The New York Knicks offense features the dynamic “Spain” pick and roll set and it should provide hope for the future.
In recent years, dissecting the New York Knicks offense came with a price. That price—watching an uninspired offense based on an outdated triangle offense that was forced upon Derek Fisher and then later Jeff Hornacek. Even after Phil Jackson’s departure, Hornacek’s offense wasn’t anything to write home about.
Incoming head coach David Fizdale had a simple goal. Embrace the pace and space of the ever-changing NBA. One of the simplest ways to do this would be to integrate more pick and roll sets into the offense. Furthermore, integrating creative actions in the pick and roll is a sure way to start bringing the offense out of the early 2000s and into the present day.
Enter the “Spain” pick and roll. This set is designed to get shots at the rim or from the three-point line. It’s perfect for the analytical revolution going on in the NBA that is waging war on the mid-range shot. The most efficient shots come at the rim or behind the three-point line. As a result, teams like the Houston Rockets and the Brooklyn Nets are eliminating the mid-range jumper from their shot attempts.
The Knicks relied on the mid-range shot far too heavily in recent years. New York led the league in mid-range attempts per game last season per NBA.com. It’s not easy to flip a switch and take it out of your game, but adding more sets like the Spain pick and roll will help the Knicks take more efficient shots.
During the offseason, I discussed this set and went through different personnel groupings that may or may not work. I didn’t foresee Tim Hardaway Jr. handling the ball as much, but he’s played his way into that role. The Knicks are only running this set a handful of times which is the case for many teams in the NBA this year. Turn on any game this season and there’s a decent chance you see someone running Spain pick and roll.
It’s becoming much more prevalent, so let’s take a look another look at the play itself before diving into how the Knicks are running it.
Dissecting The Options
This play is simple, yet complex at the same time. It starts with a high screen and roll aimed at opening up a driving lane for the ballhandler and creating a roll opportunity for the diving roll man. The wrinkle in the play comes when a third player—usually a guard—sets a back screen on the roll man’s defender before popping out to the three-point line. This wrinkle takes a simple play like the pick and roll and turns it on its head.
Simple, yet complex. Coaches at every level of basketball employ the pick and roll. The same can be said for setting back screens for big men. But adding the two simple actions into one set becomes a nightmare for opposing defenses.
The first option in this set is for the ballhandler. When it’s run correctly, the ballhandler will take whatever the defense gives to him. The hope is that he can make it all the way to the rim for a layup—assuming the defense doesn’t go under the screen and acquiesce an open three.
As you can see in this next clip, the Nets put up little effort in stopping Harden. In fact, he never stops driving and finishes with ease at the rim. This is downright awful defense from the Nets, but the basic actions of the play are enough to confuse them.
The second option is for the roll man diving towards the rim. The execution on the back screen is crucial. The Nets are on the other side in the clip below as Spencer Dinwiddie comes off a decent Trevor Booker screen. But the best part of the play happens when Quincy Acy sets a beautiful back screen. As a result, Dinwiddie and Booker are in a two-on-one at the rim. Almost flawless execution on that play.