Defense without communication is like Harold Melvin without the Bluenotes, you'll never go platinum. Great communication and great defense go hand-in-hand for both player (Rasheed Wallace, Draymond Green) and team (San Antonio Spurs, 2004 Pistons) purposes.
Every team has their own set of rules but typically follow the same generic communication guidelines. The big will bark out assignments and whatever he calls is the appropriate call for two reasons: 1) he has the best view of the play and 2) well, he’s bigger than the other guy.
Since Stan Van Gundy refuses to take my calls (dude, all I want is 20 minutes) let's just use some simple parameters.
Defending the PNR requires early, loud and constant dialog between the the two primary defenders (and secondary talks between the others) with any slight hesitation proving costly. As soon as the big gives direction:
- It’s up to the on-ball defender to react immediately which usually requires an aggressive smothering of the ball handler by going over the screen. By-and-large, going over the screen is the preferred method.
- The big must give help (contain) or hedge without letting the ball handler turn the corner or split. It’s a tall task.
- Any good defense allows no more than two dribbles before the screened on-ball defender recovers.
Switching with non-switchy players is simply lazy. Going under a screen for 90% of the NBA is almost certain bucket-allowing death.
The Pistons did an adequate job of holding shot-happy ball handlers in check during a pick-and-roll yielding .858 PPP which registers on the low side of average per Synergy.
We can do better (Oh, hey Avery Bradley!).
The league’s point guard cupboard is full and only getting full-ier with guys like Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz checking in. Let’s take a look at how the Pistons defended the Kemba Walker, James Harden and John Wall led pick-and-rolls.
Going over the top
All you can ask for on defense is to force difficult attempts, if they make the shot, tip your cap and move on. Going under the screen almost automatically generated a good look for Wall, Harden or Walker or it will eventually produce a good look from the derived offense (not shown).
Going over the top also puts a-ton-o-pressure on the big. If he’s late, allows a split, allows the guard to turn the corner, or sags too deep, it’s curtains.
Nearly 57 percent of Drummond’s defensive possessions ended with him as the big defender in the pick-and-roll. His defended PPP? .951 - not good. Thats a lot of bad basketball possessions.
It’s tough but there are some good big moments.
Above, Jon Leuer does a good job of discouraging Wall from a pull up while also staying with him long enough to end up with a block.
Again, Leuer does just enough - despite a lazy switch call - to disrupt the shot:
We’ll take it.
Keep in mind - Harden, Wall and Walker are really, really good.
Communication - like, non stop - is the best way to consistently defend the PNR and it all starts with the big BUT that doesn’t give everyone else a free pass.
It only gets tougher as the Spain pick-and-roll becomes more popular; watch how Bradley Beal screens off Boban:
Failed recognition and communication on Reggie Bullock’s part.
Oh, and ball handlers are allowed to pass too. Stay tuned for part two.