Basketball is a game of strategy, skill, and split-second decisions. Among the many plays that make up the sport's tactical arsenal, the pick and roll stands out as a fundamental and highly effective strategy. This guide will delve into the intricacies of the pick and roll, providing players with the knowledge they need to understand and execute this play to perfection.

The Essence of the Pick and Roll

The pick and roll is a two-player action that involves a combination of a screen (pick) and a movement towards the basket (roll). This play begins with the ball handler dribbling near a teammate, who sets a screen on the ball handler's defender. As the screener rolls towards the basket, they create separation from their own defender, potentially leading to a scoring opportunity.

Roles and Responsibilities

The ball handler initiates the pick and roll by dribbling towards the screener's position

Their primary goal is to create a scoring chance either by taking an open shot or by passing to the screener or another open player. The ball handler must read the defense and decide whether to shoot, pass, or drive to the basket.

The Screener

The player setting the screen, or the screener, must establish a firm and legal position to impede the ball handler's defender without committing an offensive foul. After setting the screen, the screener rolls towards the basket, looking for a pass from the ball handler or to create space for other offensive options.

Executing the Perfect Pick and Roll

Setting Good Screens

A successful pick and roll begins with good screens.

The screener must set a solid screen without moving (to avoid a moving screen violation) and must use their body to shield the ball handler from the on ball defender. The correct way to set a screen involves using a wide stance and a strong base.

The Roll Works Best When...

The roll works best when the screener quickly pivots after setting the screen, creating a clear path to the basket.

Timing is crucial, as the screener must roll at the moment the ball handler's defender is effectively screened.

This creates a two-on-one situation against the screener's defender.

Variations of the Pick and Roll

The Pick and Pop

The pick and pop is a variation where the screener, instead of rolling to the basket, steps back to receive a pass for an outside shot. This is effective when the screener is a proficient shooter from mid-range or beyond the three-point line.

The Slip

In the slip variation, the screener fakes setting a screen and quickly moves towards the basket or an open spot on the floor before the screen is actually set. This can catch the defense off guard and lead to an easy scoring opportunity.

Defending the Pick and Roll

Communication is Key

Defending the pick and roll requires excellent communication between the two defenders involved. They must quickly decide whether to switch, hedge, or trap, and they must execute their chosen defensive strategy in unison to prevent the offensive team from capitalizing on the play.

Strategies for the Screened Defender

The screened defender has several options, including going over or under the screen, executing a hard hedge to disrupt the ball handler, or switching onto the screener. The decision depends on the offensive players' skills and the defensive team's strategy.

The Pick and Roll at the NBA Level

Iconic Duos

At the NBA level, the pick and roll has been a staple for many successful partnerships. John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz famously utilized the pick and roll to great effect, with Stockton's precise passing and Malone's powerful rolls to the basket.

Adapting to Defenses

NBA teams often have sophisticated defensive schemes to counter the pick and roll. Offensive teams must continuously adapt and refine their pick and roll execution to maintain its effectiveness against high-level defenses.

Training for the Pick and Roll

Drills for the Ball Handler

Ball handlers can practice using ball screens with a variety of drills that focus on reading the defense, making quick decisions, and executing accurate passes or jump shots after coming off the screen.

Drills for the Screener

Screeners can work on setting solid screens and practicing their rolls and pops. They must also develop good hands to catch passes in traffic and finish at the rim or shoot from the open spot they roll or pop to.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Avoiding Offensive Fouls

One common mistake is committing an offensive foul by setting an illegal screen. Players must learn to set screens without moving and to establish their position without extending their arms or legs into the defender.

Preventing Turnovers

Another mistake is forcing a pass to the rolling screener when the defense anticipates the play. Ball handlers must be patient and look for other passing options if the primary play is well-defended.

Advanced Pick and Roll Tactics

Using Misdirection

Advanced pick and roll tactics may involve using misdirection, such as a down screen or a fake in the opposite direction, to confuse the defense and create a more effective pick and roll opportunity.

Exploiting Mismatches

After a switch, the offensive team can exploit mismatches, such as a smaller guard defending a post player or a slower big man guarding a quick guard. Recognizing and taking advantage of these mismatches is key to maximizing the pick and roll's potential.

The Future of the Pick and Roll

Evolution of the Play

As defenses become more adept at countering the pick and roll, offensive teams will continue to innovate and evolve the play. This could involve incorporating more complex movements, using multiple screens, or integrating the pick and roll into larger offensive schemes.

The Role of Analytics

Analytics play an increasingly important role in understanding the effectiveness of the pick and roll. Teams use data to analyze which players are most efficient in pick and roll situations and to tailor their offensive strategies accordingly.


What is the most important aspect of executing a successful pick and roll? 

The most important aspects are setting a solid, legal screen, the timing of the roll, and the ball handler's decision-making after coming off the screen.

How can a defense effectively counter a pick and roll? 

Effective communication and quick decision-making are key. Defenders can switch, hedge, trap, or fight through screens to disrupt the play, depending on their strategy and the offensive players' skills.

Can the pick and roll be used in any offensive system? 

Yes, the pick and roll is a versatile play that can be integrated into various offensive systems. It can be adapted to suit the strengths of the players and the overall offensive strategy of the team.


The pick and roll is a timeless basketball strategy that, when executed correctly, can be incredibly difficult to defend. Understanding the roles of the ball handler and screener, mastering the timing and execution of screens and rolls, and being aware of the defensive strategies to counter the play are all crucial for any player looking to excel in pick and roll basketball. With continuous practice and strategic refinement, the pick and roll will remain a staple in basketball playbooks at all levels of the game.