When we last convened in the film room, I was breaking down the offensive rebounding of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, aka “The Windex Duo”. As always if you have any suggestions for film room topics, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Today, we’re going to be talking about help-side defense and what happens when players help too much. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at several wide open three-point looks the Suns got on Sunday night and how these could have been much better contested with proper defensive floor balance. Let’s go ahead and dive into the evidence.
We start off in the far-side corner with Kyrie Irving guarding Goran Dragic. You can see right away that the Cavaliers’ floor balance after a pass from the top of the key into the corner is not good. Dragic immediately has a lane because of the way Irving is playing him.
You want to keep driving players away from the middle, where they can much more easily slice your defense up, but Irving is completely green-lighting Dragic with a lane to the hoop. He starts the baseline drive and draws Anderson Varejao’s attention, who is covering Miles Plumlee.
Varejao doesn’t, however, cut off baseline. He offers help, but he was so far out of position when the ball got passed into the corner that he doesn’t have any sort of angle to stop Dragic without fouling. That means someone else has to offer help, and that comes in the form of C.J. Miles, who leaves P.J. Tucker alone in the corner.
Three guys collapsing on one passing player in the paint is never good. Dragic kicks it out to Tucker in the corner who buries the wide-open trey. As Jacob pointed out during the game, the Cavaliers failed on their scouting report that says Tucker loves the corner three.
There’s not even anybody on that half of the court to properly rotate and contest the shot. That’s not Miles’s fault. The primary responsibility is stopping the man with the ball. Instead, it’s Varejao’s fault. He’s got to cut off baseline at all costs and trust Deng or even Irving who should be switching in this scenario rather than chasing Dragic.
Moving on to the second half, the Suns got hot and erased the Cavaliers’ 18-point lead in the course of one quarter. They did it largely by sharp-shooting from the three-point arc (and having the Cavs score just six points doesn’t hurt either). In this early offensive set for Phoenix, Gerald Green starts backing down the much smaller Irving in the post.
Tristan Thompson offers help, but in doing so, he leaves the outside threat in Channing Frye. This is a case where I would make Kyrie play him 1-on-1 in the post and force Varejao to help if it’s necessary with Deng rotating down to cover Plumlee to prevent a dunk or layup.
Frye has all day to gather and knock down the shot as Tristan desperately runs out to get a hand in his sight line.
IF Tristan is going to help, then Kyrie needs to force him back towards Thompson, because he got WAY too far away from an outside threat like Fyre. There’s only a few hard and fast rules on defense when it comes to thinking on the fly, and I don’t know all of Mike Brown’s defensive inner-workings, but there are better ways to defend these offensive attacks.
Because we like to repeat ourselves here, let’s see Frye get another easy shot. There is some Green-Plumlee pick and roll action at the top of the key to begin the play. Miles and Varejao are covering the two of them.
You can see above that instead of Andy coming to hedge on the pick, it’s Tristan that provides the help. By having a third defender poke his nose into the area, it opens up Frye on the left wing.
You can actually hear Mike Brown screaming for Tristan to get out on Frye as the play develops, but it’s too late.
You can’t cover a outside threat big man the same way as a guard. You need to be closer to his personal space, because if you aren’t, you have zero chance of bothering his shot. Frye’s shot is pretty quick and compact.
One more play to pick on Tristan (which is rare, for me). This play starts with Kyrie getting picked on the far-side wing by Frye.
Dragic springs free on a straight cut to the basket. Irving’s chasing him, but it looks like he’s going to get a layup after the pass from Plumlee.
But, because the pass leads him too far underneath the rim, the Cavs catch a break as Dragic has to move to the other side of the basket to try and score. Irving and Varejao both pinch in to prevent the shot attempt. Meanwhile, locate Thompson and Frye below.
What are you doing, Tristan? You’re napping again! Tristan gets caught up in watching TWO teammates cover the guy with the ball, allowing Frye to set up camp on the right wing and beg for the basketball. Always see man and ball. Tristan is not taking his man into account at all.
It’s another easy one for Frye with that high release, and he cans his third three-pointer in less than ninety seconds.
Our own Jacob Rosen dug up some great stats for this one, and he found that the Cavaliers allow 36.9% shooting from behind the arc with Tristan on the floor as opposed to 34% when he’s off. Thompson can be a good on-ball and pick and roll defender when he’s directly involved, but his secondary help-side awareness is horrendous.
Let’s switch to pointing out the defensive shortcomings of another frequent offender for the final breakdown, Kyrie Irving. In this set, the ball begins at the top key with a lot of spacing from the Suns. The Cavs are down just three with under 1:30 to play in the game. We now have Luol Deng on Frye as Thompson covers Tucker, who is less likely to be a factor on this play.
The pick and roll comes, and the directive from Mike Brown to switch this pick in this case is clear. Kyrie doesn’t even really try to fight through the pick (not that he usually does anyway), and Deng picks up Dragic on his mad dash for the basket.
Deng stops the drive, the ball gets kicked out to Tucker in the near corner, and Kyrie is shadowing Frye.
As Tucker starts to move out toward the wing, Irving inexplicably turns his back to the ball! Of course, it’s just as Frye spots up and Tucker starts to deliver the pass.
Irving’s awareness on a play like this, with the shot clock winding down is just sad. Frye gets the pass delivered, and from the top of the key, he knocks down the shot and essentially ices the game. A stop there, and the Cavaliers have a chance to tie on the next trip down the floor. As important as it is for a big guy to stay chained to Frye on the arc, it’s even more important for a guard to do so. Crowding him early or even denying the pass is the only chance Irving had. The Cavs allow 37.1% three point shooting with Irving on the floor as opposed to 33.8% with him off.
Some of it has to be the players’ grasp of scouting reports. Make Frye drive by you and put it on the floor. He wants to sit there and spot-up shoot threes all day long! He’s already made 100 threes this season!
Speaking of the volume of three pointers, take a look at Jacob’s chart below that accounts for the percentage of field goals attempted by Cavalier opponents from the different areas on the floor.
This year, teams are shooting nearly 22% of their shots against the Cavs from above the break and behind the line. That’s nearly 5% over the league average. In total, opponents are taking 29.1% of their shot attempts from three.
Another great point that Jacob had in the course of his research was that teams are now shooting more overall three-point shots against the Cavs since Bynum and his slow feet moved out of the paint.
With Bynum pre-suspension (480 mins) — 23.8% of FGA Without Bynum pre-suspension (894 mins) — 30.1% of FGA First 7 games post-suspension (346 mins) — 30.5% of FGA Last 9 games post-suspension (432 mins) — 32.7% of FGA **NOTE: The 9 games coincide with Luol Deng’s arrival.
When Bynum was here, involving him in a pick and roll or driving to the basket often drew him in a blocked shot attempt. From there, it was an easy dump-off to his man for a slam or layup. Now, with more mobile big men playing all of the minutes for the Cavs between Thompson, Varejao, Zeller, and Clark, the openings are more perimeter based.
Guarding the three-point arc has always been the Achilles heel of the Mike Brown defense. But right now, it’s a flatout mess as the players with the heaviest minutes loads can’t seem to figure it out.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."