Hard to run pick-n-roll without any picks

December 30, 2018

How does a basketball team run a pick-and-roll offense without any picks or rolls?

That’s the dilemma Marshall University is facing.

The Thundering Herd rode its pick-and-roll offense to a Conference USA Tournament championship and a first-round victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

But that was then and this is now. And, now, the lack of picks and rolls is becoming alarming. It was particularly noticeable in Marshall’s most recent game – a 92-68 loss at Texas A&M.

“Well, that’s the biggest problem we’ve got,” conceded MU coach Danny D’Antoni. “We had some, but Jon (Elmore) has to be more aggressive. We had some, but Jannson (Williams) is a ‘sit’ guy.

“We don’t have anybody — like Texas A&M had — to do it right like Ajdin (6-foot-10 Ajdin Penava) did. Iran (Bennett) did, but he didn’t have the roll to the basket and he doesn’t have the defensive capabilities that Ajdin had.”

What’s worse, Penava left school after last season and the 6-9 Bennett has been removed from the equation with a broken right foot. What complicates the situation even further is Marshall’s starting lineup includes four guards and the 6-9 Williams.

It appears it would be more difficult to run a pick-and-roll offense with four guards, but D’Antoni doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“It’s not the guards,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to go to Taevion (true freshman guard Taveion Kinsey). It’s not natural to him, either. So, I’ve got to teach Mikal (6-9 sophomore Mikel Beyers) how to do it. We had Milan (current graduate assistant Milan Mijovic) who could do it. But the biggest thing is we had Ajdin, then we had Jannson who could give you that little really quick ‘sit.’ Well, I don’t have Ajdin.”

There’s not even a reasonable facsimile to Penava in Marshall’s program.

“The closest thing to him is right here — this big tower (Beyers),” said D’Antoni. “But he’s not near the competitor nor plays as focused as Ajdin. Right now, the only person we have setting picks is Jannson.

“We’ve got to get Rondale (6-4 guard Rondale Watson) and maybe Taveion and George (6-7 sophomore Darius George) to set ’em. George isn’t a great pick-androll guy. They don’t naturally go inside because they want to play on the perimeter.”

As a result, the “athletic ball” that D’Antoni references is missing from Marshall’s performances. There was a glaring lack of crisp passes moving the ball around the perimeter in the Texas A&M loss.

“We got stuck a little bit, you’re right,” said D’Antoni. “But those, to me, are issues of maturity with our team and getting prepared to play. To me, that’s just getting ready to play — not being focused like you should be.”

The problem is without the pick-and-rolls and an “athletic ball,” Marshall’s offense has digressed into shooting the ball off the dribble most of the time.

“A lot,” agreed D’Antoni. “That’s because we don’t have that guy always coming up to set that pick. That’s what we always had before. We don’t have it right now.”

That means MU is still a work in progress.

“Oh, I think it’s all a work in progress,” said D’Antoni. “Until the last game you get beat, it’s a work in progress. You know, it’s going to go up-and-down a little bit. Relax, relax.

“That thousand-dollar stock market will come back.”

I’m not sure, but I think Danny just set a pick on me.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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