The Mavericks run lots of pick-and-rolls. So many, in fact, that the team led the league in pick-and-rolls last season. No other club in the NBA relies on the most common play in the NBA more than Dallas, and Dallas executes the set better than just about anyone. These are facts.

So what the Mavs did this offseason was find players who can fit into the pick-and-roll offense Rick Carlisle prefers. Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Greg Smith, and yes, of course Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler all excel when playing that style. Building a roster isn’t as simple as just signing the best players available. Especially in the NBA, it’s all about fit. Always.

It’s still preseason, sure, but the Mavs are running the pick-and-roll at a high level. It’s impressive, too, just how well they’re running it, given that many players on the team are new. I haven’t even mentioned Charlie Villanueva or Al-Farouq Aminu, two players who have enjoyed serious playing time thus far. Most of the 19-man roster is new, but for the most part it doesn’t appear that way. Remember, though: It’s all about fit. These pieces fit.

Dallas is in the process of building a team that can run pick-and-rolls from anywhere on the court with multiple ball-handlers on the floor at the same time. Not many other teams — if any — do this. The Spurs, for example, rely almost exclusively on Tony Parker or one of his backups to run all pick-and-rolls. Last season’s Rockets saw James Harden earn most of the pick-and-roll opportunities, with a little Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin sprinkled in here and there. But on this year’s Mavs team, there will always be at least three players on the floor who can drive and kick, and there will always be at least two big men capable of setting quality screens that affect the defense. That’s extremely rare. Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban wasn’t exaggerating when he said the team is looking to play the game in a way no one has seen before.

I’m not arguing the Mavericks are reinventing the wheel, or inventing something completely new, but Dallas is going to play in a way we aren’t used to seeing, and it’s going to be very fun to follow. Here’s a taste of what we’re in for this season.


Parsons Alley Oop to Chandler

Starting simple, this is a pretty standard pick-and-roll. The only unusual thing about the play above is that Tyson Chandler basically slips the screen, meaning he doesn’t really make hard contact with Perry Jones III, responsible for defending Chandler Parsons. Chandler’s reasoning: It’s early in the shot clock and OKC’s defense isn’t set. Steven Adams, the opposing center, is on an absolute island against the two Chandlers 2-on-1, and that’s a bad mismatch. Adams plays his way into “no man’s land” before Parsons ultimately delivers an alley-oop to Chandler.

One way to defend the pick-and-roll is for the big man to show hard, stepping out to the side of the big man he’s defending in an attempt to cut off the guard from turning the corner toward the rim.

Nelson Chandler Defender Show.gif

Above, Al-Farouq Aminu sets a screen for Jameer Nelson to his left-hand side. Terrence Jones, Aminu’s defender, plants himself to Aminu’s right, basically creating a human wall that would prevent Nelson from getting anywhere would he have decided to go left. But that’s just fine with Nelson, because he’s going right, anyway. He catches his defender, Patrick Beverley, leaning to Nelson’s left hand as well, so there’s no one to stop him from getting into the lane. Once he’s there, it’s another 2-on-1 with Chandler, with this time only Josh Powell standing in there way. No matter who you are, you aren’t going to deflect a lob pass that high. It’s a Chandler dunk with an assist from Nelson — and the backboard.

This is about as elementary as it gets within the Mavs’ offense. Defenses can try a multitude of looks to throw off the timing of the pick-and-roll, but because Dallas has so many players capable of running the offense, it’s difficult to develop one consistent scheme that can exist throughout a whole game. For example, how do you defend a Parsons P&R versus a Nelson P&R versus an Ellis P&R? And, as we’ll soon find out, those defenses will also have to take into account players elsewhere on the floor. But anyway, back to the pick-and-roll. Carlisle loves throwing in wrenches to spice things up.


Nelson Parsons High Pick and Roll

A high screen gives the guard more space to work with once he turns the corner. The Mavs turned to this look more and more toward the end of last season, especially with Monta Ellis as the ball-handler. By drawing big men 35 feet away from the rim, Ellis and other Dallas guards have more room to accelerate past them. And because of that speed difference and simple geometry, it’s much, much more difficult to eliminate any driving opportunities in favor of giving up an open mid-range jumper, the preferred method of defenses defending Ellis.

In the play above, Nelson turns the corner off a Chandler screen. As Chandler rolls to the rim, Andre Roberson sinks way off of Parsons in the weakside corner in an effort to help out against the Mavs big man. Parsons, the savvy off-ball player that he is, uses that opportunity to cut all the way to the rim and, off a nice dish from Nelson, finishes the dunk. Parsons could have very easily stayed in the corner and taken an open three, and that would have been a desirable outcome… but dunks are easier.

Here’s a still of the same exact play, just flipped.

2014-10-14 23_35_47-Microsoft Silverlight

Brandan Wright has already set a high screen for Devin Harris. OKC has defended the play fairly well, only the Thunder have left Richard Jefferson wide open. It’s honestly not a bad way to defend — the small forward is in his own time zone almost 50 feet away from an off-balance Harris — but the Mavs guard is good enough a passer to deliver the ball cross-court, and Jefferson is brilliant enough from the corners (49.1 percent last season) to knock down the three (which he did). Notice how the Mavs overloaded the strong side? They’ve essentially played themselves into 4-on-5, but Jefferson is so wide-open that he presents an escape from the imbalanced numbers. That’s an easy, easy shot.


Harris Wright Double Screen

The Mavericks run a ton of double-screens with Dirk Nowitzki at the power forward, but as he was out against the Thunder, we got to see a few other players take a crack in the set. In the play above, Richard Jefferson sets the first screen for Harris, and Wright soon follows. In this play, the center almost always rolls to the rim, and the non-center (usually Dirk) almost always pops. I can only think of one time that wasn’t the case last season.

The job of the first screener is to create a guard-against forward mismatch and to throw that forward off-balance. After switching onto Harris, Roberson isn’t expecting another screen to come; typically you don’t see many double-screens. Once Wright sets the pick, Roberson is basically out of the play. It’s once again Steven Adams versus two Mavericks, and once again the Mavericks came out on top. Some cool stuff is happening off the ball too, though. Jefferson is all alone at the top of the arc for a potential three. Normally, that would be Nowitzki, meaning that would normally be three points.

2014-10-14 23_37_33-Microsoft Silverlight

Here’s a similar play Dallas ran against Houston in the preseason opener. By now, Wright has already set his screen and has rolled. Beverley, guarding Raymond Felton in the strongside corner, is in a position either to help on Harris or close out on his man should Harris decide to make the pass. But the problem for Houston is Harris isn’t even considering making that pass, because wide-open atop the arc is Villanueva. Against a double-screen, the defense must make a choice. There are three primary threats — the ball-handler, the popping big man, and the rolling big man. You can really only stop two of them unless you defend it absolutely perfectly and nail all of your rotations to a tee, and that isn’t going to happen very often. That means the only way to stop it is to hope the ball-handler makes the wrong choice. But, again, Harris is a fine passer, and he’s not going to misread a play this simple. Villanueva catches, shoots, and scores.

These are only a couple tricky variations on an otherwise simple offensive system. The pick-and-roll might be elementary, but it’s dangerous. The Utah Jazz of the ’80s and ’90s rode it to the Finals multiple times, the Spurs and Heat have recently won titles working out of that offense often, and the Mavs had the best offense in the league post-All-Star break working out of that offense religiously. If the Triangle is NBA Calculus, the pick-and-roll is NBA Algebra. It’s not that difficult, but it will give you a headache if you aren’t ready for it. That’s what Carlisle and the Mavs hoping to give defenses this season.

Share and comment

More Mavs News