It’s ironic that the Clippers are criticized for running a boring, vanilla offense. It lacks the sophisticated counters, off-ball movement and secondary & tertiary action of, for example, a San Antonio offense. The Clippers, as the narrative goes, simply run high pick-and-roll until something materializes.
Here’s where the irony lies: according to mySynergySports, plays logged as “pick-and-roll” only account for 15.4 percent of possessions ending in a shot, foul or turnover. Now, take this with a grain of salt, because if nothing results from the pick-and-roll, or the ball is passed to a spot up shooter, it doesn’t technically count. So 15.4 percent isn’t an exact number. But still, as an approximation of Los Angeles’ arsenal, it’s a pretty paltry sum.
Everyone is aware of what the conventional high screen-and-roll looks like for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin: Griffin screens, Paul comes off the screen to either probe, get a mismatch or dish to Griffin. And this sounds like a devastating combination considering Paul and Griffin’s finishing ability around the rim, Paul being a deadly midrange shooter and Griffin developing into a reasonable pick-and-pop player.
But something came up on Hoopspeak Live today: Kevin Arnovitz asked the HPL crew what their thoughts were of the Paul-Griffin screen-and-roll and Zach Harper wondered why we don’t see it 35 times a night.
Naturally, there are some teams acutely trained in the art of pick-and-roll defense that can stop the destructive sequence outlined above. So here is the simple counter the Clippers run. Nothing fancy:
Paul is 35-feet from the rim and calls on Griffin for the high pick.
Now teams are well aware of a Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll and will sometimes send their big man to trap the ball-handler. Getting the ball out of Paul’s hands is the chief concern of any opponent. So instead of crowding Paul, Griffin slips the screen and retreats towards the top of the key. And in situations where the big defender is overzealous, Griffin doesn’t even slip the screen, he simply stops at the free throw line.
Paul pulls the pick defender to him like a siren to weary sailors and drops the ball off to Griffin. Blake has three options based on how the scrambling defense reacts: 1) drive the lane to either finish or assist to the other big man for the Clippers, 2) take his time and shoot a wide open 17-footer, or 3) pass the ball to either corner for a wide-open 3-point attempt as the defense collapses on him.
In this scenario, Griffin chooses option three. And really this works because in addition to Paul being a gifted passer, Griffin is also an adept assist man.
That’s it. It’s that simple. I’ve been trying to figure out how defenses are supposed to combat both the high pick-and-roll and the counter effectively and I haven’t come up with a good solution. Which begs the question: why aren’t we seeing this 35 times a game?