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The Pick and Roll: Classic Offensive Tactic

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    Sports Tips


The pick and roll is a quintessential offensive tactic in basketball that remains as effective today as it was when first popularized. This maneuver involves a series of well-coordinated movements between two players—the ball handler and the picker—to create scoring opportunities through misdirection and spacing. In this article, we delve into the anatomy of a successful pick and roll, examining its execution, variations, and strategic implementations.

Understanding the Basics

At its core, the pick and roll comprises two key components:

  1. The Screen (Pick): An offensive player sets a screen on a defender to create separation for the ball handler.
  2. The Roll: The screener rolls towards the basket, ready to receive a pass or exploit defensive mismatches.

Below is a simple diagram illustrating the basic pick and roll action:

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Table 1: Roles in a Pick and Roll

RoleKey Responsibilities
Ball HandlerInitiates movement, reads defender reactions, makes pass
PickerSets a solid screen, rolls to the basket, or pops out
TeammatesSpace the floor, provide passing options, cut aggressively

Execution: Step-by-Step

  1. Setting the Screen:

    • The picker identifies the ball handler’s main defender and sets a screen angled to force the defender into a compromised position.
    • Timing and positioning are crucial. The screen should be set quickly and close enough to disrupt the defender’s path.
  2. Reading the Defense:

    • The ball handler uses the screen, reading whether the defender goes over or under the pick.
    • Options for the ball handler include shooting, driving to the basket, or passing to the rolling picker.
  3. The Roll or Pop:

    • The picker reads the defense’s reaction: if defenders collapse on the ball handler, the picker rolls hard to the basket.
    • Alternatively, the picker can "pop" out to the perimeter for a jump shot if the defense over-commits.

Strategies and Variations

Split Action Variation

Split the Pick: The ball handler quickly passes out to a teammate on the perimeter after using the screen, splitting the defense and creating high-percentage scoring chances.

Table 2: Split Action Variations

VariationBall Handler ActionPicker Action
Standard SplitDrive-and-kick to shooterSnap roll to the hoop
Delay SplitHesitation dribble, then passFake roll, then pop

Spain Pick and Roll

Adding a back screen component, this variant pulls a third player into the mix, creating confusion and mismatches:

  1. A shooter sets a back screen on the picker’s defender.
  2. The picker rolls, often with an unguarded path to the basket.

In Coaching Practices

Drills to Perfect the Pick and Roll

  1. Two-Man Game Drill: Focus on ball handler and picker coordination. The checker (or dummy defender) should simulate defensive actions, forcing adjustments.
  2. Three-on-Three Live Drills: Incorporate the pick and roll in half-court situations. Emphasize reading and reacting to defensive rotations.
  3. Scrimmage Sessions: Utilize full-court scrimmages to implement the tactic in a realistic setting, refining both offensive execution and defensive counters.

Coaching Tips

  • Communication: Emphasize clear and constant communication, especially on screens.
  • Footwork: Focus on proper footwork for both the ball handler and picker to ensure effectiveness and avoid offensive fouls.
  • Versatility: Encourage players to recognize and utilize various options off the pick (shoot, drive, pass, or pop).


The pick and roll remains a staple of modern basketball, cherished for its simplicity and effectiveness. Mastering this tactic requires diligent practice, keen game sense, and the ability to read and react swiftly to defensive setups. Whether you’re a coach drilling your team or a player seeking to elevate your game, a nuanced understanding of the pick and roll is indispensable for creating, recognizing, and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

Keep practicing, stay sharp, and roll to success!