Less than a year ago, Jake LaRavia and Alondes Williams played for different basketball programs. In a relatively short span of time, though, LaRavia and Willams have forged one of the top partnerships in college hoops.
They’re an excellent fit. Both guys have the ability to create and score from every level of the floor. Wake Forest can leverage that connection: deploying them together in designed actions or empowering them to make their own reads.
Back in Jan. 2021, I put together a deep dive on the debut season for Steve Forbes at Wake Forest. The upshot: the overall offensive process seemed good; however, without any game-breakers on that side of the floor, Wake Forest was dependent on its scheme to create in the half court.
Well, the setup is different with Williams and LaRavia. Wake Forest’s half-court flow is as good as any team in the ACC. This is the freedom that comes with having two unselfish and creative matchup-beaters: Williams and LaRavia.
After closing out Notre Dame, Wake Forest is now 8-4 in games decided by single digits. @ForbesWakeHoops says the Deacs’ late-game execution has evolved as the season’s gone along. pic.twitter.com/HjP7663mTJ
— Josh Graham (@JoshGrahamRadio) February 19, 2022
The Demon Deacons don’t have to come down and run a set every trip down the floor. Aided by good half-court spacing, those dudes can create advantage with their talent, alone.
Wake The Offense
The ascent of Wake Forest’s offense has been a sight to see. During the 2020-21 season, Wake Forest barely cracked the top 200 nationally in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom. That offense did, however, rank inside the top 25 nationally in 3-point attempt rate: 46 percent of the team’s field goal came from beyond the arc. This was easily the highest 3-point attempt rate of any Forbes-coached team.
This season, the Demon Deacons are still getting the 3-ball up at a healthy clip: 41.7 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks top 90 nationally. Despite the lower volume, Wake Forest is creating a greater percentage of open half-court catch-and-shoot attempts.
Those spot-up looks have juiced an offense that now ranks inside the top 50 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric.
LaRavia and Williams move well without the ball, which adds to the team’s flow. When the two best offensive players are willing to give the ball up and cut/relocate — knowing the ball will cycle back — it gets everyone else moving.
According to Pivot Analysis, Williams and LaRavia have played 763 minutes together this season. With those two on the floor, Wake Forest is +198, including an offensive rating of 113.8 points per 100 possessions.
Overall, the Demon Deacons have a net rating of +15.4 points per 100 possessions with LaRavia and Williams on the court.
Jake LaRavia is one of the best shooters in the country. He doesn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers (3.5 3PA per 100 possessions), but he’s accurate out beyond the arc. Along with Purdue’s Mason Gillis, LaRavia is one of only two high-major players shooting 60 percent on 2-point attempts and 40 percent on 3-point attempts (50+ 3PA).
Playing off of Williams has lifted LaRavia’s game. Currently, LaRavia ranks inside the top 35 of Division I in both effective shooting (63.2 eFG%) and true shooting rate (66.4 TS%).
From the outset of this season, it was obvious: Williams and LaRavia had instant chemistry.
Williams is exceptional when it comes to getting downhill, collapsing defenses and finding teammates for high-percentage looks.
There’s no lead guard in college basketball this season that sees the floor quite like Williams. He uses that to bend and manipulate defenses; when the advantage-situation presents itself, Williams wastes no time zipping the ball to an open teammate.
During two seasons at Indiana State, LaRavia shot 52.3 percent on 2-point attempts, which is nothing to sneeze at, including 62 percent at the rim as a freshman. Through 26 games this season, though, LaRavia is shooting 62.3 percent on 2-point attempts, including 68.1 percent at the rim.
So far this season, LaRavia has 134 field goals to his name. According to Bart Torvik’s shot data, 53 percent of LaRavia’s field goals (71) have come assisted. Williams has assisted on nearly half of LaRavia’s assisted buckets: 34 of 71 (47.9 percent), per CBB Analytics.
That’s tied for the most of any two-man combination on the roster. Williams has also assisted on 34 Mucius field goals.
LaRavia is excellent as a finisher off finds from Williams; however, he’s wonderful as a half-court connector, too. Williams will create the initial advantage and kick the ball to LaRavia, who will then multiply the advantage by bending the defense further and finding an even better look.
This is how Wake Forest’s spot-up aces — Mucius and Williamson — can feast. In turn, LaRavia has assisted on 19 Mucius field goals and 19 Williamson field goals.
