Watching Film: Pick and Roll Defense vs. New Orleans

We’re forgoing the usual Re-Thoughts of Saturday night’s 112-101 victory over the Hornets because, in the context of the entire season, there really wasn’t that much to talk about. The following two equations will explain why the Blazers won:

Portland Offense = A+.
New Orleans Defense = Repeat the Third Grade.

The Hornets get knocked out of the playoff race and Portland goes up 5.5 games on the Memphis Grizzlies. That’s swell. The game wasn’t a complete throwaway, though, because it gave us another chance to look at Portland’s defense, this time because the Hornets run the pick-and-roll as much as any team in the league. Yesterday’s post focused on the Blazers’ help rotations. Today, we’ll exclusively look at screen-roll situations, keeping things in the first half when the game was still a game.

For the rest of this post, keep in mind that the Hornets telegraph their screens ahead of time, as that is what they begin their half-court sets with when they aren’t looking in to the post. It’s not a perfect science, but I’m of the belief that the less you switch on screens — the Blazers switched a lot earlier in the year — the better off your defense is going to be, as long as everyone is on the same page. So, we’ll be watching for how Portland deals with screens and whether they create mismatches or easy penetration opportunities for NO.

Disclaimer: Picture quality was inconsistent today for some reason. Pardon our blur. Also, I have no idea what some of the sound effects are.)

Pick-and-Roll One: We’ll start by picking things up in the fifth minute of the first quarter. The important action happens right away, so keep your eye on Marcus Thornton.

This looks very simple, but it’s perfectly played by Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge knows the screen is coming, so he’s in good position to hedge out on Thornton and interrupt his path. But not only does Aldridge hedge quickly, he actually gives Miller space to fight over the top of the pick and slip through to get back on Thornton, destroying all effectiveness of the screen. Granted, this wasn’t the toughest PnR to defend because it developed so slow, but that just makes it all the more important to play correctly.

Pick-and-Roll Two: At the 4:45 mark in the first quarter now, this play is more of an indictment of Emeka Okafor than anything else, but still noteworthy for Nic Batum sticking with Darren Collison.

Kids, don’t let friends set picks like Okafor. By the way he was bumped, Batum didn’t seem to know the pick was coming (Camby has to call it out) but that didn’t hinder him at all in cutting off Collison’s dribble.

Pick-and-Roll Three: At the 3:19 mark of the first now, this play develops very similar to the first PnR. Keep your eye on Aldridge.

Knowing the play is coming, Aldridge stays on West’s hip until the moment Paul puts the ball on the floor. Then he shows on the ballhandler, this time retreating so Rudy can go over the top rather than letting him slip between Aldridge and West. Rudy gets through to cut off Paul, making the end result of the play a simple exchange of positions by West and his point guard.

Pick-and-Roll Four: In the second quarter now in the second minute, we now have Collison and Darius Songaila vs. Jerryd Bayless and Dante Cunningham. This combo doesn’t work out so well for Portland. (Play this one on mute).

See, switching = mismatches = bad. On the first pick, Dante shows a couple feet out and Bayless goes underneath the pick, which is fine in that circumstance because Collison was so far away from the bucket and out of range of his shot. But on the second pick, Bayless practices the age old art of phasing through the screener, and fails. Songaila then wisely slow rolls to the hoop to drag Bayless with him, leaving Dante on Collison. That’s not a matchup that is ever going to end well. You almost would rather Bayless and Dante try to switch back when the ball went in the corner, even if that meant Songaila getting the entry pass.

Pick-and-Roll Five: Minutes later in the second. Not much you can do about this one. What West does is not a moving screen, just a very subtle quick step that catches Bayless off guard.

The positive is that Bayless fought over the top of the screen and Collison had to make a contested lefty floater. The negative is that the forward, in this case Juwan Howard didn’t show on the pick at all, but given that Howard is slower than the other bigs, this is more of an example of him not trying to do anything out of his ability.

