If The Cavs Can’t Stop Pick-n-Roll, How Can They Stop Golden State?

Feb 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dribbles as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) defends during the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Washington Wizards 140-135 in fourth quarter. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dribbles as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) defends during the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Washington Wizards 140-135 in fourth quarter. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Cavaliers are among the worst pick-and-roll defenses in the NBA this year. And if they can’t stop the PnR, how can they defend the Warriors?

The longest lasting storyline of this NBA season has been the expected collision course for the NBA Finals: What will happen if (or when) the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors meet again?

Last year’s Cavs had a “rough” March that saw them drifting outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency. This year’s “rough” March laughs at what last year’s team considered “struggles” as Cleveland finished 29th in DRtg last month. The Cavaliers defense is just bad right now. The reason and explanation here is simple.

The Cleveland Cavaliers can’t stop the pick-and-roll. Golden State, of course, lives by it.

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According to Synergy, Cleveland ranks 26th in the NBA in points allowed per possession (0.893) on pick and rolls where the ball handler keeps the ball. The only teams that rank worse are Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix, and Portland.

You might say “but a pick and roll involves two guys – maybe they’re good at stopping the other guy.”

Nope. The Cavs rank 27th against the roll man, allowing 1.094 PPP (points per possession). The three teams who are worse are Denver, Sacramento, and – somewhat surprisingly given their success – the Rockets.

Maybe you’re saying “but the Cavs stopped the pick-and-roll against Golden State last year, shouldn’t they be able to do it again this year?”

They should be able to, sure. But they also should be better than 21-19 over their last 40 games.

Golden State screens all over the court and in all sorts of situations. They prey on teams that don’t know exactly what they need to do on defense. The 2015-16 Cavs figured it out. The 2016-17 Cavs are not looking very good.

Fans think of Golden State as a pick-and-roll dominated offense. Would you believe that the Warriors have the fewest possessions ending on pick and rolls in the entire NBA? According to Synergy, the ball-handler has finished the possession fewer times for Golden State than anyone else. As for the roll man, Golden State is within five possessions of being lowest in the NBA there as well.


The above video is the typical style of Golden State’s offense. Only one of those three pick and rolls would count as a pick-and-roll on Synergy – even though the Iguodala and Barbosa shots are products of a pick-and-roll, they’re not coming from one of the two men involved.

By all means, go on Youtube and look up Warriors pick and rolls to see how often this happens. They’re masterful, but an awful lot of them don’t end with either of those two guys scoring.

So we know the Warriors run PnR a lot but shockingly they only rank 11th in efficiency on pick and rolls. However, since they’re setting screens everywhere, there’s more to this story.

The team with the 2nd most possessions ending in points off screens is Dallas. They have scored off 701 total screens.

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  • Golden State is No. 1. They’ve scored off 1114 screens. The difference between teams ranked 1 and 2 is about the same as the difference between teams ranked 2 and 29. The Warriors are more than 50 percent ahead of Dallas. It’s incredible.

    This is “Lou Brock (MLB’s 2nd all-time base stealer) would have to come back from the dead and steal 468 bases (a number which, by itself, would be in the top 50 for a career in MLB history) just to tie 1st place Rickey Henderson” level of dominance.

    So yes, the Warriors screen a ton and they do it well. How can the Cleveland Cavaliers handle this?

    There are three possibilities.

    1. The Cavaliers remember how to switch on screens like last year. Admittedly, Kevin Love’s concussion allowed the Cavs to play smaller and Richard Jefferson was more able to switch from Klay to Draymond to Barnes than Love would’ve been. It will be much tougher with Durant in Barnes’s place. Perhaps a guy like Derrick Williams could come in handy.
    2. The Cavaliers try to dictate size and pace. Unlikely, but what if the Cavs play giant shooters all over in an effort to out-gun the gunners? How about Irving, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, LeBron, and Kevin Love? Let LeBron rest for four minutes and go Irving, JR, Korver, Frye, and Love? Let Kyrie rest and get JR, Shumpert, Korver, James, and Tristan out there for a giant lineup? The Cavs, even with their struggles, have an impossibly deep lineup. They can play with anyone.
    3. The Cavaliers can’t handle it and they get destroyed. This could happen before the Finals, frankly. Boston has been hot, Toronto is playing well even before Lowry gets back, and Washington thumped the Cavs in Cleveland. This is not a guaranteed run to the Finals.

    While it’s compelling – and historically accurate – to think ahead and write the Cavaliers into the Finals because of LeBron James, it’s not a given. Cleveland has been a mess. Even their hard-fought win against Indiana Sunday was against a team that has been bad recently and worse on the road.

    Ty Lue has suggested that he has some kind of secret plans for playoff defense, but that sure seems like nonsense. What’s really happening is that opposing point guards are torching the Cavs.

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    In a recent four game stretch, Cleveland allowed 40 points to D’Angelo Russell, 28 to Kemba Walker, and 37 to John Wall. They can’t cut off the head of this metaphorical snake. All of those teams ran simple pick and rolls all game.

    It will be no easier when the head of that snake is Isaiah Thomas. Or Kyle Lowry. Or Stephen Curry.