What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? – A Comprehensive Guide

Jalen Rose

Updated on:

Pick And Roll In Basketball

Basketball is a sport characterized by its intricate plays and strategies that require seamless teamwork and coordination. One such fundamental play that has revolutionized the game’s offensive dynamics is the “pick and roll.” 

Whether you’re a seasoned fan or just starting to delve into the world of basketball, understanding the intricacies of the pick and roll can significantly enhance your appreciation of the sport. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the pick-and-roll play, explore its significance, and provide insights into its execution and defense. So, stay focused. 

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball?

The pick and roll is a fundamental basketball offensive play that involves two players working together to create scoring opportunities.

One player sets a screen (the “pick”) to impede the defender guarding the ball handler, while the ball handler (often a guard or point guard) dribbles around the screen. 

This maneuver forces the defender to navigate around the screen, creating a momentary advantage for the offensive player. The player who set the screen (often a forward or center) then “rolls” towards the basket, seeking a pass from the ball handler for a potential close-range shot or layup. 

The pick and roll is highly effective due to its ability to exploit defensive gaps and create mismatches, requiring coordinated teamwork and precise timing. It is a staple play in modern basketball, used to manipulate defenses and generate high-percentage scoring chances.

How does Pick and Roll Work in Basketball?

The pick and roll play in basketball involves two players working together to exploit defensive vulnerabilities and create scoring opportunities. Here’s how it works:

Setting the Screen (Pick)

The play begins with one player (often a forward or center) setting a screen for the ball handler (usually a guard or point guard). The player setting the screen stands in the path of the defender guarding the ball handler and establishes a solid obstacle. 

This momentarily obstructs the defender’s movement, giving the ball handler an advantage.

Using the Screen

The ball handler dribbles towards the screen. The key is timing: the ball handler must approach the screen in such a way that they don’t go too early or too late. 

Going too early might allow the defender to fight through the screen while going too late might not give the screen setter enough time to establish a good screen.


The ball handler has several options at this point. They can:

Drive to the Basket

If the defender goes over the screen, the ball handler can drive toward the basket for a layup or a short-range shot.

Pull-Up Jump Shot

If the defender goes under the screen, the ball handler can take a jump shot from mid-range.

Pass to the Roller

The key feature of the pick and roll is that the player who set the screen then “rolls” toward the basket after setting the screen. The ball handler can pass to this rolling player for a higher-percentage shot near the basket.

Pass to an Open Shooter

If the defense collapses on the ball handler, they can pass to a teammate left open on the perimeter.

Defensive Reactions

The success of the pick and roll also depends on how the defense reacts. If the defender guarding the roller helps defend against the ball handler, it can leave the roller open for an easy shot. This forces other defenders to make quick decisions about switching assignments or rotating to cover the open players.

Teamwork and Timing

Successful execution of the pick and roll requires excellent teamwork and timing between the ball handler and the player setting the screen. Both players need to read the defense, anticipate movements, and react accordingly.


Defenses can counter the pick and roll by switching defenders, hedging (briefly doubling the ball handler), or trapping the ball handler to disrupt the play’s rhythm.

In summary, the pick and roll is a versatile offensive play that aims to create mismatches and confusion in the defense by utilizing screens, timing, and decision-making.

Pick and Roll Defence Strategy

Pick and Roll Defence Strategy

Defending against the pick and roll is a critical aspect of basketball strategy. Here are some defensive strategies to counter the pick and roll play:

Hedging or Showing

One common strategy is to have the defender guarding the ball handler (often the big man or center) briefly come out to “hedge” or “show” against the ball handler.

This means the defender steps out to disrupt the ball handler’s progress and force them to change direction. The goal is to delay the ball handler and give the defender being screened enough time to recover.


Another approach is to switch defenders when the screen is set. This means the defenders simply exchange assignments, with the player defending the ball handler picking up the screener and vice versa. Switching can help prevent mismatches but requires players with versatile defensive skills.

Ice Defense

In this strategy, the defender guarding the ball handler works to force them toward the sideline and away from the middle of the court, where the screen is typically set. This limits the ball handler’s options and makes it harder for them to use the screen effectively.


