The Washington Wizards and Defending Pick & Rolls
The Pick and Roll is a staple of many NBA offenses. The Wizards, in particular, starved when it came to defending P&Rs in 2009-10.
Once again turning to Synergy Sports Technology, we learn that as a team, the Wizards defended the P&R ball handler 1,128 times in plays that ended with a FGA, TO or FTA. This accounted for 12.6% of the team’s defensive plays. Defending these plays, the Wizards gave up 0.89 points-per-possession (PPP), which is tied for the most allowed in the NBA.
Against the Wizards, the P&R ball handler shot 43.2% on field goals and scored 42.9% of the time, which is the second highest scoring rate allowed in the league.
Conversely, the Wizards had to defend the P&R roll man 406 times and fared slightly better in the PPP department.
As you can imagine, the roll-man in a P&R is usually getting better looks at the basket. The Wizards allowed the roll man to score 49% of the time while shooting 49.5%. However, the one (1) PPP given up to roll-men ranks 7th lowest in the NBA.
Note: Synergy Sports PPP ranks account for plays in the playoffs, hence they can still change. Not how I’d do it, but Synergy’s statistical and video tools are amazing nonetheless.
All this being said, let’s see who on the Wizards was particularly bad at defending P&Rs against both the ball handler and the roll man. First let’s take a look at Wizards wing players defending the P&R ball handler. The players are ranked by points-per-possession allowed (worst to best).
* All numbers only reflect games played in a Wizards uniform.
Here’s what we learn:
1) The downside of Shaun Livingston which I haven’t covered enough. He is a sub-par defender because of his lack of strength and still developing agility. Not only did Livingston allow the most points per possession, but he defended the P&R ball handler 31.3% of the time, second most only to Earl Boykins’ 35.3%.
This is why, if the Wizards are able to retain Livingston, they will have to heavily consider match-ups when playing him. Should he come off the bench and defend against less effective lineups? Should he be defensively paired with a better defender in the back court? As intriguing as Gilbert Arenas and Livingston would be on offense, the duo would need Dwight Howard playing behind them to compensate for their defensive liabilities.
2) It’s partially clear why Quinton Ross and DeShawn Stevenson are known as good defenders. Too bad neither can do much else.
3) Surprised by Randy Foye? Me too. He does have the strength to get through screens, and I wouldn’t consider him a poor defender. However, don’t get too boosted by Foye’s defense of P&R ball handlers. His overall PPP allowed is 0.93 and he gives up 1.14 against isolation defense and 1.22 defending in the post. Foye isn’t going to kill a team on D, but against creative or larger point guards, teams will abuse the match up.
4) How about that Earl Boykins? He’s also surprisingly decent. Of course, his success in the PPP allowed department is ranked 148th in the league. So his decency in terms of the team is more indicative of how poor at defending P&R ball handlers those above him are.
5) Mike Miller, Al Thornton and Nick Young are who we’d thought they’d be on P&R defense. Not good.
Ok, now let’s quickly take a look at how the Wizards’ bigs fared against the P&R roll man.
I’m not going to read a ton into these numbers. It’s nice that JaVale McGee performs well. With his wingspan and youthful ability to move his feet, McGee should be able to deter shots and passes out of the P&R. However, as previously covered, McGee gets killed when trying to defend the post.
What these numbers do reflect is why you often saw Flip Saunders bench Brendan Haywood in favor of Andray Blatche in the waning moments of close games. Haywood just doesn’t have the agility to be a good P&R defender. He can use his timing to block shots well. He’s a great defensive communicator. He’s an intelligent player. But Brendan does have some glaring faults.
Just as robotic as Haywood is on offense (we’ve already established that he looks like Stanley from The Office when he tries to dribble), he’s similarly robotic when attempting to compensate for his lacking agility in other instances.
Finally, having mentioned how the Wizards are poor at guarding P&R ball handlers in general, let’s take a look how each NBA team ranks in comparison.
Note: Numbers are color-coded between six shades going from green to red (legend in far right column) and are colored by dividing the range of each category amongst the number of colors (6). Teams which allow the P&R ball handler to score the least amount of points-per-possession are bright green, teams that yielded the most PPP are in bright red. Team win-percentage and P&R score allowed percentage are colored in a similar fashion.
The second-to-the-right column reflects the percentage of P&R ball handler plays faced against all defensive plays faced. They go from green (least % faced) to red (highest % faced) and only use three colors instead of six; yellow represent the mid-range.
The teams are listed according to win percentage; playoff teams are shaded blue, lottery teams are salmon. Hopefully all that just made some amount of sense.
As you can see, there is a loose correlation between winning-percentage and each teams ability to defend pick and roll ball handlers. There are some anomalies — Phoenix, Atlanta and Portland are playoff teams that struggle with defending P&R ball handlers; Indiana and Golden State are good and decent, respectively, despite their poor records.
To recap, the Wizards defended the P&R ball handler on 12.6% of their defensive chances that ended in a FGA, TO or FTA, which is tied with the Jazz for sixth highest percentage in the NBA. However, Washington was tied with the Suns for giving up the most points-per-possession and had the second highest scoring percentage allowed after the Hawks.
The Wizards need to beef up their interior defense, this is evident. But just as much, improved team defense needs to involve retooling on the perimeter, the true first line of defense.