Game 2 Adjustements: Defending the Pick and Roll

Phillip Barnett —  April 19, 2011

In yesterday’s post, Darius touched on a few things that might help get Pau Gasol going on the offensive end of the floor. Today, we’re going to concern ourselves with the defensive end of the floor, and more specifically, the pick and roll. We knew coming into this series that Chris Paul was going to give the Lakers some issues, but no one expected his 33-point, 14 assist outburst. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to completely stop Chris Paul, but a few minor adjustments will definitely help slow him and the Hornets down.

First and foremost, the Lakers need to pay attention to detail. I mentioned this in our series preview “When the Hornets Have the Ball”. On the second video of that post, Pau Gasol started hedging on a screen before Chris Paul ever made a decision on which way he was going to go. Naturally, Paul went opposite of Pau and got in the lane for a layup. We can see the same things happening here. Check this photo.


What we see here is Carl Landry setting a screen on Derek Fisher’s left side, yet Pau Gasol is hedging on his right side. Not only did Pau make his decision to hedge too early, but he hedged on the least logical side. P&R offense 101 teaches us that, if possible, the ball handler takes the screen on the side that the screen is being set on. So even if Pau wants to show earlier than he should, he should at least be showing on the side with the greatest chance in disrupting the play. Furthermore, even if that is too hard to decide, the Lakers want to keep Chris Paul out of the middle of the lane, so he should have hedged on Fisher’s left regardless. Instead, he hedged on the right side and Paul was able to get all the way in the lane for a layup.

The following is a prime example of how the Lakers should defend Paul in the P&R. On this play I noticed a few things. First, as the screen is being set, Andrew Bynum doesn’t get sucked out of the lane and leave the middle open for Chris Paul to drive. I think just this minor detail alone will help the Lakers tremendously. Chris Paul is most dangerous when he drives to the middle of the lane, so of the big takes that away initially and moves his feet enough to contest a jumper on the wing or long enough for the guard to recover, it will take away a lot of the good looks Paul ether got himself or created for others. The second thing I noticed was that once Bynum realized that he was going to have to defend Paul, he committed to moving his feet instead of defending with his arms. Pau didn’t do this very well in game one and was not only beat off the dribble by Paul, but Carl Landry a few times as well. Your size or athletic ability has nothing to do with your ability to move your feet. Sure, Bynum isn’t anywhere near as fast as Paul (CP3 just blows right by him), but Paul isn’t nearly as tall or as long as any of the Lakers bigs. Bynum used his distinct advantage against Paul’s and was rewarded with a block. If he didn’t move his feet, it would have been a Paul layup, a Bynum foul, or both. Lastly, he contested without fouling. The Hornets made 17 free throws in the fourth quarter, with too many of them coming after And-1’s. If they’re going to make shots over the Lakers length, good for them, but no need to make the problem bigger by fouling.

Of everyone who suited up for the Lakers on Sunday, I was most impressed with Bynum on the defensive end. However, I had one issue with him. There were several occasions where ‘Drew would allow himself to get sealed down low as a guard drove the lane, preventing him from contesting layups. It began early with Omeka Okafor sealing off Bynum early in the game, and it continued with Aaron Gray once and even with DJ Mbenga on this play. Take a look at the picture below, Andrew Bynum is in great position to help if Chris Paul somehow gets into the lane. He’s sitting right in the middle of the paint, preventing any dribble penetration, and is in a great position to slide over and protect anyone coming from either of the wings.


However, look what happens after Mbenga rolls. He doesn’t go to the basket, but instead goes to Bynum and starts backing him down. Chris Paul comes in right behind Mbenga and tosses in a little floater for the easy deuce. At this point, ‘Drew needs to immediately recognize that Mbenga probably has the least threat to score on the floor for the Hornets, and fight for that position. The Lakers clear size advantage puts them in a position to where they can front in the post whenever they want without worrying about getting beat over the top. Instead, the Lakers, and Bynum specifically, repeatedly allowed the Hornets bigs to get in front of them and free up the rim for floaters and layups.

