Coming on the heels of Wednesday's ugly overtime win over Northwestern, Michigan's lethargic effort against Iowa on Saturday resulted in a 75-59 loss. Many of the team's problems offensively can be traced to the ineffectiveness of the pick and roll. John Beilein has placed a lot of emphasis on the pick and roll this season, and it is often how Michigan starts out their offensive sets. Earlier this year Trey Burke ran it with great effect, and his offense flourished; getting freed up to start out plays allowed Burke to utilize his quickness and finishing ability to create baskets for himself and others.
While Burke has managed to score 19 points in each of the last two games, his efficiency has plummeted, as he's just 12-30 (40%) from the field during that span, a number that's actually inflated due to several garbage-time buckets against the Hawkeyes. I believe the main issue lies with the pick and roll, and how teams are now defending it.
Both Northwestern and Iowa hedged hard with the man defending the screener, putting extra pressure on Burke, keeping him from turning the corner and driving, and making it difficult for the diminutive guard to find passing lanes. Let's take a look at an example to see what's bogging down the offense. Here's a play from Saturday where Iowa stymies two pick-and-roll attempts, eventually forcing a turnover.
First, the setup. Burke has the ball on the left side early in the shot clock, and Jordan Morgan gets into position to set a screen towards the middle of the court:
Burke dribbles over to the pick, and Morgan dives to the basket. The problem is that Morgan's defender, Melsahn Basabe, comes out to double Burke instead of rolling to the post with Morgan. This is just after the mesh point of the pick, and already Burke is being forced to retreat:
Even though Morgan is open and has a lane to the basket, Burke doesn't have a path to get him the ball. By the time Basabe peels off and heads back to Morgan, Burke is all the way out on the center-court logo, still trying to turn the corner and in no position to make a play. He's forced to pass off to Novak, and the offense will reset.
Novak will swing it down to Smotrycz, then the ball will come back around to Burke, where he calls another play, again asking for Morgan to come over and set a screen. Again, Iowa hedges, and Burke doesn't help matters at all by running nowhere close to the pick, giving his man ample room to go over the top and stay right with him:
Basabe hounds Burke as Devyn Marble (#4) also chases him to the sideline—there's no chance Burke can pass to Morgan on the roll, and once more he's forced to pass off to Novak. Iowa turns up the pressure at the end of the shot clock, and Novak will lose control of the ball, leading to an Iowa steal right before the shot clock expires.
Here's the full play on video:
At no point in this play did Michigan even have a decent look at the basket, and it was due to their inability to counter the hard hedge, an issue that would present itself several times over the course of the game. So, what do we learn from this, and how can Michigan counteract this level of pressure?
Burke and Morgan have to execute better. Teams can defend the pick and roll however they want and you're going to run into problems if you don't do a fundamentally sound job of setting it up. On the first screen in the above play, Morgan rolls to the basket early—he never comes into contact with Marble, nor does he affect the path Marble must take to stay on Burke, eliminating the potential for a switch or even a delay in getting out to Burke. On the second screen, Burke doesn't come close to the pick, and Marble can just run right over the top of Morgan while staying between Burke and the basket. Morgan has to stay at home and make sure he sets a solid screen, and Burke has to do a better job of rubbing against the screen to give it maximum effect. Neither happened in conjunction on this play.
Michigan needs to adjust how they run the P&R. Interestingly, Michigan appears to have a built-in adjustment for the hard hedge, and it was highlighted by former Wolverine point guard David Merritt over at UMHoops back in December. Watch what happens against Memphis when Burke runs a high side screen with Jon Horford; the Tigers hedge, so Horford sets himself again and sets a pick coming back in the other direction, getting Burke one-on-one and giving him space to get into the lane:
There's another option I've seen put forth (possibly by Brian, and also by some frustrated Tweeters this weekend), and that is to run the high screen not with Burke, but with Tim Hardaway, Jr., whose extra size would help him see and pass over the double-team. I'm skeptical about how well this would work, as Hardaway isn't nearly as quick as Burke—he's more effective offensively when coming off screens away from the ball and getting passes while cutting. It is an option, however, and could also be a way to get Hardaway going towards the basket instead of settling for long jumpers.
