[Note: This post is the fourth in a series of season preview posts here at HoopSpeak. Check out our post on the best players from the pinch post as well as the best pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop partnerships. -- Ed.]
How it works
When it comes to the foundational actions of an NBA offense, it doesn’t get much more primitive than a pin-down screen. “Pin-down” is a fancy name for a screen that comes from up around the free throw line. The shooter waits along to the baseline then sprints off the screen into the open space away from the rim. As the screen approaches, the shooter has some options — is it best to curl tightly around the screen and slip to the rim? Or, if the defense anticipates the curl, perhaps the read is to flare out to the corner?
These are the decisions a pin-down scorer must make in an instant, often after some preliminary juking to loosen up his defender. See just about every team in the NBA knows every other team’s plays, and good teams dedicate at least one assistant coach to yelling out what play is coming, and when to expect the pin-down screen. So the best shooters out of pin-downs are also masters of deception, because getting that clean look can require some clever subterfuge a la Reggie Miller.
When everything goes right, a lights out shooter who knows how to use a screen can put a tremendous pressure on a defense because it’s so hard to help on a player who is away from the ball without endangering the integrity of the on-ball defense. That is, dealing with LeBron James on the wing becomes more stressful when Ray Allen is racing around on the weakside. Here are the players who can make an offense hum without the ball in their hands:
Top pin-down players
1. Kevin Durant
Durant is a tough cover in any situation, but it’s coming off screens where he is a real handful. Because the super-skilled, 6’11” superstar has such a sweet stroke, it’s easy to forget that his jumper isn’t the only thing defenses have to worry about. Durant also has the jaw-dropping ability to catch coming off a screen from nearly anywhere inside the the 3-point line and finish at the rim with one or no dribbles. That incredible combination of length, coordination and athleticism leaves defenders scratching their heads.
2. Kyle Korver
Korver has taken over for Ray Allen as the primiere catch-and-fire guy in the league. Korver’s success comes from his lightening quick release that’s made possible by his ability to set his feet so quickly that it’s hard to catch his mechanics in real time. Though he’s no longer in Chicago, expect Atlanta head coach Larry Drew to put in some single-double sets and let Korver run defenders ragged with the Hawks’ second unit.
3. Manu Ginobili
That same slithery movement that makes Ginobili a nightmare with the ball in his hands also serves him well coming off screens. His uncanny balance allows him to pop back to the 3-point line and shoot with accuracy when he can’t curl, and his sense of timing often leads to great secondary cuts off the screen. EG — you’ll see Manu come off a screen, appear well-covered, hesitate, then dash right past his defender to the rim. But what makes Manu special besides his range and timing is his adventurous passing. His touch and comprehension of geometric possibility are matched by only a few players in the league.
4. Mike Dunleavy
While this may come as a surprise to many, it doesn’t for the proud few who actually watched the Bucks last season. Though Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis dominate the headlines as the primary — but inefficient — offensive creators, Milwaukee found plenty of efficiency in screening actions for Dunleavy. His ability to catch-and-shoot from mid-range (particularly on the left side of the floor) steadied their offense last season and will be a key to the team’s success going forward.
5. Kobe Bryant
Bryant isn’t much of a 3-point shooter, but he’s still an absolute technician when he can gain an advantage on his defender before even touching the ball. He loves to curl off of Gasol into his happy place in the high post and, as his defender rushes to get back in position, use his arsenal of fakes to draw fouls and create angles to the rim. Like Manu, Bryant is also a nifty passer, and his super-high release allows him to get a clean shot off over almost any shooting guard.
Emerging players for 2012-13
1. Klay Thompson
When the Warriors drafted Klay Thompson, Henry Abbott quipped, “When has an athletic 6-7 guy who can shoot the lights out not worked out?” He has a point. Thompson has superb range for such a young player — he shot over 38 percent from 3 every month after his slow start in January — and the size to get his shot off over just about anyone. If he learns how to use the threat of the 3 to get to the rim off of cuts and one or two-dribble drives, he will become a real terror — especially because few players set bigger, nastier screens than new teammate Andrew Bogut.
2. OJ Mayo
Too often in Memphis, Mayo was asked to be a volume scorer for a second unit lacking any real punch. In Dallas, with offensive guru Rick Carlisle, it’s likely he won’t be asked to carry an entire offense. A more specialized role may include more off-ball screening actions in which the burly, intelligent guard could excel. Mayo is very adept at using his frame to shield defenders and is equally capable of sinking a mid-range jumper or curling off a screen all the way for a rim finish. In many ways, Mayo has the potential to develop into a poor man’s Bryant in this situations — an outcome a certain German teammate of his would greatly appreciate.
3. Tony Parker
You may not think of Tony Parker as a shooter, but everyone knows Tony Parker as fast as Gregg Popovich’s snarly wit. And last season, Parker’s improved accuracy from 18 feet allowed the Spurs to use him, and that speed, coming off of screens. Despite being smallish even for a point guard, Parker creates acres of space for a flat-footed jumper by racing up from the baseline off of screens from the like of Tim Duncan. When teams can clamp down on San Antonio’s pick-and-roll attack like Oklahoma City did in last year’s playoffs, Parker’s ability to create without the ball will be even more important.
4. Bradley Beal
Before John Wall was ruled out for the start of the season with a leg injury, Wizards brass probably envisioned using Beal sort of how Boston used Ray Allen for years. Not necessarily as an ace 3-point shooter, though Beal has a reputation as such, but as someone who could create and pass out of pin-downs. Whereas shooters like Nick Young look only to score off of this action, Beal has the ballhandling and vision to add a much-needed dynamism to the Wizard’s offense.
5. Gordon Hayward
If you’re a Utah Jazz fan, it might be time to get irrationally excited about Hayward. The baby-faced wing has already been mentioned in our emerging pick-and-roll duos and is showing the versatility of his growing game by his inclusion on this list as well. At a skilled and mobile 6’8”, Hayward shares a lot of physical traits with Stephen Jackson — who did quite well for himself working off screens during his time in Charlotte. With the ability to shoot from mid-range, finish at the rim and deliver nifty pocket passes to slipping screeners, Hayward has all the tools to be a devastating force in these situations.