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The Spurs have a budding pick and roll duo

How Devin Vassell and Victor Wembanyama are dominating the pick and roll

Minnesota Timberwolves v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Throughout NBA history we’ve seen dynamic duos be united by an action that’s been run for decades: the pick and roll. John Stockton and Karl Malone. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. All of them generated easy offense by putting pressure on defenses in the pick and roll.

While the San Antonio Spurs may not have a legendary twosome quite yet, they do have a budding young pairing that looks like it will punish teams in the pick and roll for years to come. Devin Vassell and Victor Wembanyama are two major parts of the Silver and Black’s future. You could argue that they are the most important pieces of their young core. They have been awesome in the pick and roll this season.

Vassell has run 56% of his offensive possessions in the pick and roll. According to Synergy, he’s scoring 1.042 points per possession in the PnR, good enough for the 84th percentile in the NBA. Wembanyama is running just 9.4% of his possessions as a roll man, and is putting up 1.056 points per possession in the action. Of all of the Spurs 2-man lineups that have played more than 200 minutes together, Vassell and Wembanyama have the second highest net-rating (behind Tre Jones and Wembanyama) at -2.1.

San Antonio has struggled to find consistent offense this season as they are 28th in the league in offensive rating (107.9.) One way they can get good looks at the basket are in pick and rolls using Vassell and Wembanyama. The duo is particularly good in this action because of their offensive gravity. They are the Spurs leading scorers, and opposing defenses treat them as such.

Vassell has so much juice scoring off the bounce that teams can’t leave him open coming off the screen. Wembanyama is shooting 64.9% at the rim, and draws multiple defenders almost every time he steps into the paint. Defenses have to pick their poison when guarding them in the pick and roll.

This is a great example of how Vassell’s developing scoring prowess can open things up for Wembanyama. He’s a threat to pull up from three and in the mid-range. After he clears Tim Hardaway Jr., Grant Williams needs to make a choice – step up to contest Vassell, or cover Wemby on the lob. Because Vassell is such a great mid-range pull-up shooter (hitting 45.4% of his dribble jumpers) Williams has to stop the easy bucket, opening up a lob to the 7-foot-4 rookie.

What about Wembanyama’s gravity? The Golden State Warriors run a drop pick and roll coverage. Meaning the man guarding the screener drops below the level of the ball to stop the drive until the guard can get around the screen, while also covering the roll man. Here we see Chris Paul basically switches this screen to cover the rolling Wembanyama. Jonathan Kuminga is hesitant to leave Wemby, and is late to contest the Vassell pull-up three. Despite the miss, it creates a good look.

Vassell’s improving ability to get downhill off the drive is key to unlocking this play’s potential. If he can keep defenses honest at all three levels, he becomes nearly impossible to stop when paired with a threat like Wembanyama.

I love how hard he comes off this screen and attacks the Los Angeles Clippers drop coverage. He immediately blows by Terrance Mann, and gets Daniel Theis on his heels, leaving Wembanyama open on the roll. This slick one handed bounce pass into Wembanyama’s scoring pocket is a sign of his improving playmaking skills. It helps to have an impressive finisher like Wemby to make a play like this go from a nice read to a highlight reel play.

Vassell’s ability to create his own score off the bounce also makes him a threat when he rejects the screen. Again he attacks the Clippers drop. This time, Kawhi Leonard has to respect Wembanyama’s ability to stretch the floor and leaves Theis on an island. This is an easy stop and pop jumper for Vassell.

Wembanyama’s shooting ability opens up some lanes when he pops as a screener. Despite shooting just 27.1% from three, he shoots them with such confidence that defenses have to respect him out there. The Spurs have gotten creative with how they unlock this ability, especially next to another shooting big like Zach Collins.

Here the Spurs run a spread double screen for Vassell. Collins rolls to the hoop, taking the drop defender with him. Kyrie Irving has to get through two screens, and is focused on stopping Vassell’s drive, leaving Wembanyama wide open for the three. With the rookie’s fine looking stroke, you’d imagine his percentage from deep is only going to improve. As this duo develops, having two players that can score at all three levels in the pick and roll is one heck of weapon for your offense.

As the Spurs continue to struggle offensively, they should utilize more actions that get them easy buckets. Putting their two most dynamic offensive players in a play as old as the sport itself seems like a good way to do that. As this duo develops in the future, the pick and roll should become their bread and butter.