13 NBA teams will be entering the 2013-2014 season with a new head coach. Each of those coaches will face unique challenges, but should be able to draw on a pool of experience from their previous jobs. Intellectual Theft is a series looking at some specific elements that each coach can bring from their last job to their new team. Today’s focus is former Warriors’ assistant, and new head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Mike Malone.
In 2010-11, the Golden State Warriors were a train wreck on defense, allowing 110.6 points per 100 possessions, which placed 26th in the league. In two quick years they’ve jumped to 14th in the league, and a lot of that massive jump has been pinned on former Dubs’ assistant Mike Malone. Malone faces a similar challenge in Sacramento where he is now the head coach; the Kings have finished 29th in defensive rating each of the past two seasons. Last season the defense had no binding principles (at least, not ones that were evident in practice) and consistency in the way it defended certain sets. Malone will bring with him a set of rules and concepts that helped make Golden State a successful defense.
The pick and roll has become the centerpiece of the modern NBA offense, which was a problem for the Kings and their uncoordinated schemes. The key to defending the pick and roll is having each defensive player know his role and execute it. The point guard fights over the screen or goes under, the big man hedges or drops back, a player on the weakside crashes in a certain amount to derail the rolling big man, etc. There are certain combinations of player actions that work together, but when players are making different decisions on each pick and roll, it’s easy to see how a defense can disintegrate.
Last season, the Kings pulled off the dubious feat of being last in the league on both pick and roll ball handler plays and pick and roll roll man plays, per mySynergySports. Here are a few examples of utter confusion and dis-organization on the pick and roll.
In the first play, Marcus Thornton makes the puzzling decision of going way under a screen against 39% three point shooter Chandler Parsons. This would make sense if the strategy in defending this screen and roll was to switch, but if that was the plan, it was one Patrick Patterson wasn’t aware of.
In the second play, John Salmons makes a nice hedge and recover, successfully stopping the first pick and roll. But instantly, the Rockets go into the pick and roll again and Salmons doesn’t do anything; he literally just stands there as Jeremy Lin dribbles past him and pulls up to shoot. He wasn’t in a position to stop a Harden dive either, with Harden being between Salmons and the basket.
The third play features Jason Thompson making a valiant attempt at hedging…only to come up on the wrong side of Tim Duncan. This can be blamed on a lack of communication from Aaron Brooks and misjudgment from Thompson. Hedging hard as a primary middle-of-the-floor pick and roll defense has become out of vogue though, as many of the best defenses in the league prefer their big men to sink back and surrender the midrange jumper. The option to hedge is still a necessary one because of midrange assassins like Chris Paul, but teams are finding it tougher and tougher to bring their rim protector away from the realm he protects in this era of athletic slashers. The Warriors dropped back their big men last year and that’ll probably be the default strategy in Sacramento, especially with the slow-footed DeMarcus Cousins likely to be the most played big man on the team. Here’s an example of Andrew Bogut dropping back against a Tony Parker/Tiago Splitter pick and roll.
Side pick and rolls are a whole other beast. The strategy of downing pick and rolls has swept the league and helped Golden State’s defense make the leap last year. Downing (aka blueing or icing) is when the small will get between the screener and the ball handler while the big drops towards the baseline and walls off the paint. Here’s an example of it in action.
Draymond Green isn’t allowing Andre Miller to dribble into the Kosta Koufos screen, and Jack is zoning off the baseline side. The two first examples in the video of Sacramento’s pick and roll mishaps were side pick and rolls, and an attempt to down was made in neither of them.
It’s an era of change for the Kings. Out are the Maloofs’ cheapskate ways and the old school management and coaching from the previous organization. New majority owner Vivek Ranadivé has already hired Masai Ujiri understudy, Pete D’Alessandro as GM and on the court, the charge will be lead by Malone. Sacramento’s goal this season won’t be to win, with a loaded draft class coming up, but Malone can begin to implement his schemes and build a foundation for the Kings of the future.