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The 7-11 Screen is a new wrinkle in the Nets’ offense – Boston Herald


It happened with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Kevin Durant had the ball about 10 feet behind the top of the key with Hornets defender JT Thor draped on him. Kyrie Irving flared from near the elbow and set a screen on Durant, bringing his man, Terry Rozier, with him.

This is the moment both Edmond Sumner and Royce O’Neale describe as “pick your poison,” and it’s a play — what we’ll call the ‘seven-eleven screen-and-roll’ — the Nets are trying to incorporate into a high-powered offense.

On this possession, the Hornets chose not to let Durant beat them. Thor and Rozier attempted to trap Durant, but he easily threw the pass over the top to Irving, whose turnaround mid-range jumper bounced off the rim and into the net to give the Nets a six-point lead.

“You got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving running pick and roll, like, pick your poison,” Sumner said with a maniacal laugh. “I’m sorry, that’s just a great option. What you gonna do? You gonna switch? Then you gonna get the matchup that we want: a smaller defender on seven. Shoot, even the bigger guy on Kai. It’s like whatever you want, so that’s a great option to have.”

It’s not every day you see a small set a screen on a big like Irving did for Durant against the Hornets.

The Nets somewhat made it popular last season when they deployed Bruce Brown as a small-ball four. Brown often set the screen on Irving, then rolled to the rim a la Draymond Green and either put up a floater over the helping defender or made the pass to the open man.

This, however, is different, Joe Harris told The Daily News. Irving is a true guard, whereas Brown is a tweener. Irving has been on the ball-handling side of the screen-and-roll more times than he’ll ever be a screener.

“Everyone thinks as a guard you can’t screen,” Sumner said. “Actually it’s great: You screen, and he’s right in the paint. One of the best finishers in the game (Irving), one of the best mid-range in the game (Durant). That’s a great combo right there.”

Which is why the wrinkle of Irving setting the screen — as Stephen Curry also popularized in the Golden State Warriors’ free-flowing offense — can be so dangerous. Because those skills still translate. Once the ball leaves Durant’s hands and hits Irving’s, he is a screener no more. He becomes an attack dog, and the defense has to adjust.

“It just gives us some versatility. [Kyrie] can score at all three levels with legendary efficiency, so if they put two guys on the ball, I can throw it over the top and he can act as a big man, shoot that little middy or play in the pocket,” Durant said. “If he’s handling, obviously you know what he does when he’s handling the basketball. He’s a versatile player that allows us to play in different roles in that pick-and-roll, and I think we both can operate at the same areas on the court: mid-range, at the rim, three-point line, off the dribble.”

Durant might be on pace to crack the NBA’s Top-10 all-time leading scorers list this season, but his playmaking abilities continue to fly under the radar. He can see over most defenders and is selfless enough to know getting rid of the ball when the double comes always creates a better shot.

“It’s tough to double team from the middle of the floor. We have shooters all around ‘em,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Kevin can see the double coming, which is to our advantage, and if they do make a mistake, Kai has the ability to turn the corner. That’s why it worked for us. We’ll continue to take looks at it, how we get into it, how we disguise it, but at the end of the day, having those two play together is good.”

Durant said the inverse ‘seven-eleven screen-and-roll’ confused the Hornets’ defense. Rozier didn’t really want to leave Irving, but he also didn’t want to leave Thor on an island with Durant. Hornets center Mason Plumlee was in position to contest harder on Irving’s jumper, but that would have opened up a passing lane for an open corner three. None of the other Hornets other defenders could help. That’s an automatic three points for Harris, or O’Neale, or Seth Curry, each of whom were ready to shoot if Irving decided to dish.

“I think with those two guys getting so much attention, whenever it’s a guard-guard pick and roll, it creates a little bit of confusion just because it’s not something a lot of guards are accustomed to guarding,” Harris told The News. “But particularly when those two are involved in it, whether it’s Kai setting it or Kevin, it just creates a lot of indecision for the defenders and everyone else that’s on the floor.”

Charlotte is a well-coached defensive basketball team led by ex-Nets consultant and vaunted defensive mind Steve Clifford. The Hornets mixed their coverages all night, but Irving said he noticed the opponent beginning to show on screens more in the second half — that is, the screener’s man sticking with the ball handler for a second to ‘show’ a body before darting back to his man.

“As you look at the third and fourth, they made some adjustments to hit Kev, double-team him when I was out of the game,” Irving said. “So every time he came and screened for me, he was screening on a specific angle. And then when I screen for him, I’m just getting out and rolling because I feel like they’re gonna try to trap him. So it just depends on the look teams are throwing at him.”

Forget for a second about Irving and Durant. On the same play, the Nets were also threatening the pin-down screen to get O’Neale an open three. Vaughn said the Nets tried this type of action against the Hornets earlier this season but in Charlotte when they tried to get Plumlee to guard a smaller scorer.

“This time we didn’t put Plumlee in pick-and-roll, but we played Kai and Kevin pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor,” Vaughn said. “So the spacing was good for us, got a little pindown for Royce to create a little movement for us and then the floor is open so that if they switch, Kevin has a small guy on him, Kai can turn the corner, getting those two to play together in pick-and-roll can be lethal for us.

“You don’t see it all the time. It was great for them to kind of produce and see how they can execute at the end of the game together.”

With all five defenders focused on two all-time scorers, three-point shooting opportunities for the role players boon. When they ran the inverse screen and roll, Vaughn subbed Irving in for Nic Claxton. The Nets had a small ball lineup of Irving, Durant, Harris, Curry and O’Neale on the floor before Claxton returned to close the game.

“When we go small like that, we should be able to get a good shot every possession,” Curry said. “If they show them multiple bodies, we’ve got plenty of shooting, so we should get an open shot or they should be able to go one-on-one and get a high percentage shot at the same time.”

There’s just one hiccup, a minor speed bump for a team that wants to perfect this action for playoff time.

The Nets can’t run this play too often. It’ll become predictable and give opponents enough data on film to plan for it in advance.

As a result, the ‘Seven-Eleven screen-and-roll’ isn’t something the Nets will run in the first half or even the first three quarters

“A lot of that will happen in the fourth quarter. It won’t happen at halftime where they can make adjustments at halftime. We kind of save that until the fourth quarter,” Vaughn said. “We had them talking about it and for it to work at that time was beneficial — a big part of why we won that game. The great thing is we found some success in it so hopefully, we’ll be able to go back to it.”

It is, however, something the Nets are working to make a staple of their late-game offense. When Durant has the ball in his hands and Irving sets the screen, the possibilities are endless.

Another wrinkle: Ben Simmons wasn’t on the floor when they ran the ‘seven-eleven screen-and-roll’.

“It’s like pick your poison, who you want to score,” O’Neale told The News. “You either get the switch and have the smaller guy on KD or a big on Kai, and when they start doubling, us spacing out and being ready to shoot, we create an advantage if we get the right spacing so it’s tough to guard.”



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