top of page

Pick and Roll Basketball

Image above: Sturt Sabre stalwart Jan Warbout screens featured athlete Isaac White (6'1'' Combo Guard Class of 2017). Jan is straddling the defender's feet and setting a crushing screen for Isaac. Isaac then attacks Jan's hip gets on the rim drawing multiple defenders before dumping off to Daniel Johnson, waiting under ring, for an easy bucket.

The pick and roll play is a critical part of the game internationally. I have observed many, many players at ALL levels that have little capability in some of the intricacies of effective pick and roll play. Is it being taught effectively at ALL levels? - I don't believe it is. I hope to help solve this problem.

Why is the Pick and Roll such a big part of the game today?

1. The Court has "shrunk":

I feel as players get longer, more mobile and more athletic over the years the court has effectively shrunk.

Unless you penetrate the paint, to engage help defenders, help defenders are able to still provide adequate defensive coverage to their own players in the case of perimeter ball movement.

You have less room to play in, with the shrinking court, so constant off ball screens for the sole benefit of providing a ball reversal and random perimeter ball movement, like was the case in the 90s, without pass or dribble penetration into the paint, does not shift defense enough.

2. Refs protect wing play makers more:

Points of emphasis for referees, globally speaking, tend to be about freeing up dribble penetration and protecting the player with the ball.

When guarding the ball the hands fouls are called more regularly.

3. Defense has collapsed

Defense has moved to a packline style where help comes on the ball side so moving those defenders out to the other side of the floor, from the ball, or onto the ball, in the case of the on ball sceener, removes players out of the the pack.

4. Shot clock

The shot clock has been introduced to all levels of basketball and now on an offensive rebound it only resets to 14 seconds. This creates a sense of urgency and need to penetrate the paint faster.

The Australian pathways have implemented a style of play to support our countries' strengths in international competition and this is also heavily reliant on pick and roll basketball but this is not really dissimilar to other nations competing in the sport internationally.

I am constantly learning and adapting pick and roll play, trialing new ideas and learning from others. I wanted to deliver a blog on pick and roll play because I feel it is so important to developing elite players and am often frustrated by how I see it being taught and played at all levels, albeit I also am sometimes able to note new teaching methods and ideas to improve myself as well.

The biggest problem I have with how it is taught is that players are fearful to make plays on pick and rolls, I constantly see them taking 1 or 2 dribbles off a pick and roll and making a perimeter pass. The ball moves from one side of the court, across the the split-line to the other side, never entering the paint, as players are not taught how, or encouraged-to, to make plays and reads out of pick and rolls. If you are not looking to score out of a pick and roll you will not engage defenders, you will not cause "wrinkles" in the defense, you will not be forcing them to make decisions because they don't need to worry about you randomly swinging the ball, if you are not going to attack the paint - and attempt to score. As defense has adapted to guard pick and rolls I am also frustrated that few players are able to effectively use the screener and the pick and roll is constantly neutralised by the defense unnecessarily.

The purpose of pick and roll play

I always tell guys I want them all making plays out of pick and roll actions. Every pick and roll needs to be seen as an opportunity to score, be it the guy with the ball coming off the pick and roll, the guy that set the pick or the other team mates, not in the pick and roll play, looking to spot up whilst the action is happening. Everyone needs to think of the opportunities to score and make decisions that will help them, or their team mates, score. With this scoring, play making mindset you force the defense to make decisions, you create "wrinkles" and gaps in the defense.

Main principles

These are some principles I use when teaching pick and roll play which makes the teams and players I coach so lethal in this action:

1. Bigs screening for smalls - try to encourage your guys with bigs guarding them to set screens and guys with guards on them to come off screens as you want to create or threaten a mismatch out of a pick and roll.

2. Set your man up - When coming off a screen you want your defender to step off slightly and angle his feet in a way that opens up towards the basket, which means that the screener can straddle the defender's feet (see the next principal). The best way to do this is for the guy with the ball to make his defender think he is going away from the screen (or refuse the screen). He can do this by jabbing away from where the screen is coming from or dribbling away. Every now and then actually refusing the screen, especially if the defender has left the driving lane wide open, is good. By doing this the onball defender will step off their man slightly and often angle their feet to block the path of player with the ball. This will then setup a great angle to set the screen on that defender.

