Pick and Rolls, and then, more Pick and Rolls

by George on February 6, 2009

Okay, I am officially Pick and Rolled out.  After watching all these games, whether NBA, college or even high school,pick-and-roll I am starting to see pick and rolls in my sleep.  It is a pick and roll epidemic out there.

Up until a few years ago, I used to ask college coaches why they didn’t use pick and rolls as a part of their offenses.  They usually answered that they didn’t run the two- man game because defenses  would just double them,  taking  them out of it.  Well, I no longer ask anybody why they don’t run pick and rolls anymore.  Pick and rolls are now being used in college ad nauseum.  It’s been used in the NBA ad nauseum forever.

You see pick and rolls run from the wing, run from the corners, from the middle, from the elbows.  Sometimes run 30-35 feet from the basket, other times within good shooting range.  Pick and rolls are used to swing the ball from one side of the court to the other.  They are used for jump shots, used to hit the roll man, used to penetrate.  You see  combinations of guards and centers involved, forwards and centers, guards and forwards, forwards and forwards, guards and guards.  The other night I saw a point guard pass to a center, and go over to set a pick on the center to run a pick and roll. Crazy!  You see pick and rolls run as a set offensive play, or run just randomly, when players don’t know what else to do.  Surprisingly, what you do not see very often is the dribbler pulling up and shooting after coming off the screen, which was the original point of the pick and roll.

Now I am not against the pick and roll.  It can be a fine offensive play, especially if run correctly, or run by two guys named Stockton and Malone.  But to be run really effectively, they need to be run precisely.  And that is what bothers me when watching these games.

The execution of these plays are generally not very good in college, or for that matter in the pros.  I guess I am too much of a perfectionist, for even if run poorly, pick and rolls seem to be effective, that is until they meet solid defenses. The most common mistake is the dribbler leaving too early, thereby not allowing the screener to set the screen.  Also, often the screener sets the screen at a poor angle.  Most of the time, the screen should be set at an angle so that the dribbler is going to the basket, not away from the basket.  Too often the screener, if the dribbler has waited, stops short of the defender.  The screener needs to keep in mind that the responsibility of the screener is to make contact with the ball handler’s defender, and not be a ”ship passing another ship in the middle of the night”.  If things are done correctly, which happens occasionally, then the dribbler should keep in mind the options available.  If no hedge by the screener’s defender, then a shot should be there.  If not, assuming the right angle has been used, then there is an opportunity to penetrate.  If there is a hedge, the dribbler should attack the defender and not just dribble out, going away from the basket.  Of course, there are a lot more details about correctly executing the pick and roll, but we will talk about that in more detail later on this site.

So what do I have against so many pick and rolls being run?  First of all, I like games with ball and player movement.  Too often when teams run the ”two- man” game, it is just that, a two man game.  The other three players often just stand around, spotting up.  I love to see good cuts, give and goes, back door passes.  I like  seeing a player come off a screen, turn and face, and take the defender while other players are moving. Most importantly, at least in keeping in mind of the intent of this site, I think that running too many pick and rolls with younger players inhibits their development as players.  They don’t learn how to cut, move, read defenses, pass, or make one on one plays.

I was talking to a 10 year old friend of mine the other day.  He loves basketball and is playing on a 4th grade AAU team.  I asked him to show me what plays they run, and of course, he drew up a play with a pick and roll.  No passing or cutting, just a pick and roll.  If I remember correctly, when I was coaching my boys when they were young, we had the rule where when they passed, they had three options.  They could cut, screen away or move away for floor balance.  They were not allowed to set a screen at the point of the ball.  My intent was to teach them how to play the game.  Pick and rolls could come later.   As a scout, it always bothered me if a player’s answer to a break down was to always run a  pick and roll.  It made me wonder if the player really knew how to play.

Image Source: Sports Illustrated


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Clarence Gaines February 11, 2009 at 10:38 am

Good Stuff. I’m currently coaching 8 to 10 year old kids in a league that only allows a team to play man to man defense. Can’t double team, but you can switch. Your point about coaching kids in youth basketball is very valid. I like your three option rules. I utilize a 5 out system with three basic offensive options. Dribble hand off series, wing options off entry pass from point, screen option. Dribble hand off series works the best because it gets the defense moving and kids learn how to read defender, pass/hand off, attack the basket, and back door cut if being overplayed by their defender. Wing Option involves pass from point to wing. Point has the option of screening away, making a basket/banana cut, or setting a ball screen. Screen option involves wing screening for the point, and has been the easiest to defend because of the reasons you listed in your article.

Keep publishing your thoughts. You need to find a way to get it to the masses.

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