Ja Morant managed a decisive “floater” during the “play-in” against the Warriors. Trae Young did the same during Game 1 at Madison Square Garden. The gesture is not new in the NBA. Popularized by Tony Parker, he has been employed by many leaders for two decades now, whether Mike Conley or Derrick Rose …
But until very recently, there was generally an “emergency” weapon, used on a few rare penetrations which would run aground on pivots, and which had to be bypassed in extremis by avoiding the counter.
Take advantage of an area abandoned by the defenses
Except that the NBA is constantly evolving, and the 3-point revolution has had a lot of consequences. One of the main ones is that it spreads the defenses apart and opens up more access to the circle. The address near the basket has therefore increased and the two major objectives of the defenses are now to hinder as much as possible the shots under the circle, and at 3-points. For this, “drop coverage” has become widely used, with pivots that remain very low on the pick-and-roll, leaving the entire area open at mid-distance in order to protect the circle.
The offensive adaptation that we can currently observe is that the young leaders have systematized the “floater” in order to take advantage of this area abandoned by the defenses.
According to Second Spectrum data, there is a 22% increase in floaters this season, compared to 2014. Above all, there is a whole generation of players for whom the floater has become a regular weapon.
A shoot not easy to anticipate for the pivots
But why develop a “floater” and not use a classic mid-distance shot? Because the first is much less readable for defense than the second. The pivot can sense quite well when the opposing leader is preparing to unleash a “normal” shot and thus challenge it at the right time. On the other hand, it is very complicated to know when to interfere with a “floater” since the intention of this last gesture does not appear until the last moment.
“You really have to choose the right moment”, explained Ivica Zubac, a few months ago, in a very good article by The Score on the subject. “It’s a very difficult position. If you engage too early, and challenge the shot, you open the door for a dunk. So you have to focus on the ball, slow it down, force the attackers to reveal what they are going to do. But you have to let it come to you. You can’t go too far. You can only dispute super late, and then you just hope they are missing. “
If the “floater” is a technically complicated shot, it offers several advantages, the main one being unpredictability because the pivot does not know until the last moment whether the leader is going to shoot or pass. As Ivica Zubac says, if he throws himself too much, he risks being punished by a pass to his back. If he waits too long, he lets the leader trigger an open floater. Not to mention that this moving shoot also multiplies the risk of fouling.
“I honestly think it has become a central part of the game for the leaders / backs”, assure ainsi Mike Conley. “With teams trying to deny the attacks of 3-pointers and lay-ups, at some point you have to take what you are given. I feel like guys are getting better and better in this area. With the way the defenses play, staying low, with the pivots remaining in the paint, you have that shot pretty much anytime you want it. Especially in our team with Rudy (Gobert) rolling towards the circle. “
Mid-range shooting is dead? Long live the “floater”!