I like to pride myself in knowing the rotation players for every NBA team. I consume enough basketball media that it would be sad that, if not by osmosis, I didn’t know the normal lineups for each team. So, when I came across a 6’11 rookie who stops 48.2% of field goals at the rim and can shoot 32.6% from three hiding in the shadows, I was taken aback. How did I miss him?
I stumbled upon him while enjoying my favorite pastime… looking at stats. I was working on the initial groundwork for Blocks ≠ Good Defense and while looking at Defensive Field Goal % within six feet of the rim, his name popped up. He ranked 7th out of the 373 players that fit my original criteria1. Wait… who is this guy? After a few moments of pondering, I dismissed the name as a fluke and went on with my research.
Later, I was having a conversation with pals about the best 3&D2 centers in the league. Normal names came up like Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Myles Turner. I was more curious about the topic and went to look at basketball-reference.com to get a feel of more big men that could shoot. And there was that name again, wedged between Horford and Vučević. It was time to do some digging. More importantly, it was time to meet Jock Landale.
Jock Landale is a 26 year old undrafted rookie from Australia who played 4 years at St. Mary’s between 2014 and 2018. Before this year, he spent three years playing overseas in Serbia and Australia. His playing time started out slow with the Spurs, but through injuries, the big C, and trades of major big men, his time ramped up as the season went on. Due to this, he seems to have flown under the radar even in more dedicated circles of NBA fans. If you aren’t Australian, a Spurs/St. Mary’s fan, or a liar, you were most likely not aware of him.
Landale’s 51.8% DFG% is eye-popping. It ranks him in the company of players like Jaren Jackson Jr, Rudy Gobert, Robert Williams III, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Is he really that good?
PICK AND ROLL DEFENSE
San Antonio play Jock Landale as a last line of defense to the dribble-drive and cutters; similar to the role Gobert plays in Utah. The Spurs don’t necessarily funnel all comers into Landale, but they put him in positions where he can be around the basket.
For example, in the pick and roll, Landale solely plays drop coverage. This comes with its pros and cons. This role leaves the defense prone to giving up open 3’s to movement shooters, pull-up mid-range shots, and floaters, but creates less paths to the hoop and keeps the big man near the paint. This strategy is not necessarily good or bad in a vacuum, but instead depends on your personnel and the team you are facing.
Landale excels at shutting down driving lanes by giving the opponent an ample cushion so he cannot be blown by. In this play, he doesn’t even jump at Poole’s pump fake because he is focusing on keeping Poole away from the rim.
When players do try to get to the rim against Landale, he keeps his arms straight up and holds good position to contest their shots. He is bulky enough that when players seek contact they seem to bounce off resulting in tougher looks. He does a good job not fouling by moving with the defender and not attempting to sway down at the ball.
As stated previously, there are cons to this defensive playstyle. These weaknesses can be magnified by Landale’s tendency to leave more space than most when directly compared to other drop defenders. He openly invites players into taking as many floaters and mid-range shots as they want . These offensive plays by Garland happen sequentially and show why a good shooter can take advantage of the space Landale gives up.
Landale leaves the buffer because of his lack of foot speed to recover. He can get caught flat-footed when he takes one wrong step or is a moment too late on the action. Bjelica isn’t necessarily known for his speed off the dribble.
But, the occasions where Landale is caught off guard are rare. He is not normally behind the play so his combination of his buffer and positioning still leads to a lot of these drives to be a losing battle. Landale also rarely finds himself guarding smalls, due to the Spurs doing a good job pre-switching assignments, so he doesn’t have a strong disadvantage.
When he does get switched on smaller and quicker players, he resorts to the cushion. It is sometimes comical how much space he gives his opponent especially when they get nearer and nearer to the rim. This is where Landale bleeds value as a defender. He is not versatile enough to guard all positions and, in most situations, can only be relied upon as an off-ball defender against guards.
