UNC Basketball: UNC Should Try a More Conservative PNR Scheme


Keeping It Heel offers a suggestion for the Tar Heels in pick and roll defense — try dropping the big men back at the foul line.

Before reading this article, be sure to read part one illustrating the failures of UNC’s current defensive scheme for pick and rolls.

As outlined in part one of this article, UNC’s current defensive system for guarding pick and rolls has been exploited at times thus far this season, and the Heels should at least think about making a change in defensive style before ACC play starts.

UNC has four games before ACC play — three against less than stellar opponents, and one against a very good UCLA team. This little window allows the Heels the opportunity to tinker with their pick and roll defense, implementing the changes against Tulane, testing the changes against UCLA and ultimately deciding on the fate of the defensive style changes in the final two games prior to the Heels’ game against Clemson on December 30th.

Currently, the Heels run a “hedge” or a “show” style of guarding pick and rolls.

From SportsQuotient’s guide to pick and roll defenses, here are the strengths of a hedge style defense.

"When executed correctly, hedging forces the offense into a passive position by pushing it away from the basket. Additionally, it can force turnovers as the handler tries to force the ball around a hedging big, who, with active hands and feet, can get a deflection."

Here are the weaknesses, from the same source.

"Remember how Bosh had to sprint back a long way to recover to his man? If he cannot get back in time, the hedge might lead to a rotation. Rotations are used by all defenses and are in every scheme. Essentially, a rotation occurs when a help defender rushes to guard a man who has beaten his original defender, either temporarily or permanently. One can even consider hedging to be a mini-rotation, in which the big temporarily guards the ball handler while the guard gets through the screen.One rotation can often lead to a cascade of rotations, as defenders scramble to cover the open man, subsequently leaving their men open. This can exhaust the defense and lead to mismatches, especially if the offense whips the ball from player to player."

UNC does execute this hedge correctly, especially against bad teams or slow teams. But teams with fast point guards like Tremble or Felix are able to take advantage of UNC’s plodding bigs and get either open looks or get into the paint to dish out open looks to their teammates.

I saved that example from the last post because I think it’s the best example of Carolina’s poor PNR defense. Joel James has no business being that far from the basket, and he also does a terrible job defending the pick and roll, leaving Nate Britt out to dry.

UNC’s bigs this year are too slow getting out to play this style of defense. I think the Heels should try a style of defense that lets the bigs drop back in the paint and corral the ball handler into pull up two point jumpers.

Here’s the definition of what this dropping strategy means again from Sports Quotient.

"Dropping is a conservative strategy in which the big stays a few feet away from the pick, “dropping back” sometimes even as deep as the paint. The guard then goes over the screen, forcing the ball handler toward the big."

Here is a video of that scheme in action.

Notice how Roy Hibbert doesn’t bother himself with running out to try to stop Westbrook out near the three-point line. He knows Westbrook is faster and will just blow by him. Instead, Hibbert corralls Westbrook into the paint and then plays excellent defense on his shot.

I’m not saying that UNC has four Roy Hibberts on the roster, but I think the skill sets of Joel James, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson on defense are more suited towards this style of pick and roll defense. James, Meeks and Johnson are all good rim protectors, and it makes sense to have them closer to the rim than out past the three-point line where they are uncomfortable and not as effective.

The two other popular pick and roll defensive schemes are trapping and switching, but I don’t think either makes much sense as an every down defense for the Heels. UNC already uses the trap in short spells to generate turnovers, and trapping every pick and roll would be too taxing. Also, switching the pick and rolls would create too many mismatches — Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks would have no shot trying to guard Melo Trimble in isolation. Plus, UNC has tried switching before and it hasn’t worked (warning: video may not be pleasant for Tar Heel fans.)

If I were coach, I would have the Tar Heels big men try dropping back on pick and rolls. But Roy Williams is the man in charge, and I have no doubt in the abilities of the Hall of Famer to get this defense back on track in time for ACC play.

Additional reading on pick and rolls…

Sports Quotient: Here’s How You Defend The Pick And Roll In Today’s NBA

SB Nation: A complete guide to how NBA teams defend the pick and roll

Grantland: Chicago’s Quest for Perfection

Basketballogy: Defending the pick and roll