When one thinks of the term “gravity” when it comes to basketball, it typically refers to a player’s ability to draw defensive attention to him/herself. In turn, the attention creates advantages by tilting the defense and forcing them to make difficult choices — which makes it easier for the offense to score.
Steph Curry has been the quintessential face of the “gravity” movement in the NBA. The way he draws multiple defenders both on and off the ball has been endlessly studied throughout the past decade. Such gravity has been the driving force behind the modern NBA’s preeminent dynasty.
Even if Curry doesn’t manage to score — and his shooting decides to take a night off, as it did during the Golden State Warriors’ 118-114 win over the Portland Trail Blazers — the fear instilled upon opponents that he can get hot with just a single made bucket ensures that he still gets defended like he’s 12-of-13 on threes at any given moment, even if reality (0-of-8 on threes against the Blazers) says otherwise.
(A clip, by the way, that signaled the end of Curry’s 268 regular-season-game streak with at least one three-point make.)
In the NBA, defenses will almost always base their choices on perception and reputation rather than the current situation. Both Curry and Klay Thompson will always draw two to the ball even if they’re shooting the ball poorly; Draymond Green will always have defenders sagging off of him despite shooting 42.9% on threes this season.
Curry’s reputation as a deadly pull-up threat off the dribble is a huge part of why he has historically been the Warriors’ best pick-and-roll ballhandler. Even if he doesn’t finish pick-and-roll possessions, it’s a near guarantee that efficient half-court offense is generated per possession — and he’s done it with bigs who have near-zero equity as rollers (e.g., Kevon Looney) or have been below-average finishers at the rim (e.g., Green).
Think of those handicaps Curry has faced and is currently facing — constantly having to create against aggressive ballscreen coverages and having screening partners who are physically and athletically limited. In a sense, Curry having to be “creative” (i.e., wild) with some of his passes are partly due to such handicaps.
And yet, prior to their game against the Blazers, the Warriors have been scoring 1.075 points per possession (PPP) with Curry as the ballhandler — including passes to either the roller or a third-party who finishes the possessions, per Synergy. That has been with either Looney or Green as his partners (and to a less-frequent extent this season, Dario Šarić) — all of whom don’t exactly inspire confidence as roll-gravity-generating bigs.
But what does it mean when a big generates “roll gravity”? The idea’s pretty much the same as the kind of gravity that Curry generates — a method to draw additional attention from defenders in order to tilt the floor toward the offense’s favor.
The difference being that the gravity comes in the form of a big rolling to the rim and making himself a threat to score in the paint — which forces rotation and help. That help, in turn, can open up looks for other offensive players, often around the perimeter.
Trayce Jackson-Davis seems to be the only big on this current iteration of the roster who can consistently force help rotations with his dives to the rim — with good reason. He’s a fundamentally sound screener who can make things immediately difficult for defenders at the point of attack; he’s nimble and mobile enough to force defenders to have to make quick decisions; his athleticism and above-the-rim capabilities make him a credible finishing threat.
When you combine his roll gravity with the on-ball gravity that Curry generates, you get possessions such as this one:
Jackson-Davis doesn’t even need to set a solid screen in this instance — the Blazers send two to the ball against Curry, with Jackson-Davis rolling toward the paint. Once Curry hits the rookie on the roll, Shaedon Sharpe immediately helps off of Andrew Wiggins in the corner. Once Jackson-Davis touches the ball, he makes the quick pass to the open Wiggins, who drills the corner three.
And such is an example of the concept of roll gravity.
But why did Sharpe feel compelled to help off one pass away to “tag” Jackson-Davis? Mostly because of what transpired earlier during Jackson-Davis’ impactful minutes as the five, after Šarić was limited by foul trouble in the first half.
Once Steve Kerr went to him, Jackson-Davis immediately displayed what he’s capable of as an athletic lob threat. It was as simple as emptying a side and having him set a screen for Chris Paul, who has a knack for hitting rollers on the move using well-timed, precise dimes:
Even when the help from the weak side rotates in time to show resistance against a Jackson-Davis roll, the rookie has shown enough finishing chops to show he can score against contact.
When Curry gets doubled again after Jackson-Davis sets the screen, Toumani Camara — the low man in this instance — parks himself underneath the rim to cover the roll. Curry finds Jackson-Davis, who finishes despite Camara being there on time:
Even in the Warriors’ conventional screen-and-roll setups such as five-out “Delay” action — where, as the big, Jackson-Davis is counted on to be the trail man handling the ball at the top of the arc and making decisions with the ball — he maintains his value as a roller:
He shows enough awareness to find Curry and initiate the handoff action. Per usual, Curry draws two to the ball around the handoff; Jackson-Davis immediately rolls and makes himself available, with Paul “shaking” (lifting) from the corner to put Anfernee Simons in a difficult position.
The Warriors have the tools to use Jackson-Davis in similar situations like the one above, where he finds himself having a clear lane to the rim partly due to a teammate distracting the “tagger.” Paul’s shake from the corner was the example above; what fellow rookie Brandin Podziemski does in the baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) set below serves the same purpose:
As the inbounder, Podziemski waits till Jackson-Davis rolls to the rim after setting the screen for Wiggins, who draws two to the ball. Once Jackson-Davis starts his dive, Podziemski immediately runs to the corner, taking his defender with him and preventing him from “tagging” the roll. The help must then come from the weak side — but with Curry and Moses Moody keeping their defenders preoccupied, the help is nonexistent. Jackson-Davis has an easy dunk as a result.
On a team that currently goes to the rim at the lowest rate among 30 teams — their 24.8% rim attempt frequency is a full eight percentage points below league average — and is 16th in terms of the percentage of possessions finished by the roll man and 14th in points per possession (1.098), Jackson-Davis is an infusion of new possibilities the Warriors have yet to explore this season. For reasons both explainable and unknown, he’s been relegated to situational minutes — only getting them when someone higher in the depth chart is unavailable or compromised.
Perhaps it’s time to consider changing that dynamic — especially with said personnel ahead of him failing to show up and contribute (or, in Green’s case, literally not showing up at all).