Run the pick-and-pop with Smotrycz. Morgan is an effective finisher around the basket, but he's not a threat to pop out to the three-point line and knock down a jumper, which allows defenders to abandon him at the perimeter and wait for help to arrive while hedging on Burke. This isn't the case with Smotrycz, who is still connecting on nearly 46% of his three-point attempts this season despite a recent shooting slump. Having Smotrycz set the screen and then slide out for an open three would likely give Burke a better passing lane if the opponent comes with a hard hedge, and if Smotrycz can knock down those open looks, opponents would be more reticent to double Burke.
Run more plays with off-ball screens. There's also this: Michigan has a lot of great plays that aren't predicated on an early on-ball screen. It's possible teams have found how to take advantage of Burke's greatest weakness—his size—and can render him ineffective on most pick and roll plays. I would think Beilein can devise a way to counter the hard hedge—we've seen one such adjustment above—but if he can't, there's a lot more to the Wolverine offense. Michigan had a lot of success against Wisconsin by setting off-ball screens in the corner for Zack Novak, but I didn't see much of that against Iowa. When facing off against teams with bigger guards and athletic big men, like Iowa, Michigan might have to look for a similar way to generate offense.
If they're going to make that kind of two-man game a staple of their offense, two things need to happen.
1. Use of the screens have got to get better. Burke can't allow himself to be consistently forced away from the basket. It limits his option to one play, moving the ball to the weak-side wing where the defense hasn't been significantly stressed. He's got to go harder off the screen and look to split the hedge, which not only opens a path to the bucket for him, but will force TH's guy to help, opening TH for a 3. Morgan, as you point out, is also slipping the screen a bit too regularly (an artifact of playing with Morris last year who could spot the slip better). They've got to work more on regularly causing contact, which will open the opportunity for Burke to split the double if teams hedge.
2. The three players not involved in the play have to be aware of the parts of the defense that are stressed by the P & R. Smot, in that play, misses the chance to take advantage of Iowa's defense being slightly out of position as they responded to the P & R, with Morgan in good post position (if he gets the ball in his left hand there, he should be able to drop step and go up for a high percentage shot). Instead, he waits too long, Morgan loses his position, and the ball cycles back to the top.
Good write up Ace; funny thing is that I posted virtually the same thing over on the Scout subscription site about half an hour ago prior to seeing your post (great minds and all that).
Pick and pop, re-setting the screen opposite and weakside screens aren't bad ideas, but there's a couple of other simple adjustments that can be made within the context of the original set itself:
- Once it's apparent that the opponent is going to hedge, swing the ball immediately to the weakside backcourt player (Novak in your example). If Morgan rolls hard to the rim, there will be two defensive players to guard three offensive players on the weak side. Novak can then drive, shoot it, or if they close hard on him, pass to either Morgan or the weakside baseline player (Smotrycz).
- Have Morgan slip the screen i.e. fake the pick and roll and head for the front of the rim; this requires a trickier entry pass from the elbow area, but can be effective against a hedge. This would be a good play to run with Hardaway as he has more height if a lob pass is required.
You can bet this will be an emphasis with the coaching staff over the next few practices.
A good counter to a hard hedge like that is to immediately turn it back to the left. As Needs mentions above, the first step is obviously executing the screen properly. They need to truly rub shoulders going past. That being said, Burke should get Basabe to commit and then immediately cross over and pass it to Hardaway on the wing. If Morgan is rolling hard, suddenly there is a single defender who has to choose between Morgan's roll and an open three for Hardaway. Kind of a basic concept, but if someone overplays you consistently, you have to make them pay by taking advantage of the opening they give you.
This is a great point. Perhaps the main problem with the play broken down above is that it renders Hardaway completely ineffectual. At no point in the play does the team's best scorer have the opportunity to make an impact, or even have the potential to score.
Did you watch the same game as me? Eso looks so slow when he is out on the court and cannot handle the ball very well. Michigan has to use 3 guys to break the press whenever he is out there because he cannot get the ball over half court otherwise.
To me, it worries me that CB can't beat him out because CB should have far more raw talent. Eso doesn't do anything that is a "plus". It seems that when he is out there we are just hoping to survive until Burke comes back rather than impact the game.
You clearly must be watching something different if you think Eso needs more minutes. He is the least quick PG I have ever seen, he cannot create a shot, he is slow on defense, and his ball handling ability isn't very good. All he can do is knock down an open shot.
And this is not to knock Eso.. it isn't his fault. He is a walk-on for a reason though.
