All I need to know about Pick & Roll

Today’s post is about the Pick & Roll, types that exist, and the offensive and the defensive way that I consider the best.

I will try to be clear in all my explanations, and even it is hard to imagine all the details which I wrote it down, for those who are passionate and eager to learn more it will not be so difficult.

Enjoy the learning process, and let’s hit the road!

The Pick & Roll or the ball screen is an offensive play in which a player sets a screen for a teammate handling the ball and then moves towards the basket to receive a pass.

The Pick & Roll is the hardest play to guard against when it is executed correctly, and it is the most efficient offensive weapon for modebrn basketball.

Now, let’s see which are the six types of Pick & Roll that I will talk about:

  1. High Pick & Roll – where we have ball handler screener, two corners and low post and usually the screen is set in the middle of the floor around the three-point line
  2. Straight Pick & Roll – same alignment as for High P & R, but the screener comes in a straight line and decide in the last moment what side he will screen on (the screen is also known as Varejao screen).
  3. Spread Pick & Roll – where we have the ball handler and the screener in the middle of the floor, and three guys behind the three-point line, two on one side and one on the opposite corner. This type is considered the most difficult to guard Pick & Roll.
  4. Shake Pick & Roll – is the same alignment as the spread, but the ball handler receives a screen at the hash mark on the side of the floor. Usually, it is used for good driving guards because it creates a big driving gap on the floor.
  5. Side Pick & Roll – when the screen is set free throw line extended on a side, and the other offensive players are on the opposite side, two behind the three-point range and one in the low post forming a perfect triangle, or if the team has good shooters, all t hree can be behind the line.
  6. Step-up Pick & Roll – same type like side but the screen is set towards the baseline.

Any good Pick & Roll starts with the ball handler getting separation from his man. So, the guard’s first job in any Pick & Roll is to get separation so the screener can come in either through live ball or off the dribble. Second, the screener, in my opinion, will not set it in an area (like at the three-point line), and he will chase or head hunt the defender to set the screen there. Third, I would like the back of the screener to be as much as he can towards the basket, and the reason is I want to minimize the possibility to recover quickly if the guard defender goes “UNDER.”

Screening technique should be sprinting to screen, jump stop with wide feet, hands one over the other pointed down, the chest at the defender’s shoulder, and how I said as much as possible his back towards the basket.

On any Pick & Roll, I want the ball handler to come off TWO DRIBBLES before making his decisions. The guard should not come off the screen and “think” to pass the ball. Instead, he must always “think” to score because the Pick & Roll is for the ball handler. The guard options should be in this order, and after he bounced the ball twice: continue the drive; pull-up a jumper; hit the roller with a pass or kick out for a shooter.

So, in conclusion, best Pick & Roll play is: separation, screen, two dribbles and then comes the guard decision on how he plays. The most successful Pick & Roll set plays are the plays with multiple Pick & Rolls. You will see why when I will talk about defense. Another way to do the Pick & Roll more efficient is the screener to be on the run, either is running from the baseline or after he received a screen. This action will add speed and intensity to your set play.

High Pick & Rolls in transition are called drag screens, and they are very efficient because the defender of the screener (who usually is the “4” man) waits into the paint. Then, if the screener is a good shooter, he can pop out and not roll, and if the ball is skipped back to him the progressions of his actions are: shot, pass high-low or swing it to the weak side for the second Pick & Roll.

Defending the High Pick & Roll should start in my opinion with the guard defender backing up and forcing the player with the ball to create separation closer to the three-point line. That will give an advantage to our “Big,” who is guarding the screener meaning that the guard will not come in full speed towards him. For this action to be successful, the “Big” must be able to recognize the play and to give signals to the other, like yelling: Back up, back up… for example. Then, because in the way I see things I want my players to hard hedge or show on the screen, he will yell Show, show… This way he gives signals to the guard defender to go from containing mode to “body to body” forcing into the screen because first, we want to prevent rejection of the screen by faking the Pick & Roll, and also because we want no separation. In the same time into the paint, we must form a triangle of lane protection. The weak side “BIG” defender will step up in the middle of the lane one big step away from the fault line. The strong side wing defender will come halfway between the block and the three-point range, and weak side wing defender will do the same but below the block to prevent an over the head pass. Next stage is the SHOW, which must be done at the same angle as the screen, and should be violent. The “Show” man must never remain attached to his opponent because we want first to show high to delay the guard, and second, he must make room for his teammate to go OVER the screen and between the show guy and the screener for his recovery. We could also use UNDER defense, but only if the screen is very high and there is no threat from a three-point shot. We suppose that we already backed up and the defense will be OVER. One more explanation about what showing violent means: he must explode up and sprints back. The danger of SHOWING is that the defender is above his man. Now, for preventing a pass to the roller, the guy who is in the middle of the lane inside the paint, on the first step of the roller comes and meets him at the fault line, and stays with him on the roll. He also should communicate with the “Show” man to remain high to his man, who most of the time will rotate high. The strongside wing will go closer now to his man, and the weak side will step deeper into the paint. And that is hocw I want to guard the High Pick & Roll.

