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March 11, 2011
The Clipboard
Lakers' Pick-and-Roll D

by Sebastian Pruiti

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Despite being one of the better defensive teams in the NBA this season, the Los Angeles Lakers and their coaching staff felt that it was necessary that they change how their team defended the pick-and-roll, catering more to Andrew Bynum and his skill set. Kevin Ding at the Orange County Register has the details:

Jackson noted how Miami was trying Sunday to have its big men come all the way out to show on pick-and-rolls by Chicago's Derrick Rose--to no avail in stopping the ball. Rose could not be checked and thus was easily able to create offense for the Bulls--something that often happened to the Lakers with Bynum and Pau Gasol: "Now when that guard gets around that screen, you've got 5-on-3," Jackson said.

"As a consequence, we're starting to try and funnel them in to a place where we have Andrew in position," Jackson said. "He's a plug. He's in there stopping penetration."

Basically, the Lakers have determined that they don't want Bynum showing hard on pick-and-rolls, opting to have him hang around the middle, with the rest of the defense funneling the play to him in the paint. The result is more midrange jumpers with the defense being able to contest threes and keep point guards out of the lane. The midrange jumpers are not troubling since the Lakers have determined that they want their opponents taking those shots, because who excels at that anyway? Again, Ding has the details:

[Lakers assistant coach Chuck] Person said "the only true mid-range shooters left in the game" are Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce anyway. New York's Carmelo Anthony jumps to mind, but he gets a lot of his work done with physicality and isn't necessarily a pure shooter.

Before we look at the changes the Lakers have made, let's look at the Miami Heat, whom Phil Jackson mentioned by name in Ding's article. The reason why Jackson noted Miami's defense is because they might have the most extreme pick-and-roll defense in terms of the big man showing. While this strategy has been successful at times, as Jackson noted, it can be exposed:

Here, you see Derrick Rose about to come off of a ball screen set for him by Carlos Boozer. Erick Dampier shows hard even before Rose commits to using the screen, and Rose simply chooses to go away from the screen. Because Dampier is out of the paint, Rose is able to get to the rim with ease.

In addition to quicker point guards getting into the lane, a hard show leaves you susceptible to three-point shooting teams as well.

Once the hard show that Phil Jackson is talking about takes place, the Heat defender from the corner needs to sink into the paint to defend the roll man. This leaves George Hill wide open in the corner. He makes the catch and knocks down the three.

Recently, the Lakers have been defending the pick-and-roll in an opposite way with Bynum not showing on the ballhandler:

Here, Dwyane Wade comes off of a screen set by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, making Bynum the hedge man. Instead of showing hard, Bynum simply drops back to make sure he stays between Wade and the rim, forcing Wade into a jumper he misses. Notice how he doesn't even get his arms up to contest the jumper, he is more concerned with getting his body between Wade and the rim.

Again, Wade is coming off a ball screen, this time at the top of the key and Bynum is still the hedge man. He drops back as his main concern is keeping Wade from getting to the rim. This throws Wade off as he forces up an off-balance jumper, missing it.

Here is one more look at this defense. Joe Johnson comes off of a ball screen with Ron Artest working over it. Since Bynum is protecting the rim, Johnson can't attack the lane, giving Artest time to close out on the shot and challenge the jumper, forcing the miss.

In addition to forcing misses, the Lakers' new pick-and-roll defense is able to create turnovers by taking away the ballhandler's first option:

The second clip showed how efficient the Spurs can be on the offensive end when running the pick-and-roll. However the Lakers' new pick-and-roll defense was able to stifle them. Here, George Hill comes off of a ball screen and once again, Andrew Bynum shows softly. The Lakers give up the midrange jumper, but Hill doesn't want to take it. He looks to the wing and tries to make a pass, but he turns it over. What you should notice is that because there is a soft show with Bynum protecting the paint, there is no need to help off of the three-point shooters (the three-point shooters are the first option in the Spurs' pick-and-roll offense). This leaves Hill with nowhere to go, and this leads to a turnover.

Taking one final look at this, you once again have Dwyane Wade coming off of a ball screen and Bynum showing softly. With Bynum keeping Wade out of the paint and protecting the rim, Pau Gasol is allowed to freelance a little bit (since he is not worried about help defense at the rim), and he is able to make a read on Wade's pass and steal the basketball.

To me, this new strategy that the Lakers are implementing and practicing in the final quarter of the NBA season is in preparation for the playoffs, specifically a series with the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs love running the pick-and-roll, and they love getting in the lane or forcing the help defense to commit to Duncan on the roll and then kicking it out for a wide-open corner three. With Bynum showing softly and sitting back in the lane, there is no reason for the help defense to come, essentially taking away the Spurs' corner three-point shot. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers can continue to have success playing the pick-and-roll this way, and it will be even more interesting to see if they can use it to slow down the Spurs.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Rebounding in Context (03/11)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article The Clipboard (03/08)
Next Column >>
The Clipboard (03/15)
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Premium Article Seeding by Numbers (03/14)

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