Back by popular demand, Versus series is back for volume 2. In this episode, I break down two of the most premier defenders in the league: Draymond Green vs Kawhi Leonard. Both of these players have finished as the top two in Defensive Player of the Year the last two years as well as being on the All-NBA Defensive First Team. This episode compares the shot blocking of each player and how each approach varies in specific defensive sequences. I have perused the web and selected three videos for each player to describe what is going on. As noted in other episodes, I am not exclusively comparing these players as a whole. Just looking at the shot blocking element of their game. I will explore a variety of other skill sets in future versus episodes. So, pump your breaks!
Before we get into it, the purpose of this series is to highlight some of various talents of a Warriors player against another player in the league to acknowledge and appreciate the difference in skill. I do not intend to carve out a clear winner in these versus comparisons. Each player in the NBA is talented enough to be 1 of 450 players in the world to man an NBA roster so they each are skilled in their own way. Some will naturally separate from the rest but each player has developed and perfected their craft to get them where they are today. It would be a disservice to either player if I were to say player A is better than player B. You can form your own opinions. The intention is to look at some video and break down the different player approaches.
Three key elements to blocking a shot: (1) Timing (2) Avoiding contact (3) Altering the opponents shot. I'll try to incorporate each of these elements in the analysis below.
The Poke & Redirect - This first video has a compliation of two blocks on back to back defensive sequences. I only want to talk about the second block. Couldn't find a video that just had the second block alone, so this video starts around the 00:13 second mark. CJ McCollum brings the ball upcourt. Mason Plumlee comes up to the wing to set a pick trapping Iguodala. This then forces Bogut to come up to switch onto McCollum. Iguodala tries to run through the screen at which point Plumlee is wide open to roll to the rim. McCollum whips the ball around back to Plumlee at which point he thinks he has an easy dunk. Instead, Draymond is hanging just outside of the paint, keeping a reasonable distance between his man and also keeping his eyes on the play. Once McCollum whips the behind the back pass, Green starts to charge and sniffs out the play. Instead of going up straight and giving up a foul, Green rotates his body away from the momentum of Plumlee and poke the ball out as Plumlee is on his way up for the dunk. Green not only avoids the body contact, but he knows exactly where Curry is and deflects the ball right to Curry to regain possession. He read the defense and kept the ball in play to start the fast-break.
Offer the lane - This video also has a two blocks on back to back defensive sequences. I only want to focus on the first block that starts at 0:00 and ends around 0:23. This play starts with the ball in Dennis Schroder's hands as he starts in the wing. The Hawks clear the left to open up a lane for Schroder to take Draymond one on one and drive to the rim. Scroder makes his move around Draymond towards the baseline. Draymond offers a lane for Schroder to drive to the rim to avoid contact. He shuffles side to side towards the rim watching Schroder's eyes to predict when he is going to ascend with the ball. As soon as Schroder brings the ball into his right hand, Draymond throws his right arm up to obstruct Schroder's view. Schroder realizes that his move to the right wont work while he is in mid air so he starts to bring the ball back in to shade to the left to angel for a better shot. At this point Schroder starts to descend and the ball is fully exposed. As both player's are now descending, Draymond takes his swipe at the ball at which point Schroder has already exhausted most of his energy going up and redirecting the shot making it easier to knock the shot away. The key here was that Draymond allowed a lane to offer the shot but as soon as he went up, he was able to alter the initial shot Schroder was going up with making it a more difficult shot for the shooter. You know what they say, Schroder's gonna shoot.
No Soup for You! - This block takes place during the 4th quarter of game 5 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. It starts with Russell Westbrook up top surveying the floor as Klay Thompson is at the top of the perimeter trying to watch what direction Westbrook is headed. Steven Adams comes up top to set a screen on Thompson which immediately opens a gap on the right side. Westbrook cuts around the screen set by Adams and drives towards the rim. Mo Speights who is considerably slower is forced to switch onto Westbrook. Meanwhile, Draymond Green is lingering around the paint. His man is Ibaka but at this point Ibaka is off in the corner and pretty much out of the play. As soon as Westbrook turns around the screen of Adams you can see Green shift his attention to the charging Westbrook. Speights tries to shade Westbrook away from the rim as he side shuffles along the paint. Green positions himself towards the rim where Westbrook is trending. In looking at the second angle behind the hoop in the slow mo, Speights doesn't see Green and thus is obsctructing the path and view of Green which gives him a much more difficult angle on the ball. As Green jumps, he narrowly escapes the big body of Speights as he slides by and swats the ball as soon as it leaves the finger tips of Westbrook. Though Speights was blocking Green, he acted as a shield so that Westbrook didn't really see Green until he got his shot off. It was perfectly timed, and any fraction of a second earlier or later would have resulted in a foul or a made bucket by Westbrook. Green opted to play a zone defense to crowd the rim. Speights was playing Center on this play, so Green acted as the rim protector in absenceof Bogut.
