Freeze Frame: Evaluating Kentucky’s Pick and Roll Offense Against Duke

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2012

Duke led the Kentucky Wildcats by as many as 14 points on Tuesday night before the Cats chipped away within striking distance with under three minutes to go. With the lead cut to just three points, Kentucky went to its staple offensive set — a high on-ball screen from center Nerlens Noel for point guard Archie Goodwin. However, with the Wildcats mounting a comeback and precious minutes ticking off the clock, Duke defended the play well and shut down Goodwin’s options. For this play to be successful, two things need to happen: 1) Noel needs to set a solid screen on the on-ball defender and roll quickly to the basket, and 2) Goodwin needs good penetration into the lane. Neither of these happened, leaving Kentucky to take contested shots and leave the Georgia Dome with a loss.

Duke 64 – Kentucky 61, 2:47 remaining in the game: 

High on ball screen to set up the pick and roll.

Goodwin begins the offense at the top of the key, and Noel sets the screen. Because of Noel’s athleticism, he rolls straight to the basket looking for a lob. Notice Kentucky’s spacing in this set as the Cats’ two best shooters — Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays — set up on the wing. If their man leaves to play help defense on Goodwin they are lined up for an open shot to tie up this game. Poythress lines up in the corner, looking to make a cut straight towards the basket for an offensive rebound or if his man leaves to help. But make no mistake, this play is designed for Goodwin to penetrate as scoring option number one and Noel to look for the lob as scoring option number two.

Plumlee puts a body on Noel and shuts the play down.

Goodwin’s speed normally allows him to pass his defender with ease, but here Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon stays with Goodwin. Center Mason Plumlee sticks to Noel not allowing him to break free for the alley-oop. This play works for Kentucky when the on-ball defender can’t stay with the ball or if the opposing big man doesn’t have trust in his team’s defense and slides over to help. In this case, Plumlee knows what is coming and trusts Sulaimon to stay on his man. Notice how the other help defenders stay close to their man as well to avoid opening up another option for Goodwin.

How about try that again?

A viable option failed to emerge for the Wildcats, so Goodwin backs the ball out and tries the same play again. Noel comes up to screen Sulaimon and the play re-starts, this time with the shot clock down to 12 seconds.

Goodwin misses Noel’s edge on Plumlee.

This time around, Goodwin gets a little better penetration because of the solid screen set by Noel. Goodwin has a step on his defender and Noel has a step on Plumlee. Despite finding success on this play earlier, Goodwin makes a freshman mistake and misses Noel streaking to the basket.

A broken play that results in zero points at a critical point in the game.

Goodwin is out of options as the Duke defenders again stay on their men and he has no other choice than to force the action. He passes out to Mays at the three-point line, and Mays must force up a contested shot. Neither Wiltjer nor Poythress break for the basket quickly enough, and UK is left without a chance to rebound the miss. Kentucky’s pick-and-roll game breaks down on a critical possession, leaving the Cats on life support.

Duke 66 – Kentucky 61, 1:46 remaining in the game: 

The very next play with the very same setup.

Duke scores again to give the Blue Devils a five-point lead with just 1:46 remaining on the clock. The Wildcats set up in the exact same set, and again have Noel come out to screen Goodwin’s man at the top of the key. When fifth-year senior Seth Curry was guarding Poythress in this same scenario the possession earlier, he stayed much closer to the 6’8″ freshman. But here you can see that Tyler Thornton backs off Poythress considerably.

Goodwin takes a contested shot and misses.

The play works well for the Cats. Noel is an option streaking towards the low post, but Poythress becomes an even better option because of the help provided by his defender underneath the basket. Unfortunately, Goodwin misses those two options and forces a jump shot with a defender in his face, missing the 18-footer. Poythress, with space between him and his defender, is able to crash the boards and earn an offensive putback for the Cats. Poythress’ two points came by taking advantage of what the defense gave him.

As Goodwin learns the point guard position for Kentucky (and Ryan Harrow upon his return), he has to learn to react quickly to the defense’s decisions. As the defense chooses to take away one option, another one opens. That kind of higher order decision-making will come with experience and time, and luckily for Kentucky, there’s a whole lot of time between now and March.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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