Posts Tagged ‘SportVU’

Heat defense pushes Spurs to pass


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the Spurs’ pass-happy offense

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs’ offense has been a thing of beauty all season. But if the ball movement seemed like it reached a new level in Games 3 and 4 of The Finals in Miami … well, it did.

According to SportVU, the Spurs passed the ball 362 times in Game 3 on Tuesday, an average of 4.21 times per possession, their highest mark of the season. And in Game 4 on Thursday, they passed the ball even more, 381 times, or 4.54 times per possession.

This series is a race between the Spurs passes and the Heat’s rotations. And most of the time, it’s been like a race between Usain Bolt and Charles Barkley. Miami’s defense is meant to disrupt the opponent’s offense, but it has essentially pushed the Spurs to do what they do best.

In fact, before Game 3, the Spurs’ highest passes-per-possession mark came on Jan. 26 in … Miami. So the three games that they’ve moved the ball most have been the three games that they’ve played at American Airlines Arena.

Most passes per possession, 2013-14 Spurs

Date Opp. Res. Passes Poss. PPP PTS OffRtg
June 12 @ MIA W 381 84 4.54 107 127.4
June 10 @ MIA W 362 86 4.21 111 129.1
Jan. 26 @ MIA L 381 91 4.19 101 111.0
Jan. 28 @ HOU L 374 90 4.16 90 100.0
May 27 @ OKC L 370 92 4.02 92 100.0
Feb. 12 @ BOS W 364 91 4.00 104 114.3
Mar. 14 vs. LAL W 390 100 3.90 119 119.0
Mar. 24 vs. PHI W 373 96 3.89 113 117.7
Nov. 11 @ PHI W 360 93 3.87 109 117.2
Feb. 18 @ LAC W 381 100 3.81 113 113.0

via SportVU
PPP = Passes per possession
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Tony Parker knows that he has to share the ball and trust his teammates more against the Heat than he does against other opponents. And once he gets rid of it, it can be like a hot potato, with Boris Diaw acting as a de facto point guard in the middle of the floor. The more the ball moves (especially from one side of the floor to the other), the more likely it is that the Spurs will get an open shot.

There’s no real correlation between how often the Spurs have passed the ball and how efficiently they’ve scored. Games against the Rockets and Thunder in the above list were pretty poor offensive games by San Antonio’s standards. And they’ve had games where they’ve scored efficiently (like Game 7 vs. Dallas and Game 1 vs. Portland) without moving the ball much (2.86 and 2.78 passes per possession, respectively).

But the Heat seem to bring out the Spurs’ best ball movement. If Miami can’t find a way to slow it down in Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), its season will likely come to an end.

Pacers paying no penalty for leaving Bosh open in series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Pacers-Heat Talk Game 3

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Miami Heat started small, with Shane Battier and LeBron James at forward. In Game 2, they started big, replacing Battier with Udonis Haslem.

The Heat won Game 2, but the bigger lineup didn’t really work. They were outscored by 18 points in 17 minutes with Haslem and Chris Bosh on the floor together. Add that to the combination’s Game 1 numbers and Miami is a minus-28 in 25 minutes with Bosh and Haslem both in the game.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Heat are better off playing small, because they’ve played well when Bosh has shared the floor with Chris Andersen. That pair is a plus-15 in 22 minutes together.

Still, that’s a minus-13 in 47 minutes with two bigs on the floor vs. a plus-7 in 49 minutes with just one big on the floor.

These small sample sizes, though, could be swung by one stretch of 5-6 minutes where James takes over (as he tends to do sometimes), where the Heat defense takes a rest (as it tends to do) or where the Pacers go ice cold (as they tend to do).

But all you have in a playoff series are small sample sizes. And they don’t get much bigger if you add in regular season meetings when one or both teams could have been playing the second night of a back-to-back. You sometimes have to make decisions and adjustments based on what’s happened in portions of games here and there. And it has to be a combination of what the numbers say and what your eyes are seeing.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will continue to mix small lineups with big lineups, in part because Battier can’t give Miami what he used to. When this version of the Heat won its first title in 2012, Battier was the guy – as a small-ball four who could shoot and defend – that really unlocked their floor-spacing identity.

He averaged more than 33 minutes per game in that postseason, but has played less than half that in all but three games in these playoffs. And neither Rashard Lewis nor Michael Beasley has been able to take over that role (or has seen the floor in the conference finals thus far).