LaRavia has also assisted on 23 Williams field goals, the fourth most of any combo on Wake’s roster.
I wrote about this action earlier in the season, but Wake Forest has a pet play for LaRavia and Williams that’s arguably the most unstoppable set in the ACC.
I’m not sure what Wake Forest calls this action, but the Demon Deacons have cooked countless opponents with it this year. It’s a 5-out set that starts with a handoff for Williams, which is followed by a weak-side split cut from LaRavia.
LaRavia will bend around Williamson (usually) and jet backdoor, looking for the ball.
Now, this isn’t an easy pass, but Williams has the velocity, vision and cunning to fling this pass in every single time.
As a result, LaRavia is one of only nine ACC players shooting above 67 percent at the rim, with 100+ attempts.
It’s a tight window to throw into, but Williams has made it work — regardless of opposing man-to-man defensive concepts. Williams has found LaRavia on this action vs. the rangy switch defense of Florida State, while also connecting against gap defenses like Virginia and Louisville.
This is basketball at its finest: movement, cutting, passing into space. It’s beautiful, yet effective.
Of course, the shoe manages to fit on the other foot, too. LaRavia, with his height, can scan over the top of defenses. He’s picked out Williams with this same action. Here’s an after-timeout play call vs. Duke.
Alondes Williams + Jake LaRavia
A huge benefit of having to two complementary players of different sizes is the ability to pair them together in simple two-man screening actions.
If an opponent wants to switch screens and exchanges 1-4, then Wake Forest can hunt a matchup for LaRavia. Once he has a smaller defender switched on him, LaRavia can attack.
Alternatively, teams with bigger power forwards may not want to switch a lumbering post player on Williams.
According to Synergy Sports, LaRavia has scored 1.06 points per possession on a combination of post-ups and isolations, while shooting a combined 58.5 percent.
On post-ups alone, LaRavia has scored 1.2 points per possession (68 FG%), which is No. 2 in the ACC among players with 20+ possessions.
Williams and LaRavia put so much pressure defenses. If there’s even a tiny lapse in communication at the point of attack, Williams will exploit it — either bursting his way to the rim or with another wizard-like pass.
With LaRavia slipping this screen for Williams, Duke’s Paolo Banchero is unsure if he should switch to Williams or stick with LaRavia, an excellent 3-point shooter. Wendell Moore Jr. gives up the lane and Banchero is caught in no-man’s land, which results in another crafty rim finish from Williams.
If the point-of-attack defense isn’t completely locked in, well, it’s going to be a layup line for Williams (66.2 FG% at the rim), especially when Dallas Walton (43 3PA) can space to the corner and keep the defensive center out of the paint.
Wake Forest hammered this two-man action with Williams and LaRavia late in the game at Duke.
Banchero is huge, but he’s also a fluid lateral athlete, which helps him as a switch defender vs. smaller players. Williams is different, though. Once again, Williams — who gets to gather some steam with a (really) high screen from LaRavia — turns the corner on Banchero’s switch and pressures the rim.
Possessions like this — with little ball/player movement — may seem drab in terms of aesthetics; however, it’s effective basketball. In a leverage situation, it’s golden. This keeps the ball in the hands of your two best players, thus reducing turnover risk and forces defenses to make hard decisions.
It’s also a pathway for getting to the free throw line. Williams has drawn 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes this season, according to KenPom. LaRavia sits at 4.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. For a team that ranks No. 130 nationally in free throw attempt rate, they’re the only two guys in Wake Forest’s rotation drawing above 3.5 fouls per 40 minutes.
Here’s another high ball screen for Williams; UNC is caught in between coverages, which frees LaRavia on the short roll.
(Outside of Banchero, LaRavia is the ACC’s top offensive target at the nail — working around the free throw line in the middle of the floor. Virginia’s Jayden Gardner is up there, too. PJ Hall of Clemson and Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts deserve a nod as well.)
Jake LaRavia Leads The Dance
Wake Forest’s spread pick-and-roll offense flows through Williams as the primary ball handler. Williamson was the team’s top screen-roll creator last season (1.01 points per possession), but he’s moved to a secondary role, where he’s been quite good. Less usage, higher efficiency.
