The Art of Pick and Roll
The pick and roll is one of the most commonly used offensive techniques in the NBA today.
What Is a Pick and Roll?
The pick and roll works with three people: two offensive players and one defender. One offensive player acts as the “screen” or the “pick” by standing tightly alongside the ball-handling teammate; the first offensive player’s goal is to act as a block to the defender so that his or her teammate may move freely across the court. The two offensive players then work together to move toward the basket (known as the “roll”) and score. The direction of movement on the court dictates the different types of screens; for example, a down screen begins at the three-pointer line and moves down the court towards the basket.
The History of the Pick and Roll
The pick and roll rose to prominence in the 1990s, most notably used by the Utah Jazz duo John Stockton and Karl Malone. It has continued to evolve and remain popular in today’s game with Golden State Warriors’ duo Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
How to Pick and Roll
Every basketball player should take time to practice the pick and roll, including how to recognize when a basketball screen is needed and how to become a useful screen yourself.
Follow these steps to master the pick and roll:
- Set Up the Screen
As the ball-handler, it’s your job to set up the screen by directing your teammate to a specific location on the court. An on-ball screen involves the person in possession of the ball, while an off-ball screen involves a teammate who could make an open shot.
Keep level with your screener’s position.
This prevents your defender from shooting the gap between you and your screener.
Stay tight to the screener.
Stay low and touch their shoulder or calf.
Reject the screen.
Reject if your defender shoots the gap around the screen.
Curl to the basket if your defender follows you through the screen.
Be careful when moving as a screen, because if you are to touch the defender, it is considered a foul called a “moving screen.”
- Survey the Floor
As you exit the screen, keep your eyes up and survey the floor to decide whether you should pass the ball or drive it to the basket. Look for your screener to be open for a pass if he or she rolls to the basket.
Evaluate your proximity to the basket
If you decide that driving the ball to the basket is your best choice, avoid drifting laterally on the court. Keep your shoulders squared with the basket to protect the ball from shot blockers, and don’t take your shot underneath the net. Instead, take off from a healthy distance in front of the basket so that defenders can’t reach the ball from behind, then lay it in.
Learn to read fellow players
Stephen’s relatively short stature makes him a more nimble player, so he likes to match himself up against larger defenders who are less agile than he. Learning to read the defense to match yourself against defenders who can effectively guard your strengths and who will help make you a more strategic and successful player overall.
Be on the defense
Keep in mind that you may have to adapt your winning strategy in the face of a dynamic defense. Defensive tactics may change over the course of an entire career, season, or game. Don’t let yourself and your team stagnate—adjust your offense accordingly to effectively beat an evolving defense.
- Defend Your Pick and Roll
Practice the pick and roll with some friends or teammates, with one person acting as the defender, one acting as the pick or the screen, and one as the ball handler. (If you do not have a third person to practice as the defense, a chair can act as a good stand-in for a defender.)
The defender can decide to either run into the screen, fight over the top of the screen, or shoot the gap, and the ball-handler can read and react according to Stephen’s advice. See if you can notice any subtle clues in your partner’s body language that help you know which way he or she is headed earlier in the play.
- Watch for Good Screens in Live Games
You can also learn by watching how ball screens unfold during real NBA games, and be on the lookout for them the next time you catch a game on television. Can you spot the techniques Stephen teaches during a live game? Look out for ball-handlers starting at the level of the screen, getting low and grabbing the screener’s calf, surveying the floor after coming around the screen, and rejecting the screen.
- Try Variations
The basic methodology behind the pick and roll can apply to a number of variations on the court. Try two of the more common techniques the next time you find yourself setting up a basketball screen:
Pick and pop
The pick and pop is an offensive move in which your screener “pops” over to an open spot on the court instead of towards the basket to receive the ball pass. This is also sometimes called the pick and fade move.
Pick and slip
This fake-out maneuver has the screener pretending to set a screen to throw off the defense. The “screener” then slips behind the defensive player and receives a pass.
Becoming an expert at the pick and roll, including knowing when to identify when the technique is needed and how to best effectively execute it in the heat of the game, will have you on your way to become the MVP of your team.