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Hedge or Drop? How Different Pick-and-Roll Coverages Affect State's Offense

Since the regular conference season started, the Pack has seen two main types of coverages against its pick-and-roll offense: hedges and drop coverage. The numbers State has posted against these two defenses are remarkably distinct, and it’s been a key storyline for the Wolfpack’s volatile offense in ACC play. 


What is a hedge? 


Hedges can vary in aggression but the concept works like this.


  1. Offense sets ball screen with PG and C

  2. Defensive C blitzes ball handler to force him/her to take a dribble away from the basket.

  3. Hedge leaves offensive C unguarded on roll, so wing defender comes off the wing to temporarily cover offensive C. This is called a tag.

  4. Defensive PG recovers through the screen to offensive PG. Defensive C recovers back to the paint to guard offensive C. Wing defender recovers back to the wing. 


Hedges are exploitable with a very skilled center who can score or actions that attack the tagger's rotation. When ran really well, a hedge often results in an offensive reset after the defense fully recovers. 


A hedge that State exploited against Virginia:




What is drop coverage? 


Drop coverage is a less aggressive defense than a hedge. It works like this. 


  1. Offense sets ball screen with PG and C.

  2. Defensive PG chases over the ball screen to run Offensive PG off the line. 

  3. Defensive C drops to high paint area and protects the rim from the dribble drive while simultaneously covering the rolling offensive C .


Drop coverage is best exploited with an on-ball guard who has a complete scoring package and athletic rolling big. Drop coverage usually results in a shot, and its intention is to force mid-range shots from the ball handler. 


Notre Dame's drop coverage against State:





Teams that primarily hedged against NC State

  • Virginia (2x)

  • Virginia Tech

  • Miami

  • Louisville 


Teams that played mostly drop coverage NC State

  • Notre Dame

  • UNC

  • Wake Forest 


Data Notes


  • Syracuse and Boston College are excluded from this list because they did some stuff that was unique to what State has faced this season. The Orange and Eagles played kind of a mixture of at-the-level defense and hedge and they drop-covered some screens as well. I don’t have possession by possession data. What am I, some kind of stats nerd? Anyway, back to the overly specific basketball stats. 


  • Teams that played drop coverage usually iced side ball screens, which is similar to drop coverage but has a few different components that make it effective against side ball screens. 


  • There are more inputs here than just the type of defense. Teams have good and bad shooting nights, some teams are better at defense than others, and pick-and-roll coverage is irrelevant to the Burns post-up sets. This is for discussion purposes. It’s not scientific.


The Numbers


There are some really intriguing numbers that have come out of this ACC season for State. First is the assist rate. In the five games against opponents that played the hedge for all or nearly all of the game, the Pack has assisted on 52.3% of its made buckets. Against primarily drop coverage teams, that rate is 31.8%. 


Some of this just happens by default. As discussed, the intent with drop coverage is to force mid-range shots from the ball handler. There is less rotation from the defense, so naturally, a lower assist rate is likely. 


Some of it is a personnel thing for the Pack, though. Michael O’Connell has played really well against the hedge. He has 22 assists in those five games. O’Connell has had success attacking the roller tags. He’s an excellent passer, and he has made teams pay for slow rotations with some highlight-reel skip passes. 


On the flip-side, O’Connell has four total assists in the three games against primarily drop coverage. Without a lot of defensive rotation, drop coverage really demands an attacking lead guard who can score inside the arc. O’Connell is not that. He’s averaged 3.3 points and 1.3 assists in these games. 


Drop coverage is theoretically a great way to defend a team like State that has a distributor in O’Connell and some shooters in Horne and Morsell, but a dearth of guards that can score inside the arc. State got this defense from Notre Dame and UNC and posted two miserable offensive performances, scoring 54 points in both games. DJ Horne then shredded Wake’s drop coverage with a 9/15 performance from inside the arc. Horne has otherwise shot 37% from two during ACC play, but interestingly, State has not seen much drop coverage since that game. 


Shooting percentages as a whole are down versus the drop. The Pack has shot 35.3% overall and 43.3% from two against drop coverage as opposed to 45.7% overall and 49.8% from two against hedging teams. The most fascinating number is the three-point shooting percentage. The Wolfpack is shooting 38.6% from three against hedging defenses. For the whole season, that number would be good for 17th nationally. Against drop teams, State is hitting at 10.8%!! It has hit 5 of 46 attempts in three games. 


Even though the latter number there will make you puke down your shirt, it does make a lot of sense when you apply State’s personnel to the different pick-and-roll coverages. The Pack can generate open looks from three against hedges because it can exploit the rotation that type of coverage requires. Actions like shake pick-and-roll that ease up passing lanes to the wing and make tag recovery harder for wing defenders have gone a long way for State, and O’Connell is there to read the coverage and make the pass. That’s what he excels at. 


Drop coverage naturally creates more of a two-man game and doesn’t require rotation off shooters, so distribution opportunities shrink. It’s not that State has suddenly shot like garbage against these teams. It’s that it has struggled more to create good looks for its shooters. That’s kind of the nature of it. The coverage is designed to protect the rim and run the guard off the line. You need to attack it with a guard who can score over a big at the rim or hit shots from 8-15 feet. Devon Daniels, for example, was money at the former. So was Markell Johnson. Dereon Seabron could score on Optimus Prime playing drop coverage. State doesn’t have that rim-pressure creator this year. It does, however, have DJ Horne's floater, which was enough to beat Wake Forest.


The full chart


Hedge Chart


Assists

Made FG

Attempted FG

Made 3FG

Attempted 3FG

at louisville

17

32

59

10

20

VIRGINIA TECH

14

28

57

10

28

VIRGINIA

15

26

60

6

18

MIAMI

17

26

54

9

21

at virginia

7

22

63

4

14

Total

70

134

293

39

101


Ast%

Shot%

2Shot%

3Shot%



52.24%

45.73%

49.48%

38.61%



Drop Coverage Chart


Assists

Made FG

Attempted FG

Made 3FG

Attempted 3FG

at notre dame

5

19

66

3

17

UNC

9

18

67

2

21

WAKE FOREST

7

29

54

0

8

Total

21

66

187

5

46


Ast%

Shot%

2Shot%

3Shot%



31.82%

35.29%

43.26%

10.87% 🙃




So why hasn’t State seen more drop coverage lately?


Horne’s shooting against Wake helped State to a 63% shooting effort from two, so State is certainly capable of breaking the drop coverage, although the variance of performances against it is massive. While some teams just do what they do regardless of the scouting report, Virginia for example, that Horne shooting tape against Wake probably went a long way for State. The drop coverage numbers in this article aren’t necessarily predictive of what will happen when State sees it again. If Horne is on that day, that defense is going to be bailing pretty quickly. This stuff isn't an exact science. It will be fascinating to see which DJ Horne shows up next time State sees drop coverage.


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On drop screens.. of everyone I watch it seems to me that the PG's are giving up on it one dribble too early.. it looks like they are just one more dribble away from drawing the opposing big and then having their man open..

On the hedge, I would ask my PG to use their quickness to cut that corner and stop letting the other big cut him off.. if there's contact, there's no way they say the big had position established.. easy fouls on the other bigs!!


Thoughts??

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