Much was made about Steven Adams' role in the Memphis Grizzlies'
Game 1 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. His lack of mobility
made him a natural fit for drop coverage, and drop coverage gave
the Wolves -- namely Anthony Edwards -- pockets to attack in the
There was a shift made in Game 2, astutely pointed out by our
own Mat Issa and Justin Lewis: almost no Adams (2:50 of game time),
a whole lot of Xavier Tillman and Brandon Clarke (nearly 42
combined minutes) and infinitely more ground coverage defensively.
Ball screens were played higher and switched more frequently. The
Wolves didn't score with the same ease.
To that point: The Wolves generated roughly 1.08 points per
possession (PPP) on trips featuring a ball screen in Game 1. That
number has dropped to 1.01 PPP across Game 2 and 3, per Second
Spectrum tracking data.
Mission accomplished for the Grizzlies.
I have a question, though: why isn't more being made about what
that rotation tweak has done to the
Much like the Grizzlies struggled to contain the Wolves'
pick-and-roll attack in Game 1, they also struggled themselves.
There's been a similar upward trend over their last two games: 0.81
PPP in Game 1, and 1.06 PPP over the last two games.
No disrespect intended to Tillman, but that boost is almost
completely attributed to the connection between Ja Morant (it's
been weird series for him, to say the least) and Clarke. Through
three games, the Grizzlies are scoring nearly 1.2 PPP on trips
featuring a Morant-Clarke ball screen, and a ridiculous
1.3 PPP when a possession ends with a hookup
between those two.
A couple of notes on that, before we dig into the film:
- The Morant-Clarke combo is one of three playoff duos generating
at least 1.3 PPP on direct plays (minimum 20 picks). The other two:
Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton (1.3 PPP on a playoff-leading 99
picks), and the James Harden-Joel Embiid partnership (1.37 PPP on
48 picks). The Morant-Clarke duo is at 46 picks, so it's not like a
small sample is putting them in places they don't belong.
- The zoomed-out number -- 1.19 PPP on possessions featuring a
Morant-Clarke pick-and-roll --
would've easily led the NBA among high volume
combos. They are doing the darn thing.
I've bored you with enough numbers. Let's look at the
why, shall we?
CATCHING YOU SLIPPIN'
To understand Clarke's place in the Wolves' demise, you have to
get into what the Wolves want to accomplish.
This is an aggressive bunch. They want to take away airspace
when defending pick-and-rolls, force the ball out of your
playmaker's hands and then rotate behind that pressure to create
turnovers or swat shots away at the rim.
During the regular season, only the Portland Trail Blazers (15.4
picks per 100 possesions) hedged or outright blitzed pick-and-rolls
at a higher rate than the Wolves (14.6).
For big men trying to create offense against this scheme, a
comfort in space -- as passers and scorers -- is required. There's
a reason the Stephen Curry-Draymond Green combo has been eating
people's lunches for darn-near a decade. Draymond is such a smart
passer and quick processor that any cracks in your defense will be
Clarke isn't Draymond, but he's both a better athlete and
intermediate scorer. Showing high against pick-and-rolls featuring
Clarke plays into his gifts. He's able to slip against pressure,
has a wildly effective floater -- evidenced by his career 50.5%
clip on shots between 3-10 feet -- and passes well enough to make
help defenders pay if they drop down into the paint.
These are missed opportunities, but I want to give you an idea
of the kind of plays that are available with Clarke in the mix.
In order, we've got:
- Clarke slipping into open space when the Grizzlies went to
their Double-High action out of HORNS
- An early offense, empty corner PnR that led to a
butt-naked-open Dillon Brooks triple
- A ram screen (Desmond Bane for Clarke) that flows into a Spain
PnR that led to Morant free throws, but also saw Bane pop open
above the arc
These are the goods.
And again, it's worth pointing out Clarke's ability as a scorer.
He has feathery touch that you can track back to the latter portion
of his college days. That, plus his ability to handle the ball,
allows him to make plays on the roll. Add in his leaping -- no,
wait -- gliding ability and you have yourself a pretty
dynamic roll threat.
Clarke is averaging 16.5 points while converting roughly 69% of
his twos over his past two games. It might be time for the Wolves
to go to the drawing board.
We've already seen them try to adjust. Karl-Anthony Towns' foul
trouble surely played a part, but it was interesting to watch the
Wolves try to pre-switch and have a quicker player take on Clarke.
In the video above, you can see Malik Beasley (first clip) and
D'Angelo Russell (third clip) attempt the job.
But guards aren't used to defending
ball screeners. Maybe we'll see more outright
switching (and scram switching after that) to flatten out the
Grizzlies' attack. The Wolves are gonna have to do