“We’ve balanced [big and small] as much as we have in the three years this year,” Spoelstra said before Game 2. “And that was what this season required. So we’ve played a lot of different lineups. We have enough experience, different rotations to be able to play different styles of basketball without compromising what we do best.

“That might be what this series requires, but we have great versatility. We have confidence in our versatility. If we have to utilize all of it, whatever’s necessary.”

Not only has Lewis been removed from the rotation in this series, but so has James Jones, whose on-court numbers have been ridiculously good in the playoffs. So it would help if Bosh could make some shots.

Haslem is a decent mid-range shooter, but decent mid-range shooting doesn’t hurt the opposing defense. Andersen is a strong finisher and his well-timed dives to the rim have been successful against the Pacers in the past, but his range doesn’t extend beyond three feet.

It’s Bosh’s shooting that can really take Pacers center Roy Hibbert away from the basket or punish him for staying there. He did the latter on the one 3-pointer he’s hit in this series (which sparked Miami’s Game 2 comeback), but Bosh has missed the other eight threes he’s taken. And according to SportVU, six of the eight misses have been uncontested, including the very first shot of the series.

In six games against Indiana this season, Bosh is 4-for-20 (20 percent) on uncontested threes. Against other teams, he’s shot 37 percent. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he shot 15-for-33 (45 percent) on uncontested threes. Then he went to Indiana and hit the side of the backboard.

For the most part, Hibbert has remained in the paint against the Heat. And for the most part, Bosh hasn’t been able to do anything about it. It’s become clear that this is not a good matchup for him, but open shots are open shots and they’ll continue to be there if he’s being defended by Hibbert. But whether the Heat are playing big or small, he’s going to have to start making some.

Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …


VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …

20140509_aldridge_pop

Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.

20140509_aldridge_curl

The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).

Film Study: Open looks for the Clippers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Clippers vs. Thunder: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder evened their conference semifinals series with the Los Angeles Clippers at one game apiece on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook recorded his third triple-double in his last five games, with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Durant added 32, 12 and nine, and OKC scored an efficient 112 points on 95 possessions (118 per 100). But the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 was on the other end of the floor.

These are two of the three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. But the Clippers weren’t so balanced against their strongest competition. No team’s difference suffered more when it played against teams with winning records. At the same time, they were the only team that was better offensively against winning teams.

So, the team that gets just enough stops — not giving up any 30-point quarters will do the trick — will be the one that wins games in this series. In Game 2, that was the Thunder.

The biggest difference in the Clippers’ numbers from Monday to Wednesday was their 3-point percentage. After shooting 15-for-29 (52 percent) from beyond the arc in Game 1, L.A. shot 9-for-27 (33 percent) in Game 2.

Did the Thunder defend the 3-point line better? Sort of, but they still didn’t defend it very well.

According to SportVU, the Thunder contested just 23.6 percent of their opponents’ jump shots in the regular season, the second-lowest rate in the league (higher than only that of New York). In the playoffs, that number is down to 20.4 percent.

The Thunder got away with it in the first round, with Memphis shooting just 33 percent from outside the paint. Grizzlies not named Mike Miller shot a brutal 17-for-78 (22 percent) from 3-point range.

But the Clippers have five guys in their rotation who shot better than the league average (36.0 percent) on at least 2.4 attempts per game. They can make you pay for not contesting on the perimeter.

They did that early in Game 2, hitting their first four 3-pointers. The first 3 came as a result of OKC over-helping on pick-and-rolls.

(Click links for video)

1. Matt Barnes being left all alone on the left wing, because Thabo Sefolosha went all the way to the other side of the paint to help on a J.J. Redick/Blake Griffin pick-and-pop…

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2. Redick being left alone in the left corner, because Sefolosha had both feet in the paint on a Chris Paul/Griffin pick-and-pop…

20140508_lac_2

3. Barnes being left alone on the right wing, because Durant went over to help on another Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll…

20140508_lac_3

This is how the Thunder defend. And only four teams allowed their opponents to shoot a lower percentage in the paint. But their tendency to over-help yields a lot of open jumpers.

In Game 1, 50 of the Clippers’ 54 jumpers (93 percent) were uncontested. In Game 2, 43 of their 58 jumpers (74 percent) were uncontested.

