Basketball 101: Pick-and-Roll Defense

28/Oct/22 13:17 October 28, 2022

Berkay Terzi

28/Oct/22 13:17
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 08: Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass the ball defended by Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics in the third quarter during Game Three of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 08, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

If you turn on a basketball game on TV, you’ll see offenses run pick-and-roll all the time… So what defenses do the slow them down?

By Berkay Terzi /

In today’s basketball, teams use hundreds of offensive actions to get to the result more easily, but none are as common as Pick-and-Roll.

This is because Pick-and-Roll can create many different advantages when led by qualified hands. If we think of the main purpose of the offensive team as creating an advantage/opportunity, nothing can beat this action.

The 2004-05 Phoenix Suns, who had threats such as Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, used the P&R offense 22 times per game. This figure has risen year after year and has reached an incredible level. During the 2021–22 NBA season, the Utah Jazz executed this action 46 times per game. Golden State Warriors were the team that used the least P&R action in their offensive system. Even they used this offense more (24.6 times) than the 2004-05 Phoenix.

You can see the unstoppable rise of Pick-and-Roll in more detail in the table below. These stats don’t just include ball-handler’s shots. This includes shots from the screener or third person (e.g. the spot-up shooter in the corner).

So what are some ways have NBA defenses resorted to stop or slow down this action? We are here to find answers to this question.

First of all, I would like to remind that: Pick-and-Roll defensive strategies are usually named in terms of the movement and position of the big. But these plays are not defended by a single person. The Guard defender is also involved as much as possible. Therefore, it is useful to briefly mention what the Ball-handler’s defender can do.

Ball-Handler’s Defender / On-Ball Defender

  1. Over: Going over the screen. The goal is not to give the opponent space and not to let him the opportunity to shoot. It is used against players with pull-up threats and superstars. However, there can be teams that use “Over” on each screen, regardless of the opposing player. If the player who uses it falls out of the position, he has to follow the position from behind and catch his man again.
  2. Under: Going behind the screen. If the ball-handler’s shooting threat is weak, it makes more sense to use “Under.” In this way, both defenders spend less effort and reduce the possibility of the opponent attacking the rim.
  3. Ice: It is used against Side P&R actions. The on-ball defender closes the direction the opponent is going and pushes him toward the sideline. Ice defense can be followed by Trap defense. Keeps the game out of the middle zone (No-middle). Some call it “push” or “blue.”
  4. Weak: It has a similar logic to Ice, but it’s used against High P&R actions. The goal is to direct the ball-handler towards his weak hand.
  5. Switch: It is clear from the name… Quite popular lately. We’ll touch on it in the following sections.

» Examples:

We saw examples of “Ice” and “Weak” in the Milwaukee Bucks vs. Chicago Bulls series in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. When DeMar DeRozan led his team to victory in the second game of the series, the Bucks changed their defensive strategy. In games 3, 4, and 5 of the series, they constantly pushed DeRozan into his weak hand and to the left corner. So Nikola Vucevic had to flip his screens and adjust different angles. Chicago tried too much early offense in the final game of the series to make DeRozan more comfortable. They wanted to speed up the tempo and prevent defenders from getting into position: