The NBA’s top pick-and-pop partnerships

Rondo throws his patented hook pass to a wide open Kevin Garnett.

[Note: This post is the second in a series of season preview posts here at HoopSpeak. Check out our post on the best pick-and-roll partnerships. -- Ed.]

How it works

With the right personnel, the pick-and-pop can actually be the most dangerous action in basketball. While the vast majority of pick-and-pops tend to result in a dreaded long 2 (looking at you KG), the emergence of true stretch 4’s — epitomized by Dirk Nowitzki — has given teams that employ sweet-shooting big men a devastating new way to attack defenses.

Isolating an attacking ball handler with a 3-point shooting ace on one side of the floor puts an opposing defense in a world of hurt. With three players on the weakside of the floor, help rotations are not only long, but virtually impossible to make when the screener pops to outside the arc. The pressure then is all on the hedging defender to execute a “stay-attached” coverage (a one step show while remaining in physical contact with the screener) before scrambling back to his man. With so little protection for his defensive partner, the on-ball defender has to flawlessly maneuver the screen in order to give himself any chance to prevent a drive to the paint.

The possibility of generating open 3’s and shots at the rim almost at will is why more and more teams are seeking frontcourt players who double as long-range bombers. Coupled with the fact that smart coaches are always emphasizing the value of spacing, the pick-and-pop is likely to become a bigger and bigger weapon in offensive arsenal’s throughout the league.

Opposing defenses, you’ve been warned.

Top pick-and-pop duos

1. LeBron James — Chris Bosh

Bosh is

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The NBA’s top pick-and-roll partnerships

Dwyane Wade draws three defenders, finds Bosh rollin’ to the rim.

[Note: This post is the first in a series of season preview posts here at HoopSpeak. Check back in the coming days for more on pick-and-pops, pin downs and other officially sanctioned rankings from the joint offices of David Stern/HoopSpeak. -- Ed.]

How it works

Over the last decade, the pick-and-roll has become the basis of almost every NBA offense. Ideally, the ball handler will have the burst to get to and finish at the rim, the timing to find passing angles and a jumpshot to keep the defense honest. His job is to use the screen to create a 5-on-4 advantage by rubbing his defender off the screen, or to draw two defenders to create a 4-on-3 elsewhere on the court. The roll man must have the brute athleticism to finish at and above the rim, but there’s also something subtle at work in the chemistry between great pick-and-roll partners.

First, there’s the screen itself — an element that is often overshadowed by the subsequent action. The big men in Miami and San Antonio are all well-trained to approach the screen at full speed then switch screening angle at the last second. Moving quickly into the screen keeps the defense off balance and helps prevent an effective hedge-and-recover or trap on the ballhandler.

From there, it’s up to the roll man to maintain a clean passing angle by keeping time in an improvisational dance with the ballhandler and two (or more) defenders. Once he gets the ball, the roller must have that combination of power and cleverness that defines the game’s best finishers.

Top pick-and-roll duos

1. Dwyane Wade – Chris Bosh

While this is a pick-and-roll list, it must be stated that Bosh doesn’t simply screen

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Have fun with that, Boston

I’ve been an NBA fan for as long as I can remember.

The first game I ever remember watching was between the Bulls and Celtics during the 1986 NBA Playoffs. I was watching with my dad and I was hypnotized by everything going on. I was four years old and just blankly stared at the television screen. There was a guy who kept doing everything for the red team. When it was explained to me that the object of the game was to put the ball into the circle with the net, it was pretty obvious that the one guy in red was the only person capable of doing that.

From that moment, any time I could get my hands on a basketball or watch a basketball game, my eyes would focus in. My pupils would dilate, absorbing as much of the imagery as my spongey brain could soak up. From that moment on, iconic NBA moments made up my childhood memories. Sure, there were road trips with my family, holiday excursions to Atlanta, that one year I lived in West Point, Mississippi and thousands of other moments that still sit in the back of my memory.

But nothing resonated with me as much as Michael Jordan finally getting past the Pistons, Chuck Person and Larry Bird screaming at each other as they exchanged jumpers like angry motorists exchange insurance information after a crash, John Paxson’s jumper thrusting itself into the chest of the Phoenix Suns, John Starks shooting his team away from a title, being furious the NBA Finals were a picture-in-picture because of OJ Simpson being chauffeured away from the authorities, Nick Anderson missing free throws and Rudy Tomjanovich urging us to never underestimate the heart of a champion.

Those were the moments I took with me from my childhood.  Continue reading “Have fun with that, Boston” »

How Dwight Howard can learn from Gustavo Ayon

If you’re a true NBA junky, you should get to know Gustavo Ayon. ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh profiled Ayon’s underrated productivity while explaining why the Mexican big man will be a surprisingly effective replacement for the departed Dwight Howard in Orlando.

But Ayon’s play is worth noting even if you care not what he does on a bad Orlando team. The techniques he uses to find open spaces playing off the ball in pick-and-rolls will be instructive for the Magic player he’s replacing, Dwight Howard, when Howard takes the court with L.A.

Last year’s Hornets used a set that perfectly suited Ayon’s instincts, and could prove wildly effective for the Lakers. It’s a departure from the traditional Princeton, the offense L.A. claims it will pursue, but I’m willing to bet such departures will be a regular occurrence. What’s more, this is one of the few offensive schemes or sets that can accentuate all the Lakers’ skills at once.

