Coach Mark Turgeon mentioned the statistic sometime during Friday’s practice with the Maryland men’s basketball team, and the number seemed far too high to be accurate. Had Miami really set upwards of 200 ball screens when the Hurricanes visited College Park two days earlier? And, more to the point, had the Terrapins really successfully defended around 80 percent of them?
“A step in the right direction,” Turgeon said. “Getting better.”
Turgeon has always instructed his post players to hedge high on screens and bump the ballhandler from his intended route. But the Terrapins had struggled with this. Sometimes, the big men took wrong angles and created easy escape routes. Sometimes, improper recovery opened a secondary look. Sometimes, there were too many mistakes to count.
After losing to Pittsburgh at home last Saturday, Turgeon spent somewhere around 90 minutes re-teaching ball-screen defense. He knew Miami’s post players struggled to score for themselves within the system and often served as stone pillars, out there to knock bodies around and little else. So Turgeon told his front-court defenders — Jon Graham, Evan Smotrycz, Shaq Cleare, Charles Mitchell and Damonte Dodd – to start showing hard, to aggressively drive the Hurricanes toward the half-court line.
“Every game’s been a little different, but we felt like with Miami that’s what we needed to do,” Turgeon said. “By hard show we want the bigs to beat us and not the guards.”
The guards ended up scoring plenty. Rion Brown notched 25 points and Manu Lecomte had 19, but the Terps were still markedly better at defending the ball screen. Even Smotrycz, slow-footed and sometimes a liability on that end, drew praise from the television broadcasters for the way he attacked the dribbler off picks.
“You just want to make the guard go towards half court for one or two dribbles, get him away from the three-point line or the scoring area,” Graham said. “After you get out, it’s all communication. Guys on the back line have to talk, tell you where to go and you’ve got to look to see who’s open and take that guy.”
Graham only earned his second start since transferring from Penn State because of his smarts defending ball screens, Turgeon said, but his teammates were much improved, too. The key is rushing to a position where the ballhandler runs into you, creating contact that throws off his rhythm.
In the first two images, both Smotrycz and Dodd execute well. In each situation, Seth Allen got screened and was several yards away from the ball. But Smotrycz and Dodd cut off the horizontal route, forcing the Hurricanes player to either double back to take a long, looping dribble. In the third, Smotrycz shows too hard and leaves the middle open, so Lecomte splits it and attacks the rim. Too many times earlier this season, the Terps had taken poor angles to screens.
After the show, though, comes the recovery, and this is often a dicey situation. Backside rotation means the big men are often recovering onto someone other than their initial defender, and without proper talk this can cause a scramble. In Turgeon’s system, his big men are hustling back to the post with their backs to the possession, hands up to block the passing lane.
“The recovery’s very huge,” Graham said. “That’s all communication. You can’t really see what’s going on after you leave the screen, but you can see what’s front of you and hopefully the guard just did his job to contain the basketball.”