Last night, Indiana struggled early against Dallas and found themselves down by 16 points midway through the second quarter. But then they did what we saw so often early in the season: The Pacers shut down their opponents and went on a scoring rush that completely changed the tide of the game.
In the final 3:48 of the half, they went on a 14-2 run to cut the deficit to 3. There were many positive moments that put the Pacers back within striking distance, but none were more satisfying then the flashy Lance Stephenson layup that came on a quarter-ending specialty set that has colloquially become known as “The Vogel Weave.”
We started to see The Vogel Weave often last season. This year, however, it has been more of a staple — seemingly becoming Frank Vogel’s favorite play — with last night’s rendition being at least the ninth time Indiana has run it this season.
It’s easy to see why the team likes it so much. Because the play just keeps getting more and more dynamic as Vogel adds more and more wrinkles to his Weave.
The Basic Vogel Weave
Above is video of a Vogel Weave the Pacers ran last year against the Mavericks. This play is broken down in more depth here, but the set Indiana is using this year is still the same idea as what we see in the clip above.
The ball handler starts in the middle of the court and dribble-pitches to the right wing, who reverses course to the other side of the court and dribbles-pitches to the opposite wing. The player on the left wing — the one who ends up with the ball in his hand — has almost always been Lance Stephenson, who receives the ball with a full head of steam. Essentially, it seems as though Frank Vogel has found a way to create a “half-court fast break” in which Stephenson can use his speed, strength, vision and decision making to create easy buckets against a defense that is on its heels — just as he often does when he takes off the other way after grabbing a rebound.
Here is another example from last season, this one coming against the Rockets.
The Vogel Weave Weakside Corner Cut
The Vogel Weave that Indiana ran against the Knicks on January 16 started as it always does. The beginning of the play, including the alignment, is identical to last year’s incarnation, as shown here:
However once Stephenson receives the second handoff and curls into the lane, we see different results.
Last season, the guy in the weakside corner (David West in the image above) would move to the basket during the action but there was seemingly no rhyme or reason to when or why he would go. The player left either way too late or way too early to be involved in the play in any positive way. So you either had him bringing over another defender into the lane (so the ball-handler had to take a tough floater or layup right in the teeth of the defense) or arriving on the weakside late with nothing more to do than to fight for an offensive board if Stephenson missed.
Check out how the version of the play Indiana ran against New York is just a tiny bit different but gets a much better result: After the two initial handoffs, we see Lance with the ball inside the arc, and West leaving weakside corner with purpose and getting a solid screen from Roy Hibbert.
Lance has also gone much wider, allowing for better spacing.
Not only this, but he is far more in control than usual (slowing down before the elbow and hesitating), and West slips right behind Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire to get a bullet pass from Lance for the reverse layup.
It seems quite clear that West, not Lance, was the first option to score.
Here it is in real time:
And here is the exact same variation of the play, this time against the Kings:
And here it is again against the Heat, but in this instance Chris Andersen is seemingly playing a one-man zone that makes passing difficult, so Lance goes all the way to the hoop and finishes, instead of hitting the cutter.
The Vogel Weave Weakside Pin-Screen
When the defense collapses and goes into scramble-mode, teams often forget about what’s happening on the weakside. Vogel uses this to the Pacer’s advantage in the Weave, particularly with a wrinkle we saw against the Wizards on November 29.
We’ve seen that Lance loves to attack out of the Weave and benefits from all the movement prior to attacking. Naturally, when he gets into the paint it collapses the defense and forces them to pay attention to him.
See here, as he curls into the lane and every Wizards player turns his head toward Stephenson.
This works wonders, as Jan Vesley doesn’t even realize he is being pin-screened by Luis Scola, for he is still ball-watching. Theoretically, it should be Hill’s defender (John Wall) being screened, but he has rotated so far over to help on the Lance drive that he is totally out of the situation.
It doesn’t even matter that Lance takes far too long to find the open Hill, since Vesley doesn’t even start fighting through the screen towards Hill until Lance fires the pass to him, giving him a wide-open look.
Unfortunately, even with all that time Hill couldn’t get his footwork correct. He stepped on the sideline for a turnover. But that doesn’t change the fact that the play worked: The defense was confused, Lance found a passing lane and Hill was wide open for a good shot.
Check out the play in real time:
And here’s the play again, with Roy Hibbert setting the pin-screen for Paul George this time, and a ball reversal (rather than a skip pass) to get him the open shot.
The Vogel Weave Three-Point Look
Of course, if Vogel wants to use the Weave to get his team a three-point look, he can also use a variation that has fewer moving parts. This method doesn’t get his team an easier, closer look from the corner, but depending on how the defense reacts to the dribble handoff, it can get a pretty good shot from the top of the key.
In this video, we see the personnel reversed from its default set up: Lance on the right wing, Paul George on the left. Hill hands off to Stephenson who comes back to hand to George, who is clearly thinking three-pointer as he receives the pass. You know this by the tell-tale hop.
Nic Batum reacts well to contest and George misses, but you can’t argue with the look.
There has been one other instance in which Indiana got a three-pointer out of the Weave — although it came on the one instance we have scouted that you could argue with the look.
In this video, from Indiana’s February 18 game against the Hawks, we see the only instance where the play really didn’t work. Yet it still does.
Stephenson gets caught up in the rotating defense and nearly loses his balance before pitching it cross court to Hill behind the arc. Hill is closely guarded, but still knocks down the shot.
As Pacers’ PA announcer Michael Grady noted on Twitter after this play, you can’t argue with results.
The “Vogel Weave” works, even when it doesn’t work.
— Michael Grady (@Grady) February 19, 2014
The Vogel Weave Backdoor Wing Cut
This brings us to last night — which was arguably the best and most clever variation yet.
Here is the video.
It is tough to say whether this was really in the cards or just a nice reaction by Stephenson and Evan Turner to over-aggressive denial defense by Shawn Marion.
Rather than coming up to take the handoff from Turner, Lance makes a hard backdoor cut to the hoop. Marion is left reaching for a pass that never came and can instead only turn to watch Stephenson receive an excellent bounce pass and finish with some flair over his helpless center.
Whether or not this was designed or planned for or just a reaction is somewhat irrelevant. All it does is highlight just how dynamic this set is.
Any decent high school coach can tell you that, in basketball, it is rarely the play itself that works but the execution. In the instances we saw last year, the Pacers were often sloppy running The Vogel Weave. But it has now become a much more reliable play and one that continually catches the defense off guard.
But that is no longer the key.
Even as we move into the playoffs — when teams like Miami should at least know this play is in Vogel’s toolkit — it shouldn’t matter. Even if the Heat defense knows what’s coming, the Vogel Weave is now less a play and more just like any other good set: It has various options and the offense can adjust to make it work no matter how defenders try to shut it down.
I guess the only question left is whether or not Vogel should stop using The Vogel Weave only on end-of-quarter plays and instead make this set his entire offense. Because based on the evidence we’ve seen in the 12 instances we’ve scouted so far, it might just be best set Indiana has.
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