What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? (Comprehensive Guide)

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Do you want to know What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? and how you can use it to elevate your game? In the fast-paced world of basketball, strategies are constantly evolving to outsmart opponents and gain a competitive edge. 

One such strategy that has revolutionized the game is the pick-and-roll. Whether you’re an avid fan or a casual observer, the pick-and-roll is a sight to behold, combining teamwork, coordination, and split-second decision-making. 

This dynamic offensive play has become a staple in the arsenal of some of the greatest basketball players, allowing them to unlock new dimensions of scoring opportunities and wreak havoc on defenses. 

In this article, we delve into the intricacies of the pick-and-roll, exploring its origins, key components, and the art of executing this powerful maneuver. Discover the magic that unfolds when two players seamlessly intertwine their skills, opening up a world of possibilities on the hardwood.

What Is The Pick And Roll?

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

The pick-and-roll is a fundamental offensive strategy in basketball. Often referred to as the “PnR” or “screen-and-roll”, it involves two players, typically a ball handler and a teammate, working in tandem to create a scoring opportunity. 

The play begins with the ball handler dribbling towards the basket. Meanwhile, the teammate sets a screen, or “pick,” by positioning themselves between the ball handler and a defending player.

The objective of the pick-and-roll is twofold: to free the ball handler from their defender and to create a mismatch or confusion within the defense. As the screen is set, the defending player must navigate around it, creating a brief moment of separation that allows the ball handler to perform one of several actions. 

At this point, the ball handler can either drive to the basket or create space for a jump shot. The teammate who set the screen could roll towards the basket, providing an additional scoring option if the defense collapses or helping to draw away defenders to create open passing lanes.

What are the Elements of an Effective Pick and Roll?

Several key elements come into play in the execution of an effective pick-and-roll: 

  1. Timing
  2. Communication
  3. Angle and positioning
  4. Reading and reaction
  5. Chemistry and repetition

Timing: The ball handler must read the defense and approach the screen at the right moment. This will allow the teammate setting the pick to establish a solid position. 

Timing is crucial in a pick-and-roll. If the ball handler arrives too early or too late, it can disrupt the flow of the play and make it easier for the defense to react.

Communication: Clear communication between the ball handler and the teammate setting the screen is essential. They need to signal their intentions and coordinate their movements to ensure a successful pick-and-roll. 

Non-verbal cues can be used to synchronize their actions. This can include eye contact or hand signals.

Angle and positioning: The teammate setting the screen must position themselves effectively to maximize the advantage gained from the pick. They should create a wide, stable base, angling their body to impede the defender’s path and provide a clear lane for the ball handler. 

The angle and positioning of the screen can dictate the direction the ball handler will take after navigating around it.

Reading and reaction: Both players involved in the pick-and-roll must be adept at reading the defense and reacting accordingly. The ball handler needs to assess how the defense is responding to the screen and make split-second decisions. 

Ball handlers may choose to drive to the basket, pull up for a jump shot, or pass to an open teammate. The teammate setting the screen must also be prepared to adjust their roll based on the defense’s movements, either by rolling to the basket or popping out for a jump shot.

Chemistry and repetition: Building chemistry and familiarity through practice is vital for a successful pick-and-roll. Players need to develop an understanding of each other’s tendencies, preferences, and timing. Repetition allows them to anticipate each other’s movements and act accordingly. 

What are the Steps for a Basic Pick and Roll?

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Here are the basic step-by-step instructions for executing a pick and roll play:

1. Communication: The ball handler and the screener should communicate and establish the play before initiating the pick and roll.

2. Positioning: The screener positions themselves near the defender guarding the ball handler, usually around the perimeter.

3. Signal for the screen: The ball handler signals to the screener that they are ready for the screen by using a hand signal or calling out a specific cue.

4. Setting the screen: The screener quickly moves to set a stationary screen on the defender, making solid contact without committing an offensive foul.

5. Read the screen: The ball handler reads the screen and decides whether to use it or reject it based on the defensive reaction.

6. Using the screen: Based on the defensive reaction, the ball handler makes a decision. If the defender goes over the screen, the ball handler can use the screen by dribbling off the screener’s shoulder towards the basket. 

If the defender goes under the screen, the ball handler may have an open jump shot. If the defense switches, the ball handler may have a mismatch or an opportunity to exploit the new defensive matchup.

7. Roll or pop: After setting the screen, the screener reacts to the ball handler’s decision. If the ball handler uses the screen and drives towards the basket, the screener “rolls” towards the rim, looking for a pass or a scoring opportunity near the basket. 