After L.A.’s 4-for-4 start, the Thunder did do a slightly better job of recovering out to the 3-point line. Here Steven Adams doesn’t sag too much and is in position to contest Jamal Crawford in the corner after Glen Davis sets a back-pick on Derek Fisher

20140508_bscr

But there were also more open shots and the Clippers let OKC off the hook a little, not getting many more weak-side looks off the pick-and-roll. A lot of their 3-point attempts came off the dribble, off of post-ups, or on the strong side. Some came too early in the shot clock, before the Clips could really make the Thunder defense collapse.

As with any defense, the more you make it work, the more likely you’re going to get an open shot. Against the Thunder, those open shots are more likely to come on the perimeter.

Paul isn’t going to shoot 8-for-9 from 3-point range (like he did in Game 1) again. But the Clippers will continue to have opportunities to beat the Thunder’s defense from the outside.

Credit Grizzlies for contesting Thunder

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Miller and Russell Westbrook duel in Game 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder rank first in postseason defensive efficiency, having allowed the Memphis Grizzlies to score just 99.1 points per 100 possessions. But the Grizzlies were the worst offensive team among Western Conference playoff teams. The 99.1 points per 100 possessions they’ve scored through five games is 4.2 fewer than they scored in the regular season.

The Thunder’s efficiency, meanwhile, has dropped off twice as much, making it clear that the Grizzlies have been the better defensive team in the series.

Biggest drop-off, regular season to playoff OffRtg

Team Reg. season Rank Playoffs Rank Diff.
Oklahoma City 108.1 7 99.7 14 -8.4
Memphis 103.3 16 99.1 16 -4.2
San Antonio 108.2 6 105.7 7 -2.5
Charlotte 101.2 24 99.6 15 -1.6
Atlanta 103.4 15 101.9 11 -1.5
Dallas 109.0 3 107.5 5 -1.4
Toronto 105.8 9 104.7 10 -1.1
Golden State 105.3 12 105.2 8 -0.1
Indiana 101.5 22 101.5 12 -0.1
Chicago 99.7 28 100.4 13 +0.7
Miami 109.0 2 109.8 4 +0.7
Washington 103.3 18 104.8 9 +1.5
Houston 108.6 4 110.4 3 +1.7
Brooklyn 104.4 14 106.3 6 +1.9
L.A. Clippers 109.4 1 111.9 2 +2.5
Portland 108.3 5 112.5 1 +4.2

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Using the same method, the Clippers have been the best offensive team in the playoffs, scoring 12.0 more points per 100 possessions (111.9) than the Warriors allowed in the regular season (99.9).

The Thunder have also had the biggest change in pace from the regular season. At 90.5 possessions per team per 48 minutes, the series has been played even slower than the Grizzlies’ pace of 92.2, which was the slowest in the regular season.

A look at OKC’s offensive numbers show that it’s all about the shooting. They’ve gone to the line a little less frequently than they did in the regular season, but they’ve rebounded better and turned the ball over less.

And SportVU helps us understand why their shooting numbers have suffered so much. Only 49 percent of the Thunder’s jump shots have been uncontested, down from 63 percent in the regular season. The other 15 teams have been uncontested on 67 percent of their jump shots.

Biggest drop-off, percentage of jump shots uncontested

Team Reg. season Playoffs Diff.
Oklahoma City 62.7% 48.6% -14.1%
Houston 74.7% 67.5% -7.2%
Golden State 68.4% 61.3% -7.1%
Charlotte 66.2% 60.2% -6.0%
Miami 76.1% 70.7% -5.4%
Chicago 69.3% 64.0% -5.3%
Dallas 62.7% 58.1% -4.6%
Atlanta 75.4% 71.5% -3.9%
L.A. Clippers 71.0% 68.6% -2.4%
Toronto 60.4% 58.4% -2.0%
Portland 68.6% 67.0% -1.6%
Washington 72.7% 72.2% -0.5%
Brooklyn 65.3% 66.3% +1.0%
San Antonio 74.3% 76.1% +1.8%
Indiana 70.1% 72.3% +2.2%
Memphis 74.0% 77.4% +3.4%

Jump shot = FGA from outside 10 feet
Uncontested = Where a defender is not within four feet of the shooter.

