Welcome to Basketball News' 10-part mini-series, Blazing the
Trail, where Mat Issa breaks down the most revolutionary players of
the 1990s and 2000s. Throughout this series, we'll examine how
these players changed basketball and pioneered their respective
In this final installment, Mat goes in-depth on the
playmaking hub, Chris Webber. He explains how Webber's passing and
decision-making skills unlocked the Sacramento Kings' revolutionary
offense, with former coaches Elston Turner and Bob Staak and former
teammate Jason Williams.
If you were given the words “Chris Webber” and “revolutionary”
and told to configure them in a sentence, you would likely come up
with something like this:
“Chris Webber was the main attraction of the revolutionary
That statement is true, but that isn’t why he’s the final
subject of Blazing the Trail.
Like many basketball pioneers, after his legendary run at the
University of Michigan, Webber continued his transcendence in the
However, this time, he did it a different way; not as a cultural
revolutionary, but as a schematic one.
When Webber donned the purple and black in Sacramento, not only
did he become the franchise’s most accomplished star, he also
played an essential role in the re-imagination of NBA
WHAT MADE WEBBER SPECIAL
Somewhat paradoxically, the trailblazing Webber’s scoring game
was an ode to the great bigs of the 1990s. He greatly admired the
likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. And he
even admitted to borrowing parts of their games during different
portions of his appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast.
In his bag, he had Olajuwon’s jump hook, Malone’s pick-and-pop
jumper and Barkley’s tendency to jostle for deep position in the
While his scoring was a bit old school, his passing and
playmaking at his gargantuan size were well ahead of his
His exploits in the former were matched by only a few of his
contemporaries. In 2002-03 (the year he likely peaked as a passer),
Webber ranked first among all All-Star power forwards and centers
in Ben Taylor’s Passer Rating metric (an
estimate of a player’s passing ability on an ‘approximately’ 1-10
Visual Provided by Sports
Nearly every pass available to bigs at the time was within
Webber’s reach, and he flashed
that entire arsenal during his seven-year tenure with the
His former teammate Jason Williams — one of the most creative passers in NBA
history — told Basketball News that Webber “saw the game as
well as anyone [he] had ever played with.”
Webber needed all of his playmaking powers to survive within the
offensive ecosystem of legendary offensive coach Pete
“You must be skillful,” the late, great Carril explained in a
2010 interview with BBallBreakdown.
What the former college and professional coach was referring to
is the Princeton Offense he is often
credited with popularizing. The offense was a motion-heavy scheme
primarily predicated on constant passing and cutting. (To learn
more about the inner workings of the scheme, check out this
video by Jordan Sperber).
“The minute you have the ball in your hand, you are the point
guard,” Carril continued. “And if you can’t pass or see anyone to
pass it to, you’re stuck.”
Carril spent 13 seasons as an assistant with the Kings
(including the entirety of Webber’s tenure). But even with his
massive imprint on the team, the offense they ran was not the
“pure” brand he deployed at the University of Princeton.
“The actual system was a piece of Rick [Adelman] and a piece of
Carril,” former Kings assistant Elston Turner told Basketball News.
“We didn’t run an all-out Princeton offense. [If we did], we
probably would have shot the ball late in the clock.”
One of the hallmark features of "pure" Princeton Offense is its
grind-it-out nature. Princeton teams would run their sets
continuously throughout the shot clock until the defense slipped
The Adelman-led Kings liked to strike quickly. From 1998 to
2003, the group finished top-two in pace every season. Adelman
blended Carril’s Princeton scheme with his
Corner Offense — a system partially based on the offense his
former mentor Jack Ramsay would run with his passing big man Bill
Walton in Portland.
The Corner Offense prioritizes getting into offensive sets early
in the shot clock, feeding the ball to your facilitating big at the
elbow and letting that player operate from there.
A common play the Kings would run that combined the two coaches'
philosophies was the Low-Post Split Action. As the diagram below
demonstrates, a perimeter player would pass the ball to Webber at
the elbow, then immediately screen for his other teammate in the
corner and slip.
Here’s a demonstration of the play in theory and practice:
Visual diagram presented by
This play gave Webber three options:
1) He could hit the slipping cutter.
2) He could hit the shooter on the perimeter (like in the clip
3) He could take matters into his own hands and attack while the
defense is occupied handling the split.
Sacramento's offense worked because of Webber’s decision-making
prowess. Oftentimes, the onus was on him to read the defense and
choose the best available options, and more times than not, he made
the correct call.
