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.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Westbrook’s level of annoyance is impressive.
Apr 24, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
This is just interesting to watch.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
Sorry KD, but through two games Allen has been the MVP of this series.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
No suspension for McRoberts. Somehow.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Jabari Parker says he passed more than Carmelo because he had a better team to pass to.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
He wants Steph Curry money, but he’ll likely get more like $7 million a year.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Gasol basically wants D’Antoni gone, but even then he likely moves on.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
Oscar Robertson thinks ‘Melo should get out of Dodge (and go to Houston).
Apr 24, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Kevin Pritchard tweets message from Pacers president
Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Less-heralded Damien Inglis declares, too
Apr 24, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
He will not be getting a baseball contract soon.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
Dwyane Wade does writeup on Serena Williams
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
Harden is frustrated. He should be, shooting under 30 percent for two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Grizzlies guard gets Joe Dumars Trophy over Jeff Green, Channing Frye, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Mike Dunleavy
Apr 24, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT
Trail Blazers forward is averaging 44.5 points trhough two games
Apr 24, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Dwight Howard was aggressive early and put on a show, but LaMarcus Aldridge won the war.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
All three series Thursday night are tied 1-1.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:48 AM EDT
LA has 89 points and 26 rebounds in two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:40 AM EDT
Trail Blazers take 2-0 series lead with second win in Houston
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