Beneath the Screen: The Stagnant Pick and Roll

Published: October 26, 2012

In a recurring post throughout the season, Jake will take a look at the inner workings of the Hornets’ offense and defense–what works, what doesn’t and why, as well as how the Hornets can improve.

Today we take a look at Greivis Vasquez and some parts of the pick and roll.

In the first piece of this series, I’m going to start off basic with the pick and roll. I’m not going to go into how the play works (read here if you’d like to know more), but it is more or less the main staple of almost every offense in the NBA. The Hornets are no different as the team runs a variation of it 20.54% of the time on offense–the largest part according to My Synergy Sports. Coming in second are spot up shots–which the pick and roll helps create–at 17.66%.

The Hornets offense has been a bit of a hot topic in the comments, on message boards, and on twitter the last few days, particularly Greivis Vasquez and how he fits in with it. If you watched the preseason game against the Rockets on Wednesday, almost every play he ran on the court was the pick and roll. And it wasn’t pretty. So let’s take a look at some of the problems the Hornets had last season while Vasquez was running the pick and roll.

If you’re not moving on offense, you’re wrong

I played lacrosse in high school. One piece of strategy which stuck with me was our coach saying, “If you’re not moving on offense, you’re wrong.” It’s that simple and it applies to basketball as well (lacrosse and basketball offenses are remarkably similar). A stationary player is easier to guard than a moving one.

Unfortunately, while watching Hornets’ games from last season, I saw a lot of stagnation on offense. Is stagnation ever a good thing? Let’s take a look at the Jakestrator:

Here Vasquez is coming off the screen. There are 11 seconds left on shot clock. He has some room to drive to the left but the pick defender has help in both the defender guarding the Hornet in the paint and the defender sagging off his man in the left corner. Vasquez will get trapped easily if he drives that way.

The options to pass are limited. It’s a long pass to the left corner and the passing lane isn’t really there to begin with. The option on the right side is well defended and isn’t really a viable option.

Now compare the three players highlighted. They are in the same spot. Vasquez has no real option other than to cut right and pull up for a long two.

A better option would be if the play looked more like this:

The Hornet on the left wing needs to come to Vasquez and give him an outlet for a quick shot. The other player on the wing needs to cut to the basket. This would bring a more dynamic offense to the table and create better looks than the long two which Vasquez, unsurprisingly, missed.

Let’s take a look at another example. To the Jakestator!

It’s a similar situation to the previous one. Vasquez is coming off the pick to the right side. Look at Henry and Belinelli in the corners.

Oh hey, they haven’t moved. So as it stands from the image above, Vasquez can pass to either of those two or he can drive to the left or right. But there are problems with all those options. Henry and Belinelli are too far away for a good pass and Gasol is clogging the lane pretty well. Notice that since Henry and Belinelli are so far from Vasquez their defenders are sagging off them ready to help in case Vasquez drives to the rim. So what happens?

Vasquez drives to the right and gets trapped. Henry and Belinelli have finally moved, except that it’s to get back quickly on defense after the turnover.

Enough of missed shots and turnovers, let’s see a play which worked.

Movement and Success

Here Emeka Okafor sets a pick for Vasquez. As Vasquez comes around it, the defenders switch. Vasquez sees he is matched up with a slower bigman and drives to the rim. What really makes this play work is the movement of Jason Smith and Belinelli. Smith cuts up towards the three point line and takes his defender with him. Belinelli cuts along to the corner with Vasquez.

This causes Belinelli’s defender to stay on him. He doesn’t even try to help stop Vasquez. Smith’s defender was taken out of the play and has to sprint back to even have an attempt at stopping Vasquez. But Smith’s defender gets there too late and Vasquez scores on a layup.

Pace is the Trick

Vasquez runs the pick and roll 39.8% of the time he is on the court and he scores 0.81 points per play as the ball handler which ranks 64th in the league. That’s not good, but I don’t think Vasquez is  inherently bad at running the pick and roll.

Part of the problem is pace.

Pace is a statistic which measures how many possessions a team has per 48 minutes. The more possessions you have, the more chances to score. The Hornets ranked dead last in pace last season with 88.3 possession per 48 minutes.

The main reason for this is the Hornets offense doesn’t really start to run a play until about 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Take a look at the images above. All of them are around that time frame when the pick is set.

That leaves the offense less time to get a quality looks. There we’re far too many times on Wednesday where the Hornets were forced to put up a poor attempt because the shot clock was winding down. If the team started running the offense with around 20 seconds left on the clock they’d have more time to create better looks and score more points.

Vasquez, in the examples above especially, could benefit from more patience. Instead of trying to drive or take a jump shot with 9 seconds left, he needs to wait another moment or two and hope that a teammates moves to give themselves a better look. A chunk of that comes from experience and just takes time, but it’s an area which would greatly benefit Vasquez.

So he next time you watch a game, keep an eye on the Hornet’s spacing and movement on offense. Is it stagnant or are there players flying all over the place? It’ll probably be reflective of the score.

When the season starts, I plan on looking at specific plays from the week before and seeing what work, what hasn’t and if there is anything new Monty has installed. Also, if there is anything you, our readers, specifically want to see let us know in the comments.


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