Basketball Playoff Strategy: The Jazz Cannot Defend The Clippers’ Pick-And-Roll
Per Synergy Sports, the Los Angeles Clippers rank as the fourth best team at attacking via a pick-and-roll ball handler (.919 points per possession) and the best team at attacking via the roll man (1.149 points per possession).
Put simply, the Clippers are one of three teams to average over one point per possession off the pick-and-roll, joined by the dynamic offenses in Toronto and Houston.
Come playoff time, we tend to see more screen plays (including the pick-and-roll) and isolation sets (which can be sparked by an initial screen) because playoff defenses are better at cutting off specific parts of plays. This is because, as P.J. Carlesimo notes in an interview with Ryan O’Hanlon notes at The Ringer:
“[Defenses] just know whatever play is going to come,” Carlesimo said. “You know what I mean? They’re more wired in. If there is a call, they know what’s going to happen, so it comes down to more execution and individual creativity than it does what a team is doing.”
What this means is that, as opponents are able to stop set plays, one-on-one and two-on-two offenses emerge. This is why having a point guard like Chris Paul or athletic finishers like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is crucial in the postseason.
This poses a real problem for the Utah Jazz – who rank as the 24th best team at defending the ball handler and 10th best at defending the roll man in a pick-and-roll – as they simply do not have the personnel to defend that type of offensive attack. This is especially true without Rudy Gobert – who, as I have noted previously, also struggles in the pick-and-roll – as Derrick Favors and Jeff Withey rank, per Synergy, below league average at being the help defender against a pick-and-roll.
Let’s breakdown exactly how the Clippers have attacked the Jazz this series, starting with their quarterback, Chris Paul.
Paul consistently ranks in the top-20 ball handlers in a pick-and-roll because of his ability to see the play steps ahead of the initial action. This is a trait shared by very few NBA players, LeBron and John Wall among them. It allows him to find easy midrange shots as opponents are worried about a secondary play occurring after the pick-and-roll.
On these plays, whether the Jazz are trying to prevent an easy lob or a secondary offensive action like a cut, it allows Chris Paul to find an open shot in the midrange. Much of this, additionally, is due to CP3’s ability to dribble between defenders.
One consequence of this, though, is sometimes Paul is forced to pass. This is an objectively good thing for Rivers’ squad. Per Synergy, the Clippers average 1.192 points per possession when, in these situations, Chris Paul passes to the roll man. One reason is easy lobs when the defense makes an early mistake.
In both plays Chris Paul is able to find DeAndre Jordan wide-open because the Jazz are concerned with CP3 making a midrange jumper. Sometimes teams will move their defense to prevent the Clippers from getting an open Paul jumper and a potential lob. In these instances, Chris Paul is usually able to find an open man.
Or, if the Jazz are to send an extra man, Paul can find the open shooter for a three-pointer.
What this shows overall is, between Chris Paul’s majesty as a ball handler in the pick-and-roll as well as DeAndre Jordan’s strength as a screener and roll man, it will be close to impossible for Utah to prevent easy baskets. This is why Rivers and Paul constantly call for a 1/5 pick-and-roll when they need to score.
Further, a secondary weapon the Clippers have in the pick-and-roll is Blake Griffin. Griffin ranks as the seventeenth best ball handler following a screen in the NBA. Per Synergy, he scores 1.043 points per possession on these plays. Below are a few examples of him doing this against the Jazz.
Overall, then, the Clippers offense poses a fundamental difficulty for the Jazz. Throughout the year Utah’s defense has been poor at defending this common NBA action. Come playoff time, however, the best teams will constantly exploit such a weakness. Facing the Clippers, this problem is expanded, as Los Angeles is one of the three most dominant pick-and-roll teams in the NBA. For the Jazz to win this series they will need to find a way – with or without Rudy Gobert – to prevent easy baskets off this fundamental part of Doc Rivers’ offense.