Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, David Lee

The Extra Pass: The New Roll Man

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at how the pick-and-roll big man has evolved. 

When Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, almost everyone believed they would form the most devastating pick-and-roll combination the league has seen since John Stockton and Karl Malone roamed the plains of Salt Lake City.

It made sense. Paul is the league’s best point guard, a player with otherworldly vision and a complex understanding of angles, and Griffin is an athletic marvel, faster and stronger than every big man he goes up against. Put the two together, and it’s a match made in pick-and-roll heaven, right?

You would think so, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, Paul and Griffin rarely even run true pick-and-roll these days. According to Synergy Sports, Griffin is the roll man on only about 10 percent of his possessions — a shockingly low number given the narrative that he doesn’t have a post game, and that all Vinny Del Negro runs is high screens.

So why don’t the Clippers run the Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll more?

It’s mainly because they can’t. The simple threat of it is enough to deter the actual action.

One of the most prevalent strategies used to thwart the pick-and-roll in today’s game is the “icing” or “blueing” or “downing” of screens. Jacob Frankel of the De-Thurmond Analysis has a wonderful look at what that means, and this photo illustrates how teams are eliminating the screen from actually happening:

source:

You’ll see this a lot over the course of an NBA game. In this example, Tony Parker has forced the ballhandler away from the pick by severely overplaying him screen-side. It’s now Boris Diaw’s job to prevent penetration and allow Parker to recover once the screen is no longer in play.

What “icing” a screen usually amounts to is a pocket pass by the guard to the would-be pick setter, who now gets to play 4-on-3 against a zoned up backline defense.

In theory, defenses would much rather have a big power forward making a decision from 17 feet than an explosive dunk right at the rim. It’s simple —  make a non-traditional ballhandler make a ballhandler’s decision, and a lot of times the big man’s delay or hesitation to make the decision will give the defense enough time to recover.

What does this all mean in the grand scheme of things for pick-and-roll big men?

Now more than ever before, court vision is critical for any roll man worth his salt. It’s why great passers like Griffin, David Lee and Marc Gasol are all averaging career best assist numbers this season, and it’s a big reason why all three deserve All-Star bids.

The heavier use of “icing” pick-and-rolls has effectively distributed more of the scoring wealth as well. As Henry Abbott of TrueHoop recently wrote about, five years ago there were 27 players in the league who averaged at least 20 points per game. This year? Nine. As defenses force the ball out of the hands of first options, it’s the new role of the roll man to find the open shooter, or knock it down himself.

If there is one thing that’s changed about the NBA since the Stockton-Malone days to now, it’s that NBA defenses have gotten smarter and faster. Gone are the days of bludgeoning a defense with the same basic action over and over. Defenses develop a quicker immunity, and as an offense, you have to keep introducing new poisons.

It’s why simply being a great finisher in the pick-and-roll isn’t good enough anymore. While athleticism (Griffin) and size (Gasol) will always be heavily sought after attributes for a roll man, they aren’t the only requirements.

You would have never said this a few years ago, but maybe David Lee is the prototype. He’s a great passer, a deadly mid-range shooter (47% from 16-to-23 feet), and he’s ambidextrous and athletic enough to score at the rim regularly. Golden State has built an entire offense around his abilities in that setting, surrounding him with perimeter shooters and a low post monster in Carl Landry. As we witnessed in their recent victories over the Clippers and Thunder, that’s working out pretty well for them.

Defenses will continue to adapt, but for now, players with ‘high post skill-sets are more valuable than players with traditional low post skill-sets because those skills can be applied to more areas of the game. A lot of people will tell you that the big man is extinct, but it’s not true. They just evolved.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.

Kyle Lowry, in historic postseason slump, shoots at arena until nearly 1 a.m. (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) and Jonas Valanciunas walks towards the bench during the second half against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Toronto. Miami won, 102-96.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Raptors’ Game 1 loss to the Heat ended at 11 p.m last night.

