In a league that's rapidly shifting towards misdirection and constant motion offensively, the Los Angeles Clippers stand out as a team that prefers rigid positioning. That's a nice way of saying that Vinny Del Negro's offense should be more complex than it is. At the same time, the Clippers have three critical elements to an elite offense:
- They have Chris Paul, the league's best point guard and an incredible decision-maker that can manipulate the defense unlike anyone not named LeBron James.
- They have great three-point shooting, led by Caron Butler in the corners and Jamal Crawford from anywhere.
- They have one of the league's premier passing forwards in Blake Griffin. (Don't believe me? Read this).
ORIGINS: Kind of hard to say. The Clippers' sets are more about positioning than motion, so I guess it harkens back to isolation basketball.
BREAKDOWN: We're going to look at a late-March game against the Spurs to show how a little bit of motion can make the Paul/Griffin pick and roll that much deadlier. The play begins at the 1:09 mark of the video.
Paul controls the ball on the left wing to start, but he's going to swing it to the opposite side. As this happens, Caron Butler cuts through to the left corner.
As the ball gets swung around to Jamal Crawford, Griffin will screen for Paul to come back to the ball at the top of the key.
This isn't a lot, but it functions as a way to get Tony Parker to jump around a bit trying to defend Paul. Paul, being the brilliant floor general that he is, uses Parker's aggression against him. Look at how this pick and roll is initially set up.
Rather than go left like Parker thinks, Paul actually wants to go right. That'll draw Boris Diaw to him, opening up the pocket pass to Griffin in the high post, where he's most dangerous.
From here, all Griffin has to do is read the defense. In this case, Stephen Jackson pinches down from the corner, leaving Butler wide open. Griffin immediately processes this and makes the right pass.
Ryan Hollins sets a backpick for good measure, and Butler cans the open three.
It's nothing fancy, but because of the positioning of the players and the passing brilliance of Paul and Griffin, it works.
FREQUENCY: The Clippers run motion way less often than they should.
VARIATIONS: The two basic ones: Paul/Griffin at the top of the key after Griffin screens for Paul to come from the wing, or Paul on the wing inside the three-point line after the ball starts on the other side.
CAN IT BE DUPLICATED? Almost any team in the league can run this kind of set.
HOW CAN IT BE DEFENDED? The biggest thing is to not let Griffin slip. Once he does, he's too good at making the right decision in the high post. He can process whether to kick to the weakside shooter, find the other big man at the rim or just take it himself in an instant. If the play is on the side, a team should ICE the pick and roll (see "forcing outside") and send a third defender to stunt at Griffin to make him think about his decision. If the play is up top, have the big man angle off Paul trying to drive instead of jumping out to stop him, which opens up the pocket bounce pass Paul wants.
COUNTERS TO THAT DEFENSE: Griffin is an improved jump shooter that can make you pay if you leave him open from 18 feet, and Paul can drive and finish when he needs to do so.