Ben Carter (6'10'' Power Forward, Class of 2018): sets a crushing screen aided by the fact his team mate, Ray Harding, sets his man up by stutter stepping away from the screen. Ben finishes this play with a BIG dunk

Alex Mudronja (6'5'' Point Guard, Class of 2018): Sets his man up by making a pass fake away from the screen then attacks the rim hard off of a great Owen Hulland (6'11'' Stretch 4, Class of 2018) screen.

3. Straddle the defenders feet - The idea of this is to make the screener wider for the defender to move around and harder for them to maneuver around the screen. I very often see players not straddle the defenders the feet and the screen is very easy to squeeze over and through in which case it is pretty much ineffective.

Image above: the screener's feet ARE NOT straddling either side of the onball defender's feet. This will make it easier for the onball defender to squeeze over the screen, neutralising its effectiveness.

Image above: above the screener's feet ARE straddling either side of the onball defender's feet. This will make it tougher for the onball defender to squeeze over the screen, enhancing the screen's effectiveness.

4. Don't be in cement if you are the screener - The screener's feet should be loose and light. What i mean by that is their feet should pivot (and refs don't read this please ha) to create a bigger base for the onball defender to squeeze through, also if the onball defender goes under the screener should roll/drive at the rim into that defender or just back pivot into the defender's path to create more space for the ball handler.

Ben Carter (6'10'' Class of 2018): Feet not in cement. Here the ball defender goes under the screen and Ben Carter is able to drop back into the ball defender, forcing his bigger defender to show help. While his defender is showing Ben slips on the rim for a great pass from Alex Mudronja (6'5'' Point Guard, Class of 2018)

5. Hesitate, evaluate, separate - The ball handler once squeezing the defender out will have that defender on their back, the defender on the screener may be hard showing, short showing, squeezing into the screener or dropping towards the rim. With their defender on their back they can buy some time by freezing/hesitating and evaluating where the big is. This hesitation will often make the defender on the screener just relax for a second too, before the ball handler goes at them, pulls up at midrage for a shot, or kicks the ball back to the screener etc.

Alex Mudronja (6'5'' Point Guard, Class of 2018) : makes an Iverson cut for a catch and onball screen from Ben Carter (6'10'' Class of 2018). Alex hesitates causing confusion for Ben's bigger defender who steps off Alex then runs at him freeing up a pass for Ben diving on the rim.

6. Sprint in, sprint out - The screener should sprint in, adjust their angle of their feet depending on how the ball defender's feet are angled, to straddle the defender's feet, then sprint out either popping to the 3 pt line, mid-range or slipping/diving on the rim.

Sprinting in and out speeds up the time the defense has to make a decision as to how they will guard the screen or even take the ball defender's by surprise. Sprinting out of screens means that anytime the screener's man shows he will have a bigger distance to recover back to his man.

7. Attack screener's outside hip unless the screener's defender is short showing. I always say to the guy with the ball when using a screen it is a battle. Your defender will try and squeeze over the screen but you have to be strong enough, and smart enough, to channel them into screen, leaving no gap on the screener's hip for the defender to get through.

This point is poorly emphasised by a lot coaches who sell players short by not teaching them to come off picks effectively.

If the screener's defender is short showing (IE showing help but maintaining contact with the screener) then attack the otuside hip of the guy defending the screen, there should be a speed advantage if the screener's defender is bigger and slower than the player with the ball, which will be the case if you have followed the first principal (IE bigs screening for smalls).

6. Angles - The famed triangle offense included the concept of line of deployment (LOD). The effectively entails shifting the ball so it could enter the post player at an angle that was difficult for the post defender to deflect. This concept applies strongly to pick and roll situations but is even more powerful as the players are moving out of pick and rolls more than a player posting up. Here are some examples of what I mean: Screeners defender hard shows > screener dives > opposite big lifts to the seam (IE the extended line between the baseline and corner of free throw line) > player with ball passes ball to opposite big, on the seam, who now has a great passing angle into the diving big. That straight, undeflected pass to the receiver is the line of deployment. There are a myriad of scenarios and rotations that would dictate where to shift the ball to to create a straight line pass/line of deployment. No matter the adjustment the defenders make the ball should be able to be skipped/passed to create a great passing angle, unless the screener is being double teamed in which case a shot would be open.

