Now 20 games into the season, three big men have asserted themselves as elite pick-and-roll scoring options. Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, and Serge Ibaka have become dangerous weapons off the roll for their respective teams. Here’s a look at the changes that have contributed to their respective rises.
Chandler has always been one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league going back to his days in Dallas and New Orleans. But this season, he is #1 in the NBA according to Synergy.
Chandler is scoring 5.05 points per game from pick-and-roll this year, up from 3.9 per game last season. The biggest reason for his increased potency is the Knicks’ addition of Raymond Felton. Felton is the best passer Tyson has played with in a Knick uniform. Whether squeezing a bounce pass between two defenders or tossing a lob over the top, Felton has done well to find Chandler for easy buckets all season.
Tyson has also drastically reduced his turnover rate from last year. This is due, in large part, to opposing defenses not being able to collapse down on him. His mediocre ball skills are rarely evident because the Knicks are the most dangerous 3-point shooting team in the league. They’re averaging 12.0 3PM per game which is 2.2 more than the next closest team and 4.2 more than they made last season. Defenders have to stay close to Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony which prevents them from crashing into the lane to help out on Chandler.
In just his third year in the league, Greg Monroe has become one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference. Much of his offensive success can be linked to his effectiveness in pick-and-roll situations.
Thus far this season, Detroit has run pick-and-roll with Monroe twice as much per game as they did last year. Greg has used this increased opportunity to become a more efficient and dynamic scorer. One of the key changes he has made is taking more jumpers. Though he’s only connecting on 28 percent of his shots taken from 16-23 feet, defenders are still willing to guard him out there. By drawing his defender away from the hoop, Monroe is able to use his impressive agility to score off the dribble. Despite the increase in jumpshots, he still leads the league in attempts at the rim this season (7.5 per game). Impressive work from a player with only middling height and leaping ability.
The James Harden decision would have been much easier for the Thunder to make if they had known Serge Ibaka was going to play this well offensively. Ibaka is sporting career highs in almost every offensive category including FG%, FTA, FT%, and Points per game. One by-product of his spontaneous offensive ascension has been a vast improvement in his pick-and-roll scoring. Serge has increased his points per play in pick-and-roll by more than 15 percent and Oklahoma City is using him in that role almost 20 percent more than last season. Serge is shooting an impressive 48 percent on long jumpers and a monstrous 79 percent on attempts at the rim. Ibaka is transforming himself from an athletic shotblocker to a legitimate offensive weapon this season. His efficacy in the pick-and-roll will be a great weapon for the Thunder moving forward, and should allow Ibaka to play more minutes as the season wears on.
As these three have risen to the top, two players have fallen precipitously. Marcin Gortat and Dwight Howard were two of the Top 10 pick-and-roll scorers in the league last season, but this year, they’re both struggling mightily. What’s gone wrong?
The easiest way to explain Gortat’s precipitous decline is a severe lack of Steve Nash. Nash bolted from Phoenix in the offseason, and Gortat hasn’t looked the same since. New Suns’ point guard Goran Dragic is playing quite well, but his chemistry with Gortat is nothing compared to what Marcin had with Nash. Dragic is more of a penetrating scorer than a dynamic and crafty passer. As such, the Suns’ offense has changed a great deal from last season. With Nash in Phoenix last year, the Suns got Gortat the ball in pick-and-roll plays almost five times per game. This season, he’s getting the ball only half as often.
When the Suns do go to the pick-and-roll, Marcin is finding the lane more crowded than he has in years past. The Suns’ outside shooting has been a joke. Without any credible 3-point threats, defenses are consistently collapsing into the paint against Phoenix. As a result, Gortat’s field goal percentage in pick-and-roll has fallen nearly 20 points, from 64 to 46 percent. Marcin is simply not converting his opportunities into buckets. He seems completely disengaged most nights, and his days in Phoenix may be numbered.
Much like Gortat, Dwight Howard could really use some Steve Nash in his life. Last year, Dwight was second in the NBA in pick-and-roll scoring, averaging a robust 1.36 points per play. This year, Howard is averaging just 0.97 points per play. One of the issues is decrease opportunity. Dwight has gotten the ball in pick and roll situations only 1.5 times per game this season, and the Lakers are using only 15.5 percent of their possessions in pick-and-rolls. Another issue is the Lakers aren’t taking care of the ball. Laker guards have turned it over on more than 20% of pick-and-roll possessions. Dwight himself is turning it over four times as much as he did in Orlando (12% of pick-and-roll possessions.)
One explanation is that D12 is facing more defense than he’s used to. Orlando has perennially been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league. They spaced the floor for Dwight to work inside. The Lakers, thus far, have not found their stroke from downtown, so defenders are free to help on Dwight and foul him if necessary. D12 is drawing fouls on 29% of his pick-and-roll opportunities, but he’s shooting a career-low FT% making him even more inefficient as a pick-and-roll scorer.