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Utah Jazz Strategy: Should the Jazz run the pick and roll more?

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If you watch today's game there are basically three plays that happen all game long, for all teams. One play is to isolate for a single man and expect him to create for himself. The Utah Jazz do this with Al Jefferson on the left side all game long to thrilling results. Another play is to run a pick and roll, where a (usually) larger team mate sets a screen for the ball handler in order to elicit a similar result -- freeing the ball handler for a more advantageous situation. The third, sometimes a result of either move, is to kick the ball out after defensive pressure has adjusted to the ball handler's penetration.

With Al we can iso all day long, and do. We also post him up, which is another type of isolation move. We get full marks for running a play where we rely on one person to do everything. We're also getting the hang of floor spacing, and kicking the ball out to a spot up shooter. We're probably better at that this year than we've been in the last decade. (hyperbole, of course) What about the third thing? That Pick and something?

All the other teams in the league run a bunch of pick and rolls. The Phoenix Suns with Steve Nash used to do it all the time. Same deal with whatever team Chris Paul was on. Even teams without great point guards still use it, like LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even non-stars are using the pick and roll to get into the lane and cause havoc -- like Greivis Vasquez of the New Orleans Hornets. Should we run the pick and roll more?

I have the data from the last four seasons (2009-10, till now). Let's break down our offense a bit:

  • In 2009-10 we played 92 total games and had 9719 total offensive plays. That's 105.6 plays a game, and one those plays we averaged 49.0 fg% and 0.97 PPP -- good enough for 6th best.
  • That same year we only finished 4.8 plays a game with the ball in the screeners hand, and only 6.3 plays a game with the ball in the ball handlers hand. (445 and 580 total plays, respectively) That accounted for only 10.55% of our total offensive possessions in 2009-10. Our PPP was 3rd best in the league on finishing pick and rolls when the screener got the ball, and 15th when our PG finished the play. We're more effective with the ball in the hands of the bigman finishing.
  • For that entire season we had an estimated points per 100 possessions of 97.0, but running the pick and roll and finishing with a big that number jumped up to 115.0 EST PP/100.
  • The findings for 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and yes, 2012-2013 are remarkably similar in that effect. We are a more efficient scoring team when a play results in the bigman with the ball in his hands off a pick and roll.
  • The findings sadly point to the fact that our guards (or ball handlers) are getting worse and worse at holding their end of the bargain -- the TOV% has risen, and we're scoring worse and worse. Last year we were 30th (last) in the league at ball handler's PPP off pick and rolls. This year we're 29th.
  • Still, the pick and roll (either ball hander or screener) is only about 10% of our offense.

It's probably easier to run with Deron Williams (a good scorer / finisher, who can make passes) than with Mo Williams or Earl Watson. If we had a better finisher running them it would only boost up the efficacy of this play. Similarly, if we had a talented passer, we presume the bigmen would get fed the ball for easy buckets. Our pass-firstingest PG is Jamaal Tinsley -- and he's not much of an offensive threat that when we run it -- the other team just doubles the bigman, as Jamaal isn't seriously going to pull up from 20 feet and knock down jumpers.

The other half of the equation, moving beyond the flaws of our current guards, is looking at our bigs. Al Jefferson is actually the 16th BEST finisher on pick and rolls -- but they comprise such a small part of his offense (8.7%), it's just silly. Should we run more of these plays for Al? I guess only if he's not doubled and can't get the ball. Or maybe he's not quick enough? I don't know. More than 11% of all of Paul Millsap 's plays are pick and rolls -- and he's still pretty awesome at it, but when he's on the floor we don't seem to run enough plays to him period (15.3 plays a game, 1.8 pick and roll attempts a game). Derrick Favors has demonstrated an ability to finish pick and rolls from last season, partly due to his quickness: he shot 59.6 fg% on them last year and was 16th best in the league (1.19 PPP). This season he's down to 0.75 PPP (95th), and shooting only 32.3 fg%. That's a huge drop. Enes Kanter has only taken 19 pick and roll play attempts all year and his numbers are kinda meaningless for everything EXCEPT offensive rebounds.

We like to believe we should take more pick and rolls, and particularly -- run more of them for Favors. Sadly, he's not doing well with them this season. And even worse, until we have a ball handler equal to the task, even if we run more pick and rolls in games, the defense will just sag off and prevent us from even getting a) the ball to the guy we want, and b) getting the shot we want.

This is an issue where the roster dictates the playbook. If Gordon Hayward (33.9 fg% on pick and rolls at the ball handler, 0.61 PPP, 24.1 TOV%), Alec Burks (34.8 fg%, 0.69 PPP, 18.8 TOV%), and Mo Williams (36.7 fg%, 0.59 PPP, 27.9 TOV%) all can't get better at scoring, shooting, taking care of the ball, and passing off the pick and roll -- then we're probably going to continue trying to do the other two plays instead: Iso/Post-ups and Spot ups.

So, yeah. We want more pick and rolls. We want more of Favors in the pick and roll. Statistically I don't think we're going to see more of that strategy this season. Not unless we trade for Jose Calderon who has three point range and is great at passing. Oh wait . . .




Total Off. Plays / Total NBA
Season G Plays Game PPP Rank FGM FGA FG% TOV% Score% EST.PPG EST. PP 100 Plays
2009-2010 92 9719 105.6 0.97 6 3590 7328 49.0% 13.4% 47.1% 102.5 97.0
2010-2011 82 8524 104.0 0.95 11 3048 6549 46.5% 12.9% 45.4% 98.8 95.0
2011-2012 70 7741 110.6 0.9 19 2701 6017 44.9% 12.2% 44.4% 99.5 90.0
2012-2013 46 4867 105.8 0.92 13 1678 3740 44.9% 13.0% 44.0% 97.3 92.0
Roll Man Off. Plays / Total NBA
Season G Plays Game PPP Rank FGM FGA FG% TOV% Score% EST.PPG EST. PP 100 Plays
2009-2010 92 445 4.8 1.15 3 201 352 57.1% 8.3% 57.1% 5.6 115.0
2010-2011 82 289 3.5 1.03 9 123 241 51.0% 7.3% 51.6% 3.6 103.0
2011-2012 70 287 4.1 0.99 11 118 233 50.6% 9.4% 50.5% 4.1 99.0
2012-2013 46 224 4.9 1.01 9 86 177 48.6% 6.3% 53.1% 4.9 101.0
Ball Handler Off. Plays / Total NBA
Season G Plays Game PPP Rank FGM FGA FG% TOV% Score% EST.PPG EST. PP 100 Plays
2009-2010 92 580 6.3 0.82 15 169 400 42.3% 21.6% 38.3% 5.2 82.0
2010-2011 82 530 6.5 0.79 21 144 381 37.8% 17.9% 37.2% 5.1 79.0
2011-2012 70 553 7.9 0.67 30 147 402 36.6% 20.6% 32.7% 5.3 67.0
2012-2013 46 332 7.2 0.64 29 86 237 36.3% 23.8% 30.4% 4.6 64.0