Revolutionary Wall: Can the Pick-and-Roll Save Washington's Attack? | Wizards Blog Truth About

Revolutionary Wall: Can the Pick-and-Roll Save Washington’s Attack?

Updated: April 2, 2015

“I live for the dunk, I’ll die for the dunk.”

Marcin Gortat, who led all players in scoring (1) and recorded his 20th double-double of the season, was feeling himself after a comfortable win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “I need the ball in the post,” he told Comcast’s Chris Miller on the court immediately afterward.

On Wednesday night, Washington rolled over Philly like General George rolled over British troops in Princeton during the winter of 1777—a key military victory in the rise of an upstart nation.

The Wizards won by 13 points, but led by as many as 34. The only trouble was that for most of the fourth quarter they couldn’t sink a basket with tactics or karma. Then John Wall, Bradley Beal and Gortat checked into the game and Wall—who else?—hit the bullseye on a pair of pull-up jump shots from 16 and 20 feet to put Wizards fans at ease.

But Gortat, D.C.’s “Polish Machine,” was a terror, racking up 23 points. He hit his first eight shots and then went 2-for-3 the rest of the way. All 11 attempts came within five feet of the basket and Wall assisted on seven of Gortat’s 10 makes. 

“It’s a team sport. If you get your big involved, I’m going to be productive,” he said.“I was doing the same thing I’m doing every single game—they were just passing the ball.”

The Wizards, already looking ahead to bigger battles in the next few weeks (despite what players and coaches will tell you), should look to make Gortat a bigger part of the offense with extra touches in the post. But it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

The Polish Machine is a fine post-up player. Better than fine, actually, and more efficient than his Brazilian frontcourt mate, Nene, who, curiously, is force-fed in the post. The Wizards have posted Nene more than 250 times this season, despite him producing just 0.77 points per possession (PPP).(2) Gortat, the team’s $60-million offensive weapon, uses a hook shot (lefty, righty, doesn’t matter) and an underrated turnaround J to produce 0.88 points PPP. And yet the Wizards have posted Gortat 189 times this season. That’s not even close to the top 10 in post-up touches—Al Jefferson leads the NBA with more than 650—and that’s OK.

Where the Wizards need to force a mismatch is in the pick-and-roll game, where Gortat’s quickness, length, and soft touch can really hurt playoff defenses. This season, he’s scored 0.97 PPP as the roll man, a top 15 mark in the NBA among players with at least 160 possessions (3). While his 52.7 percent rolling field goal percentage doesn’t pop off the page, it’s still better than what Andrew Bogut, Nikola Vucecic, Marc Gasol, and Al Horford are putting up.

In December, we covered why John Wall turns into Optimus Dime when running a two-man game with Gortat—and why more pick-and-rolls would have the Machine running like he was still painted Phoenix orange. But now that we’re more than 70 games into the season, we have a more complete overview of the Wizards offense.

The pick-and-roll is where Gortat thrives, but he’s been the roll man in 21.7 percent of the Wizards offensive possessions. That percentage ranks 10th in the NBA, however, 10 players (4) have more than 200 roll man possessions. Two of them—Anthony Davis and Vucevic—have more than 300. Gortat has fewer than 190 rolls to the hoop this season … that’s about 2.5 times per game.

“A lot of our plays are for post-ups, a lot of our plays are for 2 guards, and a lot of our plays are for me,” Wall said post-game. The numbers show that he’s right. Overall, Wall only dishes to Gortat 13.1 percent of the time; the ball more often zips to Bradley Beal (24.4%), Paul Pierce (18.1%), and Nene (13.6%). Down south, Anthony Davis is the No. 2 guy for Jrue Holiday, who hits him on a quarter of the Pelicans’ offensive possessions. In Orlando, Elfrid Peyton and Victor Oladipo roll the rock to Vucevic more than any other player (19.6% and 18.4%, respectively). 

When John Wall hits Gortat with a pass, the big man gets a bucket 60.9 percent of the time, a Wizards team-best by nearly six percent. The Wizards need more. Extra pick-and-roll action is a sure way to improve the league’s fourth-worst offense since the All-Star Break—and give the Wiz Kids a better shot to survive and advance with the season at stake.

It’s a simple set that Wall can run multiple times on a single possession (Wall has, before, implored Gortat to do more multiple screen-setting on certain possessions). Pick-and-roll action will get Nene out of the way and into the high post, where there are fewer collisions and larger passing lanes to exploit. It’ll space the floor for Wall (5) to operate, to freestyle, to take over.

It’s the action that the Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Hawks, and other high-powered offenses use to dictate terms. Steve Nash’s Suns, too.

“[Nash] showed what can happen when a great point guard has an open court and the freedom to make choices. The game explodes” Mike D’Antoni told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins in March, speaking to the legacy of his Hall of Fame point guard.

The worst that can happen is that Wall has to settle for a midrange jumper. He’s hitting better than 41 percent of them—a better rate than Dwyane Wade and both Splash Brothers. (And, as TAI’s Troy Haliburton noted, way better than Bradley Beal, who is connecting on about a third of his attempts.)

The Wizards can live with that. Defenses won’t have a choice.

 [Statistics and scoring data via]


  1. 76ers PG Ish Smith also scored 23 (on 17 shots).
  2. That puts him in the 32nd percentile. Not good. That said, this stat doesn’t count points produced by passes, primary or secondary, that Nene makes out of the post.
  3. Nene has produced 0.92 PPP on about 120 possessions.
  4. Including Vucevic, Gasol, and Horford.
  5. And cutters!
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.