Teaching Both Sides in the Pick and Roll

Posted on Dec 14 2017

The pick and roll (or screen on the ball) is a popular concept at all levels of basketball globally and can be a challenging environment to teach, define and develop with young players.

As with any other concept in the game, the pick and roll requires high level skill on both sides of the ball, with players needing to possess the ability to execute those skills individually and collaboratively with team-mates.

So how best do we teach and develop our young players in an area of the game that occurs as many as 50-60 times a game and requires a complex combination of skill, decision making, vision and team work? Here are a few ideas to “de-mystify” the pick and roll for young players.


  • Defending the pick and roll remains one of the most challenging areas for defences
  • The high prevalence of the ball screen means all players need to be adept and skilled at defending in this setting
  • Teams are adopting a variety of ways to get into and use the pick and roll, making it more challenging for the defence to “get organised”
  • Too often the defender on the ball is reliant on the screen defender and help – the first accountability is to navigate the screen as efficiently as possible – “Don’t get screened”
  • Impacting the efficiency of the players in this setting important to disrupt the opposition – at the 2016 Olympics Argentina scored 17.3ppg of 84.2ppg out of the pick and roll, and similarly Spain women scored 12.9ppg (or 15%) of their total points from the pick and roll.
  • Manu Ginobili averaged 1.3 points/possession in the pick and roll setting at the Olympics
  • Defending the ball screen is not just about “coverages”, it is about the 3 A’s – Anticipation, Agility and Avoidance
  • Anticipate the screen coming – be aware, listen to team-mates, read the eyes of the ball handler
    • Agility – the job of the screener is to impair and disrupt the ability of the on-ball defender, quick feet, body positioning and balance are crucial elements
    • Avoidance – Boomers Olympian Damian Martin is a master of this with his ability to slide, spin, lean, bounce and use his strength to avoid being screened
    • Communication important in all facets of the game – for the ball defender in the pick & roll, listening is a key element of communication – “listen don’t look”


  • Use questioning to teach – “what did you see there?”
  • Vision and the ability to read defence is crucial in all aspects of offence, but particularly in the pick and roll
  • See the floor in “3-D” – too many handlers narrow their vision at the point of the screen
  • Use the “HOW-WHAT-WHERE?” system:
    • HOW is the ball being defended?
    • WHAT is the screen defence doing?
    • WHERE is the coverage behind the screen?
  • Skill execution – pivot on the catch, strong stance, slice the hip of the screener, use of protection dribble, pocket pass, hook pass, finishing skills, shooting footwork
  • Footwork for the screener – wide, strong base at the point of the screen, ability to “roll” or “step through”
  • Second phase skill – can the screener make a pass on receiving the pass from the handler?



  1. Push up into man – exert physical presence and limit range of motion/vision
  2. Active hands and feet – take away the “clear runway”
  3. Hips lower than the offensive player – brace and balance
  4. Screen defender influence path/line and speed of the screen
  5. Early talk


  1. “Corner, middle, corner” line of vision – handler see the floor, wide range of vision
  2. Early pass to create rotations prior to the pick and roll – punish cheating coverage
  3. Early slips to create doubt in the screen defender and coverage
  4. Change of pace – use of on-side dribble
  5. Get down-hill




  1. Agility leads to avoidance
  2. Don’t “melt” into the screen – team-mates can’t help if the on-ball defender simply runs into the screen
  3. Square shoulders as quickly as possible after screen
  4. Screen defender be a presence with stance and voice – “impact eyes and ears”


  1. Brace for contact/be balanced – “low man wins”
  2. See the floor in 3-D
  3. “Command the setting” – dictate what the defence has to do
  4. Screen to impede
  5. “See, slice and separate” – see the defence, slice shoulder to hip on the screen, establish separation between ball and screen




  1. Re-establish connection with handler
  2. Square shoulders to the ball as quickly as possible – recover
  3. Screen defender plays with hands up and out – recover with high and disruptive hands
  4. Smart help decisions – stay or go
  5. Foul discipline – keep people off the free throw line


  1. Read the defence – screener and handler plus coverage
  2. “Early help, early pass”
  3. Handler play off two feet where possible – jump stops, stay on balance
  4. Screener maintain vision on the ball and play with “hungry hands” – be ready to catch early or late
  5. Players off the ball be seen and be available – move to open areas, don’t stand and spectate

As with any skill and concept, teaching and developing will require a combination of skill work, small-sided games, playing out of advantage/disadvantage and of course, being “comfortable with the mess” as young players explore and learn.

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