The Breakdown: Defending The Pick & Roll

Darius Soriano —  April 23, 2012

Yesterday’s win was thrilling for it’s comeback. It was also the news of the day because of Ron’s elbow. But what may be somewhat lost in the shuffle is that several prominent Lakers sat down the stretch while the win was fought for and secured.

Most notable of those players was Andrew Bynum, who sat the entire 4th quarter and all of both overtimes in favor of Jordan Hill. After the game, Mike Brown mentioned that he followed his gut in playing Hill; that he used evidence from the first half (when Hill played very well) to influence his decision.

One key that Brown brought up was Jordan Hill’s P&R defense in comparison to Bynum’s (and Gasol’s) and how the former’s was in line with what the coaches want from their big men. Dave McMenamin has the report:

Brown said Hill particularly gave the Lakers a lift with his pick-and-roll defense compared to Bynum. “I did not think that Drew, and even Pau at times, the combination of both those bigs were up the floor in pick-and-roll coverage,” Brown said. “Just Jordan Hill’s activity at the point of the screen was better than all of our bigs combined tonight.”

More from McMenamin:

Added Brown: “I know in pick-and-roll coverage, if we tell our bigs — whether it’s Andrew or Pau or whoever — to be up the floor, if you’re not up the floor at the point of the screen and we’re getting hurt and somebody is [playing up on screens], then somebody else is going to play. If we give our guys a coverage, then they’ve got to do it.”

What Brown talks about is very much in line with what I’ve seen from the Lakers’ P&R coverage as well. This is from a couple of weeks ago, when we talked about the downward trend of the Lakers’ defense:

Different Lakers big men are playing the P&R differently. Gasol, McRoberts, and Murphy all hedge hard and try to recover. Bynum, though, does a mix of these things and isn’t always hedging hard – if he hedges at all. Often times Bynum will hang back below the screen and invite the dribble penetration towards him where he can keep the ball handler in front of him and be a deterrent to the guard turning the corner. Bynum does a pretty good job of contesting shots that are taken going the basket but because he’s naturally on his heels when the guard is turning the corner off the pick, he’s been having some trouble contesting the mid-range jumper.

Again, that was two weeks ago. Do you know what’s changed in those two weeks?

Nothing. Nothing at all. And we have some pictures to show what Brown is talking about:

The first frame is of Kevin Durant operating on the right side of the floor. Kendrick Perkins (who is being defended by Bynum) comes high to set a pick for Durant to go middle. Look where Andrew Bynum is:

Bynum is sitting a full 5 feet below the pick and in no mans land. He has no angle to deal with Durant turning the corner in either direction and isn’t even in a defensive stance. This allowed Durant to turn the corner quite easily and with his long stride get right to the front of the rim where Gasol challenged the shot. KD ended up missing the shot, but because Pau helped, and Bynum never recovered, Ibaka got the offensive rebound and scored on a put back.

This next frame shows a similar story. This time it’s James Harden handling in the P&R:

This time, Harden starts from the left side of the floor and Perkins sets a pick for him to go middle. Bynum is straddling the FT line while Hard gets a clean release coming off the pick with over 5 feet of daylight. Harden simply came off the pick, took a rhythm pull up three pointer, and knocked it down.

Now, compare what Bynum’s doing to what Jordan Hill did late in the game against the same action. Here are three stills from the same possession:

In this first pic, Hill is actively sliding up to the pick to cut off Westbrook’s angle. The result is that Russell strings out his dribble to the left wing, back dribbles and calls for another screen:

Again, look where Hill is. After Perkins clipped Kobe for a second time, Hill has Westbrook directly in front of him with minimal space to make a strong move to the rim. He holds his ground and allows Kobe to recover. At that point, Westbrook calls for yet another screen:

Hill again is in perfect position to slow down Westbrook. He’s even with the pick, in a defensive stance and ready to slide with the ball handler. When Russell sees that Hill is with him stride for stride, he pulls up for an 18 foot jumper that misses.

I don’t want to completely discount Bynum here as he did play the action better on specific possessions. Late in the first half, he played it exactly the way that Hill did in the frames above:

As this frame shows, Bynum stepped up higher to contest Westbrook’s angle. And while Russ still tried to turn the corner (and did successfully get by Bynum) he was forced wider and then tried to finish over Jordan Hill who blocked the shot out of bounds.

The problem is, Bynum takes this latter approach less frequently than his other front court partners and it can lead to botched coverages. This inconsistency is troubling and if the Lakers are going to tighten up their D, this is one of the first places they need to start. Bynum can be such a terror on the defensive end but that will require that he make better choices. I’ll leave the final words on the matter to Mike Brown (again, via Dave McMenamin):

Brown would not place the blame purely on Bynum’s effort. He suggested that Bynum sometimes should stay back in the lane rather than helping on pick-and-rolls because he feels like he has enough length to cover ground late should the guard get into the lane following the screen. That choice by Bynum goes against what Brown is asking him to do. “Sometimes it is effort, sometimes I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Brown said.


Darius Soriano

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