Agreed. When I first started reading this blog, I didn't know a pulling guard from a ham sandwich, but years of reading Brian's (and BlueSeoul's, and Seth's, and ...) breakdowns of how plays in football are set up and executed (or not executed) has given me a tremendous education in the intricacies of the game -- and increased my enjoyment in both watching and discussing football in the process. I find that my knowledge of basketball now is a lot like my knowlege of football pre-MGo: I know that set plays exist, and that it's not just chaos out there, but I have zero understanding of what offenses are trying to do, and how defenses are trying to stop them. This post is exactly the thing I want to read more of. Especially for a basketball tyro like me, these posts offer far more bang for the buck than UFR's, and they seem like they probably take less time for you, too. Keep 'em coming, Ace.
This is the area of the game where we miss D-Mo the most. Darius Morris had the size and ability to make the passes in the pick and roll game that Trey just cannot do. Has nothing to do with Trey's ability, but everything to do with his size leading to less court vision. Darius Morris may not have been the scorer that Trey is, but his vision and pick and roll ability made every player on Michigan better. I'm sure Tim Hardaway misses getting all of those open looks he got last year, and Jordan Morgan certainly does not have the same offensive impact as last year. J-Mo and D-Mo had the pick and roll game down pat last year. It is clear that either we will need to get better at the pick and roll game or we will have to emphasize another area to improve offensively.
The major difference between the way Iowa and Wisconsin defended Michigan's P&R is by sending that 2nd guy screaming after Burke. It was usually somebody rather large and by design cut off Burke's vision and passing angles leading to scenes like the one posted above.
How do you beat this? Like Ace said, Burke's got to a better job using his screen. I can't even say diving on the first P&R is on Morgan, because he's read the hard hedge and created a situation where there is Hardaway's defender on Hardaway and Morgan or help side is going to be responsible for picking up Morgan. Burke has to draw both Marble and his guy out and either swing it to Hardaway or find a way to pass over the top to Morgan.
The other way is when both Morgan and Burke's defenders chase Burke to basically half court, Timmay has to rotate up and that point drawing his defender away from an area where he can hedge on Morgan while maintaining solid positioning on Timmy.
As already stated, Burke can either set up his man and cross over to the left (turning down the screen)..
or Morgan can come and set another screen at a different angle for Burke to get to his left ( this is possible b/c Basabe would be too far out of position to hedge a 're-screen' second attempt.
Or because Iowa was sinking their weakside help defender (Hardaway's man) to help on the rolling Morgan.... Michigan can run a set play to have Hardaway cut to the basket for a lob (his defender would be unaware of Timmay's movement as his back is turned).
But the main room for improvement is on Burke. He has to stay tighter to the screen and not allow the guy to go over it. (You have to punish a guy going over the screen or it'll never work)
I couldn't agree more with the above article on the problems with the pick and roll.
However, my biggest concern has just been an overall lack of effort and sloppy play by Michigan these last two games. It was obvious to me that Iowa was getting all of the 50/50 balls. And the pick & roll is a prime example of the sloppy play. It's like the team is just going through the motions, but not really setting picks or cutting hard to the hoop.
We really need an energy guy to come off the bench to get the team hustling. I'm talking about guys like - Zach Gibson and C.J. Lee who weren't the greatest of athletes but brought the energy/effort. Currently we don't have that spark, but hopefully that will change as future teams get deeper with talent. I think Coach K (Duke) did the right thing the other night. His team wasn't hustling, so he brought in a completely new 5 so that his starters could sit on the bench and see what effort looks like.
On the first screen in the above play, Morgan rolls to the basket early—he never comes into contact with Marble, nor does he affect the path Marble must take to stay on Burke, eliminating the potential for a switch or even a delay in getting out to Burke.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think as soon as Morgan sees that they are going to double Burke, he is supposed to abandon setting the screen (ie-not make contact on the screen) and "slip the screen", heading straight to the basket. The only problem is that Burke, instead of getting the ball to Morgan immediately (over the top or through a crease), he retreats, letting help rotate over by the time he would be able to get Morgan the ball.
On a true pick and roll, the point is that the screener rolls and seals off the defender on his back side. The guy is still being defended, only the defender is behind him as he rolls to the basket. Notice that Morgan never actually rolls, because there is no defender to seal.
"Some people break under pressure; others break records."