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The Orlando Magic's Pick-and-Roll Simply Too Much for the Atlanta Hawks to Handle

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Yesterday, Eddy wrote about the effectiveness of the Orlando Magic's pick-and-roll play against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2. I don't mean to steal his thunder, or anything like that, but I did want to illustrate, quantitatively, just how effective that play proved, using data from Synergy Sports Technology. Further, I wanted to see which specific players did the most damage.

My research showed the Hawks' struggles against the pick-and-roll weren't limited to Game 2; Orlando had its way with Atlanta with that set in Game 1 as well. That information shouldn't surprise anyone, though: as Bradford Doolittle wrote in his series preview, the Hawks defended the pick-and-roll miserably during the regular season, and the Magic ran it expertly. It's a case of one team's strength being another's weakness. To illustrate, here are some data:

Team Pts Poss. Pts Per Poss. %Score
Magic O,
Reg.
Season
1283 1372 0.935 44.6%
Hawks D,
Reg.
Season
779 892 0.873 42.7%

The Magic ranked 2nd in points scored per pick-and-roll possession and 1st in percentage of pick-and-rolls scored on. The Hawks ranked 6th-worst in points per possession allowed when defending the pick-and-roll, and 3rd-worst in percentage scored upon. With that said, here's a series-long look at the Magic's pick-and-roll offense, split by game:

Game Pts Poss. Pts Per Poss. %Score
1 41 33 1.242 51.5%
2 35 28 1.250 57.1%
TOTAL 76 61 1.246 54.1%

Based on the data in the first table, this information isn't altogether shocking. I don't follow the Hawks closely enough to know exactly why they can't handle the pick-and-roll, but I do know--as does everyone by now, I suspect--that they switch every screen. I imagine that tactic figures heavily into their poor showing here.

But let's look closer: which Orlando ballhandler has produced the most in these situations? Whom should coach Stan Van Gundy trust the most? Here are those data, sorted by descending order of pick-and-roll attempts.

Ballhandler Team
Pts
Poss. Pts Per Poss. %Score Player
FG/FGA
Player
Ast
(+ FTs)
Player
TO
Vince Carter 30 26 1.153 53.8% 7/12 3 1
Jameer Nelson 28 18 1.556 66.7% 6/9 5 1
J.J. Redick 5 7 0.712 28.6% 2/3 0 0
Jason Williams 4 5 0.800 40.0% 1/3 1 0
Anthony Johnson 7 3 2.333 100.0% 1/1 2 0
Rashard Lewis 0 1 0.000 0.0% 0/1 0 0
Mickael Pietrus 2 1 2.000 100.0% 1/1 0 0
TOTAL 76 61 1.246 55.7% 18/30 12 2

Outside of Carter and Nelson, the Magic haven't been too effective; Johnson produced scores in all three of his tries, but that was in garbage time of Game 1, which makes the showing a bit less meaningful. But ultimately, Carter and Nelson have proven so reliable running this play that the second unit's poor showing hasn't mattered.

As Eddy writes, Carter's pick-and-roll offense proved deadly in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Orlando scored on 5 of his first 6 tries, and the time it came up empty handed is when Pietrus missed two free throws after Carter found him in the corner, which set up an aggressive drive. In other words, the Magic got great looks on each of those 6 sets Carter initiated.

Here's the Hawks' dilemma: it didn't matter how they played him. When his defender went over the screen, Carter simply drove to the basket for a layup, dunk, or drawn foul; only once in that quarter did Carter pull-up for a jumper when handling the ball in the pick-and-roll. When a help defender committed to the play, he dished to an open shooter for a score. Maybe Atlanta should consider going under the screen, which would thus concede an open jumper to Carter, but also take away his driving lane. But there's not an easy answer.

Nelson's a tougher cover. As the chart indicates, Orlando's scored on two-thirds of the times Nelson's run the pick-and-roll. When he calls his own number, he's efficient. When he kicks the ball out, he's efficient. If I'm Atlanta, though, I dare him to continue pulling up, and bet on his having an off night. He's scoring more efficiently than any other point guard in these playoffs, but he is, frankly, due to have a game in which he'll clank some jumpers. So the Hawks should consider going under the screen in order to make it harder for him to make it to the rim. Force him to take that contested 19-footer.

Next question: when the Hawks do force the ballhandler to pass, where does it go? Which Magic player has made the most of his opportunities off the catch?

Recipient Team
Pts
Poss. Pts Per Poss. %Score Player
FG/FGA
Player
TO
Mickael Pietrus 0 7 0.000 0.0% 0/5 1
Marcin Gortat 4 4 1.000 50.0% 2/3 1
Rashard Lewis 9 4 2.250 75.0% 3/4 0
Dwight Howard 7 3 2.333 100.0% 3/3 0
Ryan Anderson 2 3 0.667 33.3% 1/3 0
Jameer Nelson 6 2 3.000 100.0% 2/2 0
TOTAL 28 23 1.217 47.8% 12/20 2

The answer to that first question is Pietrus, but he's also the guy who's done the least with his chances. The results of his 7 tries? A missed three-pointer, four missed two-pointers, two missed free throws, and a lost handle that wound up in Jeff Teague's hands. Based on this information, if the Hawks feel like sending anyone to help on the ballhandler, it should be the man covering Pietrus. Don't help off of Lewis or Nelson. And they should keep a body on Howard, who converted each of his three easy shots at the rim, including one and-one opportunity, as the roll-man.

The Magic's counter? Station Pietrus in the weak-side corner, well away from the play. In other words, position him in such a way that renders sending his man to help impractical due to the distance he'd have to cover.