Fortunately, Landale has great instincts off-ball. On most occasions, he sniffs out the defensive breakdown early. He is constantly watching for openings in the defense, ready to stamp them out. In the last play, Landale has to pay attention to his side of the floor as well as the on-ball action before making the correct decision to run and save the lay-up. These are hard reads to make since most defenders would be worried about Tatum running off the staggered off-ball screens.
Landale’s foot speed does seep into these spots too. This is another outstanding read. Shamet is about to run out for a three off of Wainright’s off-ball screen. This action is meant to distract the weak-side defenders from the true play happening at the top of key. Bridges breaks free into the open paint and in the same moment, Landale spots the breakdown. With more lateral quickness, this would have been an incredible play, but instead ends with a semi-easy lay-up.
THREE POINT SHOOTING
Landale increases his value by being able to take multiple threes a game at decent efficiency. At 32.6% on 5.4 attempts per 75 possessions3, his shot profile looks mostly like Al Horford this season4. This may not look great in comparison to non-big shooters, but out of the centers who shot threes on meaningful volume5, he shot only 1.4% below average. This is a huge plus in the modern game where spacing out the floor can lead to a lot more opportunities for your team to score.
Landale tends to get most of his three point looks off his off-ball movement where he is good at keeping his playmaker’s passing pocket open and is rarely caught out of position for three.
He prefers these threes above the break compared to in the corner6 so it makes sense he would also be a reliable pick and pop partner. Ironically, he is at his best in the role when punishing big-man who play drop on these actions.
Something you may have noticed is how wide open his three point attempts are. In fact, 96.6% of his three point attempts had no defender within four feet of him and a majority of those had no defenders within six feet7.
Landale also shot 97.7% of his attempts as a catch-and-shoot and all his attempts were assisted. On passes that found him while he was on the move or not in his shooting pocket, he would be very reluctant to pull the trigger. All of this indicates that Landale is not comfortable taking contested shots and is not able to create his own shot off the dribble. This hurts his versatility as a three point threat, but his ability to shoot the attempts he does acts as a safety valve for the offense.
Though he prefers the pick and pop, he does have the ability to be a solid pick and roll partner. He is adept at sticking in passing pockets for the ball-handler, though, as shown in the last clip, the Spurs guards weren’t always adept at finding him.
Landale is not a huge threat to score from anywhere inside the three point line on his own creation. His lack of dribbling skills and occasional wonky footwork leave him as an easy guard one on one. What holds his back to the basket game back is his low range of moves – if it’s not a hook, fade-away, or drop-step, Landale is not shooting it.
He is looked to create his own shot exclusively when he finds a mismatch. He has enough of a hook game to easily get his shot over the top of shorter players. He shoots 56.3% from post-ups, though, these numbers are on low volume8.
Landale is very keen at finding these mismatches. If he gets the switch, he normally brings them into the post, but due to the Spurs lack of above average passers he isn’t found for every try. Even without the Spurs finding him for attempts, this can stress the defense and lead to open looks for teammates.
Despite his size, Landale is a fairly active off-ball player. He is good at moving around in the paint and on the perimeter to make passing pockets easier for the ball-handler. In the first play, he goes from spotting up in the corner to an off-ball screen for a shooter to cutting in for a pass and foul.
This kind of movement occupies the defense instead of the defender being able to stick to their spot. By occupying the defense, his movement leads to easier shots for his teammates. In the last play, he occupies Jalen Smith enough so when Walker IV runs into a wall he has the easy kick-out to the open shooter.
His off-ball IQ shows up in his screening as well. Landale sets his normal screens for ball-handlers, but he is especially good at setting and finding these off-ball screens in the paint to create open lanes. Most of these off-ball screens are on the fly and not designed plays.
His movement and off-ball IQ also lead him to be a great offensive rebounder. He is in the 90th percentile of all players9 in offensive rebounding percentage at 11.1%. This means if a shot is put up when he is on the floor more than a tenth of the time Jock will come down with the rebound. He does this by being good at establishing position before the shot goes up, running into space, and using that aforementioned mismatch hunting to his advantage on the boards.
