Tim Duncan’s Decaying Pick-and-Roll Defense

Just stellar, stellar stuff here from Kevin Arnovitz and David Thorpe of ESPN. They break down Timmy’s defensive breakdowns both visually and verbally better in three minutes than most people could do in a whole book.

Thorpe talks about how the Spurs are attempting to stop the Nash/Amar’e pick-and-roll by having Timmy smother the ball handler while at the same time taking away the lob/pass. This, for those of you who have never tried it, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You’re asking one NBA player to guard two NBA players. Because of Duncan’s still-underrated greatness — particularly on the defensive end — this is something that the Spurs have previously always relied on. And it’s something that, much as his nickname Groundhog Day would suggest, was always able to do. Like clock work. How? None of us mere mortals have any idea. That’s between him, Pop and the basketball gods. But being the best power-forward of all time and all, Timmy was indeed able to pull it off consistently throughout his career.

Now? In 2010?

Well, he’s old. And he doesn’t react quickly enough to do it anymore — at least not when the two offensive players running the screen/roll are Steve Nash (one of the quickest, most elusive, most decisive ball-handlers in NBA history) and Amar’e (one of the most athletic, high-flying big men in NBA history).

And David Thorpe says that it’s time for the Spurs to recognize this and adjust their defensive strategy:

They’ve asked [Duncan] to do something that very few people in history could really accomplish, and he’s no longer able to do that. San Antonio now has to make a change … The old Tim Duncan would have been able to smother Nash’s shot — or make him shoot it so awkwardly that he wasn’t going to make it. Now, in that exact moment when he has to make a decision, he is left grounded and can’t react. And that’s why San Antonio now will have to do what the rest of the free world has to do, which is they’re going to have to ask him to take one guy away or the other.

It’s sad to see greatness decay.

But it is inevitable, Mr. Anderson.

Seth Carstens