My next point is about defending the Spread Pick & Roll, and I will start saying that the worst thing you can do when protecting it is to “Show,” because you open a passing lane to the wing and his defender is in a long close-out which we don’t want to happen. Instead here is what I will do. The guy who guards the wing on the “crowded” side is in charge to recognize the Spread Pick & Roll and to yell Spread right or left, giving the signal for the next actions. At the moment when the defender on the ball hears it, he has to go from “contain” to “body to body,” pushing the Pick & Roll on the “crowded” side. The BIG who guards the roller will drop back a few steps closing the driving channel, and the guy who gave the first signal will stay in help defense. If by any chance we can’t recognize it, or it is happening too fast, the roller defender will stay in a soft hedge trying to stop the guard’s driving lane until his guy usually recovers with an “OVER” defense. The guy who defends the “crowded” side wing steps out from his position and bumps the roller towards his initial defender to narrow the amount of passing space the guard has. Immediately after the bump he must release him and recover to his guy who usually rotates to the middle of the floor. The defender of the “crowded” corner has to come in the middle of the paint protecting the lane, and the opposite corner defender goes closer to his guy to take the skip pass option away. The last detail is that the guard defender has to put his arms up, and even jump if the action needs it to force a hangtime pass or a spin move with a pass to the “crowded” wing guy. All of those actions force the guard to shot a long-contested pull-up and if by any chance he makes it we should be able to live with that.

If they start the Spread Pick & Roll on the side, the Big defender doesn’t go for a soft hedge and drops to the paint one step back from the free throw line to prevent the driving. The guard’s defender will go UNDER, but it also could be OVER if the guard is a super shooter. The guy who is guarding the strong side corner has to step in and take the BIG man into custody. Here starts the hardest part of this defense. The “corner” will fly to the wing and even it is a hard pass to him, some guards can make it. What can protect that? Our guard defender with high hands and even jumping is the only one who can force a hangtime pass which gives the necessary time to the original defender to sprint for a closeout. Another option is that the corner defender doesn’t rotate to the BIG, and instead, the guard’s defender boxes him out (also known as VEER BACK action). The roller defender switches and takes the guard. If the guy with the ball is an excellent point guard, he will continue his dribble under the basket, and he will try to skip the pass to his open teammates. His actual defender has to yell something; I prefer Tiny, Tiny, Tiny… and this will be the signal for everybody to go from “help” defense to “deny” defense, to take the skip options. Eventually, the guard will continue his dribble outside the paint, and this is the point where we want to switch it back. What we want in the end is the same in each case: NO free throw, NO lay-up, NO three-pointer.

For the Shake Pick & Roll, we want to force the guard to drive to the “strong” side corner and not to the middle. So, at the Big defender signal, he should go from “contain” to “body to body,” preventing the screen from the middle of the floor. Then the Big’s defender drops back, and we perform the same Veer Back action, swinging the men, with the Tiny, tiny, tiny…call and the switch again.

On the Straight Pick & Roll, the defense starts with the roller defender call for the guard to back-up, and force the screen lower. Also, the defender should recognize the weak guard hand and influence him to that side, by moving from “contain” to his body, dictating this way where we want the Pick & Roll to go. Then we can use whatever we wish to: Weak to Show, Weak to Soft or Weak to Back-up, because the initial action did all we wanted. Probably they will have a second Pick & Roll after those actions, and we have to adjust to the next situation.

On the Side Pick & Roll offense, we want the low post which is not playing the Pick & Roll to punch in the middle of the paint. This way he creates more passing options for the guard. One detail will be that the roller should not roll straight to the basket. Instead, he will “roll” underneath the block for optimal spacing.

Defensively I like to Blitz the Side Pick & Roll. If the team is good, they will have three outlet passes out of the trap no matter where the trap happens. So, we assume they will have a guy behind the ball line, a guy up on the side and one punching in the middle of the paint. If the ball is thrown to the center everybody sprints back to his men. If the ball is thrown to the sideline, a full rotation should happen, but I will say only the opposite corner defender will bump the roller to out of the “paint”, until his man recovers and he can sprint back, and the guard defender drops in a help position to prevent the “corner” dribble penetration. Don’t forget that the four phases of the trap are: 1. The blitz, 2. The protection of the paint, 3. The rotation and 4. The pursuit. So, after you established your rotations don’t forget topursuit.

Last detail is regarding how it is better to “Roll.” On the traditional way, the roller must turn with his high shoulder towards the ball and be able to be in eye contact all the time. In the last years, we can observe more and more players rolling on the opposite side. This new way of “rolling,” puts them in a sprinting stance, and even if they lose vision for a split second, they cover more ground quicker. Also, if you will try it, you will notice that the spacing is much better. I don’t say that we must teach the rolling this way, but we should consider it a viable option.

It is a say that if you can stop the Pick & Roll, you solved more than 50% of the game, but I consider the number is much higher.

If both teams use the details that I showed here in defense, and also in the offense, and try to perfect all of them, in the end, the team who minimize the mistakes which reside from these actions, will win the game.

I hope you enjoyed the reading, and I was able to present a detailed perspective on how to look the Pick & Roll.

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