Pick-and-Roll Six: Just under seven minutes to go in the second now, we still have the Bayless-Howard combo trying to stuff the screen. It’s still not working.

Again, Howard just doesn’t have the speed to hedge out on Collison, so he’s forced to just sit and wait for the dribble. That he’s able to slide his feet well enough to keep Collison out of the paint is a victory in itself. Nothing he can do about Collison dialing up Jordan in the 63-point Boston game with the between the legs. In this case, it’s probably better for Bayless to outright leave Songaila and double on to Collison than leave Howard on an island.

Pick-and-Roll Seven: Now we’re back to Miller and Aldridge, at the 5:28 mark, for some quality screen-roll devouring.

Again, Aldridge shows on the ball handler. Score. But this time, Miller jumps behind the screener before Songaila can get position. Then Miller wisely stays on Collison while Aldridge recovers on to Songaila, who had rolled to the hoop but recognized as a lesser threat. If you can’t tell, both Miller and Aldridge are playing the screen-roll very, very well.

Pick-and-Roll Eight: Now in the final four minutes of the half, it’s the same play as the previous one, only Songaila gets the ball on the pop. Watch how Portland’s defense reacts.

That Camby is pretty dependable as a help defender, not to mention pretty mobile. These are the plays Greg Oden will have to make next year. Hopefully he’ll have the same quickness he displayed this season. Aldridge may have shown too long on Collison, but again, he’s the bigger threat. Worth mentioning that in games past, the Blazers have given this same attention to weaker point guards, so Aldridge needs to be be aware of who he is covering. A lot of that awareness comes with playing with a guard like Miller for a while and learning to depend on him fighting through the screen. This is tougher for big men to be comfortable with than you might realize.

Pick-and-Roll Nine: Last play here, with 1:54 to go in the second quarter. A final warning, if you will, about the dangers of switching in screen-roll situations, especially with Chris Paul involved.

Rather than walking into the PnR as they had done for much of the half, David West goes Mode 2 and trots out to he spot. West creates slight contact with Aldridge, just enough to keep LaMarcus from showing (though he probably could have, still). With Miller picked effectively for the first time all night (on a bit of a moving screen), that leaves Aldridge to drop back, Juwan style, and sit on the drive. Miller plays the odds and fronts West with Camby ready to help, but Camby’s gamble on Paul’s pinpoint lob whiffs and West gets the layup.

Say it with me now. Don’t switch on pick-and-rolls.

What do we come away with? Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge make a pretty good tandem at fighting through screens and being aware of where threats are. Aldridge because he has the quickness and length to get around the pick and get the ballhandler out of rhythm before recovering to his man, and Miller because of his ability to fight through the pick and reasonable catch-up speed. As long as they didn’t switch, they were fine, and at least when they did, Camby was there to back them up.

The Bayless-Howard combo didn’t make out so well. Bayless had trouble fighting through screens and could be taken out of the play with minimal contact, given the speedy guard he was marking in Collison. Howard just isn’t a good enough athlete to cover the ground LaMarcus does, so he is forced to backpedal whenever the PnR occurs. While Bayless and Howard aren’t going to be called on to stop a lot of these plays in the postseason, it’s on Bayless to use his speed, create an edge on the screener and prevent the switch.

Miller and Aldridge’s defense obviously means more to this season, so the overall takeaway is good there. While the Blazers have, in the past, switched in these situations far too easily, they are now, having undergone a defensive surge, on the right track. As I pointed out yesterday, the foundation of Boston’s title-winning defense was help rotations, but just as important to them that year was Kevin Garnett’s ability to prevent switches at an extremely high rate. And no, Aldridge might not “look as intense” as Garnett does, but on this Saturday night in March, he played the pick-and-roll with the same philosophy.

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Tags: Basketball Brandon Roy Chris Paul Darren Collison Film Analysis LaMarcus Aldridge NBA General Portland Trail Blazers Watching Film

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