost us a tournament bid. They had all the tools to be great on that end, but I suspect they were just a year away.
 
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Am I the only unable to completely read the post?

I wanted to but couldn't finish. Props to Dogmania Jr. though.
 
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Am I the only unable to completely read the post?

I wanted to but couldn't finish. Props to Dogmania Jr. though.

Nope. I have a bookmark on it and will take it to the crapper later tonight to finish.
 
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Last season if Hamilton didn't rebound it, it didn't get rebounded. So having Miller fighting down there is going to free him up. Hopefully he's spending this summer improving his shot and foul line accuracy, but even if he doesn't, the load will not fall completely on his shoulders because of our new answers. He may still go 12-8-4 but on higher shooting %, because of all the other talent we have. There are only so many shots to divide up.
 
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"Make no mistake, size and strength are vital to every team’s life span, and the application of small ball – which is, to create spacing offensively and mobility defensively, among other things – only serves to embolden the value of big men who can function within schemes predicated on these principles.

However, in today’s climate, it is frequently just as viable to find a player of smaller stature capable of duplicating the rebounding and rim protection skills of a big man than it is to recruit one of the opposite qualifications. As such, although it is important to illustrate the tremendous tactical adjustments of Ollie in prior seasons, his apparent commitment to further application of these philosophies, and to obtaining the necessary pieces to enable that style of play, is really what bares relevance as we sit here to discuss the 2015-16 season."- Champs

I think utilizing these basketball principals/strategy addressed above will go a long way in determining just how good this 2015-16 UConn team can be. If we start with the premise that DHAM is King of the Chessboard we need to figure out how to utilize our other pieces (pawns, rooks, knights, bishops and queen) on the board/court properly so our King is not threatened with capture. What lineups do you foresee KO using that increase the value of our assets? Determinative value has to be put on every piece.

When the application of small ball is being implemented...what five (5) players do you want on the court?
 
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