Defensive Strategies: Steph Curry Pick and Roll
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.
When defenses ICE Curry, they open themselves them up to the three point attempt instead of Curry’s lower percentage shot, attempts at the rim. While this may be a good strategy against other players, including his Golden State teammates, it is not the best strategy against Curry. When given this much space, Curry has time to compose himself before the three point attempt which gives him a great opportunity to convert the shot.
The other reason to hedge hard on Curry is because he is great at finding the roll man when the roll man’s defender is slow to recover after cutting off Curry. He has terrific vision and is adept at finding cutters and spot up shooters when the defense focuses on him coming off the pick and roll but doesn’t do enough to bother him or put enough pressure on him to make passes difficult.
Strategy 1 – Hedge Hard
The better strategy would be to hedge hard on Curry and chase him off the three point line. While it’s possible that a layup attempt will be the result, Curry has shown during his career he is below average at converting shots at the rim. According to basketball-reference.com, Curry shot 60% at the rim and only 33.7% on shots from 3 to 10 feet. Curry has struggled with finishing over defenders and in traffic, so teams would be willing to give up a contested layup attempt to Curry over an open three point attempt.
In the first video clip, Al Jefferson does an okay job of hedging out on Curry. In the end, the hedge works because it forces Curry off the three point line and into the lane. Notice that the screener has a free space to the lane, so the defense will have to make sure it rotates properly (which will be discussed later).
This strategy requires an athletic big who can give a quick, hard hedge before they recover back to guard the roll action. They need to show hard enough to slow down Curry but not hard enough to pick up a foul or get caught in no man’s land above the three point line.
The best case scenario off the pick and roll for the defense is the long two point attempt, where Curry shot 43.7% last season. With Curry struggling at rim attempts, the defense hopes that he will elect for a long jump shot which is one of the best outcomes for the defense, make or miss.
To finish the play if the defender hedges, the rest of the defense has to rotate properly. As shown in the frame above, this strategy usually leaves the defender will a clear lane to the rim.
Here is how the rotation looks when done right. Hickson is covering Lee, while Claver has rotated toward the rim to guard Hickson’s man. With Aldridge recovering, the defense has the choice to have Aldridge recover to Lee or Draymond Green (Hickson’s man). This will then allow Claver to get back to his man in the corner.
The key rotation is the third defensive player, who must drop off his man in the corner (or wing) to cut off the player closest to the basket. If he doesn’t, it’s an easy layup. This leaves his man open but the cross court pass will give him enough time to recover and challenge the shot if it comes to that. Even if an open shot is given up, it’s a more favorable outcome than a Curry shot or a layup at the rim for the roll man or the second big man.
If offenses move quickly, they will be able to find the open man with ball movement. That player is usually in the weakside corner, although they may also be on the wing depending where the action originated from. If the offense is spaced correctly, they can usually get an open shot but a three point attempt for Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green or another GSW offensive player is a better outcome than a Curry three point attempt.
Option 2 – Force him away from the screen
A second option is to take away the screening action completely and force Curry to go away from the screen. He is not as efficient when he rejects the screen, as this forces him into jump shots off the dribble or floaters in the lane. Sometimes this is Curry’s decision but the defense can cheat to encourage him to go the opposite way from the screen.
This will be a popular strategy for teams that have slower big men and don’t want them to hedge on the ball screen. In this play, Tim Duncan is removed from the action so as the pass is made to Curry, Tony Parker shoots the gap in front of the screen in an attempt to fight over the screen if Curry chooses to use it. Instead of fighting his way over Parker, Curry rejects the screen and drives right.
This gives Curry an open lane to penetrate or pull up, which he takes instead of using the screen. Curry is much less productive when he goes away from the screen then when he uses the ball screen, so teams can hope to slow down the attack using this strategy when they have defenders they don’t want to hedge on the screen guarding the screener.
Additionally, defenses will need to be well organized and communicate well because they will likely show different coverage depending on who is handling the ball. If it is Curry, they should hedge hard on the ball screen to take away the three point attempt. If another guard is leading the action, they will likely ICE the ball screen, as the Warriors shot only 34% from three with Curry off the court. When Curry is leading the play, the goal should be to take away the three point shot, as this is the more efficient play for Curry. With others leading the ball screen though, the more efficient play is to get dribble penetration into the lane, so defenses should sag off to cut off driving lanes.
Stopping the Curry led pick and roll completely will be impossible due to his shooting prowess and vision to find the open teammates. The best case for the defense is to force him to give up the ball to a less effective offensive player or to take a contested long two point attempt. It’s going to take awareness to hedge on the ball screen and communication to rotate properly through the rest of the offensive options to complete the play.