05 October, 2021
15 May, 2022
9 Marcelinho Huertas (TENE)
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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Running the Show - a quicker look at the best pick-and-roll playmakers in the Basketball Champions League

MADRID (Spain) - These days the classical definitions of playing positions mean less and less. Where we would once talk about point guards, we are now talking more about playmakers. Maybe within that role of the playmaker, you could start to make the case for those that operate as the more traditional, pass-first point guard style playmaker and those that lean more to the score-first, shooting guard type of playmaker but even then the old definitions are maybe more narrative than reality. If we look through the lens of a playmaker's most potent tool, the pick-and-roll, the best in the BCL don't always fit into the category you might expect.

The data viz above shows us which players have produced the most scoring opportunities for themselves in the pick-and-roll* and which ones have created the most for others  (credit to Todd Whitehead from Synergy for the idea). Of course, looking purely at the volume of chances created is missing the context of efficiency and doesn't give us an idea of who actually scored the most or produced the highest points per possession from the chances they created but it does give us a great idea of tendencies and intent. If we start with the score first guys the top five looks like this:

Score First

1. Marcelinho Huertas (Lenovo Tenerife) - 82 chances created.

2. Troy Caupain (Darussafaka) - 80 chances created.

3. John Roberson (SIG Strasbourg) - 74 chances created.

4. David Holston (JDA Dijon) - 70 chances created.

5. D'Angelo Harrison (Prometey) - 62 chances created.

And then the pass first guys:

Pass First

1. David Holston (JDA Dijon) - 107 chances created.

2. Joe Ragland (Hapoel U-NET Holon) - 103 chances created.

3. DeWayne Russell (Nutribullet Treviso) - 100 chances created.

4. Marcelinho Huertas (Lenovo Tenerife) - 89 chances created

5. Patrick Richard (U-BT Cluj Napoca) - 88 chances created.

* Data viz above only includes players on teams still playing in the Round of 16.

Straight off the bat, very few would have expected to find Marcelinho Huertas, one of the best assisters in the history of the BCL, leading the league for creating chances for himself. Likewise, Patrick Richard is listed as a shooting guard but we find him top five for chances created for others - territory usually reserved for point guards. What we also see is two players in the top five for both categories and clearly separating themselves as the best in the business when it comes to running the show in the pick-and-roll. And these three names should come as no surprise to anyone...


Marcelinho Huertas

171 total chances created and 185 points scored from those chances rank Huerts as #1 in the BCL for points generated from the pick-and-roll. Whilst his scoring rate of 0.73 points per play from the chances he creates for himself isn't the most efficient, the fact that Tenerife score at a rate of 1.4 points per play on the chances he creates for his teammates more than makes up for that. In fact, only his teammate Joan Sastre throws passes that result in a more efficient scoring rate at 1.5 points per play but from only 10 chances created.

Starting with chances created for himself, anyone who has watched Marcelinho Huertas over the years will have one type of shot above all etched in their mind; the patented Marcelinho running, one-leg, floater going to his left. When you watch the clips below you will also notice that each of them is against a defender in drop coverage vs the pick-and-roll, with the defense doing their utmost to cover the action 2v2. We will come to the reason for that later but first of all just watch and enjoy a genuine master at work. 

But Huertas isn't just creating chances for himself when he has the opportunity to get downhill to his left. When going right, it's a stop-on-a-dime, pull-up jumper that you will likely see. Notice again that all clips aside from one are against drop coverage with the defense trying to guard the action 2v2. Also notice that the decision to shoot is always on the second dribble after getting separation from the pick-and-roll action. The level of composure and if/then decision-making is as similar to a coder using C/C++ programming, as it is a playmaker on a basketball court. 

So, why is Huertas creating so many chances for himself against drop coverage this season?  Well, teams will try to cover the pick-and-roll 2v2 when their opponent is stacked with 3-point shooters and has the playmaker that is expert at punishing any coverage that requires two defenders on the ball. A team, for example, that has Kyle Wiltjer, Sasu Salin, and Aaron Doornekamp on the perimeter and Marcelinho Huertas and Bruno Fitipaldo directing the plays... 

And what happens when teams do send two defenders to the ball against Huertas in the ball screen? Exhibit A and B your honor. In the first clip, Falco tried to force the ball out of Huertas' hands by hedging hard with #6 Keller but Huertas easily got around his him. This inevitably meant help needed to come from the weakside to cover Shermadini rolling and left #13 Rodriguez open in the corner. Huertas threw an inch-perfect, jump-pass straight to his shooting pocket. In the second clip, the help on the roller came from #50 Bonzie Colson. Again an overhead pass from the all-seeing Huertas was lazered to #20 Dejan Todorovic.


David Holston

177 chances created is the most for any player still competing in the BCL (Only Markel Starks created more chances for himself and others combined with 187).  Those 177 chances lead to 172 points which rank Holston second behind only Huertas for points created in the pick-and-roll. On the chances he creates for himself Holston scores 40 percent of the time and produces 0.98 points per play. 

If we start with the chances he creates for himself it's all about Holston's ability to stop and start. We are talking about a player that could create separation in a phone booth and not only that, he can do it when it really matters most. You've seen the play in the tweet below but watch it again and notice the acceleration to separate from the ball screen and then the ability to stop and pop just as quickly.

Holston's primary weapon of choice in terms of creating in the pick-and-roll is the transition ball screen. The challenge of staying in front of him in the open floor and then fighting through a ball screen is a tough assignment for even the best defenders. Watch the clips below and you will see the same acceleration and stop on a dime from the first clip in the tweet. Also, pay attention to how he likes to get as low as the free-throw line extended to set the screen up before using the ball screen. This east-to-west angle out of the screen gives him more space to separate and makes the decision for the screener's defender even harder as the further he comes from his own man to slow Holston, the more space there is for the roller.

And if they do get dragged over, they can end up in a 1v1 situation with the shiftiest guard in the BCL. 

The other risk for defenses when they choose to be more aggressive against Holston in the pick-and-roll is that they leave the pass to the roller open and there isn't a playmaker in Europe that has a better understanding of the angles when it comes to hitting the roll man. 

This last clip might be my personal favorite assist of the season. Watch how Holston attacks the screen in the same east-to-west angle, then jab dribbled at #45 Kravish to freeze him so he could get around the outside of his hip. As soon as he got by him #44 Akoon-Purcell had an impossible decision to make. He needed to help on the roller but the next obvious pass also becomes the cross-court, skip pass to his man, #24 Galliou. Holston sells the pass with his eyes and waits for Akoon-Purcell to head back to Galliou before hitting Alingue on the roll. An easy dunk, solely created by Holston with changes of speed, understanding of angles, and deception. The full package in one play. 


Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.