Isaiah Thomas is the Celtics’ best screener

Coaches can often be heard in practices around the world preaching, the person who sets a screen is the one who is most likely the one who’ll be open. Head Coach Brad Stevens is using that philosophy in conjunction with Isaiah Thomas’ screening ability to give the Celtics an advantage. Thomas might actually be the best screen setter for the Celtics, not because he is a heavy hitter or anything but because teams are more focused on him than the guy he is screening for.

In the first game of the playoffs, the Celtics ran a great lob play with Thomas setting the screen. He brought the ball up and handed it off to Jaylen Brown who swung the ball to Kelly Olynyk who then sent it to the opposite sideline. After handing the ball off Thomas ran down to towards the baseline and then popped back up to set a back pick for Brown who set his man up perfectly and scored an easy two points for the Celtics.

Stevens has been doing a great job of moving his best scorer around the court on the offensive end to get him open and in spots where the defense has a hard time recovering to. In the play below, the Celtics ran a common zipper set with Avery Bradley coming off the zipper screen from Jae Crowder, Thomas got the ball after running off a triple baseline stagger screen. Without stopping, he came off a Crowder ball screen and drove the lane for an easy layup. Later in the same quarter, the Celtics ran the same set but this time Thomas caught the defense by surprise when he set a back pick for Crowder for a reverse lay-up.

In another genius ATO against Washington, Stevens used Thomas’ off-ball screening to confuse the Wizards defenders on two consecutive plays that netted them five points. Thomas handed the ball off to Crowder and ran around an Al Horford screen. Crowder passed the ball to Horford who stood a few steps off the elbow while Thomas set a back pick for Crowder. The defense does not switch properly and both jumped to take Thomas, leaving Crowder underneath the rim for another layup. The very next Celtics possession they ran the same play and the defense does struggles again when both go with Crowder and Thomas came off a Horford handoff and knocks down a wide open three.

The strategy to use a team’s best offensive player to set screens is not a new one but is a very effective way to create open shots. The reason why it works is because teams best scorers like Thomas require so much attention. The defense will actively switch out on them and leave the screeners open because of that attention. Stevens is well aware of how hard it is to defend Thomas and is making it even harder by using him as a screener to challenge the defense.

NBA Notes:

  • We could be heroes!– Game Five of the Spurs-Rockets series was an amazing OT thriller with the Spurs coming away with a huge victory after a few defensive stands from Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili. Despite making the defensive plays, they weren’t the heroes of the game. Clint Capela in a losing effort for the Rockets was all over the place defensively finishing the game with 11 rebounds and three blocks. For the Spurs, Jonathan Simmons stepped up and defended James Harden after Kawhi Leonard went down with an ankle injury. Simmons drew an offensive foul on the final possession of regulation and then forced two more turnovers in Overtime.

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