Pick and roll

The pick and roll (also called screen and roll or shortened to screen roll, any of which may be hyphenated) in basketball is an offensive play in which a player sets a screen (pick) for a teammate handling the ball and then slips behind the defender (rolls) to accept a pass. In the NBA, the play came into vogue in the 1990s and has developed into the league's "bread and butter".[1]


How it works

The play begins with a defender guarding a ballhandler. The ballhandler moves toward a teammate, who sets a "screen" (or "pick") by standing in the way of the defender, who is separated from the still-moving ballhandler. The defender is forced to choose between guarding the ballhandler or the screener. If the defender tries to guard the ballhandler, then the screener can move toward the basket, sometimes by a foot pivot ("roll"), and is now open for a pass. If the defender chooses instead to guard the screening teammate, then the ballhandler has an open shot.[2][3] Alternatively, the ballhandler may pass the ball to an open teammate.[1] A well-executed pick and roll is the result of teamwork.[3]

The pick and roll is often employed by a shorter guard handling the ball and a taller forward or center setting the screen; if the taller defender switches to guard the ballhandler, then the offensive team can have favorable mismatches. The shorter guard has a speed advantage over the taller defender, while the taller forward has a size advantage over the shorter defender.

Defense against pick and rolls

There are three basic ways to effectively defend a pick and roll attempt: in all three, the object is to deny the ballhandler an open shot and prevent an entry pass to the "roller" which would lead to an easy shot or layup.


This strategy requires that the player defending the ballhandler be very quick, aggressive, and willing to get in close, but also agile enough to do so without committing a foul. Once it is determined that the offense is about to attempt a pick and roll, the player defending the ballhandler should "belly up," i.e., get as close to the ballhandler as possible, so that they can squeeze by the pick. In practice, this usually means that the defender must outrace the ball handler to the spot where the screen has been set, so that the ballhandler actually ends up being the one going around the screen and winds up out of position. As a result, the player defending the screener can continue to guard unabatedly. This technique is considered the most effective way of countering the pick and roll; however, as mentioned, it requires a special defensive player.

The defender of the ballhandler must also be careful to not over-commit toward the pick too soon; if they do, the screener can readjust to screen the defender off as the ballhandler heads in the opposite direction of the pick.


Trapping is designed to "trap" the ballhandler too far away from the action to be able to complete the play effectively. As the screener gets into position, their defender must go to the top of the pick and close off the alley that the ballhandler intended to go through. As a result, the ballhandler's defender can now close in on the ballhandler from behind, using the screener themselves as an additional de-facto defender. There are some serious downsides to trapping, however:

  • First, the defender initiating the trap can only get into position once the ballhandler has committed to using the pick, but must do so in time to get into position for the trap (if they are still moving, a foul will be called).
  • Second, if the defender moves too quickly, they will effectively abandon the screener, who can roll out early for an easy pass. In essence, the play will achieve its goal without the pick and roll having even been run.
  • Third, since both defenders will be guarding the ballhandler, one offensive player will be open. Even a great trap will only work for a short time. Therefore, this technique is best employed when the pick is set at the top of the key (to prevent an easy short pass down low) or near a sideline (so the sideline can be used as an additional defender).

Since trapping will always leave someone open, the remaining three defenders should sag off of their offensive players and play more of a zone-defense, guarding the passing lanes: trapping requires excellent team communication.


This technique is designed to allow the pick and roll, but forces the ballhandler to wind up out of position. After the pick is set, the screener's defender must go to the far-side top of the pick, effectively setting a double pick, but further away from the basket than the first. The ballhandler's defender, meanwhile, must quickly go underneath the pick (which prevents an easy roll-out by the pick-setter) since the ballhandler will not have an open shot so quickly. This is the first switch. As the ballhandler is now forced to go around the screener's defender, the ballhandler's defender meets them at the end of the double screen. The screener's defender quickly returns to his player before he can roll out—the second switch. Since the ballhandler is now further out than the play intended, it will be more difficult for them to hit the screener with an easy pass.

The risk of this technique is that if the offense recognizes it quickly enough, the ballhandler can pull away from the pick, leaving the defense with a tough choice: either the screener's defender must drag along with the ballhandler, leaving the ballhandler's defender to guard the screener (resulting, usually, in a serious height mismatch), or the ballhandler will be left open for an open jump shot.


A successful pick and roll play may result in the screener being in position to receive a pass with a clear path for an easy shot, with the chance of drawing a foul as other defenders move towards the play to try to prevent penetration. It may alternately lead to the ballhandler being momentarily without a defender, and thus free to pass to any open teammate, or take an uncontested shot, which greatly improves the chance of scoring, again with the chance of drawing a foul as the screened defender hurries to get back into the play.

The success of the strategy depends largely on the ballhandler, who must recognize the situation quickly and make a decision whether to take the shot, pass to the screener who is rolling (if the defender switches) or pass to another open teammate (if other defenders come to help).[2] The screener also must recognize the open spaces of the court to roll to and be alert to receive the pass and finish the play.

Other variations

Variations of the pick and roll are the pick and pop (or pick and fade), where the screener moves for an open jump shot instead of rolling to the basket, or the pick and slip, where the screener fakes setting a screen before slipping behind the defender to accept the pass.

Notable uses

In the NBA, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz used this play to great effect in the 1990s,[2] leading their team to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Stockton, a point guard, was a good shooter and exceptional decision maker and Malone, a power forward, was a great finisher. LeBron James and Žydrūnas Ilgauskas used this play quite a lot while playing for Cleveland Cavaliers. When they were teammates on the Utah Jazz, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer also utilized the high-screen pick and roll to great success, and similarly Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire when they were paired on the Phoenix Suns.[1]

According to Synergy Sports Technology, use of the pick and roll in the NBA rose from 15.6% of total plays in the 2004–05 NBA season to 18.6% in the 2008–09 NBA season.[1]

The pick and roll is also used extensively in box lacrosse, the sport played in the National Lacrosse League.


  1. ^ a b c d Abrams, Jonathan (2009-11-19). "N.B.A.’s Old Reliable Very Much in Vogue". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/sports/basketball/20pick.html?th&emc=th. Retrieved 2009-11-19. 
  2. ^ a b c Krause, Jerry; Don Meyer, Jerry Meyer (2008). Basketball skills and drills. Human Kinetics. pp. 30–31. ISBN 9780736067072. http://books.google.com/books?id=xDWx6uxC7DkC&pg=PA30. 
  3. ^ a b Wissel, Hal. Basketball: steps to success. pp. 143–44. ISBN 9780736055000. http://books.google.com/books?id=B_ntl4MtvZ4C&pg=PA143. 

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