Why would a team gather the personnel to run a flawless play, learn to execute that play to perfection and then stop consistently running it?
That may be a question to ask the Los Angeles Clippers in regards to their high pick-and-roll, because even with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the best screen-and-roll combination in the NBA, the Clippers get away from that play so often.
The high screen-and-roll is a pretty simple set for Los Angeles. Paul gets to the top of the three-point line, Griffin comes over to set a screen, CP3 dribbles around it and then will usually try to get Blake the ball on his rim run. And when Griffin gets the rock around the free-throw line, this offense becomes so effective.
That’s when the Clippers get a mini 4-on-3 for possibly the best facilitating big man in the NBA. Griffin has four options: He can shoot (though he usually doesn’t do that), drive, kick out to open shooters or play some high-low game with DeAndre Jordan. For reference, here’s a quick example of how that play works in real time. In this instance, Griffin throws a perfect lob to DJ:
This play is so successful that over the course of the regular season, Griffin actually assisted Jordan only one less time than Paul. When Griffin makes any short roll, the moment of truth comes right here, at the free throw line:
That’s why Paul has to get him the ball by the time he’s at that spot. If Blake can create from there, especially when the Clippers have numbers, it’s generally over. But as games continue, the Clippers have a bad habit of getting away from Griffin. That usually happens once the bench unit enters the game.
The Clippers’ offense has actually been 2.8 points per 100 possessions worse with Crawford in the game during the postseason, and plenty of that has to do with their inability to move the ball.
Jamal can score. He can cross guys over, but once he enters the game with Paul, we start to see so much isolation. According to Synergy Sports, Crawford is one of the ten most isolation-heavy players in the league, and more than two-thirds of his catch-and-shoot attempts are actually guarded. That’s pretty easily the most of any player on the Clippers.
That style it may work for a bench unit, which needs someone who can score on his own considering there aren’t many facilitators out there when the reserves are in, but when J. Crossover plays crunch time, it’s a different story.
That’s when Chris Paul takes his own turn, Crawford takes his, and the offense just starts to go away. Paul runs the pick-and-roll on about two-thirds of his plays. Crawford, meanwhile, is doing it less than 40 percent of the time.
Now, it’s not like the Clippers can’t score when Paul and Crawford share the floor. L.A. averaged 112.0 points per 100 possessions when those two guys played together during the regular season. In fourth quarters, Crawford-Paul lineups were actually even better, posting a ridiculous 120.5 offensive efficiency. To put that in perspective, the Clippers led the NBA this year with a 109.4 points-per-100-possessions average. So they can score. They just do it when Crawford gets hot.
And therein lies the problem with this type of attack: it’s predicated on one guy making shots. And considering the Clippers get the ball out of Griffin’s hands to make this happen, it may not be worth it.
The Clippers’ high pick-and-roll seems to work every time when Paul gets the rock to Griffin at the free-throw line. Every single time. So many plays in the NBA are defense dependent. With this one, it’s purely how the offense executes it. Get the ball to Blake in a 4-on-3 scenario and someone on the Clippers is going to have to make a mistake for the offense not to work almost every time.
Just look at the Clippers’ 16-point, fourth-quarter comeback from Game 4. There was so much pick-and-roll action. Even Crawford’s big three to give the Clips their first lead came off a high screen-and-roll set. And even though the cliches tell you that crunch-time basketball has to involve isolation, hero ball, what the Clippers truly need is to run as much pick-and-roll as they possibly can.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.