Late in the game against the New Orleans Pelicans, CJ McCollum scored and Brandon Ingram assisted Naji Marshall on back-to-back plays against the San Antonio Spurs defense. Both of these plays came as the result of an isolation. The latter sealed the deal for Coach Gregg Popovich to insert the reserves for the remaining 1:21. The moment the Naji Marshall three pointer went in, I thought about this play from Devin Vassell a couple minutes earlier.
Right off the bat you see that play this isn’t an isolation. Instead, they bring Jeremy Sochan up for a pick-and-roll, which makes things tougher for Vassell because now there’s a second defender in his immediate area to deal with. It also doesn’t help that Sochan’s screen was non-existent.
Now take a look at the aforementioned McCollum play. He starts just right of center, breaking the court into a weak and strong side— plus, with this actually being an iso, he has Barlow out on an island. And because of his positioning on the court, once he gets past his defender, he’s in the paint and has options abound, opting to calmly take it himself for a layup.
The trickle-down effect of merely running a pick-and-roll here is massive. Here’s what happens just by having Sochan come set a screen:
- Cody Zeller is there to bounce Vassell wide, changing his driving lane to outside the paint. It’s important to note that inches matter in the NBA, let alone feet, so when you compare where McCollum’s drive takes him vs. Vassell’s, there’s a big difference.
- With his drive being a shade closer to the corner, McCollum is now in position to dig at Vassell, stand in the passing lane to Julian Champagnie, and make a proper close out if Vassell was able to get it to the corner without having to take a step.
- The screen is set for Vassell to go left, which increases the difficulty level on making a pass for a right-handed player. Had he been able to pass it to the open Keldon Johnson, this play would’ve ended up on Vassell’s highlight reel, and nobody should draw up a play that forces a highlight-level play to be needed.
- With the lack of concern for a pass, and possibly for their man to make a shot, the weak side defenders can pack the paint. This gives the Pelicans another person to contest Vassell should he get by Zeller and somebody to cover Sochan’s roll.
There may not be a player on the roster you’d think of when trying to name the quintessential iso players, but Vassell’s the closest the Spurs have, and he deserves more shots at running some. In his 14 games, Vassell has had nine iso possessions (for comparison, Devin Booker is 37th in total isos with 36 possessions in a mere 10 games). His 1.22 points per possession would be the 4th best mark for players with at least 15 possessions. Against the Pelicans, the Spurs ran 6 isos according to Synergy Sports, and not one was for Vassell, nor for Keldon or even Malaki Branham, who for all his struggles from three, is a maestro from 10-19 feet (for players with at least 15 FGAs, he’s 3rd in the NBA from 10-14 at 64% and 13th from 15-19 ft at 52.6%).
Ball movement offense is beautiful to watch, but sometimes, the best offense is just putting the ball in your best players’ hands and letting them cook.