BY Todd Dybas 04:05PM 01/29/2011

Picks getting them on a roll

Todd Dybas takes a look at how the Huskies are using pick-and-roll

Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas and big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning, right, have become the best duo in the Pac-10. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

That ‘ol ditty pick-and-roll is being played time and again by Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas and big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning.

Want to play man-to-man defense against Washington? It will try to ball screen you into a pine box. Thomas and Bryan-Amaning will co-lead the effort, running pick-and-roll as a first or last option.

It can come as a call from Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. Thomas can choose to use it. Often, if something else breaks down, it will be the final choice.

“I think it’s the hardest thing to guard in the basketball,” Thomas said. “You see it in the NBA, all they run is pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll because it’s so hard to guard. Especially on this team.”

Numerous factors at work for the prep school chums Thomas and Bryan-Amaning when decimating opposition though high screen-and-rolls:

  • Thomas, though he prefers going left, will come off either side of the screen. Tape proves this to the opposition, making their hedge decision that much more difficult.
  • Washington can place two shooters on the wings who are shooting at least 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line this year.
  • Thomas can stop deep, in the middle, or go all the way to the hoop.
  • Perhaps most notably, Thomas and Bryan-Amaning have been doing this together since playing at South Kent (Conn.) Prep School.

“Me and Matt, things we picked up knowing each other for so long and playing each other so long (help),” Thomas said. “We know when and where to set the pick; when and where he’s going to get the ball; when and where I’m going work my little things around the pick-and-roll.”

Here’s how they are doing it:

Against Cal, Washington opened with three consecutive pick-and-rolls between Thomas and Bryan-Amaning, all of which Bryan-Amaning slipped. The most productive result was a foul on hedging big Harper Kamp just 1:37 into the game. Thomas is a master at drawing these fouls.

Though Kamp stayed out of foul trouble, the same could not be said for UCLA monolith Joshua Smith prior and Arizona menace Derrick Williams later. Each were victims of bumping Thomas after angling off the pick. Each blow was supplemented by English Premier League approved histrionics from Thomas. The interaction led to crucial fouls on each.

Back to Cal. Two minutes after the early foul, Kamp chose to sag against the screen instead of hedge hard. Pinky-toe sized Cal guard Brandon Smith was blotted out by Bryan-Amaning’s pick.

Thomas comes off the screen going right, counterintuitive, and squares up Kamp. By the time Thomas is elevating for a three, Kamp has one foot below the foul line and Smith is just finally getting off Bryan-Amaning’s screen.

With Thomas in the air, all five Cal players stare at him as he rises. The three goes down, their concentrated eyeballs not nearly enough to misguide the shot. It helps that Thomas has upped his three-point shooting percentage to 36.4, a career-best. He shot just 29.1 percent his freshman year. Now, against the pick, if you go under often it’s over.

Following the three, coach Mike Montgomery sensed danger and Cal called timeout. The Bears then admitted their inability to stop what transpired by going to a zone for much of the rest of the game.

Ball-screen punishment continued against Arizona. Lamont “Go Get Grady!” Jones faced Thomas. Energetic Arizona forward Jesse Perry opposed Bryan-Amaning.

Washington ran its first ball screen three minutes into the game after the previous halfcourt play dissolved. Thomas waived for Bryan-Amaning to come out of the post and the Londoner bodied up to Jones’ right.

Thomas took off to his preferred left. Perry hedged hard in an attempt to keep Thomas from having a clean three-point look. But being so close to Thomas puts Perry on the ropes against a dribble drive. Thomas turned the corner and headed toward the lane.

Meanwhile, Bryan-Amaning quickly shed Jones and dove down the right wing.

“As soon as your defender’s head turns, you veer off,” Bryan-Amaning said. “Just not be where he expects you to be. Follow the back of his head. If he can’t see you, he’s not going to know where you are and play off of that.”

Once Thomas was able to turn the corner, Williams, waiting in the lane, had a decision to make. He chose to step toward Thomas.

Williams’ athleticism forced a parabolic arc to Thomas’ pass. Bryan-Amaning, now unseen and untouched on the backside, jumped off one foot to gather the iffy pass midway up the backboard. Shortly after Bryan-Amaning raised up, so did the roof.

Version 3.0 was on display late against Arizona. After Thomas pulled the ball out, Bryan-Amaning sprinted to set a screen. Thomas drove hard left, and, while doing so, had Arizona defenders turn their heads to him.

Williams had four fouls — he picked up his fourth with more than 10 minutes left while trying to hedge a screen for Thomas — and decided to retreat.

Thomas continued his drive. Bryan-Amaning dove with Williams committed to Thomas. Bryan-Amaning’s clear journey to the basket forced Arizona’s Brendon Lavender to help off Justin Holiday.

Thomas stopped at the left elbow after he was cut off by Williams. His decision to stop showed control of all three spots when coming off pick-and-roll: He can take a three; drive it all the way; stop and suck everyone in. Once Thomas stopped, no Arizona player remained on the outside right of the lane. Holiday, who shoots 41.9 percent from three this year, had his hands up and knees bent anticipating the wide open look. Thomas zipped the ball to him.

Swish. Biggest lead of the night for Washington.

“You have so many options,” Thomas said. “You have shooters on the wings, you have Matt in the post. You have to pick your poison which one you’re going to take away.”

Thus far, much of the opposition has suffered from the ill effects.