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Why does D’Angelo Russell get so many pick-and-rolls called for him: The Popeye’s chicken sandwich analogy

It’s hard not to notice how much more Russell gets the PnR than Stephen Curry did. Different players, different rosters, different goals.

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Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell scored 82 points on 56 shots in just two games this weekend

One of the more vocal and frequent criticisms I see of Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is that he doesn’t maximize Stephen Curry’s scoring output by calling the pick and roll play for him more often. With Curry out, and a lackluster supporting cast, Kerr seems to have finally relented - only it’s newcomer D’Angelo Russell that has been the beneficiary.

In the four games Curry played in this year, he averaged about the same number of shots as Russell (within one shot attempt per 100 possessions), so the issue isn’t sheer volume.

As per Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Russell was called on to initiate the pick and roll (“PnR”) 26 times against the Minnesota Timberwolves - which is a very high number. For reference, the Warriors, with Curry averaged 12 per game last season. And for further perspective, just take a look at the league leaders in such plays last season (again according to Slater):

How abnormally high is that? Last season, Russell averaged the second-most pick-and-roll ballhandling possessions per game in the NBA. His nightly average: 11.4, just slightly behind Kemba Walker, at 11.8. This season, the Blazers’ Damian Lillard leads the league at 14.4 per game.

So yeah. 26 times.

It’s like that scene in Ferris Bueller when the principal calls asking about absences and no matter how many times they say “nine times” back and forth, the number still sounds nonsensical.

The Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich analogy

Ok, so first some background. Like much of the nation, our writer’s Slack channel regularly devolves into a heated debate over the merits of Popeye’s chicken sandwiches. Daniel Hardee is generally the biggest fan, with weirdos like myself and Brady Klopfer preferring to talk up the glory of our homemade versions.

It’s not just that we prefer the wholesome, home made versions - we both legitimately believe that our versions of a fried chicken sandwich are inherently superior to what Popeyes offers. I’ve got mine brined with all sorts of spices and seasonings, the biscuit perfectly soft. The spicy aioli is also made from scratch and starts with roasted garlic and jalapeno. The ingredients between both version are similar, but my version (I think) has greater attention to detail, more layers of flavor.

Here, I just made this last night:

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Brined, roasted garlic/jalepeno aioli, green apple slaw, etc.

But, I had to admit, as delicious as that sandwich was, it took me an hour and a half. At some point, I get that people just want to sit in their car and order a sandwich.

The argument for the Kerr system

To me, it’s more about maximizing surrounding talent and how much that matters. For a high end team, our main guys will always be able to get theirs. Sure, Curry isn’t going to average 40 points for a season - but it’s those 0-27 Rocket shooting nights that we get to avoid by forcing ourselves into being as much of a well-rounded team as possible.

And it’s hard to argue with the benefits.

After adding three superstars, it took LeBron James and the Heatles like a year and a half to figure out their offense. Conversely, our offensive system mostly survived intact through most injury and matchup situations. But Kerr has also demonstrated admirable flexibility - he did spam PnR in the playoffs and didn’t get much love for it. Now we are seeing him simplify the offense because the peripheral players are so far from being able to reliably contribute.

In the chicken sandwich analogy, this is my hour and a half version. Spending the time and investing energy to make the supporting elements shine.

As an example, Eric Paschall is developing into a much more well-rounded player than if he was spending all his nights watching Curry do Curry stuff. I think that’s important. I also think that you should double fry your chicken for maximum crunchiness.

Curry running around 100 million off ball screens is like Duby running to the grocery store for the ingredients.

WHY?

JUST GO TO TO POPEYES/RUN HIGH PNR!

I get this argument, I really do.

“Don’t spend an hour making him pass the ball around to Kevon Looney.”

And the results of spamming the Curry PnR would certainly be deliciously effective. But I guess my main thing is that if your main complaint is that Kerr won’t run our offense like we were the Houston Rockets, then I can’t be on your side in that debate. This team, and Kerr’s system have played a huge part in getting the franchise to where it is today. Like Picasso knowing the fundamentals of art prior to abandoning them in favor of cubism, we still need the foundation in place.

With Russell and this roster, the flexibility is on display. Coaching staff has still been working to include the movement-based systems, but are more readily willing to cede a possession to Russell to just work his simple PnR game off the dribble.

It shouldn’t be seen as any sort of favoritism to Russell over Curry. Nor should we expect the same priorities to survive Curry’s eventual return. Both are good. Both of the versions of this team are delicious.

But maybe you just want to have the Popeye’s PnR version of this team every now and then.