Which players carry the heaviest ball screen burdens for their teammates?
Stats Review: Elite playmakers in pick-and-rolls
Zalgiris Kaunas scored an improbable 68-47 victory over Real Madrid at Zalgirio Arena in Round 27.
It is rare for the team at the bottom of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague standings to beat the team at the top, but it is nearly unprecedented for such a game to be a blowout. Madrid’s difficulties on the offensive end were apparent in their 1-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc, but digging deeper, the absence of point guard Thomas Heurtel was a key factor in their difficulties – particularly in the half-court.
Real Madrid generated just 20 points over 29 possessions created out of pick-and-rolls in its loss to Zalgiris—well below Los Blancos’ season standard of 30 points over 33.3 possessions. Pick-and-rolls and the shots created by subsequent passes out of them account for just over 40% of all possessions EuroLeague teams have used in the half-court and have been converted for 0.94 points per possession. They are a relatively fruitful source of offense for most teams, but a critical component for several.
Real Madrid falls in the latter group as over 45% of its half-court possessions have been created out of ball screens this year, which is the third-highest mark in the EuroLeague.
That is part of why the absence of Thomas Heurtel was particularly glaring. Having a hand in 48% of all the points Real Madrid has created out of pick-and-rolls this season—the second-highest rate of any player this season, Heurtel may not rank as prominently in assists or scoring as he has at various points in his career, but he has a major impact on his team’s bottom line.
Much of that can be traced to his passing ability. As the leaderboard above suggests, Heurtel leads the EuroLeague in points created by passes out of ball screens. Not only is he a productive passer, but the shots he creates with his passes are converted for 1.03 points per possession – well above the 0.91 league average for pass outs — as he has tremendous synergy with his teammates.
Lukas Lekavicius created 16 points out of pick-and-rolls in Zalgiris’s win and ranks among the most improved shot creators in the EuroLeague this season. After creating 7.7 points per game a season ago, he has generated 12.5 per game this one while ranking a couple of spots behind Heurtel with his production as a passer as the graphic above suggests. Adding a major dimension to Zalgiris’s offense coming off the bench, Lekavicius's 1.02 points per possession created as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll stacks up well with many of the EuroLeague’s top guards, but represents just how impactful he has been for a Zalgiris team scoring 0.91 points per possession in the half-court overall.
Lekavicius’s performance this season is a good reflection of just how much a high-level playmaker’s ability to create for themselves and their teammates can move the dial in the EuroLeague and why it is never easy to replace the contributions of players like Heurtel.
Looking ahead to Round 28
The rivalry between Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Anadolu Efes Istanbul is always hotly contested, but it holds a special significance in Round 28 with those teams sitting with nearly identical records at ninth and 10th in the standings. Fenerbahce has moved around the top five defensively throughout the season.
With a lot on the line for both teams ahead of the playoff push, whichever team gets the upper hand in that strength-on-strength contest figures to take home the victory.