Jacob Rigoni (6'6'' Small forward, Class of 2017) : Sets the onball for Lat Mayen (6'8'' Wing, Class of 2017). Lat intelligently retreats when he is double teamed. Meanwhile Jacob slips onto the rim. Lat is able to retreat away from the double team, reverse the ball to the other side, creating a great passing angle into Rigoni who is sealing his recovering defender on the rim.

7. Make a play - too many guys are encouraged to come off pick and rolls only as a passer, if this is part of the set so be it but in the motion phase of the offense I am not fan. The player with the ball should do 1 of 4 things and each of them should be aiming to make a play which leads to a score. Must have a scoring mentality in pick and rolls.

1. Attack the paint and score the ball or split defenders/draw a double team and kick it to an open man who WILL automatically, without a conscience, catch and shoot the open shot. 2. Attack, to draw out the big, then retreat to the 3 pt line to exploit a mismatch either by passing to the rolling screener or attacking bigger, slow defender on the ball. 3. A quick stop at midrange and pocket, or hook, pass normally to the screener that is rolling or popping, that is wide open to score the ball (for hook pass examples see the footage of Isaac White passing to Jacob Rigoni out of pick and rolls below). I only want this pass to made if it will lead to a score and is quick IE DO NOT gather up dribble until just microseconds before you are going to pass the ball.

4. Shoot the 3 if the ball defender does go under the screener and the screener's defender is not able show help fast enough.

I don't like guys coming off onballs, taking 1 or 2 dribbles and stopping at midrange, they need to have caused some kind of defensive adjustment first, a switch, a deep help or rotation, a score.

Alex Mudronja (6'5'' Point Guard, Class of 2018) : A young man who has been compared to Dellavedova by those in the know makes a play out of this pick and pop from Owen Hulland (6'11'' Stretch 4, Class of 2018) . Alex brilliantly splits defenders (something I love in pick and roll situations), causes a help rotation and then steps around the help guy for a great finish. This is making plays.

8. Teach dynamic, rapid passes - time is precious in pick and rolls. Gather up the ball and be too slow on the gather up gives defense time to adjust or close the gap. Passes need to be hook, one handed push pass or pocket passes on the move. See below footage of Isaac White to Jacob Rigoni for examples of the rapid gather up and hook passes.

Make the right read

Players need to make the right read out of onballs. As I have said in my previous blog on decision making, the right read needs to be intuitive, a reflex decision, rather than some kind of slow thought out process. Often there is no 100% right or wrong, no black and white and below are some suggestions. Sometimes players make reads that don't look right but they can still make the read work. Coaches need to ask questions and offer guidance when teaching reads rather than TELL players what to do - there is no right or wrong.

Hard show - if the hard show is early then the screener does not even need to screen. Just move to screen then slip it onto rim. The man with the ball can retreat and find the guy slipping. He could also potentially be able to split the sceener, which is dribbling between the gap between the screener and their defender, hard showing.

Short show - this is where the screeners defender does not leave much of a gap between themselves and the screener for the ball handler to split. In this instance the ball handler cannot attack the sceener's hip because their defender is in the way. Instead they can the defender's outside hip. Normally the screener's defender will be a bigger, slower player and therefore the ball handler can create a missmatch by attacking their hip.

Guy guarding the ball goes Under the screener, through a gap - in this instance I like the screener to either drop step back into the defender going under or they can slip the screen but into the onball defender's path. The screener can also foward pivot (flip the screen) whilst the guy with the ball changes back to the other direction but this time the screen will be closer to the point gaining inches into the paint.

Ice/shadow - this is where the on ball defender angles their feet away from the screener trying to force the ball handler away from the screen whilst the screener's defender drops between the ball and basket. In this situation I like the screener to either flip to straddle the defender's feet or get their feet on the inside of the on ball defender's feet with their back into the onball defender's side. They would normally flip with their back to the baseline or slightly to the closest sideline. They can also quickly slip inside the defenders feet with their back to the on ball defender but right against their body. This could also be one of the times when I am also Ok with the ball handler refusing the screen.

