Hollywood Scouting Reports: The Way Back


Everyone loves a good sports movie, and the BRKDWN team is no different. But how good are the teams from our favorite basketball movies? Are they as unstoppable as they can seem on the screen or can they be beaten with the right game plan? We intend to find out. Welcome to Hollywood Scouting Reports.

In The Way Back, coach Jack Cunningham (played by Ben Affleck) is a down-on-his-luck former hoops star who takes over coaching basketball for his alma mater, Bishop Hayes High School. Bishop is a sorry team when Cunningham takes the reins, having started the season just 1-9. They have only one player with natural talent. They also only have six varsity players and start a center who is only 6’3”. Cunningham institutes a hard-nosed, tough style, and quickly turns his band of misfits into a group of scrappy, gritty, high motor gym rats (let me know if I forgot any classic white basketball player code words) who win enough games to make the playoffs. This is all great for them, but I spotted some holes in their game plan.

The most important thing to do when playing Bishop Hayes is to take care of the basketball. If you can break their press consistently, you’re taking away their best weapon right off the bat. I mean come on, their tallest player is 6’3” and they really only have one guy who can dribble more than twice in a row. You can’t let them get easy buckets by turning it over.

Bishop runs a 1-2-1-1 diamond press, where they immediately trap the ball-handler off the inbound. If you can keep your composure and beat the trap with a pass to the middle, they are done. They only have two players back and you’re free to either walk the ball up and start your offense or go for a quick layup or three. It’s really up to you. If you can make one smart pass through a trap their whole defensive scheme pretty much goes out the window. Look at how wide open the middle of the floor is when they’re practicing their press:

Cunningham said it himself: they don’t have the offensive firepower to compete straight-up, so they need to run their gimmicky press to create easy buckets. Don’t give them that and they start to look a lot like the group that started 1-9.

Now that Bishop isn’t getting easy layups from their press, they’re forced to execute in the half court. This means they need to turn to Brandon, their only competent playmaker. Brandon is a solid player, easily the best Bishop has. He is quick off the dribble, has a nice jumper, and is a good playmaker who is willing to make the extra pass. The good news here is that Brandon has absolutely no left hand. Seriously, he hardly touches the rock with his left hand the whole movie, and when he does it’s just one dribble that immediately goes to his right hand. If you don’t let him drive right, you take him out of the game completely. Sit on his right hip, make him give it up to his teammates, and see if they can make any plays without him. (They can’t. At all.) Watch what happens when his defender doesn’t let him go right:


As soon as Brandon has to go left, he picks up his dribble and completely freezes. He is a talented player, but that is a major weakness that can be exploited.

Besides Brandon, Bishop only has one other offensive player you need to worry about: Kenny Dawes.  He is the only other player who can shoot competently from outside the paint. He’s got a good jumper, but can’t create his own shot. So the report on their half-court offense is pretty easy. Make Brandon go left, face guard Kenny, and sag off everybody else in the paint. Let the other kids shoot and it’s gonna be a whole lot of bricks.

Now that Bishop isn’t turning defense to offense with their press and they definitely are not scoring in the half court, the only thing left to do to beat the hell out of Ben Affleck’s gang of misfits is to score on them a little. If you have a good post scorer, my recommendation pretty much starts and ends there. I can’t stress this enough; their tallest player is only 6-foot-3. Watch how easily their opponent gets a basket against them in the post:


If I’m coaching against them, I’m doing that until they prove they can stop it. They’re like a high school version of the Rockets, except the Rockets have more than two players who can shoot. Let your center play one-on-one against their soft-ass center Marcus and it’s gonna be easy baskets all night. If they double, continue to use their complete lack of rim protection against them and cut for layups.

If you don’t have a post-up guy, don’t worry. If their press wasn’t working, Bishop showed no ability to stop even a basic motion offense. They had to resort to blatantly hacking guys as they went to the rim. Knock down your free throws and use their lack of depth against them as they get themselves into foul trouble.

Finally, you want to continue to use Bishop’s lack of depth and size against them by crashing the offensive glass. “Doing all the little things right” is a constant point of emphasis for Bishop throughout the movie, and that includes boxing out. It’s time to put that to the test. Send one guy back in transition defense and have your other four attack the boards hard after every shot. No matter how hard they try to box out, you’re going to get some easy put backs. Even if their rebounding holds up, all that boxing out is going to wear them out over the course of the game, taking away from their ability to press hard and run like they want to.

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