Coach Resource: To Hedge or Not To Hedge?

Mika Honkasalo, Vantage Sports (http://www1.vantagesports.com/Articles/article_view/VpqnQx8AAE1vQUUT/Article)

  • During the 2014-2015 season, teams had an average Hedge% of 10.6. This season, that number is down to 7.1 percent.
  • The Raptors and Clippers ranked first and second, respectively, in Hedge% last year, both hedging on over 20 percent of screens defended. Currently, both teams are below the 8 percent mark.
  • In 2014-2015, 12 teams hedged on over 10 percent of screens defended. This year, there are only 4 teams.

Over the past year, most teams in the NBA that had at least some of their big men hedge in pick-and-roll situations defensively have completely stopped doing it. In fact, there are only a few teams and big men left who use hedging as their primary means of pick-and-roll defense, and teams have opted for a more conservative style where the big man stays between the basket and the ball-handler at all times.

Dropping back to the foul line allows teams to limit the amount of help and number of rotations they have to make on each possession, and in the modern NBA where every team has multiple shooters and players with the ability to attack off-the-dribble, containing the pick-and-roll into a “two vs. two” situation can be advantageous for the defense.

Leaguewide, the average Hedge% on screens defended is down from 10.6 percent to 7.1 percent this season, and the two most frequently hedging teams—the Raptors and the Clippers—last season, have both functionally stopped hedging on pick-and-rolls after doing so on over 20 percent of their possessions last season.

Last year, the Cavaliers actually made the transition midseason, going from a Hedge% of over 23 percent to start the season, to just 9.4 percent now.

In just one season, we’ve reached a point where NBA teams have realized that it’s become almost untenable to be aggressive and consistently hedge high on pick-and-rolls. Among 137 qualified bigs, only 6 are hedging on over 20 percent of screens defended, a number that some teams reached in the regular season last year; 103 of those players have a Hedge% of under 10 percent, meaning they practically never show hard, especially throughout the game in usual situations.

With the entire NBA moving in one direction when it comes to pick-and-roll defense, the value of players like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard who can shoot three-pointers off the dribble is highlighted. Teams today, almost uniformly, like to defend the pick-and-roll in a conservative fashion, but dropping down to the foul line to contain against pull-up threats is the one big weakness of the strategy, which we can expect to see more of if this anti-hedging trend continues.

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