His processing speed made it possible for the Kings to run
multiple actions in quick-time succession (something that is
commonplace today but was a rarity at the time).
In the next clip, Sacramento started with the Low-Post Split,
immediately shifted into a dribble handoff when that petered out
and finally settled on a pick-and-pop when the DHO proved futile
(all in under 10 seconds).
“He was special in that way,” Turner recalled of Webber. “He
made everybody a threat when he had the ball. So many guys are
threats [for] themselves when they have it, but everybody was a
threat [when he did].”
Not just any team could execute this free-flowing style. As
Turner pointed out, it takes a specific type of personnel.
“You gotta find a certain group to play that way,” Turner noted.
“It requires sharing the basketball.”
For instance, after their time together in Sacramento, Turner
joined Adelman’s staff again in Houston from 2007 to 2011. There,
Adelman attempted to install the Corner Offense, but struggled to
recapture that lightning in the bottle, never placing higher than
14th in the league in Offensive Rating in his first three
In comparison, when the Kings were firing at all cylinders in
2001-02 and 2002-03, they finished third and sixth in the league in
While many factors contribute to this, a large reason for this
disparity was Yao Ming’s inability to read the floor as swiftly as
Webber (as illustrated by his Passer Rating in the chart from the
These shortcomings were no fault of Ming’s — he was a solid
passer at his position for the era. It was Webber who was just way
more advanced and ahead of the curve for his era.
“Unlike most power forwards of that time, he was an all-around
player,” Turner summarized.
As an NBA player for eight seasons and a coach for another 24,
Turner has a great eye for these things. However, even he may be
underselling how well-rounded Webber was for his time — on both
ends of the floor.
Using Cerebro Sports’ Global Search tool that we introduced
in our ninth installment, we can
better understand the statistical outlier that Webber was during
Cerebro uses five skill metrics to help assess a player’s
strengths and archetype. These metrics are Pure Scoring Prowess
(PSP), Three-Point Efficiency (3PE), Floor General Skills (FGS),
Around The Rim (ATR) and Defensive Statistical Impact (DSI). Each
metric uses a soft scale ranging from 0 to 100. (To learn more
about how these metrics work, click here).
Frankly, 3PE isn’t that relevant to Webber since he didn’t shoot
many threes (most bigs at the time didn't).
But out of the other four metrics (PSP, FGS, ATR, DSI), from 1990
to 2010, only five players managed to score 75 or higher in each
Out of these five, the only players to accomplish this feat more
than two times during that 20-year period were Kevin Garnett and,
of course, Webber. And keep in mind this search encapsulates all
five positions — not just bigs.
His standing in those three offensive metrics makes sense for
all the reasons we highlighted above, but Webber's defensive impact
is what truly jumps out.
The Kings finished top-10 in Defensive Rating every season from
1999 to 2003, peaking at second overall in the 2002-03
We’d be remiss not to mention that Sacramento had solid
defensive pieces surrounding Webber. Doug Christie was a four-time
All-Defensive Team guard. Meanwhile, his interior co-star Vlade
Divac was a strong, positionally sound big who may or may not have
been at the forefront of the flopping movement.
Still, Webber was likely the catalyst of this unit. After the
Kings finished second in the NBA in 2002-03, the All-Star power
forward went down with a knee injury in the playoffs that sidelined
him for most of 2003-04.
During that time, the Kings inserted Brad Miller into Webber's
place, and despite much of the supporting cast remaining the same,
Sacramento fell all the way down to No. 21 in DRTG that season.
WEAVING THE THREAD
As we established earlier, Webber studied many greats, but the
one he aimed to emulate most of all was Syracuse standout, former
No. 1 overall pick and New Jersey Nets All-Star big man Derrick
“Derrick Coleman,” Webber responded when asked which player he
most patterned his game after. “He was the coldest... where I was
“I wore [No.] 44 in high school because of Derrick Coleman. I
wore [No.] 4 in the NBA because of Derrick Coleman,” Webber
explained on the Knuckleheads podcast
(Coleman wore No. 44 during his time at Syracuse and throughout his
15-year NBA career).
Coleman not only provided a young Webber with a local hero (both
of them grew up in Detroit, Michigan), but he also gave him a
template for how to craft his game.
Like Webber, Coleman was a futuristic big who could face-up,
pass and handle the ball like a guard. Unfortunately, injuries
derailed Coleman’s career — even faster than Webber — and we never
had a chance to see him deployed in a modern scheme that amplified
his revolutionary tools.
