The Twist that Woke Up The Pelicans Pick and Roll Game

Published: January 25, 2016

The pick and roll is pretty much the staple of all NBA offenses. It’s run nearly every possession, and often multiple times during it. You often see double screens, pick and pop/pick and roll combos, and any other combination you can think of. But right now the New Orleans Pelicans are running a very simple variation on it that maximizes the abilities of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Jrue Holiday.

Back in the franchise’s best years the then-Hornets ran a play where Tyson Chandler and David West set double picks for Chris Paul, with Chandler diving to the rim and West popping out for an open mid-range jumper. It was devastating to opponents. Pick you poison on who to guard and leave open.

This current Pelicans roster runs a similar set, however it has been incredibly effective due to Ryan Anderson. Take a look at his shot chart this season.

While he’s know for being a deep threat, and has games where he absolutely goes off, there isn’t a ton of green in that image. The corners are average at best and from the top and left side above the break it’s actually pretty bad. Running sets with both Davis and Anderson setting double picks just hasn’t been working to get Anderson in a rhythm.

But on the right side Anderson is shooting a strong 51.7% from deep. And the Pelicans are running a simple pick and roll that takes advantage of Anderson’s sweet spot, a crashing Davis drive, and Holiday’s court vision and passing ability.

Anderson starts in the right corner on the play, Davis sets a screen right in the middle of the court, he rolls to the basket, and the guard drives left, Anderson moves from the corner to the wing. That’s it. Nothing fancy.

This puts Anderson’s defender in a tough bind. Does he help guard against the Davis roll? Or stay and defend Anderson who is now waiting for a catch and shoot in his favorite part of the court? It’s a tough decision.

In the play above the Bucks play ‘show’ defense on Holiday. John Henson tries to string out Holiday’s drive and force him to the sideline while Jerryd Bayless comes over the screen and tries to get back into a defensive position. Giannis rotates over from Anderson in order to defend the Davis roll while Johnny O’Bryant sags off Alonzo Gee to provide help defense against the crashing Davis.

Count the number of Bucks defenders in that last paragraph. They’re basically committing four guys to defending two Pelicans. It leaves Ryan Anderson wide open and he buries the three ball. Look how much room there is for him on the right side. If the Bucks decided to stick a guy on Anderson then it’s leaving the lane open for Davis to hit. The defense would be too stretched out at this point.

It’s worth noting why this play works more than the double pick of Anderson and Davis with Anderson popping out to the top of the three-point line. It just bunches up the defense too much. That pass to Anderson is tough to make because there are so many arms in the passing lanes. There’s a high chance of a turnover. It frees up an extra defender to stay with Davis as he rolls. But with the defense stretched out like they are with Anderson starting in the corner, it plays perfectly into the Pelicans’ advantage.

The Pelicans know this is working. After the win against the Bucks on Saturday Davis said, “We ran the same play seven or eight times in a row and it worked every time.” Want to bet we see this a lot against Houston tonight? Keep an eye out for it.

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