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Is Al-Farouq Aminu an elite defensive player?

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One of Al-Farouq Aminu’s biggest strengths coming into the NBA was his defensive potential, as he had impressive athleticism and work ethic while at Wake Forest. While it took him a few seasons to adjust to the differences in defending in the NBA, Aminu has certainly improved as a defender over his three year career. Entering his fourth season, is Aminu ready to join the ranks of elite perimeter defenders?

Defensive metrics don’t tell the whole story on Aminu but some of them show that Aminu is start to show some promise as a defender. Basketball-Reference’s On-Off Data show that the defense of the Pelicans suffered without Aminu on the court, as the opponent’s effective field goal percentage and offensive rating increased with Aminu sitting. 82games.com estimates Aminu’s defensive value by position, which demonstrates he can find success defending shooting guards and small forwards while struggling against bigger forwards. Finally, RAPM might be highest on him defensively, as he graded out at a positive 3.63 points.

Does the video line up with this positive outlook of Aminu? His physical tools are evident, as he has quick lateral movement which allows him to stay in front of offensive players and an impressive wingspan that bothers shooters, both off the dribble and on catch and shoot attempts.

The pick and roll clips below demonstrate these physical tools, as Aminu fights through the screen (either by going above or below the screen, depending on the situation) and recovering quickly to take away dribble penetration or force a tough mid range shot.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

October 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Defensive Strategies: Doug McDermott, Creighton

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how collegiate defenses can slow down the offense of Doug McDermott from Creighton.

Doug McDermott returns for his senior season as the top returning scorer in collegiate basketball after averaging 23.1 points per game on 57% shooting from 2’s and 49% from 3’s. He is able to score in a variety of ways although he is first and foremost, a deadly accurate shooter. What can defenses do to try to stop him this year on the offensive end?

Post Doubles

Although McDermott is mainly known for his shooting, he is more often seen on the block for the Bluejays, where was he one of the best post players last season (as well as his sophomore season). If defenses let him work 1 on 1, they are going to be grabbing the ball out of the net more often than not.

Therefore, defenses need to send two defenders at McDermott and take away post moves as an option while turning him into a distributor. McDermott has decent vision and passing ability for a player of his size, so defenses need to be organized to pull this off or McDermott will be able to shred the defenses with easy passes to wide open teammates.

Here, Mason Plumlee rotates over to help on the post move, which leaves his man open for a dump off pass. Duke needs to rotate properly, which they do, as the opposite corner defender rotates down which leaves the only open pass a cross court skip pass. McDermott has no viable options and turns the ball over.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

October 8, 2013 at 12:04 am

Defensive Strategies: Russ Smith, Louisville

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how collegiate defenses can slow down the offense of Russ Smith of Louisville.

Russ Smith took a major leap forward on the offensive end in his junior season, increasing his points per game from 11.5 to 18.7, while increasing his two point field goal percentage from 38% to 45.8% and his three point field goal percentage slightly from 30% to 32.8%. He was a key member of the Louisville national champion team and will be one of the leaders as they try to defend the title. With the departure of backcourt mate Peyton Siva, it will be interesting to see how Smith’s role changes but the one thing that is certain is that teams are going to struggle to defend him.

These strategies won’t turn Smith into a poor offensive player or stop him from having any effect on the game, however, they can provide a starting point for what defenses should focus on to slow Smith down. This isn’t an exhaustive list for defenses but hopefully it will show some building blocks for how they can make life difficult on the offensive end for Smith.

Run players at him in transition

Smith is one of the quickest players in the country with the ball, which makes him deadly in transition. Transition opportunities were where he derived most of his offense last season as Louisville ranked as the 5th fastest team on offense, according to Kenpom.com. When Smith gets the ball in the open court, he is nearly impossible to keep up with and he is able to blow past defenders on the way to the rim.

To slow down Smith, defenses need to run multiple players at him as quickly as possible once the transition opportunity materializes. Although Smith became a much more controlled player his junior season, he can still be susceptible to turnovers or rushed shots when he gets moving too fast. Flooding him with defenders could leave the defense exposed elsewhere but teams could find some success in getting the ball out of Smith’s hand in transition and forcing his teammates to beat them in this facet.

The following clips from the NCAA tournament begin to show how defenses can execute this strategy. In the first clip, after Smith picks up the loose ball, Trey Burke immediately attempts to cut him off instead of giving him a little bit of space in midcourt before taking a harder approach once Smith gets closer to the three point line. Nik Stauskas then runs toward Smith and helps finish off the turnover.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

October 4, 2013 at 2:44 am

Defensive Strategies: Damian Lillard

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how defenses can slow down the offense of the reigning Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. 