Through his off-ball movement, Jock will find himself open in the middle of the floor. This leads him to be able to use his positioning and height to map the floor and dish it to the open man. He does this surprisingly well for a rotation big-man and lets him be a connective tissue in an offense.
Another way Landale fits into the Spurs offense is with these elbow sets they like to run for him. Jock isn’t looking to score in these spots, but instead he looks for passes for some easy designated hand-offs or players coming off screens. Occasionally, he will audible and throw some surprisingly sweet passes towards the rim.
Though, if he is not actively looking for cutters, he will normally miss some of these higher level lay-up passes. He can be caught focusing on the specific play or the obvious pass. This would be a huge value add for Landale.
Overall, I would not call Jock a good play-maker. Don’t let this confuse you, he has good touch on his delivery and is a very willing-passer so one could say he is a good passer especially at his position, but he doesn’t create open looks for his teammates by breaking down the defense. Instead, he reacts to what the defense gives him10.
SO… WHO IS JOCK LANDALE?
On defense, he is a drop pick and roll defender that has a tendency to give up open jumpers and floaters. With this tendency, he elects not to get blown by at the rim so he can make easier contests or even keep his opponent from getting to their position in the first place. He also adds value by being a smart help defender, though, he can be outpaced to the rim if not in the perfect spot due to his lack of lateral footspeed.
Landale’s exceptional defensive numbers at the rim seem to be a product of his drop PNR defense, great defensive fundamentals, and good help IQ. While he keeps his assignments from scoring at the rim, his tendency to sag deep and his lack of footspeed can be exploited by certain line-ups. Due to this, it seems to indicate that Landale’s defense doesn’t translate across all teams, but in situations where he is surrounded by better and better perimeter guards his skillset’s value balloons.
To quote J. Kyle Mann, he is a “low waste player” on offense. He has the ability to space out the floor as a big-man, but I would not call him a consistent threat from downtown. As a defender, you do still have to respect his shot. He is a non-threat to create his own shot so he has to rely on off-ball movement to get the ball at the rim, but he is very good at reading the defense so by finding mismatches in the post, screening off-ball to create open lanes, and looking for offensive rebounds he adds positive value to his offensive package. He is a willing passer with the ball, but due to his lack of creation off the dribble or variety of scoring options, he has to rely on the defense to move when his teammates move a la Draymond Green. Unlike Green, he will miss back-door cutters and is much less aggressive feeding DHO’s.
Does this sound like the diamond in the rough player I was alluding to in the beginning?
The biggest question I came away with is if Landale is a player worthy of real play-off minutes in the future. Is he a championship-level back-up big or is he a plug-in for a non-contending team?
To me, this answer is reliant on the kind of team he finds himself on and against. He is a player where he can be the defensive anchor in the playoffs one series, and the next be played off the floor by teams who take advantage of his lack of lateral quickness.
But, Landale does have a unique set of skills for the modern game. Big men that can shoot threes at near league efficiency and volume on top of being considered a positive rim defender do not grow on trees. I am not a master of player development so I will not make any promises for Landale (or any other player), but in his current state most teams would love him as their rotational big man.
1. 2021-22 players that defended at least 80 shots within six feet of the basket (Jock had 141 shots within six feet attempted against him).
2. This label gets thrown around a lot nowadays to describe players that are good at both defense and three point shots.
3. Per 100 stats may be more popular, but per 75 stats reflect the amount of possessions a normal starter plays in a game.
4. 33.6% on 5.0 attempts per 75 in the 2021-22 regular season.
5. 3 attempts per 75 and played at least half of the regular season.
6. 77.5% of his three point attempts come from above the break.
7. 65.2% of his three point attempts.
8. 39 post-up attempts all year.
9. Players who played at least 300 minutes in the 2021-22 regular season.
10. “The Rondo Assist”
all statistics taken and derived from basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted