What’s the key to playing off a star player?
First of all, that statement needs to be qualified, because there are varying levels of “star.” LeBron James? Stephen Curry? All-time super stars. They’re different.
Those two Hall of Famers require so much defensive attention that double-teams are the norm.
One of the new Lakers for the 2022-23 season, Juan Toscano-Anderson, is going from Steph to LeBron, after spending two full seasons (plus 13 games in 2019-20) in Golden State. At first, he wasn’t quite sure what to do when he was on the floor with Curry.
“I was in (Steph’s) way because I was trying to react to teams double-teaming him, but the fact of the matter is, that’s what he’s expecting,” Toscano-Anderson explained. “You have to look at the game in a different way … once I started to read the defense a bit differently, I had a really good year (2020-21).”
After playing for four years at Marquette, it took JTA five years to make his way to the NBA, a path that included stints in Mexico, Venezuela and the G-League. In 2018, JTA was the main star in Mexico as the MVP of Liga Nacional de Baloncesto (Mexico). But that, of course, is a different level of basketball, and JTA’s focus in the world’s elite league has been how to best compliment the star players.
Curry and James are very different, but offensively, both cause the defense to shift massively. For LeBron, that shift often comes in the form of extra bodies flooding the paint. For Curry, it’s an extra defender having to come out to the perimeter.
Toscano-Anderson has already started the process of figuring out the subtle differences that he can best exploit.
“LeBron’s not going out there expecting teams to play him 1-on-1,” said JTA. “No, they’re gonna swing doubles and triples and load up against him. So instead of thinking, ‘How do I find my space behind the defense with one guy guarding LeBron,’ like, OK, ‘How do I move off the ball when my guy goes to double LeBron and etc.; I think there’s a different way of viewing the game, and I think that’s where the IQ part comes in.”
Having played against LeBron, he has some inkling as to what defense want to do.
“I played against him,” JTA continued. “I know what our game plan was for LeBron. Load up, double him, when he gets to his spots we’re sending the double team regardless. He knows that’s coming. So watch a bunch of film, see how guys are guarding him, see where team’s defensive schemes are and find my spots, find open spaces.”
“It’s just high IQ basketball,” added Patrick Beverley, who’s played off offensive stars like James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Karl Anthony-Towns. “Knowing screening angles. One thing I have learned (about LeBron) … elite passer. One of the best to ever do it, from his height, his size. But just knowing the screening angles, knowing when to roll, when you look up the ball will be right there on your chest. That’s the nature of the business when you play with LeBron James.”
To JTA, basketball may be a “very complex sport,” but it’s also simple at the same time.
“Just make plays, knock down open shots, find angles and spaces,” he concluded. “I’m going to watch a lot of film on LeBron, and watch a lot of film on guys he’s played with that are similar to my style of play and see who thrived, who didn’t, why did they thrive, why did they not thrive? How can I make his job easier, how can I make our team better, how can I put our team in a better position to succeed and win games?”
Important questions, all.