The Lakers and rolling to the rim

Jeff Gross

Roll roll roll your bigs, gently to the rim.

Mike D'Antoni has become synonymous with pick-and-roll, to a point where we rarely discuss just how effective it is when executed properly. The Lakers signed a batch of free agents this summer who have never played under D'Antoni and are still considered reclamation projects (Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson) or spare parts (Nick Young, Shawne Williams, Chris Kaman).

D'Antoni has gone out of his way, multiple times, to emphasize the importance of the team's frontcourt players to  "play with energy" and roll hard to the rim, and it's a clear cog in how the Lakers play effectively as a team. It's become even more important since the team is now operating without a point guard and Kobe Bryant is the only player on the roster who should be comfortable handling the ball.

The rest of the team needs to know where the roll-man will be once the screen is set, and the best way to do that is to follow D'Antoni's four word plan:

Roll

Kamanroll1

To

Hillwallroll1

The

Sacrewallroll2

Rim

Pauwallend

Player Post-Up PPP P&R PPP
Pau Gasol .75 1.06
Jordan Hill .69 1.18
Chris Kaman .4 1.03
Robert Sacre .86 1.47
Team Average .7 1.09

The Lakers need to put the ball into the hands of Johnson, Young and Henry from time-to-time, and the system is built around using pick-and-rolls to create easy baskets. Raw post-ups are not effective possessions for the Lakers but they've managed to get every front court player involved the way D'Antoni insists, according to Synergy Sports Technology

Take for instance this fancy bounce pass from Wes to Gasol that I've already passed around a few times prior to today:

Pauroll2

It's a great pass and finish, but why is that effective for the Lakers? Kobe Bryant is occupying the weak side perimeter in the same area Pau is about to run toward:

1_1

The weak side defender has to make a decision because Pau is rolling instead of seeting for a jumper. Does he leave Kobe to clog an open lane and protect the rim, or does he defend the perimeter?

1_2

The weak side defender commits to rotate in front of Gasol, but it's too late to stop an easy layup:

1_3

Kobe hangs out in the meantime:

1_4

If the weak side defender collapses, the ball-handler can pick out the open man outside, like Kobe found Swagimus Prime in this play:

Rollswag

On the topic of Nick Young, who pegged him being a viable pick-and-roll ball-handler?  Jordan Hill sets a screen for Young and pulls the attention of the weak side defender. Decision time:

2_1

Again the defender rotates to the rim, choosing to abandon a shooter on the perimeter. Again it doesn't make a difference as Hill finishes through traffic:

2_2

2_3

Here's video of the play:


There's enough space when the weak side defender is covering a three-point threat that even if they rotate to protect the rim it's often not enough to force a miss.

If you want to really see the system at work, check out this Lakers lineup featuring Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre putting together an easy basket against the Hawks. Sacre sets the pick and Kelly is lined up as the weak side spot-up valve. Mike Scott is lined up with Kelly and has to decide on whether he rotates or stays with his man:

3_1

Sacre continues rolling and both baseline defenders still have time to protect the rim. Scott hasn't committed one way or the other yet:

3_2

And it's an easy dunk for the Lakers. Neither defender helps, and Scott is pulled away from the rim when he decides to chase Kelly to the top of the break:

Sacr

Here's a look at where the play ended:

3_3

Yes, the almighty Sacre-Kelly frontcourt is being unleashed on the NBA. Masters of the pick-and-roll and floor spacing.

It's a way for the Lakers to play with an identity while forcing defenses to react and the ball-handler making decisions for the offense on the fly. Popping out for jumpers isn't the end of the world, but the percentage of shots the team is making at the rim in comparison makes it clear the most effective plays the team can run are pick-and-roll dives.

The bigs are thriving when they follow the blueprint and are making the life of the Lakers' committee of ball-handlers simpler when they know where to look after taking a screen. More importantly, it's devastatingly pleasing to watch while still being efficient. Just keep it rolling, Lakers.

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