We’ll start the first segment of Breaking It Down with a defensive set, one in which Andrea Bargnani does some good and bad. This is taken from the Boston game where Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are about to run a fairly routine pick ‘n roll on the right wing. On the play Bargnani has two main defensive responsibilities, one he does well and the other he blows.

Garnett is about to set the screen on Calderon, and Bargnani is far away enough from the action that if Calderon is completely screened, he’ll find himself one-on-one guarding Rondo. In fact, a few possessions ago, Boston ran the exact same play in which Bargnani didn’t hedge and found himself in a one-on-one situation with Rondo in which the latter got a layup. Will he play it differently the second time around?

This time Bargnani makes up the ground and decides to come out to trap Rondo early, thus sealing the Boston guard closer to the sideline where he’d rather not be. So far, the Raptors have defended the play well, and Rondo will do the natural thing of passing it to Garnett who finds himself open.

The pass to Garnett does’t yield an open shot, though, since Kleiza has made the rotation over. The ideal rotation would have been for Evans to check Garnett thus keeping a big on a big, but at least a rotation was made. Garnett smartly swings it to Daniels on the elbow. At this point, Evans is guarding Daniels and Bargnani is switched on O’Neal. Daniels is faking trying to feed the ball into O’Neal, and for some reason Evans is denying the ball and giving Daniels an angle to drive to his right quite easily. If he had just stayed in front of him, Daniels would’ve either taken a jumper or dumped it down to O’Neal who would have been defended by Bargnani (a good post-defender).

Evans’ folly means Daniels is now in attack-mode and comes right down the middle. Evans is in no-man’s land, and it is now upto the center of the team to defend intruders into the paint. This frame represents the exact moment in time where Bargnani has to commit to playing help defense and focus his attention to stopping the guard. He has to either pick up a charge, contest the shot, or foul the guard. All three are decent options, with fouling obviously being the least desirable. It doesn’t matter what O’Neal is doing, the job of the help defender is to deal with what’s happening right now and trust your teammates to “help the helper” by rotating.

Daniels glides in for the layup, the weak-side defender DeRozan has done a better job than Bargnani of contesting the drive. Notice Bargnani’s position, his feet and the angle he is playing – all wrong.

He correctly realized that he had to hedge early in the play, but lost his defensive concentration and didn’t realize the need to provide help against Daniels. Slightly different versions of this play happen many times a game and have earned Bargnani a reputation as a poor help defender. If Bargnani improves his play in these situations, Raptors fans will be much more forgiving of him because the first thing we look for in our center is his defense, and that’s where Bargnani’s coming up short.

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