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The Harden Pick and Roll: We Have A Problem

Houston Rockets

The Harden Pick and Roll: We Have A Problem

How the Spurs have been effective guarding the potent James Harden pick and roll.

James Harden Rockets Spurs Game 3

The Spurs have been throwing some different defensive looks at the Rockets during the course of the series so far, stumbling into a couple of strategies that have slowed down the normally potent Harden pick and roll.

One thing they’ve started doing more is sending Kawhi Leonard (or whoever is guarding Harden) under the screen, taking away Harden’s drive and encouraging him to take a three-pointer instead. The Spurs used this strategy six different times in Game 3 (up from only once in Game 1), and it worked, as Harden only shot 1-6 on the three-pointers he took in these situations.

While Harden is making the right read here — taking the shot when he has separation from the defender — the looks he’s getting aren’t totally clean, and the defender is usually able to recover enough to get a hand in Harden’s face when he’s shooting.

In the playoffs so far, sending the defender under the pick has been by far the most effective way to guard the Harden pick and roll, as his points per possession in these situations are a measly 0.67, nearly half of the 1.2 PPP he’s generated when the defender goes over the pick.

While the sample size is small (and the strategy wasn’t this effective in the regular season), sending a defender under the pick is working right now, and that’s what counts. For Harden and the Rockets, finding a new way to attack in these situations will be key in Game 4 if the threes aren’t falling their way.

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Carl Fudge is a former MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference organizer and long time Rockets fan.

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