Watching the Knicks host the Mavericks on Sunday, one might think that the pick and roll is the oldest play in the basketball book. However, the true history of the game reveals that Dutch Dehnert of the original Celtics was the first pivot player, catching the ball with his back to the basket and wreaking havoc on all defense that went up against him.
Throughout the evolution of the game, posting up was vital, to ensure good shots at the basket down the stretch of pressure filled, playoff games. Recently, there has been a move away from posting up, as less and less players move up through the ranks learning back-to-the-basket moves.
According to Synergy Sports, the Los Angeles Lakers post up the highest percentage of the time at 20.1%. However, their 5th seed in the West and 15th ranked offense indicates that not only is posting up so much not working for them in terms of wins and losses, but it also isn’t helping their offensive efficiency.
The Dallas Mavericks post up 11% of the time, good for 11th most in the league. Yet, their offensive efficiency ranks 18th, below average. They are ranked 13th in the league in points per possession, a very average mark for a team that relies on posting up as much as they do.
Their post up leader, of course, is Dirk Nowitzki, who uses 34% of all Maverick post ups. While his ranking is in the 76th percentile, only one other teammate, Vince Carter, ranks as high as the 60th percentile. Digging into Synergy’s numbers, Dirk posts up on the left block 33.1% of the time compared to 64.4% on the right block. Interestingly, Nowitzki is in the 96th percentile of efficiency when posting on that left block, while he is merely average from the right block. It is curious why the Mavericks keep sending him to that right block as much as they do, considering how much more effective he is from the left. He also turns over his right shoulder 54% of the time, a direction that makes him so much more effective, it’s a wonder teams let him turn that way at all.
Interestingly, the New York Knicks only rank 20th in percentage of time they run the pick and roll. However, since Jeremy Lin penetrated the lineup, that percentage has skyrocketed. Their efficiency has also hovered around the league average at 13th (1.124 PPP), but again these overall numbers are skewed by the absence of Jeremy Lin earlier in the season.
As the primary ball handler in pick and roll situations, Jeremy Lin executes 26.7% of all Knicks’ pick and rolls. While his efficiency is merely average at .75 PPP, his decision making and ball handling ability so overshadows anyone else on the Knicks, that he is almost singlehandedly responsible for their turnaround. The high pick and roll is responsible for 62.4% of all of his offensive possessions, and enables him to emulate Steve Nash since he can choose to take the screen, or cross over and go away from it – making him an extremely tough cover. Against single coverage, where there is no high hedge by the screener’s man, Lin is rated Very Good at .914 PPP, with his highest rating when he dribbles and pulls up for a jump shot. His rating drops to average when the defense hedges high, clearly the impetus for the Mavericks’ strategy of doubling Lin on all screen and rolls.
In a stark contrast in styles, it is clear the post up game is going the way of the dinosaur as teams prefer to spread the floor and let their dynamic point guard run the show. While the results in this game (Mavericks post ups: .96 PPP vs. Knicks Pick And Rolls: .8 PPP) seem to indicate a Mavericks win, the pick and roll game allowed the Knicks offensive rebounds, second chance points, and a chance to let their talent shine.
In the end, the spacing allowed huge shots from both Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin – two unheralded players relegated to the bench as recently as 2 weeks ago. This resurgence has sparked championship talk in New York. This may be premature, but it is clear that Jeremy Lin has earned his spot on the team and it will take a complete and unlikely collapse to remove him from that spot.
Written By: Coach Nick