At one point during last nightâ€™s Laker loss, color commentator Stu Lantz said he didnâ€™t want to see the Lakers playing zone for too long because it sends a message to the team you donâ€™t trust their man-to-man defense. I thought that sounded like a pretty good message to send, especially watching how the Lakers defend the pick-and-roll.
For the last couple Laker games, I have been watching and tracking how the Lakers are dealing with the screen and roll this season â€” and last night the Hornets won in part by exploiting how the Lakers defend it (or in this case didnâ€™t).
First, the ever so brief refresher: There are really four ways a team can defend a pick-and-roll, and Iâ€™ll just steal the descriptions from an amazing article Kevin Pelton did last year for 82games.com:
Switch it – The players defending the ball handler and the picker switch, usually creating a mismatch.
Trap – Both defenders go towards the ball handler and aggressively trap him while the other three defenders zone against the four remaining offensive players.
“Show” or “Hedge” – The player defending the picker briefly steps out into the ball handlerâ€™s path, slowing him up enough that the player defending the ball handler has time to recover. Then the player defending the picker recovers to his original man. It’s worth noting that this is how the Spurs usually defend the pick-and-roll.
Go under the pick – Done only against weak shooters, the player defending the picker steps back to allow the player defending the ball handler to go between him and the screen and get to his man. This leaves an open jumpshot for the ball handler.
Occasionally a player can fight through the top of a pick, however if the offensive pair sets a good pick and runs off it well, that doesnâ€™t work.
Last season the Lakers were all about the â€œshow,â€ itâ€™s what they did 46% of the time and it was quite successful, also last season the Lakers varied how they approached the pick-and-roll more than this season.
Right now the Lakers switch, and do it 65% of the time. My guess is that the Laker coaching staff sees its long and versatile lineup and thinks the team should be able to switch and still be effective much of the time. My observation from the last few games is that how successful teams are in exploiting the resulting mismatch fron the switch goes a long way to how effective their offense is against the Lakers. As I noted the other day, the Pacers at one point in the third quarter ran a pick and ended up with Jordan Farmar covering Jermaine Oâ€™Neal in the post, and the Pacers never got the ball inside, instead settling for a jumper.
The Hornets, on the other hand, made great use of the pick to free up the insanely quick Chris Paul. In the first half they put the â€œhighâ€ in â€œhigh pick-and-roll,â€ often running Paul off a pick just a few steps inside the half court line (as opposed to near the three point line, where most teams run it).
Now, Kwame Brown, seeing his man 35 feet from the basket, sagged way off, so Paul would run around the pick and then just take off toward the basket. The defender often tried to go under the pick but it was fairly useless, Paul was too quick and at best the defender was running along side Paul into the lane. Kwame then had to try to pick up the speeding Paul, other Laker â€œhelp the helperâ€ rotations were slow and the shorthanded Hornets were living in the paint. (To be fair, the Lakers tried other things as well on Paul and all were unsuccessful.)
One thing the Lakers are doing some this year that they didnâ€™t much before is try to trap the ball handler, taking advantage of the Lakersâ€™ length. They donâ€™t do it much, just a handful of times a game trying to catch a guard unaware. The results have been spotty â€” it led to some turnovers and easy buckets, but also a couple times (including once against the Hornets) the point guard made the correct pass and it was an easy basket.
Another thing of note, Jordan Farmar tries harder and has more success fighting over the top of the pick than any other Laker, something he does 16% of the time I tracked it. When he does itâ€™s very effective, often leading to a reset (and usually another pick).
The Laker coaching staff is varying how the team defends the screen and roll depending upon the team and situation to a degree, but I think they like the Lakers versatility and think they should be able to switch and still have a reasonable matchup. My sample size for this post is very small (from the last several games), but it is something that needs to be watched as the season goes on, and maybe the strategy adjusted if it isnâ€™t working.