If the ball handler rejects the screen and goes in the opposite direction, the screener can “pop” to an open area on the perimeter, providing a passing or shooting option.

8. Execute the play: The ball handler makes a decision based on the defense’s reaction. This could involve shooting, driving to the basket, passing to the rolling screener, or making a pass to an open teammate if the defense collapses.

These steps provide a general outline of the pick and roll play. The execution and decision-making may vary based on the players involved, defensive reactions, and the team’s offensive strategy.

Pick and Roll Diagrams 

Here are a few common pick and roll examples: 

1. Wing Pick and Roll – Top Side: In this example, the ball screen is set near the wing area. The screener’s back faces the middle of the floor.

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Wing Pick and Roll – Top Side

2. Wing Pick and Roll – Baseline Side: In this example, the ball screen is set near the wing area. The screener’s back faces the baseline. 

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Wing Pick and Roll – Baseline Side

3. High Pick and Roll: In this example, the ball screen is set near the top of the key.

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

High Pick and Roll

When is the Pick and Roll Best Employed? 

The pick and roll is a highly effective basketball strategy that can be employed in various situations during a game. Here are some scenarios when the pick and roll is often used:

1. Creating a scoring opportunity: The pick and roll is commonly employed to create a mismatch or force defensive rotations, leading to an open shot or driving lane for the ball handler. It can be particularly effective when the ball handler is a skilled scorer or playmaker.

2. Breaking down a defense: If the opposing team’s defense is playing tight or applying pressure on the ball handler, the pick and roll can be used to create separation and disrupt their defensive scheme. The screen can act as a shield, allowing the ball handler to navigate around the defender and attack the basket or make a play.

3. Exploiting a weak defender: If the defense has a player who is known to struggle with defending the pick and roll, teams often utilize this strategy to target that specific defender. By setting a screen and forcing the weak defender to make a decision, it creates an advantage for the offensive team.

4. Utilizing a skilled roll man: If a team has a player who excels as a “roll man” (the player who sets the screen and then rolls towards the basket), the pick and roll can be employed to maximize their abilities. This can create opportunities for alley-oops, easy layups, or drawing help defenders and opening up passing lanes.

5. Late in shot clock situations: When the shot clock is winding down and there are limited options for creating a shot, the pick and roll can be an effective play to generate a scoring opportunity. It forces the defense to react and can create an opening for a quick shot or drive to the basket.

The pick and roll can be used in various situations throughout a game. But its effectiveness depends on factors such as the skills of the players involved, defensive schemes, and the specific game context. 

Which Players Have Employed the Pick and Roll Most Effectively?

Many players have employed the pick and roll successfully throughout the history of basketball. Here are a few notable players known for their effectiveness in executing the pick and roll:

1. John Stockton and Karl Malone (Utah Jazz): Stockton, a Hall of Fame point guard, and Malone, a Hall of Fame power forward, formed one of the most potent pick and roll duos in NBA history. Stockton’s precise passing combined with Malone’s scoring ability made them a constant threat on the court.

2. Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns): Nash, a two-time MVP, and Stoudemire formed a dynamic pick and roll partnership during their time with the Suns. Nash’s exceptional court vision and Stoudemire’s athleticism and finishing ability led to numerous highlight-reel plays.

3. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs): Duncan, one of the greatest power forwards of all time, and Parker, a skilled point guard, were instrumental in the Spurs’ success. Their pick and roll execution was a key part of the Spurs’ offense, utilizing Duncan’s post-up skills and Parker’s quickness to create scoring opportunities.

4. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers): Paul, known for his exceptional playmaking skills, formed successful pick and roll partnerships with both Griffin and Jordan during his time with the Clippers. Paul’s precise passes and ability to navigate screens paired with Griffin and Jordan’s athleticism led to numerous alley-oops and highlight plays.

5. LeBron James and Chris Bosh (Miami Heat): James, an all-around superstar, and Bosh, a skilled big man, formed a formidable pick and roll combination during their time with the Miami Heat. James’ ability to attack the basket and Bosh’s shooting range created matchup problems for opponents.

6. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors): Curry, known for his exceptional shooting, and Green, a versatile forward, have utilized the pick and roll effectively in the Warriors’ high-octane offense. Curry’s shooting gravity and Green’s playmaking ability make them a dangerous combination.

These are just a few examples of players who have excelled in employing the pick and roll throughout their careers. There have been many other great players who have used this strategy to their advantage and made significant contributions to their teams’ success.

When has the Pick and Roll Been Used to Win a Game?

