Today we bring you the second of a three-part series reviewing the "pack-line" defense that Archie Miller has used at Dayton and will bring with him to his new position at Indiana.
This was actually written in 2009 by Brian Snow of Scout.com when Archie's older brother Sean Miller left Xavier to take the Arizona job. Because the points made and principles haven't changed, we bring it to you today. Remember that Archie Miller was a staff member at Arizona during Sean's first couple years at the Pac-12 program.
Here is the second part of Brian's series:
Pack-line Defense: Defending Screens Away From the Ball
While ball screen defense has to be one of the biggest keys with the way basketball is played right now, defending screens off the ball is obviously very important as well (unless you are playing Kentucky which sets zero off the ball screens in the dribble drive motion). Once again, in Miller’s pack-line system there are specific rules in place for how to defend guys using screens off the ball.
In general, an off the ball screen is going to be set for someone who can shoot from the outside, so I will start there. When defending a player coming off of a screen off the ball, the first thing to notice is the guy playing defense is supposed to “stay attached”.
This means stay in a trail position where you as a defender are basically holding on to the offensive player’s jersey (though not pulling it as that would be a foul) and trailing him around the screens. In theory by doing that, when the offensive player catches the ball, you are going to be right there with him and he can’t get a shot off.
Obviously that is easier said than done because well the other team is setting screens on you, and the offensive player, if he knows what he is doing, is coming off of those screens quickly and intelligently allowing the defender to be screened.
Because of that the other players on the defense have to help the man being screened. In the case of a staggered screen, where two guys set a screen from different angles, either one of the guys whose man is setting the screen has to show a little bit to keep the offensive player from catching and getting a straight line drive to the rim as his man is attached trailing, or a help defender who is guarding the passer needs to have a big jump and swipe and interrupt the rhythm of the offensive player catching the ball off of the screen.
When done correctly it is very effective and limits the good looks that an offensive player who is a good shooter can have. There is no way to completely shut off anything with a good shooter or a good player, but this is the way the system is designed to limit the effectiveness of a guy coming off of screens off the ball.
Against a good shooter what you never, ever should see happen is a defender undercut or shortcut on the screen. This is called “whipping” the screen, and in essence what it means is running underneath the screen, taking the short path to where you think your guy is going and trying to meet him on the catch. I will give you some video of why you never do this that explains it greatly.
Below is a clip from last year’s Xavier v. Kansas State NCAA Tournament game. If you start watching at the 1:46 mark, K-State guard Denis Clemente has the ball dribbling near the elbow. In the top of the screen in front of the K-State bench, Xavier’s Dante Jackson is defending Jacob Pullen. Pullen is obviously a very good shooter.
Pullen receives a screen from Curtis Kelly on the baseline. Instead of staying attached to Pullen, trialing, and being there on the catch, Jackson tries to undercut the screen and meet Pullen at the top of the key. It is less effort to do it this way as you are not fighting through a screen, and Jackson probably did it because he was tired in double OT, but this illustrates what happens when you shortcut a screen in this system.
Now against a bad shooter or even in theory an average one, a defender in this system is allowed to shortcut the screen and meet the offensive player with a controlled close out. Honestly this kind of depends on who the offensive and defensive player are, but when it comes to off the ball screens on guys labeled as “non shooter” or “drivers”, there are definitely instances where you can undercut or whip the screen.
Overall defending off the ball screens comes down to more effort than a specific system, but still there are certain ways it is supposed to be done, and certain things to look for in determining how well Arizona is running the defense as it is being taught by Miller.