Some teams opt to trap the ball handler immediately as they come off the screen. This involves two defenders aggressively pressuring the ball handler to force a quick decision. Trapping can create turnovers and disrupt the play’s flow, but it also risks leaving other offensive players open.


Effective communication among defenders is crucial. Players need to call out switches, inform each other about screens, and coordinate their movements to prevent confusion and breakdowns.

Recovery and Rotation

If a defender gets caught on the screen, the rest of the team needs to rotate and help cover the open space. This involves quick movement to close gaps, challenge shots, and prevent easy passing lanes.

Anticipation and Timing

Defenders should read the intentions of the offensive players and anticipate the movements of the ball handler and the roller. This can help defenders position themselves better to disrupt the play.

Mixing Strategies

Effective defenses often employ a combination of these strategies depending on the situation, the skill set of the players involved, and the offensive tendencies of the opposing team.

Practice and Repetition

Defending the pick and roll requires practice and coordination. Teams need to simulate different scenarios in practice to improve their reactions and decision-making.


Coaches and players should be prepared to adjust their defensive approach based on how the opposing team is countering their defensive strategies.

Common Mistakes in Executing Pick and Roll

Executing the pick and roll effectively requires precise timing, coordination, and decision-making. Here are some common mistakes that players and teams can make when trying to execute the pick and roll play:

Poor Timing

Timing is crucial in the pick and roll. If the player setting the screen moves too early or too late, the defender can easily navigate around it, nullifying the advantage.

Incorrect Angle of the Screen

The player setting the screen must establish a proper angle to impede the defender’s path effectively. Setting the screen at the wrong angle can result in the defender easily going around it.

Lack of Communication

Both the ball handler and the screen setter need to communicate effectively. Failing to signal the screen or not communicating the intended action can lead to confusion and broken plays.


The ball handler should not over-dribble after using the screen. If they dribble too much, it gives the defense time to recover, reducing the advantage gained from the screen.

Ignoring the Roller

Sometimes, ball handlers become tunnel-visioned on their own shot and ignore the roller. This misses an opportunity for an easy pass to a player who might have a better shot.

Weak Screen Setting

The player setting the screen needs to create a solid obstacle. A weak screen won’t impede the defender effectively, rendering the play less potent.

Predictable Actions

If the ball handler always uses the screen in the same way, defenders can predict the play and counter it more easily. Varying the actions after the screen is essential for keeping the defense off-balance.

Failure to Read the Defense

Both the ball handler and the screen setter need to read the defense and react accordingly. If the defense is hedging or trapping, quick decision-making is required to exploit gaps.

Ineffective Roll

The player setting the screen must execute a decisive and effective roll to the basket. A slow or hesitant roll makes it easier for defenders to recover.

Poor Passing Decisions

If the ball handler forces a shot or makes a poor pass after using the screen, it can lead to missed opportunities. Good decision-making is essential to capitalize on the advantage created by the screen.

Lack of Spacing

Proper spacing among other offensive players is crucial. If players crowd the area, it makes it easier for defenders to cover both the ball handler and the roller.

Defensive Anticipation

If defenders anticipate the pick and roll play, they can disrupt it by jumping the passing lanes, intercepting the ball, or contesting shots more effectively.

Failing to React to Defensive Adjustments

If the defense adapts to the pick and roll play, the offense needs to adjust as well. Failing to recognize and respond to defensive changes can lead to turnovers and missed opportunities.

Overreliance on the Pick and Roll

While the pick and roll is a valuable play, using it excessively can make the offense predictable. Teams should have a diverse offensive repertoire to keep defenses guessing.

Impact of Pick and Roll in Basketball

The pick and roll play has had a profound impact on the game of basketball, shaping both offensive and defensive strategies. 

Its influence extends to player roles, team dynamics, and overall gameplay. Here are some key impacts of the pick and roll in basketball:

Scoring Efficiency

The pick and roll is a high-percentage scoring play. It often results in open shots near the basket or mid-range jumpers, contributing to higher offensive efficiency.


