The one common thread of this week’s Savvy/Shabby is the pick-and-roll and how teams react to it. First, we look at the Grizzlies, who identify the way that their opponent has been defending the pick and roll and use it to their advantage. Second, we are going to look at Aaron Gray and a mistake that he makes when defending the pick-and-roll that leads to a three-point play.

Grizzlies Read And React

With two minutes left in the game and the score tied against the Orlando Magic, the Memphis Grizzlies decided to run a pick-and-roll. The first time they ran it, there was a quick foul:

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The foul is due to the Magic’s defensive strategy when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll. Mike Conley uses two screens on the same possession and Ryan Anderson shows hard on both of them, coming out and really looking to cut off Conley and prevent him from penetrating. Here is the foul in real time:

So why is this 10 second span important? Because the Grizzlies saw what the Magic were trying to do on defense and they were able to use that against them on the very next play:

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When Conley catches the basketball in the middle of the court, Marc Gasol comes over as if he is going to be setting a screen for Conley. At the last minute, Gasol slips the screen instead of setting the screen, cutting straight towards the rim. Here is the play in real time:

The reason why this slipped screen works is because Ryan Anderson started his show. That is the beauty of this play call from Lionel Hollins, who told Gasol to slip the screen as a direct result to the way the pick-and-roll was defended one possession earlier (you can tell that this slipped screen was called because it didn’t really look like a read, rather it looked like a designed play).

Aaron Gray Gets Caught In The Middle

When Aaron Gray does something other than standing in the middle trying to block shots on the defensive end, hilarious things happen. Against the Washington Wizards, Aaron Gray was forced to play some pick-and-roll defense and it went as well as you would expect it to:

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The play starts with JaVale McGee setting a screen for Nick Young. Willie Green is the man covering the ball handler while Aaron Gray, who was defending McGee, is forced to hedge.

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As Gray starts to hedge, McGee rolls hard to the rim. Gray’s job here is to show on the screen and then return to his man as Willie Green recovers. When he is showing, Gray wants to get big and not allow Young to see over him. However, Gray never gets his hands up.

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With Gray not getting his hands up to bother a pass, McGee becomes a real threat as he gets closer and closer to the rim. Right now, Gray is stuck in the middle, not playing up on Young, but not close enough to McGee at the rim.

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The result is an alley-oop dunk with a late arriving Aaron Gray picking up the foul and turning it to an and-one situation.  Here is the play in real time:

If Aaron Gray gets his hands up, he can at least discourage Nick Young from throwing the lob pass. That is the purpose of the hedge — if you are going to be unable to do that, you need to return to your man right away. Gray doesn’t do either, and the result is a three point play.

The pick-and-roll is one of the easiest plays to run but it is the toughest to defend, and you saw two examples why here. First, the offense can show a pick, put the defense into their pick and roll defense and then slip the screen, putting the defense out of position. Second, the pick and roll puts bigs in situations that they are uncomfortable in, leading to mistakes. Aaron Gray proved that.