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Pick & Roll Kings: A Short List of Top NBA Duos in 2018-2019


One of the most fundamental plays in basketball is the pick and roll. Although it is simple, it is also effective. As a Houston resident, there is no play that got me more hyped watching the Rockets than James Harden slipping a bounce pass between his legs to Clint Capela, leaping to the rim to throw down a thunderous dunk.

Every player should understand the pick and roll action. Thus, even with the offseason shuffle, running pick and roll with new teammates shouldn’t be extraordinarily demanding. For fantasy purposes, pick and roll actions generate a very reliable addition to assist, point, and field goal percentage categories. It’s important to understand which players the best pick and roll duos in the league are because, in some way, they show themselves to be the most dependable assets in fantasy basketball. Some players excel in creating their own shot, but when that inevitable, cold shooting night comes through, it can be distressing to all fantasy owners.

Today I want to evaluate guards and big men based off their past pick and roll ability to see who will shine this upcoming season.

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Pick & Roll Kings

My methodology for determining pick and roll stars was looking at total number of pick and roll (PnR) possessions for ball handlers and roll men. I picked out the top 20 for the 2017-2018 season. Some telling statistics are total number of possessions, the percentage of that player’s possessions that are PnR, points per possession, and consistency of running PnR over multiple seasons. Next, I looked at teams that had the most PnR possessions last season. Even if there was a large shuffle of players in a team, schemes are created by coaching staff and there should be some semblance of consistency in the plays run. This also means if a team got a new head coach, it might be worth watching out for scheme changes. The top PnR teams for last season were Atlanta, Portland, Toronto, and Memphis.

Before I get into my top five PnR duos, let me bring in some honorable mentions.

Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetekounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks have been gifted with a new head coach in Mike Budenholzer. Bud ran one of the highest number of PnR plays in the league with Atlanta last season. With more stretch bigs in Ersan Ilysova and Brook Lopez, Giannis is looking to have a career season with wide opens lanes. They are ranked outside the top five because there is still a heavy reliance on Bledsoe to be a good distributor and outside threat.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies are going to be back together after a lost season for Conley. Owners are going to sleep on how good this duo is when they share the court. They are both incredible offensive players who are going to put up deadly reliable numbers in the PnR action.

Another duo is Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo is not known for being a high assist producer, which brings them down a notch. However, Oladipo showed massive improvement in one season and this is his team now. Couple that with the fact that Sabonis ran the second most PnR plays as the roll man in the league last year. This duo is going to be even better in year 2 in Indianapolis.

This last duo was incredible close to making my top five list: Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond in Detroit. Jackson was injured for a good chunk of the season, but he has recently led the league in PnR possessions and he has great chemistry with Drummond. They know their roles very well which adds to their spark. One factor that I envision to be an impediment is the introduction of Blake Griffin. I see Griffin taking over ball handling as the point forward for some possessions, which could limit plays for Jackson. Personally, I think this would be a smart switch-up, but it will lead to Jackson having a muted fantasy season.

 

Top 5 PnR Duos

5. Kemba Walker [22.1/3.1/5.6] & Cody Zeller [7.1/5.4/0.9] (Charlotte Hornets)
Total: [29.2/8.5/6.5]

This may be a surprising selection because we’re talking about the Hornets, of course. But Kemba is a PnR aficionado. 50.3% of all of his possessions were as the PnR ball handler this season, and he has been a top 5 (in possessions) PnR ball handler for the past 3 seasons. Also, he averages 1.03 points per possession on PnR plays. To put that in perspective, James Harden and LeBron James average 0.91 and 1.02 points per possession respectively in the PnR.

He will have an even stronger year paired with an unselfish player like Cody Zeller. Zeller is very athletic and has spent his whole career playing with Kemba. In the 2016-2017, Zeller set the third highest average screen assists per game only behind Marcin Gortat and Rudy Gobert. Zeller is excellent at setting Kemba up to score and having Zeller back in the starting lineup will help the Hornets sneak into the playoffs once more. The only thing stopping this duo from putting up numbers is Zeller’s struggle with staying healthy.

 

4. Russell Westbrook [25.4/10.1/10.3] & Steven Adams [13.9/9.0/1.2] (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Total: [39.3/19.1/11.5]

I know what you’re thinking… there can’t possibly be three duos better than the Triple Double King and the Kiwi’Stache. Here is the change: historically OKC has not been a very deep roster. This year, there are bigs that will be experimented on the court by Coach Billy Donovan (Nerlens Noel and Jerami Grant).

