Analysis: Arkansas' pick-and-roll success at Texas A&M

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford looks for a foul against Austin Peay Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford looks for a foul against Austin Peay Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.

FAYETTEVILLE — Daniel Gafford is without question having a strong sophomore season.

Entering Wednesday's game against Florida, he's nearly averaging a double-double, scoring 17 points per game and grabbing 9.5 rebounds. Gafford didn't have his greatest game against Texas A&M in Arkansas' SEC opener last weekend (5/11 from the floor), but he still made an impact on both ends at times, recording his SEC-best seventh double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 boards.

For a majority of the season, Gafford has been used as a back-to-the-basket big. It's evident Mike Anderson and his staff, even going back to the 2017-18 season, like to utilize his 6-11, 240-pound frame to their advantage around the rim and his 7-4 wingspan to track offensive rebounds, which can lead to easy, valuable second-chance buckets.

Not to say that he can't, but he isn't his best self playing that way, and it's unlikely that is how he will be used in the professional game. Gafford is a marked man, so working to find favorable matchups and spots on the floor in which he can be most effective is a must.

Having him involved in pick-and-roll action and allowing him to use his unicorn-like athleticism does that more often than not. Take Saturday's conference opener for example. When feeding Gafford the ball in a traditional post-up situation, Arkansas added just two points on those six touches and did not score in those instances until his fourth post-up of the game.

Following a film review, the Razorbacks scored 11 points over the 12 times Gafford was invloved in a ballscreen. It still isn't the greatest mark in terms of points per possession, but it was more effective than the alternative and Arkansas' offense trended more in that direction in the second half.

Below are a few cases of Gafford in the pick-and-roll, most frequently with Jalen Harris, using his All-SEC presence and gravity to help draw defenders and create scoring opportunities for teammates.

Perhaps the best example of that is the final clip when Harris finds Adrio Bailey all alone under the rim for an easy dunk. Freezing the video at the 17-second mark shows Aggies forward Christian Mekowulu doing his best to stay in front of Harris as he tries to get the edge on the baseline. It leaves Bailey's man, John Walker, to account for Gafford. Probably the easiest bucket Bailey has scored in weeks - or a month.

But even in the first clip, as Gafford sets a high ballscreen for Harris, Gafford's pick puts Mekowulu in a tough position. Do I step to Harris to disallow the possibility of a midrange jumper, follow Gafford's movement and potentially give up a lane to the rim or find a middle ground? He went with option three, and it gave Harris, thanks to a solid burst off the pick, space to dribble into an elbow-extended jumper, which he's hit a pair of in the last three games.

Teams are likely to let Harris take that shot at the elbow given his success, or lackthereof, over the course of nonconference, but it's a rhythm jumper for Harris as he goes left - which he often does off the bounce - and he canned it with Wendell Mitchell lagging behind.

The second play, when Harris buried just his fourth 3 of the season, shows how defenses can sometimes struggle to react to a simple screen and the action that follows. Isaiah Joe doesn't find himself in pick-and-rolls often, but he did a nice job here of sucking in Harris' man on the left wing with an extra dribble and hitting Harris with a nice bounce pass that carried him directly into another rhythm jumper.

And now, two clips showing how dangerous Gafford can be as the roll man.

The first video isn't so much a traditional pick-and-roll action, but, again, Gafford's presence places pressure on his matchup to make a decision. Almost immediately after catching Mason Jones' cross-court pass, Harris drives baseline and draws Mekowulu with high hands, maybe anitcipating a floater or a lob to Gafford. Once Gafford catches a step left of the SEC logo, it's too late and he throws one down with some authority.

Also notice how well the floor is spaced in this instance. Bailey is occupying the right corner, Jones moves out several feet beyond the top of the key and Joe floats toward the Arkansas bench after somewhat screening TJ Starks - Harris' man. If Texas A&M covers this properly and Starks challenges Harris to shoot, Joe is open for a 3 on the left wing, where he's 46 percent on the season.

It's pick your poison.

In the final example, Harris and Gafford are set up again in a high screen-and-roll. Aggies guard Jay Jay Chandler does a nice job evading Gafford's first attempt at a pick, but, patiently, Harris buys time with the dribble and allows Gafford time to reset.

Gafford then sticks Chandler with a solid screen and holds him on his hip for a split second to give Harris a lane for bounce pass that leads him to the rim for an and-1. Not the greatest help defense from Brandon Mahan (13) either.

But that's the pressure a Gafford pick-and-roll, with the floor properly spaced, can apply.

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.