Welcome back to The 3-Point Play, a semi-regular recurring feature here at HoopChalk. Every so often, I’ll take a quick look at sets from three different teams that have something in common. Rather than devoting a separate post to each of them, they’ll all be grouped together here. Today, we’ve got three plays that should be used more often than they are.
Nikola Pekovic as a cutter/roll man rather than post-up threat
Over the last two seasons, 41.7% of Nikola Pekovic’s plays have been of the post-up variety. Normally, when a player uses such a large percentage of his plays on one particular action, you would expect that the player is especially productive in that action. However, that is not exactly the case for Pekovic. He’s shot 48.0% on post-up plays across the last two seasons, producing 0.81 points per play (PPP) overall, and has not ranked higher than 55th in PPP in either season.
That 48.0% isn’t even a poor field goal percentage – it’s actually pretty good – but Pekovic has a bit of a turnover problem on post-ups. He’s turned it over on 25 of his 160 post plays this season (as of 12/18; mySynergySports has only logged games through that date) after doing so on 33 of 237 plays last season. Add it up, and he’s given the ball back to the other team on about 15% of his post-ups across the last two seasons.
While pretty athletic, Pek is not exactly the most nimble guy on the court. He’s burly, he doesn’t have the greatest handle, and when he tries to make a move too quickly, he can get himself into trouble. It certainly hasn’t helped that he’s been dealing with more crowded lanes this year due to the early-season absences of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, and the Timberwolves’ overall lack of 3-point shooters to space the floor around him. Teams aren’t afraid to double the post when they don’t think the kickout man can make them pay for doing so. The Timberwolves rank last in the league in 3-point field goal percentage at just 30.2%, and they’ve made only 70 of 227 spot-up 3’s. It’s a fairly safe bet to double team the post when shooters clang that often.
Pek’s had his fair share of poor passes and misdribbles in that excess traffic, but many of his post turnovers are offensive fouls, traveling violations and guards with quick hands swiping at the ball when he brings it down too low. It at times appears as if he doesn’t know the magnitude of his own strength, and he knocks defenders over by throwing a shoulder on his way to the rim. Other times, he gets too caught up in his footwork and takes an extra step. On some occasions, he brings the ball down near or below his waist after dribbling it and before shooting rather than going straight up.
By contrast, Pekovic has been extraordinarily effective when used as a roll man in pick-and-roll situations. Again, Pekovic is a large, burly man, so when he’s on the move and barreling toward the rim, it’s extremely tough to stop his forward momentum.
Pick-and-rolls have constituted 13.9% of Pekovic’s plays across the last two seasons, and he’s shot 68.5% on those plays, producing 1.33 PPP in each season. He’s ranked 4th and 3rd in PPP, respectively, in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Pick-and-rolls allow Pekovic to simplify the game. Rather than thinking about making a move to shake loose from his defender, whether a spin, an up-and-under or a face up drive, all he has to do is set a good screen to create separation for JJ Barea, Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved or Ricky Rubio to probe the defense, dive through the lane, catch the ball and lay it in. He has great hands, a wide body and good, willing passers looking to find him on the roll. When he can just be a finisher rather than a creator, he becomes a much more effective scorer.
Since Kevin Love’s return to the lineup, the Wolves have been getting Pekovic involved in pick-and-rolls much more often. Pek has made 15 of 24 shots, drawn two fouls and turned it over just once as a roll man in the 14 games where Love has been in the lineup this season, while he’s finished just seven plays as a roll man in the 11 games Love has missed. Love is Minnesota’s best post threat, so he can take some of those opportunities away from Pekovic, and he also doubles as one of the best floor spacers in the league from the power forward position. When it’s Love standing on the perimeter to space the floor rather than Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams or Dante Cunningham, defenders are far less likely to crash down into the paint to tag Pekovic on his dive.
Here’s a perfect example. Watch Serge Ibaka as the Thunder trap Shved coming around the pick and abandon Pekovic on his roll to the rim. Ibaka meets Pek at the free throw line, but then realizes he’s left Love uncovered for too long and scurries back to protect against the 3-pointer. This leaves Pekovic uncovered in the middle of the lane, and he gets an open dunk.
Harrison Barnes post-ups
Harrison Barnes was billed as a top perimeter threat coming out of the draft. Nearly every draft grader mentioned something about his long range shooting or how he would pair with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to create more space on the floor. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way thus far.
Barnes is shooting just 31.6% from deep, and he’s been basically a non-factor as either a spot-up threat (36.7% overall, 33.3% from 3, 177th in PPP) or working off screens (just 10 attempts). His off the dribble game has left much to be desired as well. He’s shot a combined 18-58 on isolations and plays where he’s worked as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and has drawn just four shooting fouls while committing five turnovers in his 69 opportunities.
One area where Barnes has had a good amount of success, albeit in a small sample size, is posting up. In 40 post-up opportunities, he’s shot 46.7% from the field, drawn 8 shooting fouls and turned the ball over just twice, accounting for 0.95 PPP, which places him 14th in the league.
Barnes has great size for a wing at 6’8″ and 210 pounds, he shows good patience, has a nice fade-away jumper he appears comfortable taking over either shoulder, spinning either middle or baseline, and has flashed a nice up-and-under move as a counter to that fade-away. He’s been smart about how he attacks out of the post; taking stronger or slower defenders off the dribble, while backing down and overpowering the smaller ones.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
I’m no math major, but I’m pretty sure the numbers in the middle column are better than the ones in the right column.
When finishing plays as a roll man in pick-and-rolls with Westbrook as the ball handler, Durant is shooting 65.4% from the field with three shooting fouls drawn and one turnover. He’s produced 1.33 PPP.
Overall, Westbrook and Durant have combined to go 35-for-59 from the field with six shooting fouls drawn and eight turnovers when running pick-and-roll together (not including passes to spot-up shooters or otherwise), producing 1.13 PPP. Oklahoma City’s PPP on all combined pick-and-roll plays (again, not including passes to spot-up shooters or otherwise) is 0.84.
So it seems like running the Westbrook-Durant pick-and-roll more often might be a good idea.
Because Durant likes to slip his screens and fade rather than roll to the rim, Westbrook often has more room to operate around the elbow area he likes so much when coming off the pick than when he runs pick-and-roll with, say, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, or even Serge Ibaka, who mostly does a half-roll to the nail. From there, Westbrook can pull up or continue to the rim, often with more freedom of movement.
What OKC most often likes to do is clear out one side of the floor for Westbrook and Durant, then have them run a side pick-and-roll. Occasionally they’ll have a shooter in the near corner, but mostly it’s a full clear out. Durant loves to slip the screen and head to the deep wing, where he can either take a quick catch-and-shoot jumper or put the ball on the floor and take it to the rim.
Against a few teams – most notably the Clippers and Bulls – they’ve run high pick-and-rolls with Durant rolling to the rim or popping out to the top of the key, but because Westbrook’s tendency is to be aggressive turning the corner, and because Durant’s ability to space the floor with his jumper is so deadly, it’s mostly pick-and-slip stuff out of the side pick-and-roll.