The Brooklyn Nets must improve their pick and roll defense

Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

A major problem for the Brooklyn Nets this year has been pick and roll defense. If the Nets hope to eventually challenge for a playoff spot, this must improve.

The Brooklyn Nets are the second worst defensive team in the league. They allow an average of 113.2 points per game to opposing teams. It is a major reason why they are 8-14.

Kenny Atkinson, similar to most NBA coaches, instructs his guards to fight over the top of screens. This prevents opposing ball handlers from stepping back for an open jumper if a defender goes under the screen.

The Nets coaching staff instructs their big men to hang back on screens and stay in the paint. Atkinson feels they are not athletic enough to challenge ball handlers coming off screens. He needs them in the paint for rebounding, being that the Nets are undersized elsewhere.

But when the Nets big men hang back on screens, the guards are often unable to get over screens. They cannot get in front of their men without help. Therefore, if the opposing ball handler gets a good screen, he  comes off to an easily make-able 15-foot jumper.

The Nets are frequently being forced to put small lineups on the floor. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6’7″) and Trevor Booker (6’8″) are often playing the four and five for Brooklyn. This makes it extremely difficult for Brooklyn to rebound effectively without them in the paint.

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When the Nets do have a seven-footer in the game it is either Tyler Zeller, Jarrett Allen or Timofey Mozgov. Zeller and Mozgov are not quick enough to challenge ball handlers. While Allen is better equipped to do so, he does not have a fully developed frame at 19 years old.

Allen should be the Nets best defensive option at Center going forward. Once Allen gets bigger and gains more experience, he will give Atkinson versatility on the defensive end. Allen is athletic enough to challenge guards coming off screens and close out to shooters. He also has impressive shot-blocking ability near the hoop, using his 7’6″ wingspan.

A number of NBA teams have the same pick and roll defense as the Nets in place. But their guards are either more physical or work harder at getting over the top of screens.

Atkinson’s philosophy seems to be that he would rather give up an open 15-foot jump shot than constant putback opportunities due to a lack of size underneath. As a result of this, the Nets guards must give a much more consistent and determined effort to get over the top of screens.

To effectively get over the top of the screen, the guard must get into the ball handler, not allowing him to rub shoulders with the screener. If the guard cannot get into the ball handler, he must drop his shoulder when coming around the screen to allow him to recover quickly.

However, this is not an easy task. NBA big men are seven feet plus with wide frames. Late in the game, when guards are exhausted, it is easy for them to get lazy and struggle to get over the top of a screen with no help.

The next option for Atkinson is to implement a new pick and roll defense. However, you may be asking yourself, what are the other options?

The first is the flat hedge. This is where the big man works to stay in front of the guard coming off the screen by moving flat and not retreating until his guard gets back.

The second is the hard hedge. In this pick and roll defense, the big man attacks the ball handler coming off the screen. This forces him to retreat and allowing his teammate to get back in front. Once the guard is in front, the big man retreats back to his man.

The third is to ICE the screen. When the big man sees his man going to set a screen, he yells “ice”. Once his teammate hears “ice”, he turns his body so his shoulders are parallel to the sideline, forcing the ball handler away from the screen. When the ball handler dribbles away from the screen, the big man stays in front of him until his teammate can get back. Once his teammate is back, the big man retreats back to his man.

The Nets must change something defensively. That may be coaching the guards better on how to get over the top of screens, threatening to take away playing time if there is a lack of effort, or implementing an entirely new pick and roll defense. Atkinson could also choose to play Hollis-Jefferson at the five in crucial moments to better contest jump shots off the pick and roll while being able to stay in front of the ball handler.

The development of Allen will be huge for the Nets defensively. His versatility will allow Atkinson to choose from a variety of pick and roll defenses.

Sean Marks can offer some immediate relief to Atkinson by bringing in a more talented frontcourt next offseason, but until then the Nets coaching staff will just have to work with what they’ve got.