Breaking Down Trey Alexander's Pick-and-Roll Creation | The Friday Screener
Trey Alexander has shown significant improvement across the board, but his growth as a pick-and-roll creator may be the most intriguing development.
The Creighton Bluejays are looking like one of the most well-rounded teams in the country and were even some people’s sleeper pick as title contenders. If they are to live up to the hype, Trey Alexander will be a major reason why. Last season, Alexander was a surprising freshman as his minutes and production improved throughout the season. He defended well, but the on-ball creation and shooting were inconsistent, and he seemed to lack confidence at times. This season, Alexander has appeared to have made the jump, as he is scoring 12.7 points per game on 57/45/82 shooting splits. Besides the efficiency, the most significant change in Alexander’s offense has been his confidence and control, especially when running the pick-and-roll.
At 6’4” and 190 pounds, Alexander projects more as a combo guard in the NBA than a pure shooting guard. He is in that unfortunate zone where he isn’t quite big enough compared to most NBA shooting guards and doesn’t have the playmaking ability of point guards. Despite these traditional limitations, Alexander’s improvement, offensive versatility, and defense suggest that he can be utilized in a myriad of ways to optimize the offense. He’s continuing to prove that he’s an effective off-ball scorer with his spot-up shooting and cutting, but his improvement as a pick-and-roll creator improves his odds of making it at the next level.
Alexander likely won’t be a high-usage player or average seven assists a game, but he also doesn’t need to. He has an old-school approach to his game where he relies on patience, floor awareness, and change-of-pace dribbling to get to his spots. As a secondary creator in a lineup, Alexander has the tools to really punish defenses.
Here, Alexander gets a brush screen in Creighton’s early offense. Anthony Black goes over the screen, so Alexander attacks the drop defender. Alexander gets deep in the paint, which makes the opposing big freeze for a second, anticipating a shot-blocking opportunity. Instead of trying to finish through and over the larger defender, Alexander plants his left foot to eject him away from the rim and toward the corner. As Alexander is in the air during the step back, he does an excellent job of squaring his feet, hips, and shoulders to the rim, allowing him to immediately rise up and knock down the jumper.
This time, Alexander comes off the double drag and makes a sharp turn at the top of the arc into the lane. This move puts Alexander in an advantageous position as it ensures his defender can’t recover rim-side. From here, Alexander has created a significant advantage. Alexander takes one more dribble toward the rim, but he quickly processes that Oumar Ballo is denying the rim and Azuolas Tubelis is denying the lob to the roller from the weak side. Alexander also knows that the strong side defenders are staying tight on the shooters, so his only space is to his left in the mid-range. To generate sufficient space, Alexander takes one dribble into his defender’s body before planting hard with his right foot to launch himself to the left for the relatively open mid-range jumper.
Alexander is proving that no matter how defenders cover him in the pick-and-roll, he now has the skill, awareness, and craft to get to his spot. Here, Kylan Boswell is all over Alexander. Boswell does a great job of getting over the first screen, but Alexander immediately pivots back and recycles the screen that takes Boswell temporarily out of the play. Alexander’s second use of the screen forces Arizona’s help defenders to show aggressively, slowing down Alexander, who knows that Boswell is in hot pursuit. Calmly, Alexander slows his drive to put Boswell in jail and ensure he can’t recover rim side. As Boswell circles around to Alexander’s left and as Arthur Kaluma lifts out of the corner, Alexander recognizes the mid-range area to his right open up. Alexander uses an escape dribble to quickly find the space for an open jumper.
Alexander’s improved patience, floor awareness, and defensive manipulation have turned him into a more effective scorer, but those improvements have also diversified his playmaking. Scoring out of the pick-and-roll is a crucial skill for any guard, but his improved playmaking out of it forces defenders to be perfect on their assignments.
Here, Alexander dribbles tightly off the screen that dispatches Jordan Walsh before snaking toward the middle of the floor. Since Walsh is recovering to the ball, Makhel Mitchell is forced to pick up Alexander. The rest of the Creighton team does a great job of lifting up above the break, which doesn’t allow any Arkansas defenders to help at the rim. Since Alexander has drawn the attention of Mitchell, Ryan Kalkbrenner now has a free lane to roll to the rim. Alexander rewards him with a perfect lob for the easy dunk.
This time, Texas Tech switches the high pick-and-roll. Without hesitation, Alexander crosses back over and attacks the space that Kalkbrenner just rolled out of. This quick move exploits the over-eagerness of Alexander’s new defender, who is much too high. Since Alexander has acres of space to attack, his initial defender is forced to step up, leaving Kalkbrenner, in an attempt to stifle the drive. This momentary double leaves Kalkbrenner alone at the rim, and Alexander quickly finds him.
Alexander’s playmaking isn’t limited to just lobs, though. Here, he does a brilliant job of manipulating the drop defense to set up Kalkbrenner for the open three. As he comes off the screen, Kalkbrenner’s defender is deep in the lane. Instead of barreling straight to the rim, Alexander hesitates to draw his defender back in. To fully free up Kalkbrenner, Alexander takes two more dribbles to get both defenders to commit before kicking it back for the open three.
The next step that Alexander needs to take with his pick-and-roll creation is reading the entire floor. He runs a quality two-man game but doesn’t always see off-ball shooters. Here, Alexander quickly recognizes that the help defender has both feet in the lane and delivers a perfect pass to the corner shooter.
While this is a good read, it is also a fairly obvious one, as the help defender is way out of position. Alexander’s recognition and passing versatility in these situations must be much quicker. He tends to only have eyes on the two primary defenders, and he has yet to consistently show an ability to make live dribble passes, which slows down his distribution and gives defenders an extra split second to recover.
Here, Alexander does a great job of getting to the elbow and collapsing the defense. For some reason, though, the off-ball defender is collapsing from the strong side corner when there is no need to do so. This is an action that should be exploited every single time. Instead, Alexander fails to recognize the open corner shooter and settles for a contested mid-range step back.
Alexander also must be more consistent at punishing defenders when they go under the screen. Despite the (so far) improved numbers, Alexander rarely hunts his shot from outside, as he’s still hesitant to pull up from three. Here, Trevon Brazile goes way under the initial screen, and Alexander has plenty of room to shoot. Instead, he hesitates, crosses back to his right, and reuses the screen before elevating. Since Alexander took those additional dribbles to his right, he closed the gap between Brazile. Alexander needed to confidently step into the three right away or take an additional dribble to his right after reusing the screen. Instead, he steps into a heavily contested jumper that he doesn’t even look like he wants to take.
Trey Alexander has taken massive strides as an on-ball creator. He runs an excellent two-man game and regularly gets to his spots. The single-year improvements are noticeable, but there is still more work to be done for the Creighton guard. If Alexander wants to creep into the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, he must be more confident with his outside shot out of the pick-and-roll and improve his ability to set up off-ball shooters. We’ve already seen Alexander make a monumental leap in his game, so why can’t there be even more to discover?
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