There wasn’t much Damian Lillard couldn’t do on the offensive end in his rookie season, as he averaged 19 points on 46.9% shooting on 2 point field goals and 36.8% on 3 point field goals. Lillard will look to shore up some of the holes in his offensive game in his second season, as he hopes to lead a Portland team that had a great offseason back to the playoffs. It won’t be easy to defend him as he continues to grow and improve as a point guard but these strategies will put him in situations where he will be less effective.

Shade him left

It’s not a smart idea to force him completely left, as Lillard will be able to shred the defense by using the open space to his advantage but it is smart for the defense to shade him to the left side off the dribble. Lillard drove left more often last season, which is probably a result of the defense forcing the rookie to beat them with his off hand. However, he had the tendency to settle for jump shots instead of driving to the rim.

Looking at Lillard’s shot chart, he was average on mid-range jump shots from the left side of the court. He can improve on these pull up jump shots off the dribble to his left and the defense should shade him that way to encourage him into these positions.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

September 18, 2013 at 2:37 am

Defensive Strategies: Paul George

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how defenses can slow down the offense of the Indiana Pacers Paul George. 

Paul George had a superb third season, averaging 17.4 points per game in the regular season and cemented his status as an elite player by averaging nearly 20 points per game in the playoffs and leading his team to within a game of the NBA Finals. The Pacers will be a top Eastern Conference team again this season and slowing down George will be key to stopping the offensive attack of the Pacers.

Force him to create in the half court

George struggled when forced to create his own offense of the dribble, as he scored only 0.72 points per possession (PPP) in isolation situations last season and 0.71 PPP as a pick and roll ball handler. Most of his offense came in transition or spot up and cuts in half court sets. While there is still plenty of time in his young career to improve this part of his game, defenses would be wise to force George to create off the dribble which would give the defense the advantage in these situations.

When he tries to take defenders off the dribble, he isn’t able to get the whole way to the rim yet and has to settle for pull up jump shots. George doesn’t seem to quite have that skill yet of other elite offensive players of being able to beat defenders with his speed off his first step or with his strength to body through defenders to the rim. Defenders are able to stay in front of him while remaining on balance and George cannot get a layup attempt. This causes him to pull up for mid range shots instead of trying to get the whole way to the rim.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

September 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Defensive Strategies: Steph Curry Pick and Roll

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how defenses can slow down the pick and roll of Golden State, when led by Stephen Curry. 

Stephen Curry led a lethal pick and roll game for the Golden State Warriors, as he averaged 0.87 points per possession as a pick and roll ball handler, good for 30th in the league. He relied on this as a big portion of his offensive attack, as 32.2% of his possessions ended with a pick and roll, according to Synergy Sports. Stopping him won’t be easy but slowing him down and forcing low efficiency shots is a doable goal.

One of the biggest mistakes a defense can make when guarding Curry is to ICE him. This means that the defender guarding the screener sags off into the lane to take away dribble penetration while basically conceding the three point shot. This plays right into Curry’s strengths, as his effective field goal percentage on three point shots was 66.7% while his eFG% for shots at the rim was only 60%, according to Basketball Reference.

The frame below shows the problem defenses face when they allow Curry space around the three point line coming off the ball screen. Curry has plenty of space to pull up for the long range attempt, from where is he a deadly shooter.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

September 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

2013 EuroBasket: Slovenia’s End of Game Defense Secures the Win

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With the FIBA EuroBasket tournament underway in Slovenia and with six spots available for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, we’ll look at some offensive and defensive strategies from this tournament. Follow along on ESPN3.

Slovenia squeaked out a two point win over the Czech Republic in their first EuroBasket game which was punctuated with a big defensive possession up one with 40 seconds left. Their team defense was well organized and forced the Czech Republic into a tough shot which when missed, allowed Slovenia to finish the win.

The offensive set opened with a ball screen at the top of the key. The crucial point to notice in this first frame, and throughout the play, is the off ball positioning of the help defense. Slovenia plays the pick and roll by ‘Icing’ the action, having the screener’s defender sag off the action to take away dribble penetration.

At this point in the play, the ball handler has realized he has no angle and no pass to the roll man. The roll man’s defender has cut off the dribble penetration, allowed his teammate to recover to the ball and stayed close enough to the action to recover to the roll man. These two players have adequately covered the set which has allowed the closest help defender, the player guarding the strong side corner, to stay close to his man to take away the kick out pass to the corner.

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Written by Joshua Riddell

September 5, 2013 at 3:08 am

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