The pick and roll is nothing new. It was made famous in the 1990s by the Utah Jazz’s John Stockton and Karl Malone. Almost two decades later, stopping it is still a Rubik’s cube of a riddle.
Now it’s an NBA staple, and one that is implemented in numerous amount of plays each game.
Albeit nearly unstoppable when ran correctly, slowing it is the prerequisite to victory in today’s game. Unfortunately for the Kings who rank 24th in defensive efficiency, merely slowing the opposing pick and roll has been a deficiency all season long.
To make matters worse, they have struggled to effectively run their own pick and roll on offense. Though simple in nature, the pick and roll still relies heavily on little things like patience of the ball-handler, solid screens, and a proficient understanding of body control and angles.
It’s those little things that are hampering the Kings in a big way on both sides of the ball.
One major aspect of the classic play is to create mismatches when opposing defenses elect to switch defenders. This typically forces post players to cover guards and vice-versa. That is exactly what happens in the first play below and it affected nearly every other player on the court.
Below we see the sequence unfold:
1: Rajon Rondo switches onto a bigger player who immediately takes Rondo into the paint where he has a decisive size advantage.
2: Kosta Koufos leaves his position under the rim to give Rondo support but overcommits –taking the Kings’ rim protector out of the key entirely.
3: With Koufos helping Rondo, Omri Casspi is tasked with marking the backside. Unfortunately, the man Koufos was marking, Richaun Holmes, takes inside position by sneaking baseline.
4: Once Holmes receives the dump off pass, he not only converts the open look at the rim but also gets fouled by Casspi who doesn’t have position on the bigger player.
Of course, one could elect not to switch but that does not come without its challenges either. In itself, switching demands good and quick communication between defenders in order to switch players.
That communication often times can go wrong. Below, we see the 76ers take advantage of not only a miscommunication between Rondo and Marco Belinelli, but also the direct lack of basketball principles of keeping yourself between your man and the hoop – not to mention an outright lack of effort.
1: Ish Smith goes to set a screen in the corner. Anticipating the switch, Rondo stays higher than Smith.
2: Smith reads the fact that there is literally no one between him and the basket and makes a decisive cut to the rim (commonly known as a slip screen).
3: When Smith receives the ball wide open and unchallenged at the rim, Rondo is still at the foul line extended and is the only one not to attempt to recover on the play.
The same problem with the slip screen occurred in the game against Cleveland. Below we see LeBron James get in position to make a screen. This time, it appears like the Kings have elected not to switch. In this case, Rudy Gay should hedge the ball handler momentarily before recovering to guard his initial man.
Gay however, stays on the ball handler for too long and James gets a wide-open look because of it.
The play resulted in a helpless DeMarcus Cousins against James – a play the Kings are fortunate did not result in an early foul for their All-Star.
The play may seem like one that is much easier to run than it is to defend. Though that may be true, as mentioned above, it does require certain abilities: patience, body-control, and an understanding of angles.
Below we see Willie Cauley-Stein come up to set a screen for Rondo. There are multiple problems that ensue:
1: Cauley-Stein cuts too early. That is to say before Kevin Love goes to hedge Rondo. The play leaves Rondo smothered by both Love and Kyrie Irving making a pass nearly impossible.
2: Rondo and Cauley-Stein are looking in opposite directions. This further delays the timing of the pass.
3: As oppose to what we saw from Gay earlier, Love hedges the ball handler only for a split second before recovering in time to disrupt a pass to the cutting Cauley-Stein.
4: Due to bad timing, delays, and being well-defended, the entry pass has little chance of getting to the cutter and rolls flaccidly out of bounds for a turnover.
Ultimately, defending the pick and roll comes down to two things: effort and intellect. Working hard and working smart.
For the Kings, they have largely lacked both when it comes to the pick and roll. In the final video below, the defense is so lackluster that a roll is entirely unnecessary.
Irving is one of the league best point guards. Not only is he a three-time All-Star but is a 38.2 percent career 3-point shooter and drained five 3-pointers in the game against the Kings.
However, Rondo exerts little effort in fighting through the screen and Irving gets an open shot from behind the arc. Luckily, Irving misses the shot but the effort is nevertheless inexcusable.
Basketball games are won by the players on the court with a combination of skill, schematic, and effort. The Kings undoubtedly posses the skill, but if they can’t conjure the schematic and effort necessary for success, then no players-only meetings, coach firing, or player trades will resolve the issue.