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Film Room Volume 4: Conquer Defenses with the Pick and Roll (Part 1)

November 9, 2017


Turn on your TV and flip channels until you find an NBA game. Now count how many pick and rolls you see….I’ll wait...No, keep going...Ok you can stop now. I mean, they’re literally everywhere. If you want to be a successful point guard or even a well-rounded 2 guard (think James Harden), mastering the pick and roll is absolutely essential. 


In this series, I’m going to dissect your options for defeating any pick and roll defense. In today’s post, I'm going to look at when the defense plays a hard hedge (also known as “show”). Although I’ll mostly analyze it from the ball handler’s perspective, there are helpful tips for screeners in here as well. 


Before I get into the nitty-gritty analysis, it's important for all ball handlers to understand this: pick and rolls do not work unless you run your defender into the screen. If your defender doesn't get caught on the screen, the hedge man doesn't  need to help and the pick and roll is useless. Ball handlers must practice proper use of a screen before learning anything else.


Ok, here goes with the analysis. When the hedge man hard hedges, here are your options:


1) Split the pick and roll

If the hedge man leaves enough space between himself and the screener, it’s an automatic split. The split is much more effective when you can use momentum in your favor. A hedge man that is late and is running to catch up with the pick and roll action is a prime candidate for a split. He’s moving away from the basket and is susceptible to a quick change of direction. 


You might be surprised to hear that Mark Price is the originator of this move. Although splitting the pick and roll is commonplace now, he popularized it. Below is a clip of Price splitting the pick and roll.


Notice how he changes from going east-west to going north-south in an instant. This change of direction and change of speed is what initially lures the hedge man into lurching forward an extra half step and out of position and then allows Price to blow by him. 


As you’re bursting through the gap, make sure to keep your dribble low and push the ball out in front. The goal is to quickly push the ball past the swarm of hands before the defense has a chance to react and knock it away.


Once you’ve split the trap, you’re playing 4-3 on the backside and have the whole court open to you. Correctly read where the defensive players are positioned and you or your teammate will get a great shot.


2) Race to the edge

If the hedge man doesn’t give you enough space to split, then your next option is to race around the defender. Assuming your man fights over the top of the screen, he will be trailing you. Your goal with this move is to take the shortest path possible around the hedge man and beat your individual defender to get into the lane. 


Watch as Kyrie Irving beats Tony Parker to the corner by attacking Boris Diaw.


Kyrie recognizes that Boris Diaw’s hedge is weak and attacks the big man until he can turn the corner. Once you turn the corner you can attack the rim (like Kyrie does here). Another option is to shoot a pull-up jumper. Although Kyrie doesn't have the space to do that here, often times your defender will collide with the hedge man or get caught up on the screen, leaving space to get your shot off.


3) Attack the shoulder and hit the roll man

I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t include John Stockton and Karl Malone in this post at least once. They absolutely wore out defenses with pick and roll action over and over again. Everyone knew what was coming but they couldn't stop it. It was a clinic every single night. 

If the hedge man hard hedges, that means the screener should have space on the roll. Depending on where the help side is, the roll man may be open. This pass will work particularly well on side pick and rolls where a side is cleared out. On side pick and rolls, the help side has to come from across the floor and is often too late.

To make this pass, guards have to navigate the hard hedge. One way that works particularly well is to attack the hedge man’s top shoulder. This serves 2 purposes. First, it engages the hedge man so he has to show longer on the ball handler and thus creates more space for the roll man. Second, once you make contact with the top shoulder, you can more easily bounce off the defender and have a clear line of sight to the roll man. Watch John Stockton do this.



As the hedge man steps out, Stockton does not slow down or retreat, he continues to attack the top shoulder. In this example, the hedge man gives  a flimsy reach at the ball, which Stockton brushes off and then creates the passing angle to fire a perfect pass to Malone. Also, notice the little in and out move Stockton uses to get his defender on his heels and then run him into the screen. Beautiful stuff.


Also note how the Jazz run a double staggered screen on the weakside. That draws the helpside defenders away from the pick and roll action, clearing up the space for Stockton to find Malone for an easy dunk.


4) Pocket pass

The pocket pass against a hard hedge requires excellent timing between ball handler and screener. As soon as the hedge man jumps out to attack the ball handler, the big man has to release the screen and open up to the ball. If there is a window between defenders, the guard can slip a bounce pass through to the big man.


Notice the terrific chemistry between Stockton and Malone. Malone knows the hard hedge is coming and releases the screen. Just as he does that, Stockton whips a perfect bounce pass to him. From that point, its basically over. Good luck stopping Karl Malone with a head of steam toward the basket.


5) Reject screen

Rejecting the screen is always an option no matter what the hedge man does. But, it works particularly well if the hedge man is hard hedging because he is out of the play once you beat your own defender. If at any point you see your defender cheat the screen or look to see the screen coming, a change of direction move will likely work. Check out Kyrie Irving reject the screen in the clip below.  

Notice how Tony Parker sees the screen coming and starts to slide over to meet it. As soon as he does that, Kyrie hits him with a filthy crossover. Since Boris Diaw was hard hedging, he’s completely out of the play. Even with poor spacing from Tristan Thompson, Irving has tons of options once he gets into the lane.


When you run the pick and roll, it’s never a binary decision. You don’t see one thing and automatically perform some predisposed action. Basketball is a game of gray areas and rapid decision making. There’s a flow, a creative aspect to it that requires subtle timing, body positioning and angles. Hopefully this post has given you the basic reads to look out for when a defense hard hedges. But recognize that there is a lot of subtle details that I haven’t included. 


To get a better feel for those details, you need more than the simple reads I have given here. While understanding your options are an important foundation, they won’t take your pick and roll game to the next level. Practicing game speed pick and rolls is simply the best way to attune yourself to its subtleties. So once you have a good handle on these options, get as many reps as you can so you can learn to dominate the pick and roll.

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