John Calipari is set in his ways on a few things. He despises playing zone defense, he doesn’t run set inbounds plays to score and he prefers to switch on ball screens. We can no longer accept the latter.
In a perfect world, you switch every screen because that’s the easiest way to play defense, but you must have elite defenders for it to be successful. Calipari’s been blessed to have exceptional athletes in the post that can step out and defend on the perimeter.
Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year, could do it. Willie Cauley-Stein could do it in his sophomore season and during his First Team All-American junior campaign. This is what happens when Bam Adebayo defends on the perimeter.
– ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) December 22, 2016
Bam got embarrassed, but it’s not his fault. He’s doing what he’s told. Even though Kentucky’s comeback effort was valiant, it was not enough to erase the six-point deficit with 1:45 to play.
Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time is one big reason why Kentucky lost at Louisville. Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time could have, and probably should have, kept Kentucky from winning at Vanderbilt Tuesday night.
Down four, it was any easy call for Bryce Drew: give the ball to a shooter and use whoever Adebayo’s defending for a pick-and-roll. A 55 percent three-point shooter got an open attempt, but at least it wasn’t as embarrassing as what happened at Louisville.
Kentucky is lucky LaChance is not as good as Quentin Snider. The problem is that neither are that good. However, Joel Berry is. Trailing by five with under four minutes to play, ‘Ol Roy drew up the same play and you’ll never believe what happened.
Berry’s three started a 10-2 run, giving the Tar Heels a three-point lead with 1:20 to play. Luckily, the team was bailed out by Malik Monk’s unbelievable 47-point performance.
During last night’s call-in show, John Calipari reflected on the win at Vanderbilt. “You learn what you did well that worked, and you learn some things you better not repeat.” Switching every ball screen should not be repeated.
There are two simple solutions:
1. Hedge and Rotate
Because very few post players can defend guards on the perimeter, this is the preferred method at every level of basketball. When Kansas comes to town in two weeks, you will not see Landen Lucas guarding De’Aaron Fox on the perimeter.
The principle requires team defense and knowledge of personnel. Let’s use the UK-Vandy matchup as an example. Here’s what happened in the game, as so eloquently illustrated by Drew Franklin.
If UK hedged, Bam Adebayo would step up and show hard to take away the three, and Fox would fight over top of the screen because LaChance is a 55 percent three-point shooter. (Against a non-shooter, Bam’s hedge would be more horizontal instead of vertical, taking away penetration. Fox would then slide beneath the ball screen and slow down the screener’s cut to the basket before returning to his man.)
In the scenario above, Derek Willis would slide over to take away the pass to Kornet, leaving Briscoe responsible for the two shooters away from the ball. Facing pressure from Adebayo and Fox, LaChance’s chances of passing to either of Briscoe’s opponents is slim to none.
Instead, Bam was put on an island and LaChance only needed to make a subtle move to get Adebayo on his heels.
Trapping ball screens is ideal under certain circumstances, once again, depending on personnel. UK’s personnel favors the trap more times than not. The best asset UK’s perimeter defenders have is quick hands. Fox, Monk and Briscoe average a combined four steals a game.
Using the same scenario, Kentucky’s guards are better at on-ball pressure than Riley LaChance is at dribbling through a double-team. Anticipating the pick-and-roll, Bam and Fox would jump it immediately, forcing LaChance to attempt to either split the double team or pick up his dribble, likely resulting in a turnover, or even better, a run-out for two easy points and a six-point lead.
Instead, LaChance knocked down a three to turn it into a one-point game. Luckily, the Cats got a dunk by Fox and four clutch free throws down the stretch from Monk to ice the game.
Switching has worked well throughout Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, but it’s pretty clear it will not work this year.
Kentucky has only had four games decided by ten points or less. Down the stretch in three of those games, Bam Adebayo was defending a guard on an island, resulting in points for the opponent. Kentucky’s elite scoring guards bailed them out to win two of those three games.
As long as Kentucky continues to switch ball screens, opponents will use pick-and-rolls with whoever Adebayo is defending to get an open shot in the closing minutes. By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, Kentucky can’t afford to exclusively rely on the guards’ scoring ability down the stretch.