During Denver’s march through the playoffs last year, the Nuggets lost just four games on their way to their first NBA championship, in large part to the two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Their pick-and-roll (or pop) became a lethal combination of two players that could shoot from outside, pass out of double coverage quickly, and generally take advantage of the smallest cracks of an opposing defense.
Now, the Celtics might have their own cheat code to spam.
Last season, Jrue Holiday ranked in the 79th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler and Kristaps Porzingis finished in the 61st percentile as a pick-and-roll big. Porzingis isn’t exactly Giannis Antetokounmpo and Holiday isn’t Bradley Beal, but in time, that pairing could be as potent as the defending champs’ dynamic duo and it’s already showing signs of chemistry.
The gravity of a Jrue-KP PnR. They draw 4 bodies to the paint leaving Horford wide open in the corner.— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) October 12, 2023
How do you defend this with the Jays on the floor. pic.twitter.com/OdxNBSQ6Lm
As Nate notes, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown sat out the Philly game, so just imagine them catching the ball on wings with an already collapsing defense. For the Jays, the benefit of adding Holiday and Porzingis is simple: it eliminates some playmaking responsibilities and gives them easier opportunities as play finishers. That wasn’t something that Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, or Robert Williams could provide on a consistent basis.
Brad Stevens has stressed the importance of finding players to accentuate the two young franchise cornerstones. Conventional wisdom might suggest that adding shooters like Grant Williams and rim rollers like Robert Williams would make their jobs easier. Instead, rather than constantly making them the focal points, Stevens in effect made them the accentuators. And the Holiday-Porzingis PnR already has the makings of a simple action that can generate open shots without the team’s two best players on the floor. It’s Al Horford above that gets the wide open corner 3, but that could easily be Brown or Tatum with oodles of room to work with.
Back in July before the Holiday trade, I wrote:
For Brown, that could translate to more catch-and-shoot and fewer pull-ups threes. Consider this: next to Porzingis, nearly 7 of Kuzma’s 8 three-pointers a night were either considered open or wide open; 1 out of every 3 that Brown shot was under duress.
For Tatum, fewer isolations in his diet would make him a more efficient player. If the offense bogs down, they can throw it to Porzingis in the post. He was fourth in the NBA in post touch points behind Nikola Jokic, Embiid, and Anthony Davis; with the Celtics so perimeter-oriented last season, adding that dimension will only make them more dangerous all over the court.
Like this set from Boston. Right side is empty, Porzingis and White screen for Jrue Holiday. White is the second screener and watch him slip out early. Room for Jrue to turn the corner with a roller. pic.twitter.com/a5GoEkonWj— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 11, 2023
Of course, both Holiday and Porzingis can just flat out score the ball. By comparison, Holiday averaged 11.8 drives per game last season with the Bucks scoring 55.1% of the time and Jrue hitting 68.3% of his attempts in the restricted area; Smart came in with similar splits of 11.3 drives, 52% scoring, and 66.4% at the cup; Brogdon logged 7.2/43.7%/56.9%.
Holiday isn’t a speed merchant, but he’s big and patient. As soon as he can get his shoulders around his defender, he angles them off and makes his way to the rim.
The different ways that Kristaps Porzingis can score is just so key for Boston, especially in transition. Screen and roll and then ends up hitting a 3 as a trail big. pic.twitter.com/WZO34saO3a— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 11, 2023
And then there’s Porzingis. Through two preseason games, we’re already seeing the diversity of his game on the offensive side of the ball. At 7’3 with a 7’6 wingspan, he’s a large target as a diving big and hit nearly 40% from behind the arc in the best year of his career last season. That’s Robert Williams and Al Horford combined in one
Because of Boston’s strange preseason schedule, we won’t get another chance to see how everything fits until Tuesday back at the Garden against the Knicks.