According to SportVU, Kevin Durant (64 of his 89 total jumpers) has taken 20 more contested jumpers than any other player in the postseason. Next on the list is Russell Westbrook (44 of his 81).

Scott Brooks needs to find a way to get his star more open, but credit the Memphis defense, which has been far better than any other D in the playoffs so far, and which can put the Grizzlies into the conference semifinals with a win in Game 6 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

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Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Pacers’ Defensive Success Starts With Stopping The Pick-And-Roll

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.

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
Indiana 3,245 2,548 2,395 0.94 94.0 1
Golden State 2,881 2,333 2,249 0.96 99.1 3
Chicago 2,782 2,242 2,164 0.97 97.7 2
Oklahoma City 2,928 2,342 2,284 0.98 100.0 4
Toronto 2,878 2,276 2,255 0.99 100.9 7
Miami 2,681 2,134 2,130 1.00 102.7 13
Houston 3,171 2,534 2,537 1.00 102.1 9
Brooklyn 2,851 2,286 2,295 1.00 105.1 21
Memphis 2,857 2,278 2,306 1.01 102.1 8
Washington 3,014 2,441 2,478 1.02 102.2 10

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.
OKC Sefolosha Ibaka 140 137 99 0.72
BKN Livingston Garnett 120 113 83 0.73
OKC Sefolosha Perkins 120 110 91 0.83
IND George Hibbert 190 183 152 0.83
WAS Ariza Gortat 164 158 133 0.84
POR Williams Lopez 154 148 125 0.84
SAS Mills Diaw 142 138 117 0.85
PHX Dragic Mark. Morris 159 151 130 0.86
GSW Thompson Bogut 201 187 162 0.87
CHI Augustin Boozer 106 101 88 0.87

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%
George Hill 957 905 861 0.95 22%
C.J. Watson 587 563 548 0.97 23%
Paul George 468 449 402 0.90 27%
Lance Stephenson 385 373 355 0.95 32%

Pacers’ screener defenders

Screen Defender Screens Poss. Opp. PTS PTS/Poss. Shot%
Roy Hibbert 859 821 740 0.90 29%
David West 682 646 610 0.94 22%
Ian Mahinmi 494 472 462 0.98 27%
Luis Scola 386 364 359 0.99 20%

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 …

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… while their power forwards come out high…

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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

Location PTS/FGA
Restricted Area 1.21
In The Paint (Non-RA) 0.78
Mid-Range 0.79
Corner 3 1.16
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.
Center Point 1,390 1,230 1,149 0.93
Wing 987 897 893 1.00
Sideline Point 793 745 704 0.94
High Post 154 152 124 0.82
Corner 85 82 69 0.84

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).

20140305_dal_side

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.

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

SportVU: Uncontested Jumpers vs. OKC

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In our Q and A at All-Star weekend, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that when his team is on defense, he’s “concerned about making sure that every shot is contested.”

Contesting every shot is impossible, but Brooks’ team certainly can do a better job. According to SportVU, no team has contested a lower percentage of its opponents’ jump shots than the Thunder . They’ve contested just 24 percent of opponent jumpers, a mark well below the league average of 31 percent.

Perc. of opponent jump shots contested
Rank Team Cont%
1. San Antonio 38.2%
2. L.A. Clippers 36.9%
3. Indiana 35.6%
4. Denver 34.7%
5. Memphis 34.4%
6. Atlanta 34.3%
7. Portland 34.2%
8. Charlotte 34.1%
9. Chicago 33.8%
10. L.A. Lakers 33.7%
11. Golden State 33.1%
12. Orlando 32.2%
13. Toronto 31.8%
14. Boston 31.3%
15. Miami 30.8%
16. Phoenix 30.7%
17. Detroit 30.2%
18. Dallas 29.8%
19. Minnesota 29.6%
20. Washington 29.3%
21. Brooklyn 29.3%
22. Sacramento 28.6%
23. Milwaukee 28.2%
24. New Orleans 27.9%
25. Houston 27.9%
26. Utah 27.1%
27. Cleveland 26.4%
28. Philadelphia 24.9%
29. New York 24.5%
30. Oklahoma City 23.8%
League avg. 30.9%

SportVU defines a jump shot as any shot out outside of 10 feet. It’s contested if a defender is within four feet of the shooter.

