Andray Blatche Can’t Play Like This Anymore

Andray Blatche Can’t Play Like This Anymore
Rajon Rondo, Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche’s struggles nearly lost Game 1. (AP)

The Nets’ bench was less than stellar Saturday afternoon, outscored 29-16 by Toronto’s second unit and allowed the Raptors to take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter. They shot just 8-23, 0-12 from three-point range, and outside of rookie Mason Plumlee (+13), they had a combined plus-minus of -47. At the center of those issues: struggling center Andray Blatche.

At the beginning of the season, we hoped that world-class defender Kevin Garnett would help improve Blatche’s defensive awareness, and maybe even make him a reliable defender as well as someone the coach can trust on the floor. But he still struggles mightily with the pick-and-roll.

Blatche’s issue with defending pick-and-rolls starts with what’s likely a team-implemented strategy: don’t “hedge high.” Hedging refers to when the defender playing the offensive screener comes “up” as his man sets a ball-screen, with the goal to corral the ball-handler until the defender is able to recover by either going over or under the screen.

Here’s a nice video of YES analyst Mike Fratello and company taking us through the nuances of defending pick-and-rolls. At the end of that video, Fratello explains why in most cases it’s best for the big man to come up high to try and contain the ball handler while his pick-and-roll partner fights through the screen.

Unfortunately, the Nets’ strategy with Blatche this season has called for him to “sag off” the screening action, and hope that the man defending the ball can recover quickly. It didn’t work.

“Pick and roll!” Jason Kidd yells, and Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez gets ready to use a high ball screen from power forward Tyler Hansbrough. Blatche, guarding Hansbrough, sits back instead of coming up high to contain Vasquez.

Now it’s Shaun Livingston left with the responsibility of getting over the Hansbrough screen and recovering to Vasquez before Blatche is forced to guard him one-on-one.

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Livingston sees Vasquez ready to pull up for a jump shot while Blatche is sagging and hurries to contest the shot. Livingston fouls Vasquez in the act of shooting, leading to two free throws.

Blatche’s loose coverage can also lead to an overall collapse:

Same play: Vasquez and Hansbrough vs. Blatche and Livingston. Again, Blatche fails to cut off Vasquez, allowing him to turn the corner. Blatche’s plodding gives Vasquez enough space to swing a cross-court skip pass to Patrick Patterson, who swings it to DeMar DeRozan in the corner.

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You could also lay some blame on Teletovic here, who “bumps” Hansbrough as he rolls to the rim, which is what creates the 2-on-1 situation on the weak side. But Teletovic has to bump because Blatche isn’t quick enough to recover.

DeRozan drives past a scurrying Mirza Teletovic and Blatche is there to contest the shot at the rim. Blatche commits a foul and DeRozan goes to the line for two shots.

Lastly is the most obvious example — one that came in the 4th quarter of a tight game. Take a look:

A simple high pick-and-roll between Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry leads to disaster for the Nets: Blatche sits back as Livingston tries to get over the screen, pausing as Lowry gets to him at the free throw line. The speedy Lowry turns the corner and blows by the bigger Blatche for a layup attempt at the rim.

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As an example of how Blatche should defend these pick-and-rolls, here’s a clip from Saturday of how Kevin Garnett effectively contains the ball handler until the man guarding the ball (Livingston) can recover through the screen:

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You’ll see Garnett come up higher than screener Jonas Valanciunas in order to contain DeRozan. Garnett is able to slide his feet with DeRozan and eventually force a turnover. Not bad for 37 years old.

If Mason Plumlee is going to keep getting in foul trouble, the Nets have to rely on Blatche to play backup minutes. On the offensive end, that might not be a bad thing — Blatche can create his own shot like few big men in the league, and when he commits to playing inside, he can be a deadly scorer. But with every possession critical in the playoffs, they might have to allow Blatche to hedge defensively. If he can’t recover fast enough, they’ll be in for some real issues.

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