But the big addition is Dennis Schroder. Schroder was 7th in PnR possessions in Atlanta, one spot behind Westbrook. He runs 49% of his possessions as the PnR ball handler, and I believe that Schroder has the possibility of playing on the court with Westbrook to close, especially if Andre Roberson becomes a hack candidate. This cuts into Westbrook’s runs with Adams, who has the second highest points per possessions on PnR this season (1.22).

I love Steven Adams, and I think he’s a big part of why Westbrook is beloved in fantasy. The counterargument for Westbrook is that even in Kevin Durant’s last season wearing orange and blue, Westbrook still average 10.4 assists. Will the same apply with Dennis Schroder? This duo has as high of a ceiling as ever, but the pitfalls exist.

 

3. Damian Lillard [26.9/4.5/6.6] & Jusuf Nurkic [14.3/9.0/1.8] (Portland Trail Blazers)
Total: [41.2/13.5/8.4]

Lillard was last season’s leader in PnR possessions and that was with C.J. McCollum coming in at 10th place. To me that sounds like Nurkic will be eating rolling off picks. Lillard and McCollum both have been top 20 in PnR possessions for the past 3 seasons, and they will continue to perform, especially with Lillard carving up defenses scoring 1.05 points per possession. The two guards combine together and split up their counting stats, which makes them less marketable as fantasy studs, but both Portland guards are incredibly consistent and will seldom let their owners down.

Portland also boosted its guard depth in the offseason with players in “prove it” seasons like Seth Curry, Wade Baldwin, and Nik Stauskas. It may make sense for Lillard and McCollum to see less playing time in the regular season to train their bench and prevent another crushing first round exit from the playoffs. Nurkic was fairly inconsistent last season, and with Zach Collins showing promise in the playoffs, there is a chance that Nurk see less time as well. The combo of Lillard and Nurkic has been strong, but, similar to OKC, there are ways that these two players could see more team success at the expense of personal stats.

 

2. James Harden [30.4/5.4/8.8] and Clint Capela [13.9/10.8/0.9] (Houston Rockets)
Total: [44.3/16.2/9.7]

This duo is lights out in the PnR. Capela is extremely efficient and averages 1.34 points per possession because, chances are, if the ball goes up to him, he’s going to bring it crashing down through the hoop. Capela is also the best big on the team with only Nene coming off the bench behind him. Harden is coming off of an MVP season, and, with him leading the charge, the Rockets will continue to win. He’s so dangerous off the PnR because of his range.

A successful team will be less focused on blowing teams out in the regular season, which brings me to assume that Harden will have nights where he doesn’t play the whole game because it isn’t necessary. This will limit his time with Capela. Also, fans will hope that Chris Paul can remain healthy and that may play into more PnR with Paul and Capela instead. Houston is also a heavy isolation team. With the introduction of Carmelo Anthony, there are still question marks about how his offensive skills will be integrated. Will this mean more isolation scoring and less PnR? Nevertheless, grab both players in the draft if available. They won’t be around for very long.

 

1. Jeff Teague [14.2/3.0/7.0] & Karl-Anthony Towns [21.3/12.3/2.4] (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Total: [35.5/15.3/9.4]


This may be a strange choice for the best PnR duo but remember that this is for fantasy purposes. Jeff Teague is a forgettable point guard, but he does his job well to spread the floor and set up star players like Towns. Teague is the fourth option on offense for his team, but he is historically good at racking up assists. In the past five seasons, he has had top ten finishes in assists per game. As Teague enters his tenth season in the league, I envision him building up his teammates and making a push for the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. I gave the Minnesota duo a bump over Harden-Capela because I think Minnesota is in the 8th-10th place range in the West, and they will be fighting hard every night to push into the playoffs.

However, the big push for this duo is KAT. None of the other big men in this list are as skilled as Towns is currently. It’s hard to switch and guard Towns in the PnR action because he can pick and pop out to the three-point line with just as much frequency. Towns shot 42.1% from long range on 3.5 attempts per game. On top of that, he is young and athletic. He will roll to the rim with as much force as any of his big men comparisons. Furthermore, he fills the traditional big man weaknesses of not being able to shoot free throw when he is fouled. He is shooting 83.6% from the line over his three-year career.

Towns is a complete player and I rate him very highly going into the 2018-19 fantasy season for his ability to dominate in 9 category leagues. He has the potential to put up Anthony Davis numbers, but he has no health concerns. Towns has played all 82 games every year of his career. I grant the top rank of PnR duos to Teague and Towns. Teague will be a pick nobody is thrilled to jump ahead to in the draft, but he will be a worthy player. Towns sits around pick number 5-7 so if the odds fall to you, rely on big KAT.

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