The pick and roll has been used on many occasions to secure victories in basketball games. Here are a few notable instances when the pick and roll was employed to win crucial games:

1. 1997 NBA Finals, Game 6 – Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz: With the game tied and just seconds remaining, Michael Jordan of the Bulls executed a pick and roll with teammate Steve Kerr. Jordan used a screen from Luc Longley to draw the defense and then dished the ball to Kerr, who knocked down a game-winning shot to clinch the NBA championship.

2. 2013 NBA Finals, Game 7 – Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs: In a tightly contested game, the Miami Heat used pick and rolls involving LeBron James and Chris Bosh to create scoring opportunities. Bosh set a crucial screen on the final possession, allowing James to drive to the basket and kick the ball out to Ray Allen, who hit a game-tying three-pointer. The Heat went on to win in overtime and secure the NBA title.

3. 2019 NBA Playoffs, Conference Semifinals – Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets: In Game 7, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers utilized pick and rolls with his teammate, Enes Kanter, to create scoring opportunities. Lillard’s ability to navigate screens and attack the defense led to critical baskets down the stretch, helping the Trail Blazers secure the victory and advance to the conference finals.

4. FIBA EuroBasket 2013 Final – France vs. Lithuania: In the final moments of a closely contested game, France employed a pick and roll between Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. Parker used Diaw’s screen to drive to the basket and hit a floater over the defense, giving France the lead with just seconds remaining. France went on to win the EuroBasket championship.

These are just a few examples of how the pick and roll has been employed to win crucial games at various levels of basketball. The play can be used to create mismatches, open up scoring opportunities, and force defensive rotations, making it a go-to strategy in clutch situations.

The Pick and Roll in Action 

Check out these videos for the very best in pick and roll action!

In this clip, John Stockton and Karl Malone display the fabulous teamwork that helped make them one of the most effective pairs in the NBA: 

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Watch more of Stockton and Malone in this video: 

The Art of Pick and Roll Stockton & Malone

Here you can see NBA superstar Chris Paul show off his signature assist:

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

Here’s more of Paul’s pick and rolls in action: 

Chris Paul Pick and Roll Assists – The Point God Doing Work

Finally, check out this clip of Kyrie Irving doing what he does best:

What Is Pick And Roll In Basketball? 

What more of Irving’s spectacular pick and rolls in this video: 

Kyrie Irving Pick & Roll Highlights 2018-2019 Season


The pick and roll stands as a timeless strategy that has shaped countless games and defined the careers of players. Combining precise execution, communication, and quick decision-making, it has the power to unlock scoring opportunities, exploit defensive weaknesses, and create memorable moments that can sway the outcome of a game. 

Will the next generation of basketball players find new ways to innovate and elevate the pick and roll? Only time will tell, but the pick and roll’s enduring presence ensures that it will remain a fundamental aspect of basketball strategy and an exciting element to watch. 


1. Why is the pick and roll so effective?

The pick and roll is effective because it forces the defense to make decisions and react quickly. It can create mismatches, draw help defenders, and create open shots or driving lanes for the ball handler.

2. Who typically sets the screen in a pick and roll?

The player setting the screen is commonly referred to as the screener. This player is often a forward or center, but guards can also set screens depending on the team’s strategy.

3. How does the ball handler use the screen?

The ball handler can use the screen by dribbling off the screener’s shoulder and taking advantage of the separation it creates. They can drive to the basket, take a jump shot, or pass to an open teammate.

4. What options does the screener have after setting the screen?

After setting the screen, the screener has two main options: rolling or popping. They can roll to the basket, looking for a pass or a scoring opportunity near the rim. Alternatively, they can pop away from the basket to an open area on the perimeter, providing a shooting option.

5. What should the ball handler read during the pick and roll?

The ball handler needs to read the defense’s reaction to the screen. This includes whether the defender goes over or under the screen, or if the defense switches onto the ball handler. Reading the defense helps the ball handler make the best decision for scoring or passing options.

6. Can the pick and roll be defended effectively?

Yes, defenses employ various strategies to defend the pick and roll. This includes hedging (temporarily trapping the ball handler), switching defenders, or going under the screen to cut off driving lanes. Effective communication, anticipation, and defensive rotations are crucial for defending the pick and roll.

7. How can teams counter defensive strategies against the pick and roll?

Teams can counter defensive strategies by making quick decisions, exploiting mismatches, and employing additional actions such as slip screens (when the screener quickly rolls or pops before fully setting the screen) or re-screening (setting a second screen after the initial one).
Adjusting spacing, using off-ball movement, and incorporating other offensive plays can also help overcome defensive strategies against the pick and roll.

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