Jan 24, 2013, 2:55 PM EDT
The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at how the pick-and-roll big man has evolved.
When Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, almost everyone believed they would form the most devastating pick-and-roll combination the league has seen since John Stockton and Karl Malone roamed the plains of Salt Lake City.
It made sense. Paul is the league’s best point guard, a player with otherworldly vision and a complex understanding of angles, and Griffin is an athletic marvel, faster and stronger than every big man he goes up against. Put the two together, and it’s a match made in pick-and-roll heaven, right?
You would think so, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, Paul and Griffin rarely even run true pick-and-roll these days. According to Synergy Sports, Griffin is the roll man on only about 10 percent of his possessions — a shockingly low number given the narrative that he doesn’t have a post game, and that all Vinny Del Negro runs is high screens.
So why don’t the Clippers run the Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll more?
It’s mainly because they can’t. The simple threat of it is enough to deter the actual action.
One of the most prevalent strategies used to thwart the pick-and-roll in today’s game is the “icing” or “blueing” or “downing” of screens. Jacob Frankel of the De-Thurmond Analysis has a wonderful look at what that means, and this photo illustrates how teams are eliminating the screen from actually happening:
You’ll see this a lot over the course of an NBA game. In this example, Tony Parker has forced the ballhandler away from the pick by severely overplaying him screen-side. It’s now Boris Diaw‘s job to prevent penetration and allow Parker to recover once the screen is no longer in play.
What “icing” a screen usually amounts to is a pocket pass by the guard to the would-be pick setter, who now gets to play 4-on-3 against a zoned up backline defense.
In theory, defenses would much rather have a big power forward making a decision from 17 feet than an explosive dunk right at the rim. It’s simple — make a non-traditional ballhandler make a ballhandler’s decision, and a lot of times the big man’s delay or hesitation to make the decision will give the defense enough time to recover.
What does this all mean in the grand scheme of things for pick-and-roll big men?
Now more than ever before, court vision is critical for any roll man worth his salt. It’s why great passers like Griffin, David Lee and Marc Gasol are all averaging career best assist numbers this season, and it’s a big reason why all three deserve All-Star bids.
The heavier use of “icing” pick-and-rolls has effectively distributed more of the scoring wealth as well. As Henry Abbott of TrueHoop recently wrote about, five years ago there were 27 players in the league who averaged at least 20 points per game. This year? Nine. As defenses force the ball out of the hands of first options, it’s the new role of the roll man to find the open shooter, or knock it down himself.
If there is one thing that’s changed about the NBA since the Stockton-Malone days to now, it’s that NBA defenses have gotten smarter and faster. Gone are the days of bludgeoning a defense with the same basic action over and over. Defenses develop a quicker immunity, and as an offense, you have to keep introducing new poisons.
It’s why simply being a great finisher in the pick-and-roll isn’t good enough anymore. While athleticism (Griffin) and size (Gasol) will always be heavily sought after attributes for a roll man, they aren’t the only requirements.
You would have never said this a few years ago, but maybe David Lee is the prototype. He’s a great passer, a deadly mid-range shooter (47% from 16-to-23 feet), and he’s ambidextrous and athletic enough to score at the rim regularly. Golden State has built an entire offense around his abilities in that setting, surrounding him with perimeter shooters and a low post monster in Carl Landry. As we witnessed in their recent victories over the Clippers and Thunder, that’s working out pretty well for them.
Defenses will continue to adapt, but for now, players with ‘high post skill-sets are more valuable than players with traditional low post skill-sets because those skills can be applied to more areas of the game. A lot of people will tell you that the big man is extinct, but it’s not true. They just evolved.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
BOSTON – There can be a fine line between unintentionally losing and taking. Tanking is encouraging, on some level, your own team to lose in order to gain better position for the draft. That can mean assembling a weak roster, increasing playing time for young and unready players, sitting good players longer due to injury…
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
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Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
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Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
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Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Do the Detroit Pistons hold each other accountable? “No,” Brandon Jennings said directly. The Pistons’ faint playoff hopes are disintegrating. With a 118-111 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Detroit has lost three straight, seven of eight and 10 of 12. The Atlanta Hawks lead the Pistons by three games with 19…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel has yet to play an NBA game this season, after being selected sixth overall in last summer’s draft by the Pelicans and then being traded to the Sixers in exchange for Jrue Holiday. Philadelphia is the team most associated with tanking this season (i.e., willingly losing games due to lack of personnel), and…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Nine years ago, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith were roommates at Oak Hill Academy. They watched film together. They walked to the gym together for extra workouts together. They played games together. Could they team up again in the NBA? “The conversation comes up,” Smith said. “We always tell each other how surreal…
Mar 9, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Jamal Crawford missed three straight games for the Clippers due to a calf injury, before trying to give it a go on Saturday against the Hawks. But Crawford didn’t last long before realizing he wasn’t yet ready to return, and now believes he came back too soon. From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles: Clippers guard Jamal…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
One day doesn’t change that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. What Sunday showed is why on the path to that show do neither of those teams wants to see the Chicago Bulls. Sunday at home against the Miami Chicago was relentless, physical, they defended well,…
Mar 9, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Bulls had beaten the Heat six of the last seven times the teams met during the regular season in Chicago, and this video clip of action from the first half gives us a glimpse of the reason why. Chicago plays harder than any team in the league on a game-by-game…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The Knicks have won three straight and the playoffs, especially in the dreadful Eastern Conference, remain within reach. But gaining entry to the postseason and getting crushed by the Heat or the Pacers in the first round wouldn’t begin to take the sting away from what’s been an underachieving season. What a playoff berth might…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
LeBron James attended the jersey retirement ceremony of Zydrunas Ilgauskas on Saturday, a move that would have been viewed as unusual by NBA standards even before considering the history that exists between the star player and the team where he began his NBA career. James played his first seven seasons in Cleveland, before infamously spurning…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
This is a far cry from Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan, but it’s as close as the Knicks are likely to get. J.R. Smith leads the break late in the second quarter, and tosses it off the backboard for a trailing Amar’e Stoudemire. In the old days, Amar’e would have hammered this one home with…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The Magic didn’t beat the Spurs in San Antonio, of course, but this was a nice play by Arron Afflalo to end the first half nonetheless. Tim Duncan has a propensity to turn the ball over in situations like this — end of clock, trying to force a pass — and this time it cost…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
This wasn’t exactly a dunk on the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was certainly in the vicinity. Martell Webster got loose on the break, and was quick enough to the rim to avoid the long rookie, but threw the dunk down with such force that he landed somewhat awkwardly on his backside.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:42 AM EDT
This is what the Clippers do, they put on a show. Midway through the first quarter Saturday night Chris Paul made the steal and it was a two-on-none fast break, so Paul went off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for the slam. Not the best off the backboard I’ve ever seen, but not bad. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
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