An Analysis of Rick Carlisle’s Bread-and-Butter BLOB Play

A deeper look at the Dallas baseline out of bound play used by Rick Carlisle. A staple in the Dirk Nowitzki arsenal.

This week we’re going to dive into some X’s and O’s of the Dallas Mavericks with Rick Carlisle’s baseline out of bounds, or “BLOB” playbook. The baseline out of bounds play typically occurs between the line where the lane touches the baseline and where the three point line touches the baseline, and is sometimes referred to as an “out of bounds under” or “OBU.”

Dallas has had 58 of these situations this season (roughly 2 per game). After watching all of them, I can share that they have run this same play in 54 of those situations, and that one other was really a sideline out play because it was so far in the corner. Given, that, it is safe to say that Rick Carlisle really trusts in the play. One could also conclude that he doesn’t much believe in spending time on a bunch of different plays for this situation, even though it is bound to come up in ever game.

Dallas is 15th in the league by scoring efficiency on these plays, so Carlisle may have a point. The difference between the 0.879 points Dallas can expect and the 1.101 points Portland gets comes out to about a half point each game, but the more important difference is that Dallas gets 0.933 points per possession in its normal half-court offense. They’d be better off just throwing the ball into the outlet and getting into a typical offensive set, depending on the shot clock (coincidentally, this is what Portland tends to do—get the ball inbounded, then let Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum run the offense like normal.

So what is this play, and why does Rick Carlisle use it? It’s a pretty simple set, it works with most players, and it gets better as the players executing it get better. It was perfect for Dirk Nowitzki, who plays the shooting big role for the play (often filled by Harrison Barnes now, with Dirk missing much of the season thus far) and can usually get his favorite mid-range jumper out of it.

The Basic Set Description

Dallas has the point guard, ideally a capable shooter and driver, inbound the ball. On the near elbow, they line up the five man and best screen-setter. At the nail—the center of the free throw line—the shooting big, who for years in Dallas has been Dirk Nowitzki, lines up and gets ready to set the first pick for the shooting guard or small forward, one of whom is on the weak side elbow. The other wing stays in the far corner, out of the play, in case his man cheats so far as to leave an easy pass for a corner three.

Option 1 - The first guard curls or cuts to basket

The first action in the play is a double screen for the guard, starting at the weak side elbow. He’ll run off both screens and curl to the basket, receiving a bounce pass for the layup in the ideal play (which almost never results). Instead, he can curl around the first screen seeking the same result or, if the screens are overplayed, the guard can backdoor at the very first screen and go right to the basket. Watch as Devin Harris makes an excellent backcut—though he doesn’t get the pass—for an open layup opportunity. In the second clip, you’ll see the guard curl around the first screen and head down the lane for a layup.

Option 2 - The shooting big

The role held for years by Dirk Nowitzki, this season it has been filled by Harrison Barnes and Dirk, when he is on the floor. After setting the first screen, this big turns and curls into the midrange area beyond the elbow to receive a pass for a jump shot or a pump fake and drive on a defender closing out. You can see it in all of the following plays as well, though this example is the best one, and involves the swet-shooting German sinking another jumper

Option 3 – The pitch back to the point guard

If none of those options are open, either big can peel out a little lower, receive the inbound pass, and then handoff or pitch right back to the point guard coming in from the baseline. The guard can then read his defender and shoot, drive, or move the ball up top to get into normal offense. First, watch Seth Curry use a handoff to drive it, then watch Williams take the pitch back for an open three.

Option 4 – The release to the five

Finally, if all else fails, the five-man releases to the three point line for the pass, the ball gets inbounded safely, and the team gets into a typical half-court set. If the five can shoot, the play becomes even deadlier, because then if the four doesn’t get the ball he can continue to the basket and the five can pop out for a catch and shoot. Dwight Powell, if he can defend the rim, has developed the offensive game to be a threat in this position. Watch first as he pops to a shooting area as the release and sinks it, then how he slips his screen right to the basket for two points.

Overall, it is a well-designed play. It has all the necessary elements: optionality, the ability to read and react to the defense, misdirewell it actually doesn’t have much misdirection. One of the reasons this play is good enough for middle of the league, but not great is because it truly scales with talent. The better the players that run it, the more effective it becomes. The more dangerous and unpredictable the guard and screeners, the more difficult it is for a defender to sit on one action. Every NBA team has the plays of other NBA teams scouted. Plays that rely on misdirection are often good for only one or two uses before others are ready, because then they see it on film.

As long as Rick Carlisle is in the league, we can likely expect to see a heavy dose of this same play, night in and night out, even after Dirk is gone, especially as the league continues the trend of four men that can shoot, like Parsons and Barnes.

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