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Explain One Play: The Stephen Curry pick and roll

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Stephen Curry got to run more pick and rolls, and the Warriors got more highlights against the Raptors in the Dec 28th, 2016 game.

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After the frustrating Christmas game, Stephen Curry gave some unusually pointed quotes about the Warriors offensive strategy. He said:

I definitely want to be in more pick-and-roll situation. Whether I’m getting shots or whether we’re manufacturing ball movement, that’s a strength of ours, regardless of how teams play us.... Despite how teams play us and what they try to take away, we always have counters. It might not be me getting a shot, but creating a 3-on-4 opportunity or mismatches in the post or just confusion on the defensive part. I can have a huge hand in making that happen.

Quick definitions. A pick (or screen) is when an attacker gets in the way of a defender. A roll is when the screener cuts to the basket. (A pop is when the screener cuts away to catch-and-shoot a jumper.)

The Dubs run the fewest pick and rolls in the NBA, preferring the Kerr motion offense. Tonight, the Warriors had Curry run a few more pick and rolls, and they provided highlights and good shots. We got to see a nice assortment of the basic options in a pick and roll.

1. Roll man scores

So here, you’ll see Draymond Green set the screen for Curry. Jonas Valanciunas is the big defender and he tries to jump out to keep Curry from attacking the basket long enough for Kyle Lowry to get around the screen and catch up. Curry is too fast and goes around him, and then...

Draymond rolls to the basket, gets a sweet pass from Curry, and hits the layup. The roll man getting a layup is one of the first options in a pick and roll.

More definitions. This strategy of the big defender jumping out is often called “showing” or when it’s only a little jump, “hedging”. Lowry goes around the screen on the basket side (“going under”). Since this gives up an open jumper, teams NEVER do this against Curry unless the big man is aggressively showing or blitzing Curry.

2. Ballhandler scores

Here Curry sees Lowry preparing to follow him around Green’s screen, and he also sees Valunciunas lurking, ready to show on the other side of the screen. So he does this:

Curry just turbos by Lowry before he can force Curry towards the screen. No one wants to leave their man to help because Kevin Durant and Ian Clark can hit threes and Andre Iguodala can finish lobs. So it’s a layup.

3. Roll man assists to spacer

In this play, the Raptors basically switch assignments, so Patrick Patterson switches to cover Curry and Cory Joseph takes Green. Curry and Green have seen just about every pick and roll defense. Green calmly seals Joseph above him, Curry drops off the sweet little pass and now Green is running a “3-on-4 opportunity” like Curry mentions above.

Here, Durant’s defender leaves him to challenge Green’s drive so Green fires a pass through the netting to a Durant so open that he can bobble the ball and still get an open three.

More terms. Durant is called a “spacer” because his defender has to either leave him or leave open space for Green to drive. Because Green gets the pass close to the pick, it’s sometimes called a short roll.

4. Ballhandler assists to spacer

Here’s a pick and roll with JaVale McGee. Now, you can’t expect McGee to run a 4-on-3 attack as the short roll man. So, teams should feel safe leaving people to help on the rolling lob-seeking missile McGee, right? Of course not.

Here Joseph leaves Ian Clark to help on McGee’s roll. I frankly don’t think he could have done much about a lob, but Curry instead finds the open Clark in the corner, who attacks the closeout and hits the jumper.

My favorite play of the night

And here is my favorite called play of the night. Remember the Loop play? We’ve covered it a few times, most recently at Explain One Play: Klay Thompson loops for an Andre Iguodala dunk. Here’s the classic form as popularized by the Spurs, the Triple Loop. You’ll see Curry loop around and under the basket, getting three screens along the way.

So you’ll see from tonight’s game, Ian Clark set up for exactly the same run around three screens. In fact, it’s such a famous play, you can hear the Raptors yelling TRIPLE TRIPLE. So let’s see how Ian Clark can navigate the triple screen with the defense on high alert.

SURPRISE! It’s a FAKE Triple Loop into a (wait for it) pick and roll. Patterson is the defender of Green (and I believe he’s the one yelling TRIPLE). He gets caught up making sure that Clark gets covered on his Loop, that he doesn’t notice Green stepping up to screen for Curry. He is several steps behind the play, so he can’t show/hedge as he’s supposed to. Curry blows by him and finishes the excellent floater bank shot. It’s really great to see that shot coming back for Curry.

Final Thought

Notice what we didn’t see tonight, nor most of this year: the Curry bomb right off the screen with any hint of daylight. Part of that is you can see defenses play him much closer now. Part of that is that he has higher percentage plays with Durant on the floor. But part of that is Curry’s difficulties with off-the-dribble threes. Last year, he hit them at a historic rate. This year he’s had issues, likely due to the knee recovery, getting back into rhythm, defenses, and working out playing with Durant. So even though Curry is still playing at an all-star level, it is possible, even probable, that 15-16 extraterrestrial level Curry is gone and may never return.

If you want to read more video breakdowns (one for well-nigh every Warriors’ win since 2015), then check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full,updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index. And I might have a breakdown myself trying to keep up with the W’s this year.