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NBA PM: Most Efficient Pick-and-Roll Guards

Jake Rauchbach looks at the NBA’s most efficient pick-and-roll guards this season.

Jake Rauchbach

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DeMar DeRozan, James Harden and Isaiah Thomas are playing at an extremely high level to start the season. DeRozan is leading the league in scoring at 34.1 points per game, while Harden is close behind him in scoring while also leading the NBA in assists with 13 per game. Thomas continues his stellar individual play in Boston, picking up where he left off last season.

When you take a deeper look into the statistics, it is evident that pick-and-roll action comprises a substantial portion of their overall offensive play types. Making the right decision whether to pass, shoot or re-angle a ball screen in order to attack the defense out of PNR is how many of these players, and others listed below, are able to gain their offensive advantage and make their mark on the game. Their effectiveness in PNRs is also a big reason why these players are doing so well.

Let’s take a look at five of the most efficient pick-and-roll guards (who have had at least 35 PNR possessions this season) and how they create opportunities for their teams off of this action.

Deron Williams, Dallas Mavericks – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.20

Despite the Mavericks’ tough start to the season (2-6 thus far), Williams has been one of the bright spots, averaging 15 points and 5.8 assists through five games before going down with a calf injury. Williams is leading the league in points per possession off of pick-and-roll situations at 1.2. PNRs make up more than half of Williams’ offensive play types at 51 percent, per Synergy Sports. It’s safe to say that the veteran guard leans heavily on this action to facilitate offense for teammates and himself. Out of PNR action, Williams is shooting 56.4 percent and is extremely adept using the ball screen to get to his one or two dribble pull-up, per Synergy. Out of 65 of Williams’ PNR possessions thus far, about a quarter of them have resulted in pull-up jumpers. The Mavs guard has scored 21 points off of PNR pull-ups, per Synergy. On 38 possessions passing out of the PNR, he has assisted on 57 points, which ranks him in the 99th percentile in the league, per Synergy. Most of these passes are to the benefit of Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki, who are natural pop guys, or spot up jump shooters Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews. The Mavericks are hoping Williams can make it back from his lower leg injury soon in order to continue his productive play.

James Harden, Houston Rockets – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.197

No surprise here. Harden has found himself in PNRs a ridiculous 213 times thus far this season. Now that head coach Mike D’Antoni has teamed up with Harden in Houston to employ the similar ball-screen methods that helped make Steve Nash become so successful, Harden’s craftiness seems to be even harder to guard this season. Harden is fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 30.6 points, and first in assists with 13 per game through the first eight games of the season. D’Antoni’s offense seems to lend well to Harden’s crafty, herky jerky game, and the Rockets guard knows exactly how to gain an advantage from it. Currently, Harden ranks first in total PNR possessions and points scored off PNR action (255), per Synergy. The next closest man is Russell Westbrook, with 170 points off of PNR play. Harden relies on ball screens to free himself up for shots and is averaging 1.19 points per possession off of this type of play, per Synergy. For Harden to keep up his outstanding production thus far, he will need to continue to excel with his PNR play.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.185

Through their first seven games, the Celtics are struggling (3-4). However, Thomas looks to be picking up where he left off last season, averaging 25.7 points and 7.3 assists per game. Thomas has always relied on ball-screen action to imbalance the defense, and this season he ranks right behind Williams and Harden with 1.19 points per possession off of PNRs, per Synergy. Thomas has All-Star Al Horford and capable big Kelly Olynyk to work with. Often, Thomas will find Horford, Olynyk or Tyler Zeller rolling to the basket for buckets. He has several guys he finds for perimeter shots, like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and pick-and-pop guy Jonas Jerebko. Thomas is also highly effective in PNRs, because he uses his speed and change of pace to create opportunities for himself. When coming off of ball screen action, he is shooting a lights out 53 percent from the field. Look for Thomas to continue his hot start by utilizing Brad Stevens’ high-volume, ball-screen offense.

Zach LaVine, Minnesota T’Wolves – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.12

The Timberwolves wing has started the season averaging 20 points and chipping in 2.3 assists per game. He also ranks fifth in PNR efficiency, averaging 1.11 points per possession, per Synergy. LaVine’s ball-screen action only makes up 29 percent of his total offensive play types, which is considerably less than Williams’ 51 percent, Harden’s 58 percent and Thomas’ 44 percent. However, LaVine is similarly effective in PNRs as these players. Through seven games, LaVine has scored 19 points on 19 PNR possessions when he keeps the ball looking to score himself and has scored 28 points on 23 possessions when finding teammates, per Synergy. LaVine has been especially good when hitting the roll guy (18 points on 13 possessions). In LaVine’s case, this has been Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng. Combined with his athleticism and solid shooting ability, LaVine’s strong PNR play could help him and the T-Wolves make the leap to the next level this season.

Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.12

Bradley is the second Celtics player, along with Thomas, in the league’s top five in PNR efficiency. Through seven games, Bradley is averaging 1.12 PPP off of PNRs, per Synergy. Pick-and-roll makes up 34 percent of his offensive plays, per Synergy. Off of PNR, Bradley is adept at hitting the roll guy and is especially effective when finding shooters spotting up around the perimeter. Bradley excels at creating spot-up opportunities for teammates, such as fellow guard Marcus Smart and pick-and-pop big Jonas Jerebko. When he keeps it in PNR action, Bradley is looking to get all the way to the rim or pull up inside the arc. It will be interesting to see how Thomas and Bradley coexist this year within the same high volume PNR offense.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – Average Points Per PNR Possession: 1.11

DeRozan is the league’s leading scorer and is off to a red-hot start seven games in. A career 28.1 percent three-point shooter, DeRozan is currently shooting 16.7 percent from three this season. That being said, somehow the Raptors guard has upped his offensive output by 10 points per game when compared to last season, averaging 34.1 points. A large part of this increased production is due to his highly efficient PNR play. DeRozan is averaging 1.11 points per possessions on PNR and loves to get into the lane, draw contact and finish over smaller defenders, per Synergy. His effectiveness in the mid-range has also allowed him to bolster a high PNR efficiency rating. PNRs make up 45 percent of DeRozan’s offensive play types, per Synergy. For DeRozan to continue this ultra high level of play, he will likely have to maintain his high PNR rating.

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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