Fun With SportVU: Anatomy Of A Game-winner

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer
@MaxRappaport

When Tony Wroten attacks the rim, it often looks from afar like a violent mess of flailing arms and legs, the ball being jerked around uncontrollably as he prepares to make contact with a big standing under the rim. But there’s a method to the 21-year-old’s mad style of play.

Wroten leads the NBA in points per minute off of drives the rim, scoring a point off a drive every four or so minutes during a regulation game. Among the eight players in the league who average at least 10 drives at the rim per game, Wroten is third in field-goal percentage behind Tony Parker and James Harden, converting on 46.1% of those opportunities.

Like Harden, a lot more of those drives result in trips to the free-throw line for Wroten. He ranks 12th in the league in free-throw attempts per 100 possessions (6.2). He has the 10th-highest usage rate in the league, nestled at 30.1% between LeBron James (30.9%) and Blake Griffin (30.0%).

It should come as no surprise, then, that when the game mattered most, in the final minutes of Monday’s comeback win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the ball was in Wroten’s hands.

Down the stretch of that game, the 6’6” combo guard scored nine of the team’s last 13 points, with Sixers head coach Brett Brown largely relying on what he calls a “flip and follow”, where the primary ballhandler takes a screen and looks to drive or dish. From there, he has the option to give the ball back to a secondary ballhandler off a dribble handoff. Here are a few instances of that down the stretch:

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4:28 Q4: Cavs 86, Sixers 82

Michael Carter-Williams (#1) drives hard to his right, handing off to Tony Wroten (#8) and setting a screen on Wroten's defender, A.J. Price (#21). Wroten looks to attack the rim, forcing Tristan Thompson (#13) to leave a trailing Henry Sims (#35) to protect against the drive. Wroten dishes back to Sims, who knocks down an uncontested jumper from just inside the three-point line.

2:53 Q4: Cavs 88, Sixers 86

This time, a dribble handoff courtesy of Robert Covington (#33) forces A.J. Price (#21) to switch onto Wroten (#8), who blows by him for an easy layup inside. The threat of Wroten flipping the ball back to a floating Covington keeps matthew Dellavedova (#8) from helping. Henry Sims (#35) finds an open spot on the baseline that also keeps Kevin Love (#0) from providing much help.

1:59 Q4: Cavs 88, Sixers 88

Tony Wroten (#8) didn't have a lot to work with on this play, but he was able to take advantage of the fact that Matthew Dellavedova (#8) was caught off balance having to maneuver around Michael Carter-Williams' (#1) screen. Wroten goes hard to his left, cuts back to his right to get Dellavedova off balance, and knocks down a floater in the lane.

0:09 Q4: Sixers 93, Cavs 92

This play basically devolved into an isolation for Tony Wroten (#8) on the perimeter, but a shovel pass from Michael Carter-Williams (#1) and the ensuing screen-and-roll by Henry Sims (#35) forced Joe Harris (#12) into a one-on-one with Wroten without much help, as Kevin Love (#0) followed Sims to the rim. James Jones (#1) is completely glued to Robert Covington (#33) to prevent an open three, and Matthew Dellavedova's (#8) late help isn't enough to stop Wroten, who bullies his way to the rim and converts with his dominant (left) hand. 

And here's what that looked like live:

With Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten now both healthy and finding a rhythm, it will be imperative that Coach Brown finds ways to effectively use the two together on the floor. In the same way the zone read in football allows option quarterbacks to use their running ability to open things up for the tailback, the flip and follow action allows both players to use their ability to drive at the rim to keep the defense on its toes and open things up for one another. 

Much like the harsh movements that belie Tony Wroten’s focused intentions when driving at the rim, plays that appear at first glance to be a simple breakdown in communication can often hide deliberate and skillful execution.

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