Kyle Lowry didn’t finish shooting until nearly 1 a.m.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Beyond his half-court buzzer beater to force overtime, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Lowry, via Arthur:

“I passed up a lot of shots,” Lowry said after a 102-96 loss, cradling a basketball an hour after the game, after going to the team’s practice court to shoot postgame. “I passed up a ton of shots. The poor shooting, I think that’s what it did to me tonight.

“I’m going to hang out here for a little bit and just be in the gym, try to get back to just enjoying it, being in the gym, and having fun . . . I shoot the ball well when I’m by myself, but I’m by myself . . . it’s weird . . . I have (been through slumps like this), but not at this time, and that’s what sucks. Playoffs, all eyes are on you. So it sucks that I’m playing this bad when all eyes are on me, because I know I’m way better than this. So I’ve got to pick this s— up.”

Lowry is being more selective, waiting for only the shots he believes he has the best chance of making. And he’s still missing them at an alarming clip! That’s a major problem.

Unfortunately for him, this game wasn’t an aberration.

Lowry’s field-goal percentage – 30.6 – is the lowest in the playoffs since the NBA-ABA merger (minimum: 100 attempts). His teammate, DeMar DeRozan, isn’t far behind at 33.1%.

Here’s the full “leaderboard:”

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The Raptors came to expect so much from Lowry, who should make an All-NBA team for his regular-season performance.

But this postseason has been a disaster, Lowry’s scoring average fell from 21.2 in the regular season to 13.0 in the playoffs. It’s one of the biggest drops in the league this year:

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Stephen Curry, Lowry, Blake Griffin and DeRozan are the only premier scorers on that list.

Curry has an excuse. He has played just 38 total minutes in two injury-shortened games. Lowry is averaging 39 minutes per game. Likewise, nobody expected Blake Griffin to near his early-season output after injuries and suspension.

And at least DeRozan showed some signs of shaking loose in Game 1 against Miami. No longer hounded by Paul George, DeRozan scored 22 points (albeit on 9-of-22 shooting).

But Lowry has been a colossal disappointment, which speaks to both the high standard he has set for himself and the low marks he’s hitting now.

Maybe he’s banged up. Maybe playoff basketball, where teams can better scout individual players, doesn’t suit him. Maybe he just hit a cold stretch at the worst possible moment.

No matter the cause, it’s difficult to see Toronto advancing with its biggest star struggling so mightily.

Can Lowry fix this?

He’s at least putting in the time.

Report: Larry Bird still hasn’t told Frank Vogel about his future with Pacers

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Addressing coach Frank Vogel on Monday, Pacers president Larry Bird said: “What I don’t want to do is leave Frank hanging — there’s other jobs out there he could get.”

Two days later, Vogel is still left hanging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

If Bird’s statement isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is.

Vogel is a good coach, and based on what we can see from the outside, the Pacers should keep him. But if Bird is waiting this long to give Vogel a new contract, that’s probably a telltale sign.

I doubt this lasts past tomorrow. Bird won’t want to get grilled about Vogel’s job status then do it all over again once he makes a decision. And at face value, Bird has the decency to end this saga before Vogel misses on the Rockets job (which I think would be an excellent fit) or any other.

Warriors GM Bob Myers: Stephen Curry doesn’t know when he’ll return, nobody does

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, center left, sits on the bench during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Stephen Curry said there’s a “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 Saturday.

The bad news: Warriors general manager Bob Myers says Curry isn’t qualified to make a definitive statement.

Myers on 95.7 The Game, as transcribed by Diamond Leung of The Mercury News:

“I know everybody wants to know is it going to be Saturday, is it going to be Monday? It’s in that range, but it’s hard to say. But those games (3 and 4) are so close together.

“I don’t know if he’s coming back (ahead of the two-week timetable),” Myers said. “Nobody knows. He doesn’t know. He thinks he is, but that’s good.”

The good news: Myers puts Curry on a similar timetable. With Golden State leading the Trail Blazers 2-0, it probably doesn’t matter whether Curry returns Saturday, Monday or next Wednesday for Game 5.

As long as he’s healthy enough to stave off a potential Portland comeback and produce in the conference finals, the Warriors can’t ask for more.