One of the basketball things I really nerd out on is footwork. I love watching how guys can set up a shot or put the defense on their heels with simple jab steps and hesitations. So, when I came across this clip that Mike De La Rosa of Thinking Basketball posted (a great channel, by the way), I watched it a few dozen times:
Flip the hips, earn the top foot. Just nasty pic.twitter.com/zkGdRUfRhx— Mike De La Rosa (@MiikeDLR) May 15, 2022
Watch as Doncic delivers five quick jab steps to get Ayton moving to his left. Once Doncic has Ayton’s momentum going in that direction, he quickly dribbles to Ayton’s right, which forces Ayton to flip his hips to stay in front of Doncic. But as soon as he does, Doncic immediately executes a tight crossover dribble to the right, getting him past Ayton’s top foot and earning an angle that allows him an easy drive to the basket.
This is known as attacking the top foot, which is a player’s foot that’s closest to a ball handler. Most defenders will try play at an angle to a ball handler to force them one direction or another, depending on the defensive scheme for that game, resulting in one foot being out close to the ball handler. The idea is for the ball handler to get past that top foot, and if they succeed, the defender no longer has a good defensive angle.
Ayton guarding Doncic on the perimeter is a mismatch, but Ayton can hold his own out there, as evidenced by the fact that he recovers enough on the drive to get back and goal tend Doncic’s shot. But the short, quick movements Doncic uses to get free of Ayton show Doncic’s skill and athleticism.
I really enjoy watching these games within the game. It illustrates how skilled NBA players are, and how there’s much more going on than just the highlight reels we usually watch. Doncic is especially good at moving defenders with his eyes, footwork, and small hesitations. And the crazy part is he’s just 23 years old. He’ll likely get even better at it as he ages. That will be really fun to watch and great for the Dallas Mavericks.