LINCOLN — Fred Hoiberg will readily admit he doesn’t have a James Harden on this Nebraska roster.
“I’m not sure anybody in college basketball does,” he adds with a laugh.
But Hoiberg has been knee deep in film study preparing for practices before Nebraska’s team trip to Italy. He’s spent a good chunk of his time dissecting two NBA teams in particular: the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.
Unfortunately for him, though, he doesn’t have a Giannis Antetokounmpo, either.
“I wish,” Hoiberg said of the NBA’s MVP. “We’re looking for him.”
But those two teams have perfected the things Hoiberg wants Nebraska to do well next year. The Rockets are the best primary fast break team in the NBA and find space for shooters. The Bucks have a five-out offense that’s tough to crack.
Hoiberg, who coached the Bulls for three-plus seasons, wants to steal from both.
“Houston, first of all, their spacing concepts on the break, they do the best job in the league in terms of getting their wings to the corners and creating that space so your ball handler has a probe in transition before the defense is set,” Hoiberg said. “Their trail guy is spaced far enough when the pick and roll comes in transition, and that’s part of our flow package, whether it’s a step-up or a side-ball screen, to create the room to either force help and spray it out and create a two-on-one on the backside or create a tag with your roller on the step-up where you can hit the trail guy.”
Translation: they create a lot of options off the fast break because of the way they space the floor.
To work on spacing as a whole, Nebraska has recently implemented a 4-point line on the practice court, which forces the offense to initiate plays from far closer to midcourt than usual. Because of how concerned defenses are with the 3-point line now, Hoiberg has noticed teams will defend way beyond the arc no matter what. So Nebraska wants to run its offense from out there to create more lanes to drive.
Enter the Bucks.
“Milwaukee, just with their five-out spacing, you look at Milwaukee’s team, they led the league in restricted-area shots — so shots at the rim — and they were one of the highest 3-point shot distribution teams, 3-point percentage I think they were second to Houston,” Hoiberg said. “So they created the shots that you want to create. So just studying spacing on what they do and different actions they do.”
Hoiberg also has studied film of the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets. He wants to upload all this info to his team over a long period of time. Only about 10% of his offense will be run in Italy, he said.
Nebraska begins practice for Italy on Monday. The last few weeks, Nebraska has had four hours a week for workouts. Either Hoiberg or one of the assistants have run those. They went well, Hoiberg said.
Only eight scholarship players were on campus for workouts. Transfers Matej Kavas (Seattle University), Shamiel Stevenson (Nevada), Cam Mack (Salt Lake Community College) and Haanif Cheatham (Florida Gulf Coast), plus Yvan Ouedraogo from France, are not in Lincoln yet. All are either finishing up classes at their previous school or competing elsewhere in the world.
All but Ouedraogo should be in Lincoln in time for practice Monday.
We’ll have more on preparation for those practices and Hoiberg’s transition back into coaching later in the week.