In Monday’s game vs. the Utah Jazz, the Thunder knew what they were getting themselves into. The Jazz possess a wide variety of shot creators in guards Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson, as well as some knockdown shooters in Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, just to list a few. A key point of emphasis should have been shutting these scorers down at all cost, but lapses on the pick & roll defense led to some easy buckets for the Jazz, really prevailing them in their 110-109 win against the Thunder. Let’s break down the tape.
To start things out I think it is worth mentioning how important Gobert’s screens are to the Jazz offense, as he’s been the league leader in screen assists the past two seasons. How could they stop the screens then you may ask?
First, let’s see how Horford defended the pick & roll.
Dort was coming off of screens all game long, and this was one of the few times he went under the screen, giving Mitchell the wide open three-ball. Notice how Al Horford is staying back in the paint on this play as Gobert cannot stretch the floor out, however; this gives you the 2-on-1 break the Jazz are always on the hunt for
Dort overall in this game did an outstanding job getting around what must’ve been hundreds of screens to contest shots. The Jazz’s main recipient of the screens was Donovan Mitchell, who was ice-cold at 3-15 entering the 4th quarter. That 4th quarter gave Mitchell the chance to turn up the jets, and he did.
Here are two quick-fire twos that drop for Mitchell. In this first play Dort goes under the screen again, creating the space necessary, while in the second the Gobert screen is unavoidable for Dort as he gets caught up.
Fun Fact: Twelve of the Twenty points Mitchell put up in Monday’s game came off of Rudy Gobert screens, that’s 60% of his points!
What Was The Issue?
Al Horford remained grounded for every single Gobert screen. The Jazz were able to pile on a quarter of their 110 points off screens alone, and 95% of them were 2-on-1 situations.
The decision for Horford to stay back does make some sense as the Thunder were doing an excellent job getting around screens in the early parts of the game. Problems began in the 3rd and 4th quarter when fatigue really set in for some of our perimeter defenders.
Hedging on Screens
With the Jazz finding rhythm off the P&R late, adjustments needed to be made. One of which could have been simply hedging on screens, There was zero attempt to even try to step out of the paint, getting the ball out of Mitchell’s hands should’ve been the number one priority at the end of the game. Giving him the illusion of being contested with the screen hedge is exactly what was needed, and if Gobert was fed the ball off the roll, you live with the result.
You cannot entirely blame Horford for never trying to help out on these screens as if he stepped up Gobert very well could have blown by him on the role. A proposition you may want Coach Daigneault to look at is a rotation change in that situation. If Horford is strictly going to play the paint, a player like Mike Muscala may be the better option when there is success in the high screen.
Muscala did play limited minutes at center on Monday and did fall victim to staying inside on screens, but he is more than capable of helping on screens at some capacity. Muscala’s speed will stack up with 90% of the NBA’s centers right now and the issue with him would not be getting back to the paint off the P&R, but standing his ground on some of the bulkier, stronger bigs in the post.
Another player who could be used in spurts is Isaiah Roby. Roby, the 6’8″ forward, hasn’t even touched the court yet through these two games, but he was a reliable four and small-ball five in the preseason. If you put him on one of the NBA’s elite bigs, the opposing side would never even call for screens, they would just play bully ball. However; when you start seeing less experienced and beefy centers setting the screens up top, you can rely on Roby to be a perfect screen defender. He has the frame to prevent the shot off a screen, while also possessing the speed to recover on the roll. This would not be a player you give late game minutes to, but he would be a great option for playing rotational minutes in the frontcourt for times like these.
The Thunder will have a chance to adjust how they approach defending the pick & roll in Tuesday’s matchup vs. the Orlando Magic.