Another adjustment the Lakers absolutely need to make is getting into help side when two or more passes away. On this play, we see a rare P&R where one of the Hornets perimeter players comes over to set the screen for Kobe, meaning that there should be at least one big in the middle. However, there is no one in the middle and Paul is able to get all the way to the rim uncontested. Check out the photo below. Chris Paul has just made his move off of the screen toward the rim and look where everyone is located. Fish and Kobe were the ones guarding the ball and the screener on this play, meaning that Kobe was one pass away and did not necessarily need to be in help side. However, everyone else was supposed to have slid away from the guy they were guarding to help in case of penetration.


If there were a line drawn right down the middle of the key, that’s where Pau should have been standing, at the very least, before Paul even mad his move toward the basket. Instead Pau recognizes that Chris Paul is driving late and doesn’t start rotating until Paul is only one stride away from the basket. If Pau was in help side (or anyone else for that matter), the distance he would have had to travel to contest that layup would have been cut significantly, and he might have prevented Paul from driving all together.

One last thing that I noticed was that the Lakers guards didn’t always do the greatest job in fighting through screens. I’ve talked a lot about what the bigs need to do better to help guard Paul, but the guards need to essentially “help the bigs help them.” Here’s Darius with a few words on the matter:

So I went into Synergy and saw one trend that really stood out to me. Well two, actually.

First, nearly every successful P&R that the Hornets ran targeted Gasol as the hedge man. Sadly, Gasol’s feet looked like they were stuck in concrete. He had an awful time in the lay back and contest the mid range strategy and was even worse in his attempts to hedge and recover. He often got caught flatfooted and served as nothing more than one of those cut outs that guys dribble around in the “skills challenge”. What made things worse was how often the Laker guards got hung up on screens – either because they got completely picked off or decided to lay on the screener (4:29 in the 4th is a good example w/ Kobe on him) forcing switches because the guard could never recover.

I looked into the play that Darius was talking about and saw that, not only was Kobe picked off by that screen, but he did little to get through the screen. Chris Paul recognized that Kobe wasn’t coming and immediately took the step back over Gasol (who actually defended that play exactly the way you’d want him to, CP3 just made a fantastic shot). If guards aren’t going to fight through screens, than it will continually put the Lakers bigs in situations that aren’t favorable for the team.

Finally, Darius had two suggestions on how to defend the Hornets P&R sets:

First is giving Paul the Steve Nash treatment. Make him a scorer by going under screens and having the big man lay off to tempt the jumper. Have the big lay off at an angle where he can hopefully cut off the driving lane while also taking away the dive pass to the rolling big man. If Paul is scoring the hope is that he’s not handing out double digit assists. While this strategy has its limitations (Paul is so good with the ball, he’s very likely to just keep a live dribble to either force the switch or back the ball back out to run the P&R again to force the Lakers to defend for even longer), I think it could be worth a try.

The second tactic is to play the normal scheme of a soft hedge with the guard fighting over the top, but for the big man to take a shallower angle in order to take away the middle drive and force Paul to string out his dribble (or even better hesitate with a stationary dribble). With this strategy however, the Laker guards need to fight over the screen hard and not get knocked off their trail position as easily. This will allow them to recover back to Paul without hanging their big man out to dry. Obviously, any success with this tactic will depend on Gasol (and Bynum) proving capable of sliding with and at least momentarily containing Paul off the bounce to give everyone a chance to recover into their proper positioning.

The Lakers can take a little solace in knowing that, when they defended the Hornets the right way, they did a great job in Game 1. Brian Kamenetzky of Land O’ Lakers noted, “despite Sunday’s P’n’R carnage, the Lakers still found reason to be encouraged by their system itself, assuming it can be executed properly. By [Chuck] Person’s unofficial count (he didn’t have his numbers in front of him), the Lakers held the Hornets around 30 percent shooting on pick-and-roll sets defended properly.” Meaning, the Lakers know how to get it done, they just didn’t do a great job in executing their game plan. I expect a more sharp defensive effort tomorrow night, if not, Chris Paul could end up with another huge game.

Phillip Barnett