Pirouette - This play starts off a blocked shot from Ibaka which starts a fast-break the other way for OKC. Reggie Jackson drives the ball up court. Not only do the Thunder have advantage with the 3 on 2, but Reggie Jackson has Westbook on his left and Durant on his right. Not bad options in a fastbreak. Meanwhile, as the play was going the other way, Kawhi emerges from the wing runs in stride to get ahead of the play. As he is running back, his eyes are on the ball the whole time, his body is facing Durant's direction as if Reggie would go right and he is spaced between Jackson & Westbrook. Reggie sees Duncan on his right getting ahead of Durant, so he slips it past Kawhi to feed to Westbrook. Kawhi turns his body towards Westbook and does essentially a spin move around Westbrook blocks the shot with his left hand, which is insane to think because it was the furthest from the ball. He manged to avoid contact and redirect his body from being behind Westbrook to essentially in front of him. He is able to maintain the ball and corral the rebound to start the break the other way. I've watched this over 10 times and still can't figure out how Kawhi was able to react so quickly and change his body motion so fluidly when he was obviously toast at the outset. It speaks volumes to the intense concentration Kawhi has on defense.
Double Team - This play starts as Carmelo receives the ball on the elbow. Melo does his patented weird sort or ball stutter to try to keep Kawhi's hands guessing. As Melo pivots around to face Kawhi and the rim, Kawhi takes a swipe with his left hand. Melo sees an open lane to the rim, obviously he doesn't see anyone else because it's Melo he just see's 5 Spurs and the rim. You can here Melo shout out ISO, calling for an Isolation play which isn't the smartest thing to do. Robin Lopez is backing down Duncan under the rim. As soon as Melo calls the ISO play he curls away as Duncan pushes him away gently saying "you won't be part of this play." This allows Duncan to block off the lane to the rim. Duncan has Melo cut off as he crowds the direct passage to the rim and throws his arm up to change Melo's shot. Kawhi comes around the back to throw his arms up to create a shield forcing Melo to pump back as his body starts to descend back down. Melo exposes the ball and loses his arm strength at which point Kawhi wraps his hands around the ball and grabs the shot away. If the NBA handed out assists for defensive blocks, this would be a prime example. This is good usage of help defense to alter the shot and let the player submit the TO by forcing a bad shot. Also, great heads up to keep the ball and start the break the other way.
Hot on his tail- On this play, Damian Lillard in-bounds the ball from the backcourt while Kawhi rushes a bit past him to get in front of him. Kawhi looks over his left shoulder and sees three Blazers jog up towards the right side of the court. Knowing that the right side of the court is crowded, Kawhi back peddles towards the center of the court up by the logo and gets in his defensive stance. At this point Plumlee is to Lillard's right and attempts to set a screen, in which he maybe gave 10% effort as said screw it. The rest of the Spurs & Blazers allow an open lane for Lillard to cut to the rim. As soon as Lillard passes center court he fully commits to going left and turns a hot corner around Kawhi. At that point, it looked like Lillard completely had Kawhi beat. Kawhi shuffles to his right and turns the corner matching Lillard stride for stride as if he is his own shadow. As Kawhi is running with Dame, notice how he is watching his eyes to see if he can pick up where the play is going. You can see Dame doesn't fake left or right and fully committed to the rim. As soon as Dame takes a step into the paint, both Dame and Kawhi take flight at the same time as Kawhi is trailing Dame. Lillard goes up and tries to lay the ball in with his right hand at which point Kawhi swats the ball away to the weak side as Dame draws his left hand away. One key point of emphasis is how well Kawhi is able to stick stride for stride with his defender and apply the pressure. Having a defender so close to you puts pressure on the offense and can often change the play.
Kawhi is an excellent on-ball defender and he has such great close out speed. He can keep up with the fastest of guards and has quick reaction speed. He also has a huge palm which helps him grip the ball easier to maintain possession after a block or steal. His hands are nearly the same size as Shaq! (Kawhi vs Shaq's hands)
Green has great sense of the court on the defensive end and is able to spot out a play from a distance. He may not have the same level of speed as Kawhi but he is able to close a gap and time his blocks. Green admits he watches a lot of WNBA which helps him analyse fundamentals on how to to pivot and shot fake to help think outside of the box and improve himself as a player. (Green watching WNBA)