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Isolation Play


Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball against Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on December 28, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas.

Getty Images Sport / Ronald Martinez
Definition: The isolation is quite possibly the simplest play in basketball. One guy gets the ball. His teammates back away, drawing their defenders as far from the ball as possible, and the ball-handler tries to beat his man one-on-one. Every team, at every level of basketball, runs isolations from time to time, particularly in end-of-quarter or end-of-game situations. When there's ten seconds left on the clock and the team needs a basket, many coaches will just give the ball to their best scorer and ask them to make something happen.

There's a significant down-side to isolation ball. Teams that become too reliant on a single player can become stagnant on offense, too one-dimensional, too vulnerable to teams that have that one lock-down defender that can take away the isolation play.

Some of the NBA's top scorers - Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, for example - thrive in isolation. They also draw a ton of criticism for taking too many shots, being "ball stoppers" and not involving teammates in the offense enough. And certain NBA coaches are notorious for allowing their offenses to become overly reliant on the isolation play. When he was coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mike Brown's critics described his offense as "give the ball to LeBron," while Mike Woodson's system in Atlanta was mockingly called "iso-Joe" due to its utter reliance on Joe Johnson. Today, Brown coaches Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers and Woodson heads Anthony's New York Knicks.

Mike Woodson's Knicks became too reliant on Carmelo Anthony's isolation game last season, a problem that was exposed against Miami during the playoffs.
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