San Antonio and Utah: By the Tape
Jordan Kahn breaks down the latest NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here.
The Spurs finished the regular season in a dominant fashion, but the blogosphere has fallen in love Utah’s new-look lineup. With the help of MySynergy Sports, let’s take a look at how the Spurs will attack the Jazz and how Utah’s big lineup functions on offense.
The Jazz come into this series ranking 29th in the NBA in points allowed to pick-and-roll ball handlers. After Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili light up Utah’s defense for a bit, they will eventually have to collapse on those ball handlers. That’s where the San Antonio frontcourt comes in. Unlike some teams (the Clippers come to mind), the Spurs can show the defense different looks in the pick-and-roll with each of their frontcourt players. Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner are all excellent in the pick-and-roll in different ways.
Tiago Splitter almost always rolls to the hoop. He’s pretty quick for a big man and is an excellent finisher. Those attributes add up to him ranking third in the NBA on points per possession as the roll man. The clips below show how his quickness into the lane can compromise the help defense.
Matt Bonner isn’t involved in as many pick-and-rolls as his frontcourt mates, but when he is screening, his 1.59 points per possession ranks first in the NBA. This shouldn’t be too surprising because the majority of Bonner’s shots in these situations are open threes. Putting Bonner in the pick and roll opens things up for Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. If defenders hedges too hard as Parker/Ginobili come off the screen, Bonner will be wide open. The clips below show what can happen if the help defense helps too much.
Tim Duncan is “only” 35th in the league at points per possession as the roll man. Duncan also doesn’t roll to the basket with the quickness of Splitter, but he can still find open spaces and finish. He doesn’t have three-point range of Bonner, but he one of the best big midrange shooters. The video below shows his versatility as a screener in the pick-and-roll.
Much has been made of Utah’s big lineup with Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and Al Jefferson manning the 3-4-5 spots. The lineup has been dominant on the defensive end, but how are they so successful on offense with so many non-shooters on the floor?
The positives and negatives of this lineup can be summarized in this one play below. The Jazz didn’t run too many pick-and-rolls with this lineup, and this sequence shows why. As Devin Harris and Al Jefferson run the pick-and-roll, Paul Millsap is stationed on the weak side, spacing the floor. He’s not doing much spacing, as Stephen Jackson is playing way off Millsap in an attempt to stop help on Jefferson. Jackson clutters things up, and Jefferson takes a hesitant jumper. However, because Jackson was so quick to help, Millsap has a free run at the basket for the rebound. This lineup is strong on the offensive end partly because of their rebounding ability. When defenses help off of the perimeter players, it makes offensive rebounding a bit easier.
When this lineup is on the floor, Utah does a lot of cutting to the hoop as opposed to waiting on the perimeter. Millsap, especially, has been an excellent cutter this season; he ranks third in the NBA in points per cutting possession. But all of this movement isn’t limited to Millsap. In the video below, you can see Favors flashing to the high post and drawing the defense’s attention. Even if the cutter doesn’t receive the ball, the defense’s reaction to the cutter can lead to open shots on the perimeter for more capable shooters.
The Jazz frontline has drawn comparisons to the last year’s Memphis Grizzlies, but this Spurs team is in much better shape than the previous version. The Jazz should have some trouble defending the Spurs’ pick-and-roll attack, and this series will be no cakewalk for them, regardless of what lineups they roll out.