Film review: How MCW can improve on the pick-and-roll

Sixers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)

With the Sixers now 13 games into the 2013-14 season, we can start to see trends forming, of both an individual and a team nature. Some, like Spencer Hawes’ new-found emphasis on taking above-the-break three-pointers and Evan Turner’s attacking mindset, have been positive.

On the other side of the coin, areas that could use improvement have also certainly presented themselves, especially during the current stretch where the Sixers have lost eight out of 10 games.

Before the season, the Sixers were expected to “compete” for one of the worst records in the NBA. Even after the unexpected hot start, a very low win total seems very possible. Part of the reason Brett Brown was hired as head coach was his past experience as player development coach of the San Antonio Spurs. He seemed to be someone who could find a way to help shore up individual players’ weaknesses even in the midst of the team’s losing.

This post will highlight a couple of specific areas that Brown can pinpoint and try to improve as the season moves along.


1. MCW as a scorer in the pick-and-roll

According to mySynergySports, Michael Carter-Williams is only shooting 13-46 on the season as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Now that doesn’t account for some of the strong work he’s done passing out of the pick-and-roll, but when teams have forced the rookie to be a scorer in these situations, Carter-Williams has been pretty inefficient.

One major way teams have been defending Carter-Williams is by having his defender go under the screen, like Tony Parker does in the shot below. For the most part, what Carter-Williams has to do in these situations is make the defense pay for going under by knocking down a jumper.

Here, he does a good job getting on balance but misses the shot. That’s fine for now, as long as the process is good.


Often though, Carter-Williams is too mechanical when the defender goes under the screen. Basically, the rookie gets himself into trouble when he makes up his mind about whether to shoot well before he has to.

When the guard shoots a three-pointer off the dribble, it’s key that he has proper balance. In the video below, Dion Waiters does a solid job getting under the screen and closing out, but Carter-Williams has clearly already decided that he’s going to pull-up. The result is a difficult shot that Carter-Williams takes fading to his left.


Even though Waiters played good defense in that clip, Carter-Williams could’ve worked for a better shot. The best pick-and-roll point guards use the threat of the drive to set up the jumper, and vice versa. Would Waiters still have left his feet if Carter-Williams gave him a quick head fake instead of shooting? Could he have crossed back over and used a re-screen from Hawes?

Michael Carter-Williams is still learning the tricks of the point guard trade, specifically how to run pick-and-roll. As the year goes on, hopefully we’ll see more variety when defenders decide go under the screen on him.


2. Evan Turner’s off-ball defense

Truthfully, it’s a bit unfair to single out one player for what amounts to a team-wide problem. Still, throughout his career, Turner has been guilty of losing focus when defending off the ball.

This year, we’ve seen too many lapses where Turner completely disregards his man to overhelp on an action like a side pick-and-roll. The screen capture below is the result of him doing just that, when the Spurs were actually running the play on the weak side for his man, three-point ace Danny Green. Turner isn’t in the same zip code as Green when he catches the ball.

The Sixers are on pace to surrender a historically high number of threes this season. Again, Turner is far from the only one at fault, but he still loses focus far too often.

Take a look at the shot below, where Turner is still standing flat-footed in the paint even after Nene has kicked the ball out to Eric Maynor on the wing. The ball is already en route to Martell Webster in the corner, and Turner still hasn’t started to close out yet. How is there no urgency to get out and contest Webster’s corner three, a shot he feasts on? 

Much of the Sixers’ three-point defensive woes have to do with scheme, as help defenders are packing the paint at the expense of shots from behind the arc. Also problematic is a group of poor rotators, particularly James Anderson.

Caveats aside, Turner simply has to improve at executing a defensive scheme and keeping focus within it. Expect contending teams to pay close attention to his off-ball defense if indeed he is made available for a trade at some point.

Here are those two plays in real time, as well as a couple of others where Turner overhelps or loses focus while defending off the ball.


Turner’s off-ball defense and Carter-Williams’ pick-and-roll decision-making are only two examples of specific areas where individual players can improve. For the team’s present and future, they’re also two of the most important.

Rich Hofmann Jr. can be contacted @rich_hofmann. 

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