/Which Stars Can Be Trusted with Post-Ups in Todays NBA?

Which Stars Can Be Trusted with Post-Ups in Todays NBA?

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 17: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers fight for position during a pre-season game on October 17, 2019 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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The NBA has evolved and drifted away from the post game, but the rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

Although the game has changed, some players still remain productive in the post and should continue to do so. Good post players can score, create for others when teams send a second defender and draw fouls to get to the free-throw line. 

On the flip side, some players spend a large amount of their time in the post despite not being able to produce. These players do not command extra attention, struggle to make the right read and are better served running a different play type. 

           

Top Post Players in Today’s NBA

It may come as a surprise, but Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez leads the league with 1.2 points per possession on plays out of the post. He already surpassed last season’s 84 post-ups this year with 119.

Against the Toronto Raptors, the Bucks ran a play to enter the ball right to Lopez in the post off a baseline-out-of-bounds. He faced up, drove middle and finished with an up-and-under. 

B/R

LeBron James has posted up more this season (13.6 percent of his possessions) than he did all of last season (8.2 percent). James doesn’t just score out of the post; he also forces opponents to send double-teams, creating scoring opportunities. The Los Angeles Lakers are shooting 58.9 percent off James’ passes out of the post, which is the highest out of any player with at least 100 post-up possessions. James’ 1.16 PPP out of the post (including passes) has been one of Lakers’ best weapons in clutch situations

The Philadelphia 76ers post up more than any team in the NBA because of All-Star center Joel Embiid. No player averages more post touches than Embiid (10.5 possessions per game), and he boasts a 1.14 PPP on such plays. His dominance down low consistently gets him to the free-throw line more than any other post player in the NBA. Embiid leads all post-up players on shooting fouls drawn, with 20 percent of his possessions ending in free throws.

Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard is a do-it-all offensive threat, which includes operating in the post. He has the fourth-highest PPP (1.10) among players with at least 100 post-up possessions. He uses his strength to back down smaller players when they switch onto him, or he’ll go to a Kobe-esque fadeaway when he has a bigger wing on him. 

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is just behind Embiid in total post-ups. A whopping 31.1 percent of his possessions come from the post. He finds the open player if teams send help, but leaving him one-on-one usually leads to a crafty move for a basket. Just like this one against the Raptors.  

B/R

         

Surprisingly Inefficient Post-Ups

During the 2015-16 season in Cleveland, Kevin Love was dominant in the post with a 1.02 PPP. That has not been the case this year for the Cavaliers, as his PPP has fallen to 0.96, or 0.93 when his pass-outs are taken out. 

Over the past five seasons, Love has been woefully inconsistent in the post.

 

Post-Ups

Post-Ups Including Passes

2015-16

0.98

1.02

2016-17

0.86

0.86

2017-18

0.98

1.00

2018-19*

0.83

0.82

2019-20

0.93

0.96

* Only played 23 games due to injury

 

At first glance, Sixers All-Star point guard Ben Simmons has all of the tools for being a good post-up player. He is 6’10” and 240 pounds with great court vision, but it has not translated to his post game. Without passing, Simmons’ post-up PPP is 0.90, which is below the league average. It gets even worse when passes are included, dropping to 0.83. 

Some of these numbers are a product of poor spacing, but even when he has space, he has not been able to convert much. 

B/R

While at the University of Arizona, Deandre Ayton was a force in the post. He finished in the 95th percentile with a 1.17 PPP on 7.1 post touches per game. He was able to bring it with him to the Phoenix Suns last season, finishing with a 1.04 PPP on post-ups as a rookie. But this season, he’s averaging only 0.91 PPP on the same amount of post touches. 

This has been Pascal Siakam’s first year as the Toronto Raptors’ No. 1 offensive option. He’ll need to improve his post game in the years to come. He has a 0.93 PPP on 213 post-up possessions this season, which is just below league average. Siakam’s length, speed, and agility should allow him to face up and go or spin off defenders. He’ll eventually need to check that box. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 0.98 PPP in the post is above average, but it’s only the third-best mark on the Bucks. Both Lopez and Khris Middleton have a better PPP on those plays, yet Antetokounmpo has more than twice as many post-ups as either of them. With his size advantage, he should be able to overpower most of his matchups, especially when he has a smaller player on him. But when Oklahoma City Thunder wing Terrance Ferguson switched onto him in the post, he opted for a fadeaway instead.  

B/R

         

Stop Posting These Guys Up

After a Dallas Mavericks win over the San Antonio Spurs earlier this season, Kristaps Porzingis received harsh criticism for his lack of play in the post. It is easy to look at his 7’3″ frame and think he’d be a dominant post player, but that has never been the case since he joined the NBA in 2015.

Porzingis’ best-ever PPP in the post was 0.96 in the 2017-18 season, which is when he tore his ACL. This season, he has the league-worst PPP on post-ups including passes at 0.76 on 140 possessions. Posting up is just not Porzingis’ game, and Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle made it clear that he agrees: “A post-up is not a good play anymore. It’s just not a good play. It’s not a good play for a 7’3″ guy. It’s a low-value situation.”

B/R

After a slow start, Russell Westbrook has played well for the Houston Rockets, especially once they committed to small-ball. However, his post-ups remain inefficient. He’s averaging 0.85 PPP on post-ups with passes included, which ranks in the 25th percentile.

The Rockets are shooting only 38.7 percent on Westbrook’s passes out of the post. His post-ups do not compel opponents to send a double-team, which makes it easy to defend the Rockets. Posting Westbrook is not the best use of his ability to get to the rim. 

The upstart Memphis Grizzlies have wildly exceeded expectations, but Jaren Jackson Jr.’s post game has not. After averaging 0.93 PPP on post-ups as a rookie, he’s down to 0.85 PPP this year. His post touches have dropped this season with rookie point guard Ja Morant running more of the offense, although his spot-up and pick-and-roll game are well above average. As the Grizzlies grow, Jackson’s post-ups should continue to decrease. 

A large amount of Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic’s offense comes from post-ups, which is his worst play type. His PPP on post-ups is 0.78, and it improves when passes are included to 0.86, but that’s still below league average. Vucevic is better in nearly every other play type, yet he posts up on nearly 27.6 percent of his possessions. Magic teammate Aaron Gordon is a better post-up player, but he has significantly fewer post touches than Vucevic.

A post-up can be a valuable option for a team. Players can generate close-range looks for themselves or pass out to open teammates if an opponent double-teams them. Teams with efficient post-up options can diversify their offensive profile and keep defenses on their toes. 

However, not every player can read how the defense is playing them in the post and understand how to use their body to create angles or hold their position. 

As a result, post-ups aren’t for every player.

             

All stats via Synergy Sports. Players needed a minimum of 100 post-up possessions to qualify.

Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men’s national team. Follow him on twitter @MoDakhil_NBA