Carter Whitt has also taken on a lesser role, although his on-ball usage in the 2020-21 season is tricky to evaluate, just given the less-than-deal circumstances of that season. (The 2022-23 season could be more of a hinge point for Whitt’s development.)
LaRavia is featured more in post-up/isolations or as a screener for Williams. However, LaRavia gets his share of pick-and-roll creation, too.
While he may not have the speed to reliably turn the corner, LaRavia can use his size and feel to crack the defense off a ball screen.
LaRavia has a Villanova-like style for live-dribble creation in the middle of the floor. Inspired by NBA great Charles Barkley, this tactic, which can be referred to as a “Barkley,” essentially boils down to dribble-drive turning into a post-up.
This is a great way to create passing opportunities. LaRavia can scan the floor from the live-dribble post-up and pick out shooters. He can also look to score, which is what happens here vs. a switch with Miami center Sam Waardenburg.
Those big-big (4-5) pick-and-rolls with LaRavia are tough to cover. It’s a way to create a mismatch with an opposing center on LaRavia.
Wake Forest can also scramble the numbers around and generate just as many (if not more) concerns for a defense by using a guard to screen for LaRavia. Recently, the Demon Deacons have experimented more with 4-1 pick-and-roll: LaRavia as the ball handler and Williams or Williamson as the screener.
When opponents switch this big-guard pick-and-roll it allows LaRavia to go one-on-one vs. the opposing point guard. LaRavia can attack this size mismatch by looking for his own offense or working as a passing hub.
When the defense comes to double LaRavia in the post, it leaves shooters open on the perimeter.
When the screener is Williams, though, then Wake Forest can further invert the offense and allow its star point guard to isolate in the post. By the way, this is one of the most ridiculous post-up finishes all season. Williams is just an insanely good basketball player.
Once again, this is where the added spacing from a stretch-5, like Walton and Khadim Sy (37.8 3P%), really helps the cause.
During the 2021-22 season, Williams has shown an aptitude for looking for his own offense on the low block. The death of the post-up was largely overblown in basketball circles. Teams may post-up with less frequency; however, that selectiveness shouldn’t be mistaken for an outward rejection of the post.
Obviously, spread pick-and-roll is the name of the game, but the post is still an excellent place to attack certain matchups.
Notre Dame sends a late double here, but it’s too late; Williams already has deep post position and pro-hops around Blake Wesley’s help.
Williams is a 6-foot-5, 210-pound point guard. He’s strong as hell and can physically overwhelm most guard-guard matchups in college basketball. This includes excellent perimeter defenders like Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan and Virginia’s Reece Beekman, which I detailed after Wake Forest’s win in Charlottesville.
Beekman is an elite on-ball defender, one of the best in the country. He gave Williams fits on pick-and-roll and face-up isolation possessions. Forbes ditched those looks and had Williams — who outweighs Beekman by 30 pounds — play with his back to the basket.
Williams is so good at punishing these short-space advantage-situations. Someone has to be open, and Williams will find them, especially if the double team arrives late or with a little too much predictability.
Wake Forest will now use guard-guard pick-and-roll (1-2 or 2-1 in terms of positions) to create these post-up situations for Williams.
In this scenario, Williamson becomes a dangerous screener for Williams. Assuming the opponent has its smallest player on Williamson, Forbes can have Williamson screen for Williams. If there’s a switch, then Williams can physically dominant that smaller defender, which is what happens here with Miami’s Charlie Moore.
From earlier that same Miami game: Wake Forest tries to pull Bensley Joseph into a switch with Williams-Williamson pick-and-pop. The Hurricanes fight through and don’t switch. Williams is still able to lean in and draw a foul Kam McGusty, though.
Williams is such a brutal guy to guard. In the pick-and-roll, Williams bends coverages and forces back-side rotations or requires opponents putting two defenders on the ball.
In isolation or post-up looks, an opponent may want its best perimeter defender on Williams, but that can be precarious, too, especially if there’s a size mismatch.
Adding to the risk: if that opposing defender doubles as one of his team’s top options on offense, it’s a liability to have him guard Williams, a magnet for creating contact and fouls.
Lineup Flexibility Around Jake LaRavia And Alondes Williams
The addition of Damari Monsanto to this lineup has been big for the Demon Deacons. First, it’s incredible Monsanto was even able to return to the floor this season following surgery.
