The impossible sink
How NBA teams earn their easiest baskets
BY DAVID THORPE
The concept of help defense is simple: If one defender gets beat on a dribble drive or in the post, another defender darts over to help. The trouble, of course, is that the helper’s man is then open—what Steve Kerr calls the “first domino.” One way for that domino to fall is toward the rim.
When Kelly Olynyk turns the corner off a Jordan Clarkson ball screen and heads to the rim, the Bucks have a problem. Olynyk is a gravity-bound seven-footer, but it’s not as if he has to jump high to score easily; he’s also hitting 75 percent of his shots at the rim this season.
Bobby Portis notices and heads to help out, as his man—rookie Walker Kessler, a non-shooting seven-footer—is parked beyond the 3-point line. (It’s such a Jazzy thing to do: Under former head coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz loved to put their big man out there, even when not a threat. That tactic has continued under new coach Will Hardy.)
As Portis slides over to help, Kessler follows him to the rim. You can see Kessler leaning that way as the play develops, eyeing Portis like a baserunner studies a pitcher before attempting a steal. Portis doesn’t notice—if he had, he might have stayed home, which would have been good.
Jrue Holiday does notice, but has just a split second to solve a new dilemma: either sink down to occupy Kessler or stay connected to Clarkson, who’s shooting only 35 percent from 3 but is nonetheless a nuclear scorer.
Holiday is living in the most common crisis of modern NBA defense: what some coaches call “the impossible sink.” NBA defenses are better than ever, but, because of this sink dilemma, offenses now get some of the easiest buckets of all time.
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