Here’s how it worked in New Orleans: During a middle pick-and-roll, Ayon would stay low on the baseline, ‘circle under’ the backboard (opposite the rolling screener) to put maximum pressure on occupied help defenders and get buckets near the rim.

It’s a simple motion, but with proper spacing and timing, it puts the defense in a serious bind.

Perhaps the best example of the pressure this movement puts on the defense is illustrated by the latter of the two clips against the Clippers. As Jarrett Jack comes off the screen, the hedging defender (DeAndre Jordan) looks to string him out toward the sideline.This makes Blake Griffin responsible for Landry’s half-roll to the middle of the free throw line (a.k.a the nail). Randy Foye, guarding Lance Thomas on the weakside of the play, is now faced with a very difficult decision.

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Why the Nuggets will be a big deal

Don't look so glum, Brett believes in you!

There’s been a lot of excitement in Denver since the Nuggets netted standout swingman Andre Iguodala. There’s excitement, but many are somewhat patronizing in their praise. We know the Nuggets will be a must-watch on League Pass, but few see them as true contenders if they remain committed to their current core.

Perhaps that’s because the Nuggets are just as revolutionary a team as the Boston Celtics of 2008 that paired three superstars together on one roster. Not only is Denver brushed aside because their makeup is the antithesis of both that Boston team and today’s reigning NBA champs, they are dismissed by principles that have been taken as the absolute truths of the NBA (more on that below). But in many ways this team is the logical result of changes that have been going on in the league since the 1970’s.

Since the introduction of the three-point shot in 1979, the NBA, like a living organism, has continually mutated. Over the past three-and-a-half decades, changes big and small have altered the genetic makeup of the way the game is played. Traits that once allowed players to survive and thrive are slowly becoming obsolete.

Because of that, games even from the early 2000s are nearly unrecognizable when compared to the ones witnessed during recent seasons. The only thing that seems consistent is that they both were played with ten players, two hoops and one ball.

No franchise has adapted to this new environment quite like the Nuggets.

A team built for today … and tomorrow

True, franchise-altering superstars are scarce and because the current CBA depresses their market value, they have more agency to choose where and with whom to play. And where they choose to play is not Denver,

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Change is Scary, Sarunas

One temperate Oakland night, probably in 1989, Golden State Warriors rookie Sarunas Marciulionis picked up his dribble and stepped sideways either to his left or his right. Suddenly, the Lithuanian guard jaunted back the opposite direction–either to his right or his left–as though on an invisible switchback trail. Maybe the move fooled that defender, or maybe Sarunas was called for traveling. We’ll never really know the exact moment at which the NBA was introduced to the “Eurostep.”

Marciulionis moved laterally, back-and-forth, in a way NBA players had never thought to. For at least a half century, Americans had always taken two steps forward after picking up their dribbles. It made sense, as the momentum carried them in that general direction. Nobody had ever thought to do it any differently. Or, if they had thought to, nobody had the confidence to make a public habit out of bipedal slithering.

Sarunas Marciulionis introduced this revolutionary move at a time when he personally must have felt quite warped. The season had started weeks after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when the foreign rookie was getting his training camp bearings. Perhaps there is a natural tendency towards reversing course within Sarunas because on October 17th, 1989, he planned on going to a car dealership via the 880 freeway. At the last second, he decided on a different direction, visiting a back doctor instead. While in the office, one tectonic plate scraped against another, causing the earth to shudder buildings off her shoulders. The doctor’s building held steady, but the 880 freeway did not.

If you ask people about the fatalities in the 1989 quake, most would guess that the majority of carnage occurred on the Bay Bridge. I know this because I’m the kind of person who asks this question of people.

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The Allen Iverson paradox: Right moment, wrong time

Some strange force is taking hold of my fingers and typing words about Allen Iverson. Please send help.

I wrote about him last week, and your comments were insightful as per usual. There were a few arguments in Iverson’s favor, but one in particular haunts my initial post. I want to start by citing a tweet from the inimitable Myles Brown, though:

He was the anti establishment star of his time and with the coinciding rise of hip hop, he became a cult figure.

— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) August 30, 2012

Allen Iverson was a man so before his time that he became his time. Like Marlon Brando, Iverson was charismatically rebellious to the point of defining a larger cultural shift. You could say that Allen, the celebrity, came about at the exact right moment.

Keep that in mind for later. For now, here’s that (excerpted) haunting comment from the ever spooky GhostofGeorgeLynch:

“As someone who watched over 95% of the Sixers’ games from 1997 through 2003, let me add that, as mentioned in the article, the league was very different then, so comparing TS% from then to now is misleading.  Iverson was paired with other offensively “talented” players on occasion, but due to the nature of the game at that time these players were also extremely inefficient.  Jerry Stackhouse then Larry Hughes were probably the best of the bunch.  Matt Geiger was also brought to provide an interior presence, but injuries and the fact that he just never was that good hampered him.

At the time, there were no zone defenses, only man, so there were no great three point shooters to kick the ball out to, because their man didn’t leave them to double team.  There was also no point in moving the ball around, because defensive players

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