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How the Mavericks use the pick-and-roll to attack the Clippers

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One of Dallas’s deadliest weapons is coming to light in the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

As complex as the Mavericks offense looks at times, the simple pick-and-roll has been the bread-and-butter of this historically good system.

During the regular season, they ran the pick-and-roll on 20.4 percent of their possessions. The incredible finishing ability of Luka Doncic combined with screen-setters who have the ability to fade and knock down threes led them to a second-best 0.98 points per possession on that play type. Not only did they score a lot, but they did so efficiently. They placed within the top-three of effective field-goal percentage, and-one frequency, and scoring frequency out of the pick-and-roll. Despite facing one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs, the Mavericks haven’t seemed to slow down their attack.

Dallas is running the pick-and-roll on 26.5 percent of their possessions in the playoffs, more than any other team. In their two games, the Mavericks have scored 63 points out of the pick-and-roll, the third most of playoff teams. So how is Dallas exposing such a good defensive team? The answer lies in sticking to your guns, while also adding more elements.

Editor’s note: this post contains multiple embeds of gifs of plays. It may not register properly on your device.


Action One: The simple pick-and-roll

There are three simple ways to defend a pick-and-roll. The first way is to go under the screen. That’s exactly what Kawhi Leonard does here when Doncic receives a screen from Boban Marjanovic. Leonard does this because Doncic’s driving ability is more of a threat than his jump shot. Fortunately for us, Doncic shot 57.1 percent from deep in Game 2, and this was essentially shooting practice.

The second way you can defend the pick-and-roll is to go over the screen. Here, it appears that Marcus Morris Sr. is expecting Ivica Zubac to hedge the Maxi Kleber screen. Instead Zubac drops, leaving Morris Sr. to play catch up and fight over the screen. That’s bad news when Doncic is looking sharp.

Lastly, there’s always the option of switching. Here, Montrezl Harrell is defending Kristaps Porzingis when he sets a screen for Doncic. After faking a baseline drive, Harrell has to defend Doncic who easily uses his agility for a bucket.

Doncic’s scoring ability in the pick-and-roll is a positive both directly and indirectly for the Mavericks. His scoring ability forces the defense to respect his drives, often creating opportunities for his teammates.

Look at the attention Doncic draws on this play. Once he’s at the free throw line, all five Clippers are watching what he’s going to do. This attention to Doncic leaves Seth Curry wide open in the corner for a three.

Then there’s just the plain-ole pick-and-roll. Paul George gets overzealous expecting Kleber to set a hard screen. Instead, Kleber rolls out without even touching George, causing Zubac to step up and defend Doncic, leaving the paint wide open.

Action Two: The pick-and-pop

This one is probably the most familiar to you. We’ve seen this from the Mavericks since the day the season started, and we’re seeing it even more now. This play is frequented so often because it brings out Dallas’s greatest strengths. The incredible shooting ability of Porzingis opens up many opportunities for him behind the arc. Even Kleber is takes more wide-open three’s than anyone else in the league. Despite Kleber having a rough start offensively to the playoffs, those looks will be there for him every time the Clippers try to trap Doncic.

Here Porzginis doesn’t even set a screen, which is typical, but it still puts the defensive attention on Doncic. When you have a seven-footer who can hit shots from that range, your opponent is in trouble.

Tim Hardaway Jr. even joined the action as a screen-setter. This is unconventional, but it works (Seth Curry ran some actions with Doncic this way earlier in the season). After Hardaway Jr. sets a screen for Doncic, Kleber comes back around to screen this switch. This sets up a very nice look from the stripe.

Action Three: Complex actions

This is where the offensive genius of the Mavericks coaching staff really begins to shine. As effective as the standard pick-and-roll has been, it never hurts to add another element to the game. Some of the different actions being run by the Mavericks are creating plenty of opportunities for the entire team.

This is my favorite play that I’ve seen the team run so far. A Kleber screen forces the defense to drop, protecting the drive. Then, Hardaway Jr. sets a front screen on the switch, which forces an aggressive close out on Kleber. That means Hardaway Jr. is now essentially wide-open for a shot he could make with his eyes closed.

This is an interesting move by Kleber. He screens Morris to create space for Doncic, which causes Zubac to drop. When he does, Kleber sets a subtle brush screen on him while rolling. Neither of these are strong screens, but rather an irritant to create just enough space for a bucket.

Here’s a Spain pick-and-roll, something I don’t remember seeing often in the regular season. The Spain pick-and-roll is an action where there is a screen on both the ball-handler’s defensive assignment, and the screener’s defender. This action forces Paul George to come over and play defense on Doncic. Even with a pretty good adjustment by the Clippers, that’s more than enough time for Doncic to score.


How are the Mavericks doing it — using a play that’s all over their film yet still pulling it off with ease? The answer lies in one of the most complex aspects of basketball: the difference between an individual’s strengths and and a system’s strengths. For example, the Bucks may not have a roster full of elite defenders, but their system makes them the best defense in the league.

As for the Clippers, there are plenty of great individual defenders. But the Mavericks greatest strengths are those that attack the weaknesses in the Clippers system. The Clippers don’t have a great on-ball defender to match up with Doncic outside of Leonard. Patrick Beverley could be a good option, but that comes with a big offensive price. But even in just one minute, Doncic scored 10 points when defended by Beverley. The Clippers also don’t have agile big-man defenders, making switching and close-outs nearly impossible. If the Mavericks keep finding ways to exploit these gaps, they’ll be on their way to more than one win.