Hawks/Clippers Preview: Containing Chris Paul

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By Robby Kalland

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks will look to rebound tonight from their tough 102-100 loss on the road to the Spurs, but the task does not get any easier as Chris Paul and the 12-6 Clippers come into Atlanta. Paul is the NBA’s leading assist man, averaging 12.1 assists per game, and is averaging 18.9 points per game on 58.1% True Shooting percentage.

Containing Paul has to be the top priority when facing the Clippers, as he is the catalyst for their offense. Paul has an unfathomable 54.7% Assist Percentage, meaning he assists on 54.7% of all made shots when he is on the court. In the half-court, Paul orchestrates the sets, but where he is at his best is on the fast-break, which makes ball security and transition defense vital to success against the Clippers. The Clippers are the seventh best team in the NBA on the fast-break in terms of points per possession with 1.17, and they shoot 55.2% from the field on fast-break opportunities, per Synergy Sports.

In the half-court, Paul is a pick-and-roll machine, running pick-and-roll on 51.4% off his offensive possessions and ranks eighth in the NBA with 0.9 PPP as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll. Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack will have the unenviable task of chasing Paul around screens all game. The Hawks have been solid against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, giving up just 0.74 PPP, good for 10th in the NBA, but the focus on the ball-handler has made them susceptible to roll-men, who are averaging 1.07 PPP against Atlanta, which makes the Hawks 23rd in the league against roll-men.

While focusing on Paul, the Hawks bigs will have to be aware of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rolling to the hoop, where they can be devastating with lobs at the rim. The Hawks place an emphasis on keeping the ball-handler from getting lay-ups at the basket, and instead sink a big man underneath the screen to close of the lane and have the guard go under the screen to quickly get back in position to cut off the drive. This has made them successful against ball-handlers, and they have done well in disrupting passing lanes to the rollers, allowing just 6.7% of opposing possessions to end in the hands of the roll-men. The problem is that, when they do get the ball, they are scoring 50.4% of the time and are shooting 51.6% from the field.

The Hawks will have opportunities on offense against the Clippers’ defense, particularly when Griffin or Jordan are out of the game. The Clippers pick-and-roll defense is worse than the Hawks as they rank 29th against roll-men and 16th against ball-handlers. Like the Hawks, they try to force the ball-handler to finish away from the basket and allow rollers to finish on just 5.8% of possessions, but on those possessions roll-men are scoring 57.7% of the time and are shooting 64.4%.

Al HorfordPaul Millsap, and the rest of the Hawks’ bigs have been strong this season rolling and popping, scoring 1.07 PPP, good for seventh in the NBA. With their proficiency and the Clippers struggles defending bigs on pick-and-roll/pop, the Hawks will likely look to get the bigs involved early and often to give themselves the best chance at getting the win, and pulling back to .500 at 10-10.

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