Saturday, December 27, 2008

The pick-and-roll is universal

In an LA Times story a few days ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson agreed that "nearly every [NBA] team has problems defending" the pick-and-roll.

According to Hornets coach Byron Scott, "all 30 teams have that problem. The biggest thing we tell our guys is that it's hard work [defending] it. You've got to be committed to do it."

There was a note on recently that described how at the Olympics this past summer Chris Bosh "dedicated himself to plugging the defensive gap that Team USA has long had in stopping pick-and-roll plays."

In a game last week against the Bulls, BOS center Kendrick Perkins had a career-best 25 points, hitting 12 of his 15 shots from the field, a "direct benefit of mastering the pick-and-roll."

After the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he'd been emphasizing the importance of the pick-and-roll with Perkins:

"I talked to him about setting picks and doing his job. [Against Chicago], Perk came out and did his job. Completely. He set picks. And by him setting picks, now they have to help on Ray (Allen). And who got all the shots, it was Perk."

Said Perkins: "I was trying to make it my business to go out and get guys open, and the ball ended up getting in my hands anyway."

As WAS guard Mike James put it recently:

"Pick-and-roll is universal. Every team in the NBA understands that."

The pick-and-roll is a late-game and need-to-score play run by most NBA teams, which have perfected it's execution. Think Stockton-Malone (or Kevin Johnson-Tom Chambers or Isiah Thomas-Bill Laimbeer).

As the coaches above point out, the PNR is difficult to defend because it's a bread-and-butter play that's usually run with a team's two best offensive weapons. The idea is to keep/get the ball into the hands of your best scorer(s):

-- Parker-Duncan
-- Nash-Stoudemire
-- Paul-West
-- Bryant-Gasol
-- James-Ilgauskas
-- McGrady-Ming
-- Terry-Nowitzki (see picture above)
-- Williams-Okur/Boozer
-- Nelson-Howard/Lewis (underrated)

The list is long...

[In the D League, veteran guard Mateen Cleaves and center Nick Lewis run the PNR as well as any combo in the NBDL.]

Guys like Baron Davis, Brandon Roy, Billups, and Wade are excellent handlers on the PNR because they're a threat to not only finish at the rim, but shoot the ball, and make plays in traffic.

It's when the picker can pick-and-pop and has the size to roll and finish in traffic that the PNR is the most difficult to defend (Nowitzki does both well).

When a team's PG works the PNR, there are three basic options: First, he can get in the lane and turn the corner off the pick. He can shoot the 3-ball behind the pick and, with good court vision, he can read the defense and get the ball to the picker on the roll or the pop back.

Mike D'Antoni really changed the geography of the court by changing the spacing. He used the corners and opened up the floor. Coach D's pickers don't set picks. Instead, he'd have guys like Stoudemire and Marion slip the pick.

He also showed how the PNR opens up the floor for the other three players on the court as teams often devote more than two players involved in defending the 2-man PNR action.

When defending it, the man guarding the ball must be physical. He can't lay on the screen or die on it. He's got to fight through it.

The man defending pick must be willing and able to get out and help stop the ball and recover to his man. Agility helps here, but more important is communication. The screener man is a "conductor" -- he must let the man defending ball hear that the screen is coming.

There are several ways to defend the PNR. Those who defend it the best (Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy come to mind) work hard on getting good at stopping it in at least one way (e.g., a hard show with their rotations on the backside).

As a team, it's important to be good at defending the PNR one way before you have multiple ways to stop it. Many teams have 3-4 options for defending it -- trapping on the PNR, a hard show, forcing the pick down, going under the pick, going over the pick with a contact show, etc.
Adding to the complexity is that it will be defended differently depending on where on the floor it's run.

Chuck Daly was exceptional at coaching the PNR, running it from various angles on the floor. He'd break it down -- from 2-on-2 up to 5-on-5 -- drilling it until it was perfect. He really revolutionized the PNR game in modern basketball.

Coach Daly would script PNRs to see how opponents would react or defend them. Calling it the "windshield wiper" technique (a philosophy he'd borrowed from former Niners coach Bill Walsh), Coach Daly would run them all over the court, searching for an opponent's weakness and forcing them to make a decision.

Mike Fratello did a great job of devising a shell defense (4-on-4 and 5-on-5).

Flip Saunders also does a great job with PNRs. His system was so effective with Marbury and Cassell as handlers in MIN and Kevin Garnett as a picker. In DET, he used Billups with the ball and Rasheed Wallace as the setter.

College teams aren't at the point where they can execute the PNR like the pros can, but it's quickly becoming much more prevalent in the college game. St. Mary's, for example, runs it frequently with their PG Patty Mills.

Coach Mike Montgomery at Cal runs it well, as does Billy Donovan at Florida, Jim Boylen at Utah, and Lon Kruger at UNLV. You can see the NBA influence when their teams play. Ron Hunter at IUPUI also does a good job with the PNR.

At the Olympics, Coach K has worked with two of the best PNR coaches in Chuck Daly and Mike D'Antoni so it's not surprising that Duke does a good job on the PNR, too. On the other hand, USC's Tim Floyd does a great job defending the PNR. Again, his pro experience is key.

Bill Self at KU does a great job of setting continuous PNRs. Their bigs do a great job of posting up for about two seconds, then sprinting to set the screens. They also change sides at the last moment, making it difficult for the defense to know which side it is going to be set on.

Last year, Kent State's Jim Christian (now at TCU) did a nice job of spreading the floor and having their active and mobile center set screens and roll hard to the rim. Very few teams actually hit the roll guy, but they were good at it.

Coach Kruger at UNLV uses a lot of ballscreens. The Rebs have three guys who can make plays. Vegas also has a big who can really shoot, so he'll often set the screen and pop, or another player will set it, allowing the big to receive off-ball screens on the weakside.

At UCLA, coach Ben Howland runs the PNR in a bunch of different looks, something he's able to do with a good guard like Darren Collison, who has perfected the PNR.

Wyoming's Brandon Ewing, and Zona's Nic Wise and Chase Budinger are among the best PNR players that I've seen at the college level. OU's Blake Griffin and UNC's Tyler Hansborough will be solid pickers at the NBA level. As a handler, Stephen Curry should be one of the best.

Marquette's combo of Dom James and Lazar Haywood, as well as Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris at Syracuse are also excellent PNR players.