How Joakim Noah unlocked Miami’s pick and roll defense

In replays and recaps of the Bulls Game 1 thrashing of the Heat, images of Joakim Noah diving for loose balls, crashing the boards with reckless abandon, and sending Dwyane Wade’s shot attempt into next week are omnipresent.  Watching him fly around the court with the energy of a six year old on a sugar rush, it’s easy to forget just how skilled of a basketball player Noah is.

Last night, his ability to pass and handle as a 7-foot center caused the Heat just as many issues as his 14 rebounds did.

The Heat came into the game with a strategy to routinely (but not exclusively) soft trap Derrick Rose on the majority of his pick and rolls. By committing two defenders to the ball and forcing Rose to give it up, Miami wanted to force his teammates to consistently beat 4 on 3 situations.

For any offense facing a half-court trap, the pressure release player (or flasher) is the most integral piece. If Noah doesn’t quickly move the ball, shoot it, or drive it before the Miami defense resets, the Heat “D”, while not forcing a turnover, claims a minor victory by taking precious seconds off the shot clock while getting the ball out of the hands of Bulls most dangerous shot-creator.

Whenever Rose was trapped on a pick and roll, the Heat would shrink or “zone up” behind the play in what is basically a triangle formation. Here, Noah acts as the pressure release by flashing toward the middle of the free throw line or slightly higher while the screener (Carlos Boozer) dives to the block:

When Noah makes the catch, he MUST quickly make a play with the ball before the athletic Miami defense scrambles back into position. Instead of falling for the trap of launching 15 foot jumpers, Noah uses his unique passing and ball handling skills to take advantage of the numbers situation by choosing to either drive the ball toward the rim, kick the ball out to the corner for a three, or pass to the wing and follow with a second ball screen:

In the following clip, Noah flashes high to receive the ball and quickly drives at the rim. The defense is forced to step up and the result of the play is a Boozer lay-up.

Even when the Heat trapped pick and rolls featuring Noah as the screener, the Bulls still relied on him to act their facilitator. In the next video, Noah comes out to set a high ball screen while Loul Deng, Keith Bogans, and Boozer stay flat. The Heat trap and Wade is forced to come up from the corner to “zone up” behind the play. Noah receives the pass out the trap, takes one dribble in traffic (to force Wade to stay with him) before kicking out to Bogans for a wide open corner three.

If Noah continues to make great decisions with the basketball and his fellow teammates continue to make shots behind him, it may force the Heat to abandon their strategy of trapping Rose on pick and rolls. However the trap was effective in keeping Rose out of the paint and on off the freethrow line in Game 1, so a change in the Heat’s gameplan could allow Rose to get back to what he does best.

As this series goes on, it will be interesting to see how patient Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is with this strategy. Will he live with the Bulls supporting cast beating him four times? Or will he risk allowing Derrick Rose to turn games into highlight shows? Is there some middle ground, a slight tweak that can make this trapping strategy more effective? Perhaps Wednesday night will give us the answer.

Twitter: @BKoremenos

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  1. [...] So far this series, Joakim Noah has really given the Miami Heat’s pick and roll defense a lot of problems by using his passing ability to break down the help at the back end after the Bulls trap Derrick Rose coming off of ball screens.  Over at, Brett Koremenos (you should seriously check him out on Twitter, great follow) did a great job of breaking things down. [...]

  2. [...] Bulls had success using Joakim Noah as a point forward, a passing option out of the pick and roll, but in game three [...]

  3. [...] my word for it, Brett Koremenos of Hoopspeak (absolutely brilliant blog by the way) offers up some insightful analysis on this issue. Sebastien Pruiti of NBA Playbook has also given Noah credit for his heads-up [...]

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