When asked about the comparison, Bob Staak, Webber’s former
coach in Washington, explained it like this:
“[Webber] was a better passer, [Coleman] was a better shooter
with range... I think [Coleman] could have been one of the best
power forwards ever,” Staak told Basketball News. “It just... never
really materialized, whereas [Webber] was one of the best power
forwards to play the game.
“And obviously, him being inducted into the Hall of Fame proves
IMPACT ON TODAY'S GAME
Currently, Turner serves as an assistant coach on Chris Finch’s
staff in Minnesota. Before joining the Timberwolves, Finch spent a
season with the Denver Nuggets, functioning as their de facto
offensive coordinator. During that stretch, he helped install
Corner concepts into their offense (something he mentioned off-hand
during a FIBA Coaching Clinic in 2018).
Finch hasn’t been on the staff in a half-decade, yet those
concepts are still alive and well in Denver. (It’s worth pointing
out that David Adelman, Rick’s son, is also on the staff). And the
reason the Nuggets can run this read-and-react offense is largely
due to the passing and decision-making chops of their MVP big man,
Nikola Jokic — a player many cite as the modern-day Chris
“I see some of [Webber in Jokic],” Williams told Basketball
News. “They both kind of play lethargic, not very quick, not really
very athletic. If you look at the list of most athletic guys in the
NBA, they both wouldn’t be very high on the list, but they both
just want to win.”
Furthering his praise, Williams referenced the knowledge of
legendary coach Hubie Brown and his teachings in Memphis.
"Brown was pretty simple. He had three rules for NBA guys... be
on time, know when to shoot and know when to pass. The reason I say
that is because Jokic and Chris Webber knew when to shoot and
[knew] when to pass," Williams said.
Webber sees the similarities, even telling the All the Smoke
podcast that one of his favorite players to watch in today’s
game is Jokic.
“I’d love to play today... especially on the high post,” Webber
admitted. “That’s why I love watching Jokic.”
The other player he name-dropped was Joel Embiid, whose blend of
low-post scoring and passing bears a great deal of resemblance to
"I like watching Embiid when he’s going to work in the post,"
Modern-day doppelgangers aside, Webber and his Kings legacy live
on offensive innovation.
“It was a spontaneous creativity offense,” Turner said. “It was
an offense where you put the system in, but the system allowed
players to play in it freely based on what their opponent did...
There [weren't] a lot of play calls. You know, you [used to] see
coaches every time they gain possession, they stand up and call a
play and let the whole arena know what's coming... Adelman would
just sit there most of the time. The guys... knew how to play out
of the system based on what they saw.”
“Carril... one of his sayings was, ‘Watch the guy in front of
you, he’ll tell you what to do.’”
And Webber and the Kings did just that.
The play above is only a small example of the read-and-react
nature of the offense, but it highlights the main ingredients
Webber gets ready to initiate a dribble handoff action with
teammate Peja Stojaković, reads that Stojaković’s man is
overplaying the handoff, and then immediately opts for a
quarterback keeper (similar to the way Bam Adebayo does
“[Carril] and [Adelman] put offensive sets in for them, but then
I think they just figured the rest out,” Williams said, reiterating
Webber and the Kings helped craft a borderline militaristic,
structure-laden sport into a discipline that rewarded artistry and
Without Webber pushing things forward in Sacramento, beloved
teams like the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix
Suns, the "Beautiful Game" San Antonio Spurs and the dynastic
Golden State Warriors of the present may never have seen the light
Like all the players spotlighted in Blazing the Trail, Webber
helped craft the game into what it is today. And for his
contributions to the field, he deserves all the accolades and
achievements his career yielded.
“I was at his [Hall-of-Fame] enshrinement,” Turner ended. “Him
and Rick Adelman.
“It was well-deserved for both of them.”
Yes, it was, Coach. Yes, it was.
Thank you for joining us on this journey through history. To
read each installment of Blazing the Trail, click the links
Click here to read Part IX:
Chauncey Billups, the basketball cheat code
Click here to read Part VIII:
Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway, the floor giant
Click here to read Part VII:
Dirk Nowitzki, the unicorn that became world champion
Click here to read Part VI:
Shawn Kemp, the aerial artist
Click here to read Part V:
Andrei Kirilenko, the five-tool defender
Click here to read Part IV:
Reggie Miller, the moving target
Click here to read Part III:
Shane Battier, the data-ball defender
Click here to read Part II:
Rashard Lewis, the All-Star stretch 4
Click here to read Part I: Steve
Nash, the magician who danced in the paint