Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace: The Pick-and-Read

There’s not too much to get excited about in New Jersey, but after last night’s win, it’s not overly optimistic to think that the Deron Williams-Gerald Wallace tandem could reinvigorate the Nets’ sometimes-DOA offense. Though Wallace didn’t shoot particularly well (4/15 from the field, including many missed layups), he helped the rest of the team do just that: during Wallace’s 35 minutes on the floor, his teammates shot 30/49 from the field, 5/9 from downtown. That’s 65 points, on 61.2% shooting from the field.

After the game, Wallace talked about how the team’s chemistry has improved since his first five games with the team. He specified defensive intensity, but another way the team has begun to improve is by utilizing Deron Williams and Wallace in pick-and-read plays offensively, giving themselves and their teammates open looks.

When discussing on-ball screen plays, we’re usually subject to one of two plays: the pick-and-roll, and the pick-and-pop. The play usually depends on the big man’s strength: David West is a guy who’s going to pick-and-pop often, but Dwight Howard will roll to the basket far more often than he’ll look for a jumper. But Gerald Wallace is one of those special 3/4 hybrids that can do both.

In the NBA, offensive wealth comes with options. The more options you have in an offensive set to score, the better chance you’ll have of picking the right shot. It’s why the isolation set is such a poor play: it relies on just one option with five offensive players on the floor. How is that a play? It’s not a play. I digress. When running a screen play with a wing player like Gerald Wallace, your options open up immensely. When the point guard you’re running with is Deron Williams… well, let’s just say there are ample opportunities to score.

Enter the pick-and-read play. Rather than a predetermined set of options, D-Will & Wallace instead can read how the defense covers the action and defend accordingly.

Earlier in their partnership, Deron & Gerald had trouble getting their timing together. Against the Jazz Monday night, the Nets tried running a pick-and-read play twice (first running Wallace off a double-screen at the top of the key to try to free space, which didn’t work) early in the first quarter, and neither worked out well:

On the first play, Wallace sets a good screen, pinning Devin Harris and leaving D-Will open for a good shot, but D-Will rolls too far above the screen and spots up about 26 feet away from the basket instead of 23. D-Will’s looking to play distributor a lot early in games, and Devin Harris played that tendency well by sagging off to help cut off the passing lane. Once D-Will picks up the ball, he realizes he’s too far from the basket for a good shot anyway, and Harris has already fought through the screen, closing the options. On the second play, Wallace doesn’t set much of a screen, which leaves him open for a post-up option since he’s not pinning Harris, but he mistimes the pass.

Luckily, these issues didn’t arise Wednesday:

Two pick-and-reads occur on this possession. Once Wallace sets the screen, his defender — power forward David West — plays “cover” coverage, trying to seal off D-Will’s penetration. Since Wallace is a threat from the three-point line, this opens up the option of Wallace firing a wide-open three-pointer. He misses, but that’s the type of shot you hope to create every possession.

Luckily, the rapidly improving Jordan Williams snares an offensive rebound, allowing the Nets to run another pick-and-read. This time, West tries to squeeze D-Will, which leaves Wallace open in the lane. D-Will squeezes the pass between Paul George and West, and Wallace attacks the basket for the layup. (It should be noted that Hibbert rotated over to cover Wallace on the layup attempt, but had Wallace missed the shot, Hibbert’s rotation left him out of position for an offensive rebound, leaving Jordan Williams ready for an easy putback.)

The pick-and-read doesn’t just open opportunities for the two players involved, though. A couple of minutes later, the mere threat of the two creating offense opened up a shot for Gerald Green:

This play is very similar: David West attempted a hedge to cut off Deron Williams’s penetration, causing Paul George to drop in rotation to cover Wallace at the rim. The problem for Indiana here is that there’s no one to rotate over to Gerald Green, who’s now got a wide-open shot in the left corner.

The past month or so has been particularly excruciating. The only Nets victories before tonight came at the hands of the Bobcats and Raptors, neither team particularly effective in today’s NBA. But a blowout win against the Pacers, a team assuredly headed towards the playoffs, is potentially a particularly positive sign of things to come. Given how D-Will & Wallace played together last night, I’m suddenly optimistic that the partnership will flourish.