Given the talk about Brooklyn's struggles defensively, I thought it would be useful to have a basic primer on what the Nets try to do in drop coverage as their base defensive scheme. My goal with this is to help those of us who watch the games understand defense at a more informed level, which although results in me shaking my head when my eyes catch bad defense, it has also broadened my enjoyment of watching NBA games.
Principle Behind Drop Coverage
In its most basic form, drop is when the defender of the screen setter "drops" back, trying to simultaneously keep contain on both the ball handler and defend the screen setter. The emphasis is to protect against shots at the rim, force long 2s thought to be analytically inefficient, and in the Nets' case help rebounding woes as the big has dropped to stay closer to the rim. No better way to understand this visually, so to learn good defense, we're going to watch the...Minnesota Timberwolves. Yeah, that was a real sentence that probably hasn't been said since KG left.
This offensive set has been a Luka/Dallas staple for years. You're going to see them run a double drag for Luka. KAT is the drop defender just inside the three point line. KAT's going to watch Luka and keep contain until he's comfortable Nickeil Alexander-Walker can recover before then scrambling back to Grant Williams who was his original man. This shows one of the keys to good drop coverage and you've heard JV speak about the guard defender needing to fight to get over screens. NAW does an excellent job here while KAT holds Luka off just a split second, and gets a great contest off forcing Luka into a bad shot.
Here's one more, same play by Dallas, same defenders by Minnesota. Only difference is KAT is now on Dereck Lively, who rolls to the rim. KAT drops a bit lower this time closer to the nail, but notice he's tagging Lively but his eyes are lasered on Luka the whole time as he probes. Naz Reid helps a bit in the tagging too (Minnesota clearly doesn't respect Grant Williams' shooting ability from 3), NAW recovers, plays exceptional defense getting the strip out of bounds. Luka is annoyed, gets a T, sits down and pouts among the fans, the assistant coach probably whispers to JKidd something along the lines of Luka being a baby to which JKidd responds "yep". At least that's how the conversation goes in my mind.
Why Does JV Keep Doing a Thibodeau Impression and Ruining Ian Eagle's Melodious Play-by-Play By Screaming "Ice! Ice! Ice!"
"Ice" is basically just a drop coverage nuance. Primarily used on side pick-and-roll coverage, the on-ball defender basically forces the ball handler away from the screen, usually filtering them towards the sideline/baseline and into the defending big. Oftentimes used in the same vein as "push", which is really the same principle but used to mean if a ball handler has a preferred hand, you're trying to "push" him to drive to his less comfortable side. Ice apparently isn't really a Minnesota primary scheme so let's take footage of Denver. This is first quarter of game 1 of last year's finals.
Jamal Murray hops out towards midcourt in front of the screen to force Gabe Vincent left. Watch Jokic move himself in between Bam and the basket. Gabe Vincent gets forced away from Bam's screen, he's funneled right into Jokic who keeps contain until Murray recovers, at which point Jokic casually strolls back over to his original coverage in Bam. The play dies, Vincent has to pass it back out and Miami is forced to reload. Jokic took about 5 steps and just played DPOY level drop defense on this play. High IQ, gotta love it.
Here's another great example a few minutes later. Aaron Gordon is told the screen is coming, you see him hop out icing Jimmy to the baseline, there's Jokic being DPOY caliber again while moving only 2 steps, Jimmy has nowhere to go now along the baseline and just takes the midrange jumper. Gordon recovers to get a reasonable contest in, Jokic is back on his man.
Let's get to some Nets film now. The Clippers win sticks in my head as one of our best defensive games so I pulled some clips from the 4th quarter. Here's DSJ icing Harden to reject the Zubac screen. Day'Ron is well positioned, ready to contain both a Harden rim attempt while simultaneously still guarding Zubac. Harden's no savage though quitting on teams, loses it, Sharpe gets the and-1 in transition. I won't lie, I'm trying to show good drop coverage but seeing Harden flail face first on the ground is the cherry on top.
I'm using this clip because it helps show how much a non-shooter like Westbrook can bog down an offense. DSJ ices Harden, but this time Westbrook is initially in the wrong spot allowing Watford to essentially be a second contain defender, and even when Westbrook goes to the weak side, the Nets don't really care and Watford stays on the strong side. We get to the second half of this clip where Harden resets. Notice how the Clippers try and beat the DSJ ice by doing a "twist", meaning Zubac screens one way, "twists" around the screen and Harden takes it going the other way, finally shaking DSJ off Harden. This is a common offensive tactic to beat ice by twisting the screen. However, the Nets basically still have their 2 contain defenders in Sharpe and Watford, Harden has nowhere to go and takes the midrange.
So there we go with the basics on drop coverage and ice. If there's interest, it wasn't an accident that I picked the Dallas/Minnesota game to pull some clips from. Luka is in my opinion the best offensive conductor in the NBA against Minnesota who is just about the best defense in the NBA so far who also happen to play drop coverage due to their two slow bigs. While I pulled clips of good drop coverage for this post, this game first half was a Luka masterclass in why I despise basic drop/ice coverage because it just doesn't work against the likes of an elite ball handler like Luka who finished this game with 39/13/6. However, Minnesota won the game in the end because they countered defensively with "up to touch", hedging, and trapping. Therefore, please let me know if there's interest in a follow-on to this highlighting how Luka destroyed basic drop/ice, and how Minnesota countered effectively and where I think the Nets can improve their defense if they still insist on not switching.
Thanks if you've made it this far, and as reward given I re-watched the fourth quarter of Nets/Clippers anyway, here's perhaps the best dunk to date this season and worst offensive foul call I can remember in awhile.