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 a very good jumpshooter, but what makes this action so deadly is not just his shot, but his shot fake. Of all the big men who can shoot it, Bosh is probably the best at attacking a closeout. That’s important when defenders are rotating back to cover him, and it leads to one or two hard drives to the rim each game. He doesn’t look exceptionally quick, but he takes very long strides and has an excellent handle for his size to go with deft finishing, even from odd angles. Oh yea, and dealing with LeBron James can be a bit stressful for the defense.

2. Rajon Rondo — Paul Pierce

Rajon Rondo may be the best in the league when it comes to dragging the defenders away from the pop man, and he has an uber-creative arsenal of passes — notably the over-the-shoulder hook pass and his behind-the-back bounce pass — with which to deliver the ball. Pierce’s has excellent footwork that allows him to back into space while maintaining the balance necessary to catch and fire with quickness and accuracy. Even when Pierce doesn’t get wide open on the pop, these two will almost always at least force a switch, giving Pierce the opportunity to abuse a smaller defender.

3. Tony Parker — Tim Duncan

How much has Duncan’s game changed? Last year, for the first time in his career Duncan shot more from 16-23 feet than he did at the rim. According to HoopData, he hit on an incredible 47 percent of those long jumpers. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Parker pressures the paint as well as any guard and can often drag the entire defense below the free throw line while Duncan sets his feet at the top of the key. This combo is especially effective in “semi-transition” as Duncan’s defender is usually forced to shepard Parker all the way to the basket, leaving Duncan wide open.

4. Rajon Rondo — Kevin Garnett

The Celtics might be a bit too reliant on this utterly reliable combination. Garnett sets fantastic screens and at 7-feet tall is able to shoot over the defense even when this is well-defended. I’m not sure what’s more unbelievable: that Garnett takes 46 percent of his shots from beyond 16 feet, or that he makes 48 percent of those jumpers. This is pretty much Boston’s go-to play, and they ran it ad nauseum in big moments during the playoffs.

5. Ricky Rubio — Kevin Love

After slimming down and refining his stroke, Love challenges Nowitzki as the league’s premier pick-and-pop threat. By combining his compact and efficient shooting mechanics with his unsurpassed ability to move into space after screening, he puts immense pressure his defender to hedge and recover back to him. Rubio does his part by channelling his trademark flair while delivering the ball to Love from impossible angles with exceptional timing and accuracy. The only thing holding these two back from dominating the league (outside of Rubio’s left ACL) is the Spaniard’s inability to finish at the rim. Rubio shot just 40.7 percent at the rim last season, which is downright terrible.

Emerging pairings for 2012-13

1. Ty Lawson — Danilo Gallinari

One of the league’s most exciting teams may also possess one of the league’s most unstoppable pick-and-pop combos. Lawson – like Atlanta’s Jeff Teague — is a blur with the basketball and being forced to employ a stay-attached coverage on him just isn’t fair. Gallinari, on the other hand, could be a poor man’s Dirk in this role: shooting 3’s, using shot-fake attacks to get to the rim or the line and posting smaller defenders with the misfortune of being switched onto him. Denver’s search for crunch time offense will be solved if this pairing develops good chemistry.

2. Kyle Lowry — Andrea Bargnani

Built like a bowling ball, Lowry will pair his physical, ultra-aggressive attacking ways with Bargnani’s finesse. The threat of Bargnani’s sweet stroke should create plenty of chances for Lowry to turn the corner and get into the paint. The ceiling of this duo will be dictated by how much balance exists between the two. If Bargnani ends up being merely a decoy, it will still be an effective action, but hardly noteworthy. However, if Lowry shares the wealth, this odd couple could be sneaky good.

3. Deron Williams — Joe Johnson

Both Williams and Johnson have reliable 3-point range, so most teams will probably be forced to switch on this action rather than give either the space for a wide-open shot. That could give Johnson opportunity to attack a smaller defender a la Paul Pierce. Williams is an excellent passer on pick-and-pops going back to his days with Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer in Utah.

4. Damian Lillard — LaMarcus Aldridge

Portland’s front office was surely dreaming of the Lillard-Aldridge combination when they selected the 2012 draft’s premier pick-and-roll point guard in June. Lillard has shown excellent burst and a consistent pull-up, which should yield a steady diet of open jumpers for Aldridge, who converts those looks at a solid rate. An intriguing question here is whether Aldridge can extend his range all the way to beyond the 3-point line. New head coach Terry Stotts says he wants to use Aldridge the same way he used Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, so we may well find out next year.

5. Anyone — Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki is pretty much the perfect pick-and-pop big. He sets a mean screen, stands 7-feet tall with a high, quick release and his effective field goal percentage (which incorporates the increased value of 3-pointers) from beyond 16 feet is an absurd 52.7 percent! Dallas’ best ballhandler in the pick-and-pop next year may be Darren Collison … or it may be Delonte West, OJ Mayo, or Roddy Beaubois (OK, probably not Beaubois) — it doesn’t really matter. It’s Nowtizki’s unique talent that will make the action next to unstoppable.

Related posts:

  1. The NBA’s top pick-and-roll partnerships
  2. About that Wade-James pick and roll…
  3. Thunder Pick-And-Roll sputters as stars settle for jumpers
  4. Playing pick-up ball with “Jeremy”
  5. The Dallas pick and roll set that KO’d LA


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