Tyler Griffey Looks Like a Brand New Player In John Groce’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 4th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Illinois head coach John Groce talked at length about instilling confidence into the Illini during the offseason. He talked about pushing the tempo. He talked about making the players tougher specifically during the late stretches of the game. After an 8-0 start, it is very clear that there is a change to these Illini when compared to last season. Winning the Maui Invitational and pulling out gutsy wins against Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech in Champaign proves that Groce’s coaching style is beginning to work. No other player has benefited the most from the new coaching staff after the first three weeks than senior forward Tyler Griffey. An overall offensive philosophy that includes a reliance on the three-point shot helps Griffey because of his inherent strengths, including great range on his jumper and also the ability to handle the ball in half-court sets. Let’s examine how the new coaching staff has affected Griffey’s performance on the court.

Tyler Griffey has been extremely effective under the new coaching staff in Champaign

  1. Groce won’t bench him for a shooting slump: Griffey likes to shoot and the best shooters always try to shoot their way out of slumps. Confidence is huge for perimeter-oriented players and they shouldn’t be penalized for taking an ill-advised shot once in a while. Groce’s offensive schemes rely on guards who can handle the ball but who also can shoot from multiple spots on the floor. Griffey is no longer afraid to take a good shot and miss because he isn’t looking over his shoulder to the bench hoping that he isn’t pulled from the game. Over the past couple of seasons, if Griffey missed a few consecutive shots, it was likely that ex-coach Bruce Weber would bench him and make him think about those misses for an extended period of time. Sure, Griffey isn’t the greatest defender because he has a tough time against bigger forwards, but his offensive skills can outweigh his defensive drawbacks when he catches fire from beyond the arc. By riding the bench for a while, a shooter’s confidence gets rattled and Griffey felt like he could never get into a consistent rhythm during his first three seasons. But under the new coaching regime, he can afford to miss a couple of wide-open shots here and there before finding his rhythm. A perfect example was his performance in the Gardner-Webb game. A few days beforehand, Griffey was absolutely on fire in Maui as he shot 7-9 from beyond the arc and scored a total of 34 points. During the G-W game, he was 1-7 at one point in the second half, but Groce stuck with him even when the game was down to the wire and it paid off as he drilled a three-pointer to take the lead with two seconds left. Shooting yourself out of a slump and hitting the big shot is just as much of a confidence booster as it is to shoot over 75% during a three night stretch at Maui.
  2. Groce uses Griffey effectively in the pick-and-roll: Griffey can handle the ball fairly well in the half-court which lets Groce use him in different ways in the pick-and-roll game. Griffey sets several ball screens up top, therefore allowing the primary ball-handlers such as Brandon Paul or Tracy Abrams to dribble around the defender to either pull up for an open shot or pass it back to him for a wide-open three-point attempt. But Griffey can also handle the ball while Paul, Abrams or Joseph Bertrand set screens along the baseline. The Illini have run a few plays where Griffey will try to dribble the ball along the baseline towards the corner while Paul or Bertrand moves to the top of the key. Griffey fakes a pass analogous to a quarterback in football attempting a play action pass but will hold onto the ball and keep the dribble alive. The constant movement of both Griffey and the wing confuses the defenders as to whether they should stick with their guy and as a result, the big man falls behind a step. As soon as Griffey has the edge, he will either drive to the hoop or nail the 18-foot jumper from the baseline. If the defender manages to stick with him, he passes it back to the wing to reset the offense. Groce has been using these types of plays early in the shot clock to keep the defense on its feet and also encourage the Illini guards to keep moving. Most forwards who can nail the three in the half-court don’t provide the luxury of also running the pick-and-roll, but Griffey has fit perfectly into those schemes so far this season.

Griffey will eventually come back to earth with his 56% three-point field goal shooting but he knows that his coach will figure out a way to use him in different sets and not just ask him to be the designated gunner. He will have trouble during the conference season against bigger forwards like Cody Zeller, Trevor Mbakwe or Adreian Payne, but he will also make them work on the defensive end by challenging them to defend him outside of the paint. It took over three years for him to find his rhythm, but it looks like he might just make his senior season very memorable.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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