The play aims to create mismatches in defensive assignments. When a smaller guard switches onto a larger player setting the screen, or vice versa, it opens opportunities for exploitation.

Floor Spacing

The pick and roll can force defenders to collapse around the ball handler, creating open spaces on the perimeter for shooters or for the roller to exploit.

Three-Point Revolution

The pick and roll’s influence on spacing has contributed to the rise of the three-point shot. Open three-point attempts often result from defenders rotating to cover the pick and roll action.

Point Guard Dominance

The play highlights the skills of point guards who excel in decision-making, passing, and reading defenses. Point guards often orchestrate pick and roll plays due to their ability to exploit defensive reactions.

Big Man Flexibility

The pick and roll have evolved the role of big men. Centers and power forwards who can set effective screens and roll to the basket have become more versatile and valuable assets.

Defensive Adaptation

The pick and roll has forced defenses to adjust their strategies. Defensive rotations, switches, and help defense have all evolved to counter this play effectively.

Teamwork and Chemistry

Successful execution of the pick and roll demands strong chemistry between the ball handler and the screen setter. It promotes teamwork and understanding among players.

Transition Opportunities

Defenses that focus heavily on trapping or pressuring the ball handler in the pick and roll can be susceptible to fast breaks if the offense quickly moves the ball.

Coaching Emphasis

Coaches spend significant time teaching players how to execute and defend the pick and roll, emphasizing communication, timing, and situational awareness.

Clutch Situations

The pick and roll is often used in late-game situations where a critical score is needed. Its versatility and potential to create mismatches make it a popular choice when time is limited.

International Influence

The pick and roll’s effectiveness has contributed to its widespread use in both NBA and international basketball, influencing how the game is played globally.


What is the pick and roll in basketball?

The pick and roll is an offensive play in basketball where one player sets a screen (pick) to obstruct the defender guarding the ball handler. The ball handler then uses this screen to maneuver around the defender, while the player who set the screen rolls towards the basket, creating scoring opportunities.

Why is the pick and roll important?

The pick and roll is a versatile play that exploits defensive gaps, creates mismatches, and generates high-percentage scoring chances. Its effectiveness lies in the advantage gained from impeding the defender and the subsequent decisions the ball handler makes.

Who typically executes the pick and roll?

The play often involves a guard or point guard as the ball handler and a forward or center as the player setting the screen. The guard’s ball-handling skills and decision-making, combined with the big man’s screening and rolling abilities, make for a potent combination.

How do defenders counter the pick and roll?

Defensive strategies against the pick and roll include hedging (briefly double-teaming the ball handler), switching defenders, trapping, and effective communication among defenders. Adapting to the offense’s actions and making quick decisions are essential in countering the play.

What are some common mistakes when executing the pick and roll?

Mistakes include poor timing on the screen, ineffective angles of the screen, lack of communication, over-dribbling, ignoring the roller, and failing to read the defense. Executing the pick and roll successfully requires precise teamwork, decision-making, and adaptability.

Wrapping Up

The pick and roll play stands as a testament to the strategic depth and tactical brilliance of basketball. Its impact on offensive efficiency, player roles, defensive adjustments, and the evolution of the game cannot be overstated. 

As you delve further into the world of basketball, gaining insights into the nuances of the pick and roll will enhance your understanding of how teams orchestrate plays, create opportunities, and ultimately strive for victory on the court. 

Whether you’re a player, a fan, or just someone curious about the sport, grasping the pick and roll’s mechanics can open the door to a deeper appreciation of basketball’s artistry and strategy. Thank you so much. 

Photo of author

Jalen Rose

I am a sports analyst in USA and I have been writing about sports for more than a decade. My career started with writing about the NBA for my school newspaper. After that, I became the Sports Editor of my college paper, then the managing editor of my university’s official website. After graduating from college, I started working as an Assistant Sports Editor at the local newspaper in Atlanta. per. I've been there ever since and have had many opportunities to write about different aspects of sports journalism and interact with other writers and editors from all over the world. LinkedIn

Leave a Comment