There’s a much stronger correlation between defensive efficiency and opponent effective field-goal percentage (EFG%) than between defensive efficiency and any of the other “four factors” (rebounding, forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the free-throw line).

Here’s the thing, though. The Thunder rank fourth in opponent EFG% and fourth in defensive efficiency. They’ve been a great defensive team — even though they haven’t contested jump shots very well. There is a correlation between the percentage of jumpers a team contests and its opponents’ EFG% (and in turn, their defensive efficiency). The Thunder are an outlier.

They have defended the rim well. They rank fifth in opponent field-goal percentage in the restricted area, with Serge Ibaka ranking among the top individual rim protectors. That’s obviously important.

But, by itself, it doesn’t account for how high the Thunder rank in opponent EFG%. Not only do they not contest jumpers very well, but they don’t really force bad shots. About 61 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, the seventh highest rate in the league.

So how have they been so good defensively? They do rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage and are slightly above average at forcing turnovers. But you have to wonder if there’s a little luck involved. Take the following numbers into account…

  • Thunder opponents have shot 38.7 percent on uncontested jumpers, the sixth lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 30.5 percent on contested jumpers, the second lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 72.2 percent from the free-throw line, the second lowest rate in the league. (What goes around comes around; they ranked 28th in free-throw defense last season.)
  • Only one other defense (the Lakers) ranks in the top 10 in each of those three categories. Five other teams rank in the top 10 in two of the three.

Now, the definition of what’s contested (see above) allows for some leeway. It could mean that the defender is six inches from the shooter with his hand in his face, and it could mean that he’s 48 inches away with his hands down. Maybe the Thunder contest to a different degree than other teams. But they don’t contest a lot.

Eliminating the possible “luck” factor, the Thunder are still a good defensive team. If OKC opponents had shot the league average on contested jumpers, uncontested jumpers and free throws, the Thunder would have allowed 86 more points this season (about 1.5 more per 100 possessions) and would rank seventh in defensive efficiency (in part because there’s a dropoff after the top seven).

But they have had trouble slowing down Golden State, one of the league’s best jump-shooting teams, the team that has been the most efficient against the Thunder this season, and a possible first-round playoff opponent. In his three games against the Thunder, only 21 of Stephen Curry‘s 66 field goal attempts have been contested (just three of 22 on Nov. 14).

Some other good jump-shooting teams — Atlanta, Miami and Portland — also have had decent success against the Thunder. Others — Dallas and Phoenix — have not.

In this first full season of player tracking, there are still some things to figure out. And maybe things will be different defensively for the Thunder with a healthy Russell Westbrook. But if Brooks’ goal is to contest every shot, his team has some work to do.

FYI (because some readers have asked): While you can find contested and uncontested shots in the Player Tracking tab of our NBA.com/stats boxscores, we don’t yet have them on the season level. That’s in the works.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 133) The Schuhmann Stat!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The nature versus nurture theory has always generated great debates in basketball.

It’s been that way since Dr. James Naismith invented the game and it exploded in popularity around the globe. How much of what an individual player does on the court is the product of what’s in his heart and soul and how much of it is a product of what he’s learned and coached to do?

In the age of analytics that debate is raging more than it ever has. Simply studying a box score and then trying to match up those numbers to whatever your own eye test tells you is no longer sufficient. You have to dig deeper, you have to not only study the numbers but also comprehend what they mean within the context of the game.

It makes for an intriguing conversation about what you’ve seen out of youngsters like Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller and some of the other fresh rookie faces on the scene. And yet it also gives us a new perspective on established superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris PaulDwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and so many others.

Any time we talk numbers around here we enlist the services of our resident stat man extraordinaire, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, whose work in the field has earned him cult hero status among the analytics crowd. He’s been busy providing a statistical nugget a day leading up to the start of the regular season with his One Team: On Stat project.

Is the mid-range jumper a better shot for an average shooter than if they were to back up a couple of steps and try to knock down a 3-pointer? The Schuhmann Stat tells us  yes, in most instances, mostly because, as Schuh put it, “three is better than two.”

That’s the word freelance specialists like J.R. Smith and Russell Westbrook often live by during the course of a game. It’s also the word that can render a great talent a disastrous teammate when he can’t figure out which urge to give in to … nature or nurture?

We debated that and a whole lot more on Episode 133 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Schuhmann Stat!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.