Atlanta’s new pick and roll defense

The Magic can exhale after grinding out a hard-fought win versus a feisty Hawks team in Game 2. Despite tying up the series, Dwight Howard and company still head to Atlanta with some serious concerns. Aided by Jason Collins continuing ability to turn Orlando’s resident Superman into a turnover machine of Joel Prybilla-esque proportions, the Magic have experienced some startling drops in their offensive efficiency. But Collins’ defense isn’t the only reason Orlando has seen a nine point drop in both their scoring average and three point percentage from the regular season. The Magic’s vaunted pick and roll game has been stifled quite a bit by a creative Hawks defense.

One of the Magic’s favorite pick and roll alignments is a spread set with Turkoglu (or Nelson) coming off a high screen from Howard in the middle of the floor, the two guard in the corner (Richardson or Redick), Nelson (or Turkoglu if ball handling roles are switched) on the weak side wing, with floor spacing big man Ryan Anderson in the weak side corner.

The most common way teams would defend this is to have their big man sag back and protect the paint, giving ground to the ball handler as his defender trails over the top of the screen. They would then look to jam the rolling big man with the low weak side defender (X4) who would step in while the other weak side defender (X1) would play halfway between the corner and the wing. The strong side defender (X2) would stick tight to his man and not allow for an easy drive and kick for a corner three.

The Hawks, however, have befuddled Orlando on this action by straying from conventional wisdom and bringing help from the strong side. On the ball handler’s (Turkoglu) drive, X3 (Josh Smith) still looks to trail while X5 (Collins) keeps himself equally concerned with both the driver AND the roller (Howard), instead of fully committing to stop penetration. While X4 (Horford) still pinches in a bit to help on the roll, X2’s (Johnson) assignment has the biggest change. Instead of hugging a deadly shooter like Richardson or Redick, Johnson pinch in and look to stop the drive.

The final twist to this scheme lies in a pass to the corner. Should Johnson come off Richardson or Redick in the corner, the trailing defender, Smith, will jump-switch and fly out to the corner shooter looking to chase him off the three point line.

Here’s video of it all going down:

So far, this strategy has worked wonders for the Hawks. Orlando scored a whopping three points out of the 16 possessions this alignment was used. Granted, the three points came on Jason Richardson’s dagger three near the end of the game, but overall, it has been a smashing success for Atlanta through the first two games. Now it is up for Orlando to counter by either moving their pick and roll spots (more side PNRs with the floor spread opposite) or adding some new movements (backdooring or clearing the strong side corner shooter on penetration) to this alignment in hopes that it puts their offense back on track.

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  3. 5 Things We Learned from Game One of the Orlando-Atlanta Series, or “Over Before it Started”
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