June 28, 2021 

Jewell Loyd has solved ICE coverage

The Seattle superstar has made her two-person game unguardable below the slot

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Jewell Loyd to opposing defenders, upon seeing ICE

Seattle found itself on the wrong side of an early Las Vegas run to open its season. The Aces jumped out behind scoring the first seven points, and the Storm held pace to a 22-14 deficit after the first seven minutes.

With 2:55 on the clock, Seattle shooting guard Jewell Loyd got the ball on the left slot, defended by Ace Jackie Young while Seattle power forward Breanna Stewart came off an inverted ram screen from Sue Bird at the top of the key. As Stewart approached, Loyd noticed how Stewart’s defender, A’ja Wilson, played Bird’s ram. Seeing something familiar, Loyd put the ball on the hardwood and blew by both Young and Wilson for an easy layup.

That was the beginning of a 13-4 run to close the first quarter and nab Seattle its first lead of the game, one they would not relinquish.

Loyd didn’t score there because Young missed her defensive assignment. Loyd blew by Young because she saw Wilson under-two Bird’s ram, meaning Wilson was going to be helping Young low. Maybe in a drop, but given the Aces tendencies, she was most likely playing ICE.

ICE (also called “blue,” “down,” “push,” and many others) is a pick-and-roll (PnR) defensive coverage that is applied to side PnRs (that is, when a team is going to use ICE, it’s going to use it against PnRs where the screen is set roughly between the slot and the corner). The bare bones of the coverage are that the on-ball defender chases the ball handler towards the sideline, while the screener’s defender sags off, staying closer to the basket and shading the handler toward the sideline to force them into the short corner.

ICE is generally run when the screen is set facing the sideline, as to force the handler to reject it, while putting a couple bodies between her and the rolling bid and other shooters/cutters. Additionally, there’s a third defender directly involved, who’s stationed at the nail in order to prevent a quick reversal to the top of the key and to help on the roller.

So in the video above, Young expects that she can lock onto Loyd’s hip and drive her baseline while Wilson prevents her from getting to the rim. Bird’s ram creates enough movement that Wilson committing to icing would leave Stewart open beyond the arc. Loyd knows this, and also is fast as heck, so there’s two points for the Storm.

“We love that if [opponents] ice Jewell, we know our reads within that, but we also have been drilling the counters to what they may show defensively and how to handle those as well,” said Seattle head coach Noelle Quinn. “Her consistency and what she can bring, creating her shot, using the ball screen, putting the big in a dilemma against the ICE; those are things that we will continue to drill and work on.”

Dan Hughes and Noelle Quinn, Seattle’s head coaches this year (Hughes retired May 30), are excellent at creating offensive motion that puts defenders in a bind, like what happened against Las Vegas. But more often, it’s Loyd’s skillset that creates the openings.

Loyd’s had her three-point jumper down for five years now, but she’s both taking and making threes more than ever. She’s shooting 39.3% on 5.9 attempts per game this year; only Ariel Atkins, Sami Whitcomb, and Arike Ogunbowale are both taking and making more threes. Loyd’s played about 84% of the minutes she did in 2020, but has already taken more dribble jumpers in 2021 as she did in her entire time in the Wubble.

So the big has to play up towards the level of the screen, or Loyd’s going to pull right up. But when the big is up, it opens up options for Loyd. She could blow by her.

Or she could reverse course and leave both the point-of-attack defender and the big out of position.

And if that all forces the big back down, but the point-of-attack defender stays on her hip, Loyd will just snake middle and create an open middy.

At this point, the only thing a defense can do is adjust, and have both the big and the on-ball defender hold tightly to Loyd. But the game has only slowed down more and more for her over the years, and her passing has gone from a weakness to an extraordinary strength. Loyd could be one of the half-dozen best point guards in the game were she not sharing the court with one of the greatest point guards of all time. Teams simply cannot double her on PnRs.

To be this good against one coverage ought to require very specific training. So how has Loyd developed these skills?

“Experience, getting a chance to slow down the game a little bit more, being confident in my abilities. A lot of reps, we do a lot of reps,” said Loyd. “And [the Storm] ICE a lot, so we go against the ICE a lot in our day-to-day practices. So just experience and just being confident, and understanding film and how people guard us.”

Loyd understands. And it continues paying off for the Storm.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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