Adventures in Pick and Roll Defense – Observations from Jazz 106, Sixers 104

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons left Wednesday night’s game with an minor AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, an injury picked up while attempting to back down a Utah Jazz player in the first half of the eventual two-point loss. He’ll be reevaluated today in Denver ahead of tomorrow night’s matchup with the Nuggets.

The Sixers have enough firepower to win when one of their stars is unavailable to play, but they just didn’t inspire offensively last night, shooting 41.2% from the field and 32% from three while looking casual and deferential at times. 16 of Joel Embiid’s 27 points came at the foul line while Al Horford struggled to get anything to fall and Tobias Harris only took one three point shot on the entire night.

Sprinkle in difficulties defending the pick and roll, plus a bad turnover from Josh Richardson late in the fourth quarter, and that’s a recipe for losing a game that they were more than capable of winning.

Adventures in pick and roll defense

The Sixers typically play drop coverage against the pick and roll in an effort to push opponents off the three point line and invite mid-range shots. It can be frustrating to watch sometimes, because while analytically the mid-range jumper is the least efficient shot in basketball, the Sixers essentially concede the look entirely.

You’re typically willing to live and die by those shots, and last night there was a lot of this on the floor:

That’s pretty typical pick and roll defense. Raul Neto is going over the screen to prevent the three-point shot, and Embiid will sit right around the elbow area, which invites Mike Conley to pull up for a clean look. Drop coverage works best when whomever is playing Neto’s position is able to stay in the play and make the ball handler uncomfortable from behind, which involves just getting a body on him or throwing a rear contest.

Here’s what happens if the big, in this case Horford, steps up too high:

Again it’s Neto over the top, but when Horford steps up to address the ball handler, Donovan Mitchell is able to just get Tony Bradley on the roll to the rim. You’d rather have Mitchell shoot the jumper there, since it’s lower percentage (even if he was hitting them early).

Finally, this was the shot that pretty much won it for Utah. The Sixers go to trap here, which means the screener’s defender is going to just attack the ball handler instead of dropping back. They did this a bit with JJ Redick in the playoffs (actually more of a soft hedge and recover), but this is a perfect counter from Bojan Bogdanovic:

When you sense a hedge, trap, or blitz coming, shooters can simply slip the screen instead and flare to the three-point line for an open shot. Somebody blew something here though, because Neto didn’t slide with Bogdanovic and nobody was close to a helpful rotation. Looks like they were not on the same page.

Al Horford

Fantastic performance in Phoenix, which was wasted by the Sixers.

But last night he just could not get anything to fall, and it was mostly stuff that he’s able to convert right around the rim this year:

2-8 inside the paint for Horford last night, which you’re not gonna see a lot of this year. He had an off night.

Ancillary losses

The Sixers typically do well in absolutely destroying teams in auxiliary areas, but last night they finished with:

  • 44 points in the paint
  • 10 second chance points
  • 9 fast break points
  • 7 offensive rebounds

All four were below their season average. They were out-shot 89 to 80, which is the largest disparity they’ve faced in this department in 2019. The Sixers were #1 in field goal attempts per game after starting 5-0 and have now dropped to 12th overall.

Other notes:

  • Brett Brown’s technical foul took place after a sequence in which I thought Rudy Gobert had played good defense on Embiid.
  • They absolutely wasted a ton of time trying to foul at the end of the fourth quarter.
  • Still too many casual possessions from Joel, who doesn’t need to kill himself running up and down the floor, but instead show some purpose on the offensive end. Get the ball, read the defense, and get to work.
  • Tobias Harris has been much better when Embiid doesn’t play, about a 10 point and 20% field goal shooting difference, definitely gotta take a look at that on film, but I think you have to feed him a healthy diet of the PNR ball handler looks that made him excellent in Los Angeles
  • Matisse Thybulle isn’t contributing much right now. His offensive game is very raw.
  • Josh Richardson finally had a breakout offensive game. Nice night for him outside of that one bad turnover, so don’t let that skew your perception of how he did last night.
  • You see Neto’s defensively liability out there as a smaller guy, but his ability to dribble and grind the gears on the offensive side does help unlock things for his teammates. He won’t drive, collapse, and kick in the same way that Ben Simmons does, but being a threat to shoot just helps space the floor better and the Sixers are a + team when he’s out there.
  • If the Sixers win in Denver tomorrow, they’ll finish 2-2 on the road trip, which is still a positive. You will always take a .500 split on these west coast ventures.
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13 Responses

    1. Its a very bad time to be a liberal. Eric Ciaramella and his lawyer are begging for a deal now, sorry buddy. Your testimony will be more hysterical than Muellers. Define treason

  1. Mark Farzetta gets all of his takes from reddit posts. He even uses things on air that other people say. Nicknames, phrases. All taken from reddit users. He steals takes, and his entire radio persona is a weird Angelo meets Dave Coulier impression.

  2. What’s the deal with the Jazz court? My eyes hurt after last night… the court material is almost white and then they light it with what seems to be “cool” florescent lighting. Reminds me of a hospital, or a psych ward. Friggin weird-ass Mormons

  3. Jump in the air with nowhere to go turnovers, lazy post entry passes with poor angles, staring at shots instead of boxing out….same as last year. Middle school stuff by NBA players, and McConnell isn’t even on the team anymore. Not being a hater, but when does Brett start cleaning this up after years and years of it?

  4. Joel could have taken this game over in the second half but he didn’t. Maybe they are just an Eastern Conference paper tiger. The West has so many better teams that they have to play hard every night. But don’t worry fans, the Sixers have some Eastern Conference slop coming up so they should be able to book some wins. After the Nuggets they have Hornets, Cavs and Magic. Everyone will be screaming at the Center as they look unstoppable against the dregs at home.

  5. If you go into the Ugly Eyeglass Store and say give me your ugliest frames that is what she wears on TV. I always thought if your going to appear on TV you at least make an attempt to look stylish. Those glasses remind of something that you get off the charity bus that comes to impoverished neighborhoods where the recipient is just thrilled to get anything to help them see better.

  6. “They love me, they respect me, they know what I’m about… I raised John Chaney… I raised Bill Cosby…. only me and Wilt Chamberlain played above the rim”.

  7. Personally, I think the timeout Brown called with like 3 minutes left killed the momentum that had decidedly swung in the Sixers favor. They had the Jazz reeling and Brett let them off the hook.

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