Finally had a chance to watch most of Dallas’ big win over the Lakers last night, and the findings were interesting.
80 percent of Dallas’ offensive sets can be reasonably classified as one of two things:
- Dirk Nowitzki
There’s some overlap here, but Nowitzki — at least Friday night — was employed most frequently as a post-up threat, or in isolation on the wing. Occasionally, Rick Carlisle would spot up Nowitzki on the weak side, run some action low in an effort to lure Dirk’s defender into the play, then whip the ball over the Dirk before the defense could recover.
The other 20 percent of Dallas’ playbook Friday night falls under miscellaneous (i.e. Shawn Marion curling off a screen, a spot up set for Jason Terry).
I’m very bullish on the Mavericks this season because that pick-and-roll game is awfully difficult to defend. Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea and Jason Terry all run it well, but it’s the presence of Nowitzki behind the action that makes Dallas so tough. Do you trap the ball-handler? Maybe, but that will leave you 4-on-3 — and one of those three is a 7-footer who can kill you from anywhere in the halfcourt. If Nowitzki’s defender stays home, now you’re looking at a 2-on-1 and Jason Kidd has this funny way of finding open basketball players easy shots. On top of that, Erick Dampier sets a nasty screen and Shawn Marion is terrific in the PNR. Marion was the roll man five times last night and scored a bucket on four of those five possessions. If he handles a pass cleanly, that number is probably 5-for-5.
Switching is an option, but here’s where Eric Gordon’s size hurts the Clippers a little. Bigger 2s can handle some switches or, at the very least, stall a big man long enough for the defense to recover. There was a reason Cuttino Mobley was on the floor so much for Mike Dunleavy during the Brand Era. Mobley was a very capable pick-and-roll defender and a central ingredient in those good defensive squads. Gordon still has to learn how to anticipate the pick-and-roll and have a recovery plan ready. He’s not going to be able to fight through every screen, but if he can develop that instinct of knowing when and from where the screen is coming, he can take some pressure off the Clippers’ bigs who are finding themselves backpedaling a lot the first week of the season. Baron Davis has traditionally been a tough straight-up man defender, but I haven’t seen much over his year in Los Angeles to indicate he’s going to chew through a screen or give a big man trouble coming off that screen.
Hedging still demands that kind of recovery from your guards. It also requires smart, proactive play from your big man (against Dallas, the big man in the PNR is often the man who’s guarding Marion). Marcus Camby prefers to stay back defensively, though I’m pretty certain he’s shown on a screen a handful of times over his 13-year career. Kaman is getting better, though the Clippers usually deploy Kaman in a perimeter trap.
If Kaman is the match-up on Nowitzki, he’s going to have bigger things to worry about than pick-and-roll defense. And that’s why Dallas is going to be so tough to defend this season. It isn’t enough to defend the pick-and-roll to perfection, you also have to be mindful of the game’s most versatile big man at the same instant. That kind of multi-tasking is difficult.