Switch - When your bigs are screening for smalls (or more specifically any player with a slower defender on them sets the screen) then a switch is probably the ideal scenario. In this case if the big man can I have them dropstep/roll into the smaller player switching onto them.

Blitz or double ball - Ideally I prefer the screener to pop on a double because it is the easier angle to pass to a guy that pops, out of a double, than a guy that dives. If the screener must dive then I think the ball carrier needs to retreat as quickly as he can up the floor, trying to create space away from defenders, the pass straight into the diving screener is a hard one to make and a hard one to catch. Therefore, I prefer the ball handler reverses the ball for a high > low feed to the diving screener.

Featured athletes out of pick and rolls

Having had the honor to coach (among many others that have worked with each one of them) so many U17 and U19 National representatives and squad members out of South Australia I feel the above knowledge and teaching points has helped them develop great pick and roll abilities. I want to provide a brief summary of some of their personal pick and roll characteristics:

  • Alex Mudronja (6'5'' Point Guard, Class of 2017): silky smooth ability to split defenders and long and athletic to get above the rim and/or see above defense to make a great kickout.

  • Lat Mayen (6'8'' Wing, Class of 2017): versatile +++, can set the pick and pick or dive, can play out of pick and rolls, pulling up mid-range or getting on the rim, or shooting the 3 ball if the defender goes under

Lat Mayen (6'8'' Wing, Class of 2017): Taking on Duke recruit Jack White when featured athlete Brent Hank sets a screen allowing Lat to back up, create some operation from White who just cannot stay with Lat when he has space.

Lat Mayen (6'8'' Wing, Class of 2017): Here current Duke player Jack White goes under Hank's screen. This leaves St Mary's player Jock Perry to show but he is too big and slow to get out to Lat who nails the 3 ball, again showing great versatility for a 6'8'' kid.

  • Brent Hank (6'10'' Centre, Class of 2017): big, wide, mobile body. Able to pick and pop to mid range for the rip through or catch and shoot but at best when diving on the rim for a running catch and finish.

Brent Hank (6'10'' Centre, Class of 2017): Solid screen in this footage, with mobility to get to the rim whilst the ball carrier stretches Brent's defender out.

  • Isaac White (6'1'' Combo Guard, Class of 2017): ability to make great decision on the pick and roll multiple ways to score and pass, physical strength means will squeeze defenders into the screen and keep them on his back whilst he hesitates, evaluates and makes make a decision.

Isaac White (6'1'' Combo Guard, Class of 2017): Making a play out of pick and rolls. Sets his defender up for the screen, good change of pace and direction, threads defenders, gets on the rim and goes hard to draw the foul.

  • Owen Hulland (6'11'' Stretch 4, Class of 2018): mobile for size, super long and with great shooting range loves the pick and pop to mid range for the catch and shoot and is currently developing ability to rip and get on the rim, his ability to pop opens up driving lanes for guards which is why playmaking guards love playing with him.

Owen Hulland (6'11'' Stretch 4, Class of 2018): Setting a pick and roll showcasing his mid-range game. His defender goes to show hard on the pick and his team mates blocks out Owen's defender allowing Owen to quick slip to mid-range for his deadly spot up jump shot.

  • Jacob Rigoni - Similar to Mayen in that he is so versatile can set the pick or come off the pick with the ball in his hands. Has a huge IQ and makes the right reads all the time. Has a very rare mix of inside finishing ability through shot fakes and crafty step throughs and physical strength and also able to very consistently knock 3s down.

Throughout the times I have coached them both together and seen them play in recent years watching White to Rigoni has been a pleasure!! Jacob's versatility and Isaac's ability to score with the ball in his hands wreaks havoc for defenders from District, to National Championships, through representing Australia at tournaments. Check out Jacob's versatility and Isaac's ability to create separation and pass out of pick and roll situations below with textbook hook passes with a quick gather up. Watch and learn kids :)

Video: White to Rigoni

Video: Again White to Rigoni

Video: One more White to Rigoni

  • Ben Carter (I have seen this kid almost put kids in the hospital with an on ball pick. Gets to the right spot, high iq, sets fit leans into screen without being obvious to ref and boom! Deceptively powerful, athletic kid who can dive on a rim slamming guys out the way for a powerful dunk to to finish.

