The Pick and Roll: an Iconic Technique

15th June 2019
Within the typical basketball plays, the pick and roll may be one of the most iconic. In this article, we'll tell you what it's about and when to use it.

In basketball, there’s an infinite number of technical and tactical variants. As we’ve mentioned before, this is a sport in which teamwork reigns over individual talent. The pick and roll is perhaps one of the clearest demonstrations of this statement.

Inside this world, every single detail is essential. Some plays, such as the pick and roll, are effective no matter how many times players perform it, as long as they perform it in the right way and at the right time.

What is the pick and roll?

As we established in the previous paragraph, the pick and roll is the most commonly used team attack move in basketball.

In essence, the player that’s carrying the ball has help from another team member, who blocks the rival defense and allows the first player to either reach the hoop or pass the ball to another team member in a more favorable position.

With pick and roll, the agility and mobility of the players become an essential requirement to perform this play successfully.

We must keep in mind that they -the pivots and power forwards- are the ones who must block the opposite team in order to allow the player carrying the ball, to break away. This way, the player will be able to break in or throw the ball to another free player.

The pick and roll is usually performed at the start or end of an attack. However, there are other variants that are not as commonly used. We’ll talk about those variants next.

The initial pick and roll

One of the shorter players will usually try to advance with the ball to begin the attack. Once they reach the line in the middle of the court, a tall player should go to the 6,75 line to perform a direct block.

Drawing the pick and roll play on a chalkboard

With this simple action, we’re trying to cause a defense imbalance that alters the regular development of the matches. This is what we usually call a ‘mismatch’. In a mismatch, a shorter player matches with a taller player.

From this point forward, there are different options we can execute. They’ll depend on whether it’s one of our short players that matched with a tall one, or if on the contrary, our pivot matches with the rival base.

On the other hand, the defense usually reacts in one of two ways to avoid this problem:

  • If they don’t anticipate the block, a player switch will certainly happen. Therefore, our chances of scoring will be higher.
  • If the defense realizes our intentions, they’ll most likely react with a long flash, which allows the outside defensive player to recover the position with their match. This is with the help of the pivot, but no player switch will happen.

This team move was very popular with FC Barcelona when Xavi Pascual sat on the bench. The fact that they had players such as Marcelinho Huertas or Ante Tomic in their line-up certainly helped.

The final pick and roll

This term refers to situations when players use the pick and roll because there are very few ball possession seconds left. At that moment, we must proceed quickly if we don’t want to commit any violation.

In these cases, it’s normal for the rival defense to become more aggressive and for player switches to happen more often. It’s a way to try and save the last ball possession instants.

This isn’t a trivial defensive attitude since trying to recover the defense position can cause an uncomfortable shoot or a break in. These options are of course less likely if there’s a change in the matches.

What’s the inconvenience of this final pick and roll? Evidently, having to resolve the play immediately can negatively affect its execution. However, it’s much easier to achieve the desired mismatch, which is a huge advantage.

Players performing the pick and roll move

Final execution

The main characteristics of this kind of pick and roll are:

1. Our attacking play should fall on the players that participate in the move, while the rest of the players remain in the background. To avoid interferences, secondary players should be wide open to have the best space quality.

2. The weight of the attack is undoubtedly on the short player with the ball. They must decide within seconds after receiving the block if they’ll go for the hoop or if they’ll form a bond with the blocker as assistance.

Lastly, as an example, you can watch this video that shows one of the pick and roll variants. It’ll hopefully enlighten you and resolve any questions you have left.

  • Marmarinos, C., Apostolidis, N., Kostopoulos, N., & Apostolidis, A. (2016). Efficacy of the “pick and roll” offense in top level European basketball teams. Journal of Human Kinetics50(2), 121–129. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2015-0176
  • Vaquera, A., Cubillo, R., García-Tormo, J. V., & Morante, J. C. (2013). Validation of a tactical analysis methodology for the study of pick and roll in basketball. Revista de Psicologia Del Deporte22(1), 277–281.