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ICE-ing the Pick and Roll: Coach Nick breaks down how to defend the side pick and roll play

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Coach Nick is back with another great illustration, this time on on what makes for great pick and roll defense.

Brett Deering

Coach Nick of  BBall Breakdown is back with another great tutorial where he uses a combination of in-game action and his own players to illustrate key concepts. This time out, Coach is talking about ICE, which is what the Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau calls his aggressive but disciplined side pick and roll defense. Here is what Coach has to say:

Listen carefully during an NBA game and you'll hear the players and coaches scream "ICE!" or "Blue!" This means they want the on-ball defender to force the ball handler away from the screen.

This is truly the best way to guard the sideline screen and roll, because it contains the ball handler well and does not require a third defender to rotate over and help.

Coach includes a few clips involving the Thunder, so check it out.

What this is as developed by Thibodeau is an aggressive yet highly disciplined approach to keeping a ball handler a specific zone on the court. We've discussed extensively at WTLC how prone the Thunder players can be to allowing an opposing defense to move the OKC offense into zones where the available shots are sub-optimal (the Spurs' ability to shift around Russell Westbrook is what comes to mind first). The whole premise of this approach is the ability to contain a side PnR without needing a 3rd man for help.

A few Thunder thoughts:

1) Offensive Personnel

In the two OKC clips above, Kevin Durant is the ball-handler. In the first play, ICE doesn't get him, as he is able to anticipate the high hedge by the defense and get into the lane. In the second play, he is not successful. What you should be paying attention to however is not Durant trying to beat his man, but the man who is doing the screening. Yep, that's Perk.

This is a case where Scott Brooks has to be on top of his personnel. If OKC is playing against a team that is smart and aggressive defensively like the Grizzlies or Bulls and can realistically anticipate ICE defense, Kendrick Perkins cannot be part of this personnel package. As Coach says in the video, an effective ICE leaves one obvious open shot - the pick and pop perimeter jump-shot. Perk is the last guy that OKC should be using in that scenario, because he can neither shoot nor drive. He's useless in that set and every team is going to ignore him and stay with the ball handler. This is what we saw from the Memphis defense time and time again.

Instead, the Thunder can shift their personnel so that the screener is someone who can do a better job either popping to the perimeter (Serge Ibaka) or someone who can can create off the dribble (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and of course Westbrook). The defense will still be disciplined enough to not get sucked into a weak double team and likely recover, but it will prevent Durant from rolling off of a screen and driving right into a double-team, as we saw in the 2nd clip.

2) Defensive Personnel

Lost amidst a lot of the discussion surrounding the Thunder's precipitous 2012-13 season was that they took great strides as a defensive team. They gave up fewer open looks, did a better job staying active for the full shot clock, and seldom got blown out. Adding an effective ICE to their PnR defense would go a long way to restoring some of their fast break opportunities, which dropped last season.

Of course it is always beneficial for a defense to practice hard what they are going to deploy so that their ICE communication stays disciplined, but also with OKC's athleticism we could also see some of the Heat-style high and hard trapping that dismantles offenses early in the sequence. Durant, Westbrook, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, and Serge Ibaka all have tremendous range and reach. Not only would they terrorize an unsuspecting ball handler, but would also be able to recover if the ball gets rotated to the weak side.


As OKC heads into their 2nd pre-season game Tuesday afternoon, let us pay attention to how the Thunder both deal with this defense as well as whether they can use their athleticism to apply it.

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