The Screen-Assist

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Remember when ex-NFL offensive lineman Tony Mandrich was all the rage coming out of Michigan State about 20 years ago? He was so beastly that observers starting charting his "pancake blocks" -- the number of times he plowed over an opposing pass rusher. For all of its cutsy-ness, the stat wasn't entirely without value. If pass rushers are awarded sacks, shouldn't offensive lineman be statistically credited for preventing them? Derrick Rose's freakish driving layup early at 8:42 in the fourth quarter last night against the Nets on a crucial possession to keep the Bulls close was aided tremendously by a high screen from Joakin Noah. For all of Chris Paul's wizardry, his patented dribble-drive is often the result of a nasty screen by Tyson Chandler...provided Chandler isn't sitting on the pine with three fouls early in the second quarter. Shaquille O'Neal might not think much of Erick Dampier, but the Mavericks' center has carved out a place for himself as one of the game's best big men on the pick-and-roll. And I hope Steve Blake picked up something nice for Joel Przybilla this year, because the Blazers' work horse makes life a whole lot easier for his point guard.
Effective high screens that give a penetrator like Chris Paul the daylight and/or mismatch to get to the rim are as important to a team's offense as the assists we so diligently track when approximating a player's offensive value. Yet we award a dime for being -- often by happenstance -- the last person to touch the ball before a made shot. Meanwhile, all the pick man gets on a successful dribble-drive are kind words from Hubie Brown or Doug Collins. Analysts like to deliver the old "it doesn't show up in box score" trope, but why can't it? It seems that if we can make stats and box scores more perfect entities, we should.