As much as I try to teach the guys I coach, I am also learning from them. Breaking down tape of them playing I have often picked up on great nuances and skills of these guys and tried to apply them. In addition working with coaches like Paul Mesecke, Liam Flynn, Tony Casella, and others has also provided me with some great ideas and insights on pick and roll play particularly.


Here are a few drills I use to teach pick and roll basketball. In these drills I try to simulate game situations, whilst emphasising certain nuances through gameplay, and let the game be the teacher.

Blood: this was adapted from John Calipari (Coach of University of Kentucky) when dribble drive motion was all the rage. We have adapted this drill to help with pick and rolls. The thing I like about the drill is it enables players to play and compete in a controlled environment. You can create rules, utilising differing numbers of players and emphasising scenarios to get out of the drill any game habits you like. This is probably my personal favorite drill of all.

Above is the basic blood drill (NB: IT ANIMATES!). Coach yells out go and passes the ball to O1 on the run at D1. They go 1 on 1 on 1 in the corridor and O1 is encouraged to make a 1 handed push pass up the floor to O2.

However, O1 can make reads for example if D1 takes the pass ahead away they can drive to middle on the rim to score or draw help defense and kick it out to the open man.

Once O1 kicks it ahead to O2, O1 must stretch the floor. O5 then sets a pick and roll for O2.

There are so many variations to this drill it is amazing. I normally say on the opposite to the pick and roll players can only catch and shoot.

I often tell defenders how they have to guard the onball or give them 2 options and let them change it up to see if offense can make the best reads.

I may vary the number of players in the drill, including O4 or removing them. I may start O5 from different spots on the floor.

I may change the screen to a flat on ball where O5 ends up screening for O1 as they are coming up the floor.

I try to create scenarios and guidelines but let the game teach them. Let them compete, make decisions. I tend to get coaches all involved focussing on the intensity, talk and speed of reps. I want players to be ready to rotate in to get as many reps in and reduce "thinking time" a key component that I think hampers game decision making.

Pick and roll

Simple 2 on 2 drill where I normally get a guy at the seam to pass to the wing and set an on ball. I get defense to guard the screen in certain ways. I make sure that the main principles highlighted above are my key teaching points.

I also will add a seam guy on the side of the floor to work on the angles (see the angles principal above) of the feed into the diving screener.

P N R shooting

Any pick and roll situation but done as a shooting drill, normally with no D. This is just a quick warmup to get players learning the movements and reads without defense. They also work on their shooting out of pick and roll situations.

Pick and roll wrinkles

I am using and loving the many wrinkles in pick and roll plays now.

Pick and roll: screen the screener after he sets the screen- The screener sets a middle screen at the top of the key as his defender shows a smaller player will screen the screener's defender, showing help, allowing the screener more room on the dive. I also do something similar to this in horns sets with a shooter setting an onball then screening for the shooter to pop.

Screen the screener action for Isaac White

Screen the screener action for Rigoni.

Pick and roll screen: Screener sets off ball screen after he sets the screen - similar to above but instead of coming off a screen I would have the sceener setting an offball screen. This means that if his man is dropping or hard showing he will not be in a position to show help or switch in the off ball screen. I would normally do this as a high, mid on ball on into a downscreen for a shooter.

Side pick and roll: screen the screener before he sets the screen - Can do this in different ways but I would normally get to big to big screen in inside the paint. I would then get the big coming off the screen towards the ball to set an onball. What this does is slowdown the onball screener's defender so he is going to show late. This can lead to better paint penetration by the ball handler or the screener's defender may be too late to show meaning the ball handler can come off the screen and shoot the 3 ball or mid range jumper.

Double staggered pick and roll - the 2 bigs set an on ball. It creates great space if players go under as they have to then either slip through the gap between the screeners, slowing them down or go under 2 staggered screeners. I would then have the second screener roll off the first screener forcing more seperation.

Leave you with this textbook pick and roll play in the video above.

Don't hesitate to hit me up for any more feedback or ideas on pick and roll play or just post it to social media.

Janx out!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page