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Panthers Screen & Roll Analysis

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Was there even a chance to write something about the screen-and-roll game over the last two years of Pittsburgh Panthers (5-0) basketball? I mean, maybe why it wasn’t working or why it didn’t exist. So, I am relatively excited to be able actually breakdown some screen-and-roll possessions from their win over the Troy Trojans.

Now before I breakdown a few of these possessions, here’s two few things to keep in mind:

  1. These are isolated clips taken from an entire game. Generally, the “positive” and “negative” that I derived from these came and went throughout the game. That’s just how basketball goes, players aren’t perfect every possession.
  2. Context matters. I tried capturing the entire possession as opposed to just a few seconds as my analysis is based on more than just one moment in time (for the videos).

Let’s dive in!

There’s only one forward on Pitt’s current roster that consistently frees perimeter players with his off-ball activity, that’s junior forward Kene Chukwuka. He does a nice job of running the floor and getting position on the block. From the block, he’ll rotate to the high post and wait to set a screen for the ball handler to attack with their dominate hand. This has been a staple of the Panthers offense thus far.

Chukwuka sets a clean, fundamental screen, repositions before contact, and then exits cleanly. Although he opens up by continuing in the direction in which he set the screen, he makes a straight dive towards the hoop with his hands up.

Freshman guard Xavier Johnson is the reason why this turns into the first basket of the game: He stretches the defense coming off the screen, dragging both his defender and Chukwuka’s. Johnson drags both defenders to the wing to create a good passing angle and a little bit of flair creates an opening for a nice bounce pass.

Let’s a take a look at a similar offensive progression, but a different result. Once again, Chukwuka does a nice job with his off-ball activity: He looks to set an up-screen and then transitions into a ball screen for senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame. There’s purpose to what Chukwuka is doing here, and he goes in and out of his screen setting cleanly. That’s a really big plus for this team.

The result isn’t the same, however, as Wilson-Frame doesn’t drag the defenders towards the wing like Johnson did. Despite that both defenders went with Wilson-Frame, and given his hot shooting that’s not a bad play by Chukwuka’s defender, no passing lanes open up because Wilson-Frame didn’t stretch the defense and picked up his dribble with only one pass available given his position on the floor (11 second mark).

Ultimately, junior guard Malik Ellison turns the ball over as he dribbles into the recovering defender. The rotation might have provided a nice, open look for Ellison but he had only taken, and made, one three-pointer at that point in the young season; he missed both his long distance attempts later in this game.

Dragging both defenders isn’t the only way to open up passing lanes to Chukwuka, or any rolling screen setter. Here we see the same off-ball activity from Chukwuka, and Johnson is once again initiating offense out of the eventual ball screen.

This time, Johnson chooses to freeze Chukwuka’s defender as he sees his own defender get jammed as Chukwuka exited his screen. As he looks to recover (7 second mark) Johnson, with his head up, identifies his defender attempting to recover and simply waits for the over-the-top pass that becomes available.

Chukwuka does a really nice job of feeling the weak side help, and being patient for the layup to open up without traveling. I also like that he didn’t just leave his feet to draw an obvious foul. Getting two nearly guaranteed points is better than two attempts for a career 50% free throw shooter.

Here’s a little bonus for you. Johnson is a player fans should really be excited about. He has a natural feel for the game, and if you watched the second half of the game against the North Alabama Lions, he simply took over.

I don’t want to pick on Wilson-Frame as he’s been such a good leader for this team through five games, and I’ve enjoyed watching him play in-person. What Wilson-Frame is good at is understanding where his teammates are on the court, and where they’ll be. However, like the clip above, he doesn’t always have a great feel for how the defenders will react to how his teammates move.

He does a really nice job of pushing the ball after a miss here, but his pass ultimately leads to a charge committed by Chukwuka. Despite Chukwuka’s versatility, this isn’t an ideal spot for him to receive the ball as it may require him to put the ball on the floor at a high speed and finish with recovering defenders looking to draw a charge.

Wilson-Frame knew he had Chukwuka just to his left and also Ellison running to the corner. Just looking at Chukwuka as he puts two hands on the ball already starts to pull Ellison’s defender. If Wilson-Frame waits for another half second, he’d see the passing lane open up to Ellison for any easy dunk. However, Wilson-Frame only sees the one passing option at that moment without feeling how the defense is already reacting to it.

Pitt is in a much better place this season because they actually can create offense using ball screens. Johnson in particular will likely continue to blossom in this area, and I do think Wilson-Frame can contribute in this area as well.

I really hope to continue to do break downs throughout this season, so if this is something you like, please let me know in the comments section.

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