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The Playbook #3: Deep Dive into the Drop PNR Coverage


Ahh, the pick and roll. The oldest yet most utilized play in the book. So efficient, and it has evolved so much. Many speak of the great initiators, short rollers, pull up shooters, and lob threats in these actions. But, time for a change of pace. Over these next few editions of "The Playbook," we'll break down several pick and roll coverages commonly used by teams at any level to stop one of the most efficient ways of offensive advantage creation. We'll also delve into the pros and cons of these defensive maneuvers, and study how teams offensively can counter these coverages (the game of basketball is an evolving chessmatch between offense and defense). Without further ado, let's get into what we call non aggressive PNR coverages.

DROP COVERAGE

The drop, a play you've probably heard of before proposed by the analytical nerds of the league to limit offensive efficiency off the PNR. Not every big can move like the Mobleys and Bams of the world. Thus, playing drop coverage is still a very commonly used technique among many teams in the league. Here's how the basic drop coverage play looks:

Basic Drop Coverage Play: https://www.thehoopsgeek.com/playcreator/viewer?code=Za8cfiWVxV

The guard is more likely than not going to trail, leaving the big having to play the cat and mouse game. This is part of the reason why I believe bigs are underappreciated defensively; their job protecting the rim in a drop is much harder than it looks, and they have to use their length FUNCTIONALLY well to counter any offensive advantages. Probably something you've seen before if you've watched the post rebuild Jazz or modern day Bucks, but a basic introduction into the drop coverage.

Requirements for the drop:

  • Excellent perimeter defender that can navigate through screens and chase ball handlers around to make the big's job easier and contest the perimeter jump shot or funnel the ball handler into the man by shading him. This may have been the biggest weakness in Utah's drop coverage; an all time great rim protector/PNR defender in Gobert, but no great perimeter defenders that got through screens to support him. That's why shooting jumpers was such an efficient ploy for opposing offenses, and what differentiates pre-rebuild Utah's playoff defense from championship Milwaukee's defense (the Bucks have had some great perimeter defenders to supplement elite rim protection; Holiday/Bledsoe being among them).

  • Tagger with good off ball awareness. Another aspect of why the Bucks' drop coverage works so well is because when you have an elite weak side rim protector like Giannis in the game, or vice versa with Giannis executing the drop, it makes life so much easier. Tagging the roller or straight up erasing their shots helps the big in the drop focus more in on the ball handler, which resembles more of an ice coverage than a drop (more on that in a little later).

  • Big with great positional awareness in length. The drop more likely than not is going to work with a non big body contesting the shot. It can be a liability if the big doesn't have the athleticism or length to contain the lob (forcing the tagger to get involved and potentially create a leveraged D) or the ground coverage and "fear factor" to contest the mid ranger. One guy who shouldn't be great at the drop coverage but was at the college level was Jaylin Williams. Not an elite athlete, not a 7 footer, but elite at playing the cat and mouse game and retaining some really impressive positioning.

Pros:

  • Forces mid range jumpers, a shot that isn't very efficient among many non Derozan/Paul esque mid range operators.

  • Keeps slow footed bigs in front of the ball handler/roller, doesn't challenge their athleticism and allows them to expertly use their advantageous length.

  • Allows defenses to theorectically not have to make too many rim rotations, especially if the screen nav defender and screen big defender are advanced at their craft in this area. Discourages catch and shoot threes and allows players to stick to their assignments; positioning and limiting offensive advantages at the end of the day leads to a great defense.

Cons:

  • If the screener is a good three point shooter, playing drop could be problematic, especially if the big is very slow footed. If the PNR ball handler is super smart at drawing defenders and maintaining advantages, it could lead to giving up a very efficient, open, catch and shoot 3 pointer.

  • Against the Pauls, can be easy to pick apart a drop thanks to the insane mid range gravity they draw on a nightly basis. The big is likely forced to play up more, which opens up the roller, creates a weak side tagger having to guard two guys at once, overall creating a leveraged defense. A tier perimeter defense is the only way to truly prevent these initiators from getting open mid range looks, something that proved valuable in Holiday/Paul matchups, if I can remember correctly.

  • The drop can give elite bursty guys like Ja an open runway to the rim. That is no bueno considering the big, unless he has S tier positioning and timing, likely is going to have to foul Ja or straight up get dunked on. It's almost impossible to negate that level of burst and horizontal athleticism, no matter what you throw at on Ja.

One play to negate the pop option ...

Veerback Switch action: https://www.thehoopsgeek.com/playcreator/viewer?code=uAtivxQ7s4

This is a solid maneuver for to negate the popper in these situations. With the quick closeout guard providing a serviceable contest, it limits the advantage the offense can create.

The weak side defender can also play a good tagging role as well, stunting towards the popper to discourage everything. That takes excellent anticipation and ground coverage, but can be done.

OFFENSIVE COUNTERS

High PNR action: https://www.thehoopsgeek.com/playcreator/viewer?code=j8WcSvuRpu

One of the ways NBA teams have countered the drop coverage is by setting a high PNR from way behind the arc to maximize their elite pull up shooters. If bigs with terrible footspeed can't go out on perimeter, the top pull up shooters in the league, from Dame to Steph to Trae, see that as easy money, especially if the perimeter defenses isn't Smart/Holiday esque. One of the main reasons Steph borderline dominated the Celtics in last year's Finals is just because the Warriors were so smart to force Robert Williams and Al Horford a little bit out of their comfort zone (yes, Williams has decent mobility for a bigman but not elite, especially with a knee ailment, all the way out mobility, another reason why I think the Heat could've matched up with the Warriors a little better. Plus Horford is 35, doesn't have elite mobility at this stage either).

Spain PNR Counter Action: https://www.thehoopsgeek.com/playcreator/viewer?code=roxFdp4ccM

Oh, look here, one of the plays we've previously discussed in "The Playbook" is the Spain PNR (edition #1) everybody's favorite play! In seriousness, the Spain PNR can be used as a legit counter to drop coverage, making the big's drop much much harder. If you've read the piece about the Spain PNR, I bet you can envision the shooter screening for the big roller and helping him break free. But just in case it's a bit difficult to conceptualize, click on the link above to see the counter unfold.

Model example: Bucks drop coverage

Why? Elite weak side rim protector in Giannis, elite rim protectors across the board, great PNR defense, what forms a better drop D?

Bonus Coverage: Under

The under coverage is just about self explanatory. There's a basic drop action while the screen nav guy goes under the screen. This is a good way of hacking ball handlers that just have zero shooting equity, and why shooting is one of the most important skills. Still, though, guards like Tony Parker (craftiness/feel/angles) and Ja (outlier athleticism makes it just not matter + an improved 3pt shot) have made things happen even when played with the under coverage. A nice tool to have if you're playing against an elite rim pressure guard.

Up next: Ice

Thanks for reading!


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