[Photo: JD Scott]
For years, a big man’s defense was largely determined by his size. If you could take up a lot of space, opponents struggled to create easy opportunities around the rim. In 2018, the game is far different. If you’re a center and you can’t move your feet adequately, your feet will find themselves on the bench.
Entering the 2018-19 season, mobility is an obvious concern with Jon Teske. Previously, we addressed how to mitigate the quickness concerns offensively through the pick-and-roll game. Now, we look at the other end of the floor.
During the vast majority of John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s big men have operated under a similar scheme defensively when operating in space. The message was clear: hedge the high screen and recover as quickly as possible.
The hedge-and-recover plan has had its highs and lows, sometimes dependent simply on a player’s conditioning, like in the case of Jordan Morgan. The most significant issue with the scheme is that it depends on more than the two primary defenders in a pick-and-roll to execute successfully. Often, the critical role falls to the wings who find themselves covering shooters. They must walk the tight rope of sticking to their man while, at the same time, cutting off the roll man’s lane to the paint.
While Jon Teske is probably a bit more mobile than what is generally perceived, he’s certainly not quick enough to single-handedly shut down high screen situations.
What he lacks in mobility, however, he more than makes up for in recognition and generally high basketball IQ.
[After THE JUMP: evidence of such]
One of the more impressive takeaways that comes from watching last year’s defensive effort closely is how excellent Teske is at identifying the ball-handler and adjusting his pick-and-roll coverage accordingly.
Teske’s adaptation in how he approaches the ball handler is most evident in the games against Iowa and Ohio State this past season.
With the sharp-shooting Jordan Bohannon running point, Teske runs Michigan’s traditional coverage by hedging to prevent an pull-up three point look. Isaiah Livers rotates to the roll man, giving Teske plenty of time to both help and shift onto the uncovered Hawkeye:
When Maishe Dailey, a less significant threat to pull-up from deep, ran the pick-and-roll earlier in the game, Teske declined to hedge and instead put himself in position to defend the drive and pass. The less-common approach from Michigan threw Dailey off a bit and he tossed away a possession as a result:
Later in the game, Teske showed his ability to adapt within a single possession. After he sagged off Dailey, cut off a baseline drive, and forced Iowa to reset, he turned around and hedged against Bohannon prior to recovering to stunt his man in the post:
Watch how, against Ohio State, Teske falls back against Jae’Sean Tate, a 31 percent shooter from deep, to impede his penetration and affect his layup attempt:
Contrast that with how he hedges the much-better shooting C.J. Jackson on the initial high screen:
It's important to note that Teske also hedges on the second pick-and-roll with Andrew Dakich, who shot an impressive 38.5 percent from three last year. Dakich has never been much of a pull-up shooter, but the speed with which this all transpires probably makes the hedge an easier (and arguably correct) decision. Regardless, Michigan recovers impressively after the hedge and they still concede a semi-open look from the corner.
Even with proper execution, the hedge-and-recover scheme can prove problematic. If every piece does not work in unison, the entire system fails.
When a big man who can adjust based on the opposing personnel, the defense becomes more flexible and less predictable. The off-ball defensive movement that we highlighted previously can be more impactful when it does not need to erase the mistakes of improper execution on the front end.
The flexibility that Teske brought to Michigan's defense was evident in how much better it was when he was on the floor last season:
With a full offseason to improve chemistry and communication and more minutes for Teske, expect even bigger things from Michigan's defense this fall.