Secondly, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Monsanto is another bucker-getter who can create his own offense or look for points while shooting off movement. Monsanto offers lineup versatility, too.
102 dunk attempts, which is 10.7% of team's 2PA (No. 21 nationally)
91 dunks: Third most among ACC teams this season, Duke and FSU are the only 2 over 100.
Compares to 13 dunks last season. Willing to wager one of the largest (maybe the largest?) increase in the country
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) February 21, 2022
Given his size, Williamson can be a bullseye for opponents to go after when Wake’s on defense. However, with Monsanto, LaRavia and Mucius, the Demon Deacons have three hybrid forwards that can guard up or down a position.
Sy adds even more flexibility. The veteran transfer vacillates between the 4 and 5 for Wake Forest. Sy has the size and footwork to guard ball screens as the team’s center, or to switch around on the perimeter and guard in space.
Wake Forest is one of the biggest teams in the country. The Deacs rank No. 12 nationally in KenPom average height metric. However, this team can play bigger at times with Monsanto and Sy coming off the bench.
According to Pivot Analysis, Wake Forest is +20 in 26 minutes with Monsanto, Sy and Walton on the floor together. The sample is small here, but the Demon Deacons have allowed just 0.87 points per possession with these lineups on the court.
Bonus: Elevator Door, Damari Monsanto To The Top Floor
It can be a challenge to ease in a new player into an offense in the middle of the season, but Monsanto is a bucket. Fortunately for Forbes, the ball pops around in Wake Forest’s offense; the team shares it well. However, Forbes has drawn up some plays to get Monsanto involved, too, including a couple of his different “elevator door” designs.
Wake Forest comes out in a Strong alignment — with Sy and LaRavia setting staggered screens for Whitt. After Whitt clears, Monsanto — who starts in the opposite corner — sprints up and runs through an elevator screen from Sy and LaRavia.
During the game at Duke, Wake Forest called another after-timeout (ATO) elevator door play for Monsanto. Here, the Demon Deacons start in a Box Set, with LaRavia as the de facto point guard. Monsanto runs through screens from Sy and Walton. As Monsanto drives baseline, Walton sets a throwback screen for LaRavia.
Monsanto opts to call his own number and take the shot, but LaRavia is open on the throwback action, with Walton’s screen on Moore.
Forbes will run elevator action for several different players, including Mucius (36.6 3P%), another tall movement shooter.
Down at Miami, Wake Forest sets up in what looks like a similar design; however, instead of running off the staggered screens from Sy and LaRavia, Cameron Hildreth rejects and crosses to the weak side of the floor. While that happens, Mucius sprints comes from the low corner and sprints through the elevator doors.
McGusty fights hard to get through the elevator screen, but with the defense lifted and tied up, Williamson is able to attack 1-on-1 in the middle of the floor.
Speaking of Williamson, Forbes will use the veteran combo guard as the player coming through the elevator doors, too. Here’s the first play of the game at Miami: Williamson runs a handoff action with Williams and Mucius lifts as if he’ll set a ball screen for Williams. Instead, Mucius veers out. Meanwhile, Walton looks ready to set a pindown screen for LaRavia, which is dummy action.
Williamson, after pitching to Williamson, sprints from the low block through the elevator doors of LaRavia and Walton.
This play has Miami fooled; Moore is out of position. If the initial pass from Williams to Williamson is caught cleanly, this is an open 3-point attempt.
During the 2020-21 season, Wake Forest ran this elevator door action for Williamson, too. The Demon Deacons would start in Horns set with Williamson on the basketball.
Here’s that same action during the game in Chapel Hill vs. North Carolina. Once more, Williamson gets a clean look with Caleb Love as the chase defender.
In terms of actually making the NCAA Tournament, Wake Forest still needs more work. If the Big Dance started tomorrow, Wake Forest is probably in the field; Bracket Matrix projects the Demon Deacons as a 9-seed.
If the Deacs slip out, it could spell some trouble, though. Wake Forest has only one Quad 1 win and one of the weakest non-conference strengths of schedule in the country. This team really could use one more “good” win, which would present itself at the ACC Tournament.
Either way, Wake Forest must keep winning and avoid the obvious pitfalls. If the Deacs are able to crack the field of 68, they loom as a dangerous opponent, due in part to the dyanmic duo of Alondes Williams and Jake LaRavia.