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'Pete' Points - Artis Allows Pitt to Paint Like Picasso

The Pittsburgh Panthers (15-1, 3-0) displayed some offensive creativity against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (11-5, 1-2) on Saturday afternoon that helped them defeat Wake Forest 80 - 65.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Pablo Picasso is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century; he co-founded the avant-garde art movement known as cubism. Not everyone has an appreciation for his work, as it often isn't what some people consider art.

Freshman forward Jamel Artis didn't score against Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon. In fact, he didn't even play a particularly good game; he registered three rebounds and one assist in 12 minutes of play.  He also turned the ball over three times and committed two fouls.

Like Picasso, it takes more than just a glance at the box score to see that when Artis was on the floor, Pitt was able to run some pretty creative offensive sets.

Artis first checked in at the 14:47 mark for fellow freshman forward Michael Young. The lineup also featured freshman point guard Josh Newkirk, junior guard Cameron Wright, and senior forwards Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. The Panthers took advantage of the fact that Artis is a stretch-four, and has been a good shooter from the perimeter this season[1]. They were able to run some really nice four-out sets that maximized the personnel that was on the floor.

Zanna set ball-screens around both elbows, alternating elbows as the ball moved. Sometimes Artis stayed on the perimeter for a few seconds before coming down to the elbow area to set ball-screens while Zanna slipped behind the defense. Newkirk, Wright, and Patterson were either positioned around the top of the circle or on the wing, but never in the corners.

The positioning of the Pitt players was vital to the play and well executed. Wright was often on the weak side as a threat to cut to the basket. Newkirk or Patterson usually initiated the action off the screen set by Artis, while the other spaced out on the strong side wing ready to shoot. Given their ability to knock down perimeter shots, their defender couldn't commit to help in an attempt to cut off the dribble penetration.

It put a lot pressure on how the defense would handle the high screen-and-rolls set by Zanna and/or Artis. Without help on the back line, and because no Panther player was in either corner[2], switching on the screen-and-roll would result in a footrace between a guard/forward against an opposing frontcourt player to the basket.

Also, a rolling Zanna or Artis would be matched against a smaller player one-on-one and would probably result in a layup or a dunk. Pitt, particularly Zanna, got a lot of easy baskets when the Panthers ran variations of the four-out set. When Artis set a ball-screen around the elbow, either Newkirk, Wright, or Patterson was able to get into the lane, Zanna's man rotated to help, Zanna slipped behind the defense, received a pass, and got a layup or dunk.

While Artis looked like a true freshman at times against the Demon Deacons, his presence allowed Pitt to run some creative sets that we don't always get to see. I wrote in a prior article, that I was impressed with how head coach Jamie Dixon was maximizing the potential of his roster this season. Seeing creative four-out sets from the Panthers, which we haven't seen a ton of in past seasons, certainly reaffirms that.

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[1] Artis is shooting 43.5% on his two-point jumpers this season, second on the team to Wright; 45.1% of his shot attempts are two-point jumpers, also second on the team to Wright - per Hoop-Math.

[2] Important because it didn't allow a Wake Forest defender to come from the corner to challenge the shot or try and take a charge. Any defender helping from the wing would more than likely have to go over-the-top to try and make a play on the ball, and more than likely, pick up a foul.