Over the past two weeks, John Schuhmann at NBA.com has released more in-depth analysis of the latest SportVU tracking stats, this time focusing on pick and roll data. Offensively, the data liked the Suns most. Defensively, it liked the Pacers.
A top performer both offensively and defensively, though? The Oklahoma City Thunder. That shouldn't be surprising, considering the Thunder's place as both a top offense and defense, and considering how important both executing and defending the pick-and-roll is in today's NBA.
As the chart above shows, the Thunder rank fourth in fewest points per possession when defending the pick and roll. But as the next chart shows, two of the top performers in pick and roll situations are two of the guys that won't be available for much, if not all of the stretch run.
Both Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins appear in the top 3 in points per possession allowed, with Sefolosha being both first (with Serge Ibaka) and third, with Perkins, making the Thunder the only team with more than one combination in the top 10. That's quite significant, as it suggests the Thunder are one of the more versatile teams in the league when it comes to effectively defending the pick and roll.
As Schumann notes - and as just about anyone who has watched him play defense can attest to - Sefolosha's length goes a long way in defending these situations, as he can use his arms to guide the defender elsewhere.
In both cases - when defending with either Ibaka or Perkins - his length can force the ballhandler from making a tight cut around the screen, resulting in two options:
- The ballhandler is kept away from the rim, resulting in a longer jumpshot where, again, Sefolosha's length can once again bother the shooter on a closeout.
- The ballhandler takes a more difficult route to the rim, allowing the defender of the screener (Ibaka or Perkins) time to get back into a defensive position and protect the rim.
With both Perkins and Ibaka in the top 12 in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (Perkins 2nd, Ibaka 11th, among players that see more than 3 attempts per game at the rim and have played more than 50 games).
Those are some big shoes to fill, and could go a long way in explaining why the Thunder has experienced some slippage on the defensive end as of late.
Offensively, the Thunder once again excel in pick-and-roll situations, ranking fourth in points per possession.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Thunder, along with Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Houston, are the ones that appear on both lists and, aside from Toronto, are considered top contenders in their respective conferences.
The next chart shows just how much Kevin Durant has benefitted from the pick and roll, particularly when playing off of a good screener.
Durant appears three times in the top 10, once with Westbrook, which should not surprising given how explosive the two can be. What may be more surprising, given how little the two actually score themselves, is that Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins are his other two top combinations.
You hear it preached all the time, from GM Sam Presti all the way down to Durant himself, that guys like Perkins and Collison do all of the little things off the ball to put their teammates in good position to score. Collison usually gets respect for it, but here is statistical proof that Kendrick Perkins, particularly in relation to the team's superstar, actually has value on the offensive end of the floor. Whether or not it warrants a $9 million pricetag is another debate entirely, but that value is clear.
The final chart also shows what has become increasingly evident to anyone watching all season: Durant and Ibaka have developed quite the dangerous two-man game.
It's easy to see why. Durant, when handling the ball and playing off Ibaka's screen, can use his dribbling skills to get the rim, or his deathly length and shotmaking ability to get off a shot over just about anyone. Ibaka, for his part, has gotten much better at reading the defense's pick and roll defense and going to the soft spot to either explode to the rim or knock down the midrange jumper, as he has shown over and over he is one of the best in the league at doing.
You see it in this dunk here, both Durant's improved passing ability and Ibaka's increased explosiveness at the rim:
Three more quick, interesting things from the piece, as it relates to the Thunder:
1.) Westbrook is the second-most likely guy to pass coming out of a screen-and-roll behind Steph Curry. Doesn't really mesh with the whole "Westbrook is selfish" theory which, to be fair, is all but dead at this point, especially after his thrashing of the 76ers with a triple-double in 21 minutes of play.
2.) The most likely shooter, though? Reggie Jackson is third behin Tony Wroten and Nick Young. That's not exactly the company you want to keep, Reggie. It's also totally understandable considering one of the biggest holes in Jackson's game has been his poor shot selection.
3.) I'll just leave this last one here straight from Schuhmann for all of those that think Durant isn't the clear cut, REPEAT: CLEAR CUT, MVP at this point in the season: "Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent)"
Again, the pick and roll is one of the most important schemes in today's NBA. Knowing how to run it well on offense and defend it well on the other end can go a long way in establishing your own rhythm, as well as take the opponent out of theirs. The Thunder have great players at executing on both ends. They'll be without a couple of them as the regular season winds down, so it will be up to those filling in to maintain that established level of excellence.