HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In today’s NBA, if a team can’t defend the pick-and-roll, it’s in trouble.
The league’s best record has been built on the Indiana Pacers’ No. 1 defense, of which their pick-and-roll coverage is an integral part.
- Last week: Pick-and-roll data likes the Suns
Through Monday, the Pacers had allowed 0.94 points per pick-and-roll possession, easily the lowest mark in the league, according to SportVU data provided to NBA.com. As you’d expect, there’s a strong correlation between SportVU’s pick-and-roll numbers and defensive efficiency. The top four teams in the former are the top four in the latter.
Note: All stats included here are through Monday, March 3.
Top pick-and-roll defenses
|Team||Screens||P&R Poss.||Opp. PTS||PTS/Poss||DefRtg||Rank|
The Pacers have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Paul George (on the perimeter) and Roy Hibbert (on the interior). And among 168 combinations that have defended at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions, the George-Hibbert combo ranks fourth, having allowed its opponent to score just 0.83 points per possession.
Top pick-and-roll defense combinations
|Team||BH defender||Scr. defender||Screens||P&R Poss.||Opp. PTS||PTS/Poss.|
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Robin Lopez or Andrew Bogut on this list. Those guys are on the floor to defend. They know where to be and they communicate to the guy getting screened.
But you’ll also notice a common trait among some of the ball-handler defenders (Thabo Sefolosha, George, Shaun Livingston, Trevor Ariza and Klay Thompson) on the list: length. Those guys all put in the work on defense, but it certainly helps to have the wingspan to force the ball-handler into a circuitous route toward the screen and also block the passing lane after he’s picked up by the screener’s defender.
The data shows that both George and Hibbert distinguish themselves from their teammates when it comes to defending pick-and-rolls …
Pacers’ ball-handler defenders
|BH defender||Screens||Poss.||Opp. PTS||PTS/Poss.||Shot%|
Pacers’ screener defenders
|Screen Defender||Screens||Poss.||Opp. PTS||PTS/Poss.||Shot%|
Shot% = Percentage of screens in which the ball-handler attempted a shot
You’ll notice that the ball-handler takes more shots when Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi is defending the screener. The Pacers’ centers drop back in their pick-and-roll coverage, like this …
… while their power forwards come out high…
Both Hibbert and Mahinmi have the length to prevent the ball-handler from getting to the rim, while still staying attached to the roll man. And often, the only available shot is a mid-range pull-up or a floater or runner from 8-12 feet. Those shots are worth less than 0.8 points per attempt.
NBA shot values per location
|In The Paint (Non-RA)||0.78|
|Above the Break 3||1.06|
Here’s an example of George and Hibbert defending a pick-and-roll from the Mavs (a top-10 pick-and-roll offense) …
Hibbert stops Monta Ellis, but also gets back to recover to Samuel Dalembert. And since Lance Stephenson didn’t have to help, he’s able to run Shawn Marion off the 3-point line.
Indiana opponents have run more than 40 percent of their pick-and-rolls from the top of the key, but have had a little more success running them from the side of the floor …
Pick-and-rolls vs. Indiana, by location
|Location||Screens||Screen Poss||Opp. PTS||PTS/Poss.|
Here’s the league’s best pick-and-roll combination getting an open jumper for Channing Frye by running it on the side of the floor, where there’s less help …
Luis Scola hedges hard, Hibbert is occupied by Miles Plumlee inside, and the other Pacers are on the opposite side of the floor, so there’s no one to account for the popping Frye.
Here’s a Dallas side pick-and-roll where George Hill helps from the weak side and Shane Larkin is wide open on the wing (maybe, in part, because he’s Shane Larkin).
The Heat had some success in the conference finals when they ran sideline screens toward the baseline, turning the Pacers’ defense inside out. Here’s a similar play from Portland …
Hibbert probably came out too far on Damian Lillard on that play, but the sideline pick-and-roll can give the ball-handler a better angle on the pocket pass, and the Blazers’ spacing makes it difficult to help from the weak side.
(More on the Blazers later in the week, when we address teams that don’t defend the pick-and-roll very well.)
Even from the sideline, you’re not getting a great return on pick-and-rolls against the Pacers. That’s why they rank as one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen.