NBA Playbook for Dummies: The Flex

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

i.e. the offense the Good Lord meant to be run by the Jazz

The Flex is an old scheme. Though he didn't invent the offense, Dick Motta developed it and made it synonymous with the teams he coached. He ran it as a junior high and high school coach in Grace, ID (population, (pop. 761) , as a college coach (Weber State), and in the NBA (Bulls and Bullets among his best teams). He even won a championship with it while coaching he Bullets. It came to the Jazz via Phil Johnson (a player for Motta's junior high, high school, and college teams and later Motta's assistant coach at Weber) and Jerry Sloan (his best player on the Bulls).

The basic idea of the Flex is to use motion and screens to get high percentage shots. Motion includes both player motion along assigned routes and crisp passing. The high percentage shots are primarily two different types: layups and jumpers at the free throw line.

Here's how Hollinger described the Jazz Flex offense in 2008, "this team [Jazz] is a layup machine ... Utah's offensive system is an unorthodox one by NBA standards, relying heavily on off-ball screening and cutting to get players open near the rim for short-range shots. It produces lots of layups and free throws."

The Flex requires all players to pass, set screens, and move without the ball. It also requires players to run prescribed routes. This is why Jerry Sloan couldn't handle Gordan Giricek; he would abandon his routes and move to spots that seemed open. A great idea if your team plays "random basketball", but not if you're trying to run the Flex.

Here's the most basic Flex set (from iHoops.com)

Notice:

  1. There are two primary sources of screening and motion: horizontally along the baseline and vertically along each side of the key.
  2. The offense is designed to always have players in decent position to go for offensive rebounds.
  3. Every player runs every route and spends time in each spot.
  4. The offense is designed to continuously reset if the first, second, or third attempts don't pan out.
  5. Look at the shots they are trying to find: layups from baseline cuts (the Ronnie Brewer baseline cut and dunk) and jumpers at the free throw line (Boozer's rainbow jumper).

Also notice that the pattern gets predictable really fast. You will never see an NBA team just run this set over and over like this. There are variations.

Here's a terrific video of a bunch of kids running several variations.


Now I have created a series of epic playbook graphics that show an example of a Flex variation that we Jazz fans should recognize instantly: one of many possible ways to do The Curl. It starts with baseline movement, just like the basic set calls for: the man at the three-point line cuts to the hoop while the guy on the block sets a screen. The variation begins when the guy with the ball keeps it instead of passing it to the guy on the opposite elbow.

Curl_1_medium

More variation now: the off-ball guys on the weak side move along the key. But instead of screening for each other and switching places, they cluster together.

Curl_2_medium

Now clustered, the two guys on the weak side set a double screen, which allows the baseline guy to curl around and lose his man by the time he gets to the free throw line.

Curl_3_medium

As long as he runs the route correctly, he is now open to receive the pass and get an open jumper.

Curl_4_medium

There are a gajillion more variations. This is why Big Al freaked out when he learned how big the Jazz playbook was way back in 2010. But the fundamental aspects are the same:

1) Use screens, off-ball movement through prescribed routes, and crisp passing

2) The cuts focus on horizontal cuts along the baseline and vertical cuts along the key

3) The purpose is to get layups and free-throw line jumpers

Finally, here's a video from happier days: My Deron is Ninja video. But I'm not showing this to make everyone depressed, though it may do that to remember what a good basketball team looked like. I'm showing it to show the Flex in its glory.

Specifically notice the highlights I pulled from the Jazz in their half-court offense. Look for the horizontal cuts along the baseline and the vertical cuts along the key.. Notice the cuts even when Deron decides he's open and takes the shot himself. They're everywhere ( (eg. At the 3:35 mark Deron makes a crazy move behind his back and then fakes a pass on his way to a layup. It's so easy to miss that Boozer's cutting on the other side of the key and Millsap—I think—is doing a baseline cut at the exact same time.)


That's the Flex.

P.S. I'll have to pull this video out again when I write about correctly running a damn fast break.

P.P.S. This post is one of many I'm writing based on a request from Augustine08. Thanks for the requests, it gave me something really fun to write about.

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