The Thunder’s pick-and-roll defense vs. the Clippers

by Andrew Kennedy

Pick-and-roll defense is always going to be a huge point of emphasis when you play the Clippers. The Clippers run pick-and-roll plays as much as any team in the league and with Chris Paul at the helm are pretty efficient in doing so.

The pick-and-roll when shots are taken from the ball handler or roll man account for around 40 percent of the Clippers’ offense this season. Basically not counting passes kicked out to spot-up jumpers or secondary cutters.

Against the Thunder last night the Clippers only got 15 percent of their offense from the pick-and-roll ball handler and roll man. That’s because the Thunder are pretty good on defense and usually force their opponent into more isolation plays than usual (the Clippers took 32 percent of their shots on isolation plays).

The problem is that the Clippers had success when they did shoot off the pick-and-roll and a lot of success. They made 12-of-14 shots in the pick-and-roll game last night including all six of their shots when the roll man shot.

The Thunder’s pick-and-roll defense hasn’t been great this year and last night was a perfect example of why.

Here’s a look at a few of the pick-and-roll plays from last night’s game.

The first one starts on the right wing and is one of the pick-and-rolls where Los Angeles gets a lot of their lobs from. DeAndre Jordan comes up to set the pick for Paul to go toward the baseline.

Serge Ibaka is guarding Jordan and shows out on Paul but not hard and this gives Paul room to operate coming around the pick. He comes off it and then changes direction back toward the paint.

Russell Westbrook is still trailing Paul as he goes toward the paint and Ibaka is basically covering Paul straight up and has completely forgotten about Jordan. Paul does a great job of acting like he is a threat to score here but sees Ibaka’s attention he is paying him and Paul is just waiting for Jordan to role.

Jordan finally roles as Paul has taken Ibaka all the way to the middle of the paint, the lob pass is one of the easier ones Paul has to make here.

The problem with that play is Ibaka does not hedge hard enough on Paul and gives Paul room to operate and pick apart the Thunder defense, which he does easily.

The next play starts with Mo Williams in the left corner and Blake Griffin coming over to set him the screen.

James Harden is covering Williams and Ibaka on Griffin. Ibaka shows harder on this one on Williams but Williams anticipates this and prepares a quick, pocket pass to Griffin who basically slips the screen.

Since this play happens so quickly the Thunder have no time to rotate over and help. Also, the Thunder are going small at this point in the game and Ibaka is the only big on the court for them.

Kevin Durant is the only help available and after what Griffin did earlier in the quarter, Durant just decides to start running back down the court before Griffin has even shot the ball.

If the Thunder were in better position for this play and ready to defend the pick-and-roll, Durant would have already been all the way over to the side of the court where Griffin was before the pass, and Daequan Cook pinching down on Durant’s man, Reggie Evans. This would leave Westbrook playing safety on the skip pass.

That kind of rotation leaves Westbrook having to choose and scramble around to help on the spot-up shooters but you’d rather have that than an easy dunk for Griffin. Plus, Westbrook is such a super athletic defender, there’s a chance he could cause a turnover in a situation like that.

The next play is one from earlier in the quarter when the Thunder have Nick Collison, their best pick-and-roll defender, in the game. It starts with Williams on the left wing and Griffin setting the pick.

Ibaka doesn’t hedge too much again leaving room for Williams to either pull up for the jumper or pass to Griffin with no real trouble. He chooses Griffin and who wouldn’t at this point in the game.

Collison is already in great position and ready to rotate over and help. Harden sees this from the weakside and knows it’s his job to go down and help on Evans, who’s getting in position for an offensive rebound.

Collison plays it perfect and doesn’t let Griffin get an easy look for a shot or a pass. Ibaka comes back down to help too.

Griffin makes a great shot here but it was a much tougher look than he’d been getting throughout the game.

Collison is very valuable for the Thunder and this is one of the reasons why. When he was off the floor and the Thunder went small, they had a lot of trouble stopping the Clippers’ offense.

Here is play from when the Heat played the Clippers earlier this month. The Heat are one of the best defensive teams in the league and show how to perfectly play the pick-and-roll.

The Heat strategy for most of this game was to basically double Paul when he came off picks. The Heat lost the game but it was a good strategy and forced the Clippers into a lot of tough shots.

Paul and Griffin start the play with a screen on the right wing. You can see before the play even begins Shane Battier on the opposite block already anticipating the defensive rotation.

Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers both come out on Paul and Paul quickly passes to Griffin. Part of the reason why it’s good to go out on Paul hard like this is it forces Griffin to catch the ball further from the basket where he has to make more dribbles before attacking the rim.

Joel Anthony comes over to take on Griffin and Battier is already in position to help on Evans.

Griffin stumbles and turns the ball over trying to make a spin move on Anthony. Griffin did have Williams open in the corner but the Heat would have even been prepared to defend that with LeBron James being close enough to close out on him.

One of the great advantages the Heat have is that they have so many athletic, wing players on their roster. They can switch almost anything and aren’t at as much of a disadvantage when they rotate over.

The Thunder don’t have this luxury and especially didn’t last night with Thabo Sefolosha not in the lineup. Cook is a valuable player for the Thunder but not a great defender and isn’t very big either. Also, Harden and Durant would rather not rotate over on rolling big men and that’s what they have to do if the Thunder are going to play small ball.

The Clippers got the best of the Thunder last night but these two teams will meet again three more times this season. It is an amazing matchup with the athletes and talent that each team rolls out on to the floor.

This might very well also be the matchup in the Western Conference Finals this year. If the Thunder want to win that matchup, improving their pick-and-roll defense is a must.