Opening the Playbook: The Beauty of the Hi-Lo

Griffin and Duncan

The NBA is the pinnacle of basketball around the world. Players from every corner of the globe dream about playing in this league and possessing the elite skill to someday have a shot at playing in the league.

To be an elite NBA player, you can’t just have skill in one area. You’ve got to be able to handle the ball, play in the post, pass the ball, shoot the ball, set screens and the list goes on. No matter what position you play, the more versatility, the better.

In comes the Hi-Lo play. These are some of the most aesthetically pleasing plays that you’ll ever see. For those of you who don’t know, the Hi-Lo play is when you get a player passing from the high block to the low block for an easy finish at the rim. Normally this is big-to-big, but it can be guard-to-guard or big-to-guard as well. Its really phenomenal to watch when it comes down to it. But its very rare that you find a combination of players who can run it in rhythm.

Usually, before it happens, there’s some type of off-ball screening action to set it up. The flash under the rim doesn’t just happen by osmosis. It takes time to develop. There’s sometimes a distraction on the weakside or at the top to take the focus off of the cutter at the rim. These misdirection attempts are really the meat and potatoes of the play.

We’re going to examine two examples of Hi-Lo plays from the Spurs vs Clippers game last night. Lets start with the Clippers–the more complex of the two examples. In the 4th quarter, the Blake Griffin completed a high low pass to Deandre Jordan that lead to a dunk on the offensive end. Take a look at the screenshots below. It all starts from a simple Horns set with Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan as shown in the screenshot below.

Clippers hi-lo

Chris Paul then enters the ball to Griffin after the initial set up and proceeds to screen Jamal Crawford from the wing. Crawford then proceeds to cut to the basket for the first phase of the play. Griffin will give the ball back to Paul because he and Jordan are preparing to set a gate screen for Crawford who will shoot up through the middle of the paint. Take a look at the screenshot below.


This is the most important part of this particular play. Crawford will become the focal point of the defense after this gate screen and it frees up Jordan and Griffin to make their moves. Tim Duncan becomes distracted with Crawford and the ball on the outside and Jordan is able to cut down low to the rim out of sight. Griffin then sets a screen for Crawford on the outside.


Griffin pops to the elbow area on the other side while Duncan is still occupied by the action between Crawford and Griffin. Danny Green hasn’t committed all the way to helping on Jordan, but even if he does he’ll be sealed off. Take a look at the screenshot below.

Clippers hi-lo2

All of the misdirection there resulted in a lob to Jordan from Blake Griffin on the elbow. Beautiful basketball, if I do say so myself. Take a look at this in real time.

Only a few possessions the Spurs ran a hi-lo of their own. This was a much simpler version of it that didn’t need all of the motion that the Clippers needed. Deandre Jordan fronted Tim Duncan in the post on the mid-left block. Jordan did an excellent job of sealing the post entry pass from Danny Green initially. Take a look at the shot below.

Jordan Denial

Boris Diaw flashes to the top of the break and the defense shifts with the rotation of the ball. Duncan takes advantage of this shift and manages to seal Jordan off under the rim. It results in a pinpoint pass to Duncan from Diaw. But the most interesting part of this is the personnel that the Spurs implemented on this particular play. They had all shooters on the perimeter, so no help from the weakside could’ve possibly come. Take a look at the play in real time.

These are just a few variations of hi-lo plays run by two of the top teams in the Western Conference. This is basketball at its finest. Skill can be found at any position in the NBA.


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