Basketball is an offensive game where scoring is king. The game thrives on points, and they’ve only gotten easier to get over time. How those points are scored, however, differs from player, team, and decade.
This article breaks down those shifts by analyzing one of the most popular maneuvers in basketball: the pick and roll. It covers the moves origin, how it has changed from its inception, and why teams don’t use it in the same way that they used to.
An Ever Evolving Game
Basketball, like any sport, undergoes large changes over time. The game we have today is much different from the one that came about in the 60’s, and it’s even significantly different than it was just ten years ago. It’s always changing, and those changes are extremely important.
The game has always been about who can score the most points. Even so, the method behind getting those points is what separates teams. In the early days of the sport, most franchises relied on big men, pounding the ball down low, and strong midrange games to put up points.
Moving into the late 70’s and early 80’s, things got more flashy. Fast breaks and high-flying dunks became the norm. Organizations put an emphasis on speed and tried to get their teams out and running. Then, the three point line came and offense began to get more spread out.
Despite all of those shifts, there have been some staples that have remained constant. The pick and roll is one of them. The move might not look the same as it’s always been, but it’s a fall back that every franchise has used at one time or another.
Picking, Rocking, and Rolling
The pick and roll is one of the most effective plays in NBA history. In fact, it’s so effective that teams have spent entire seasons just trying to figure out how to combat it.
To execute the move, a player sets a screen (pick) by putting their body in front of the defender who’s guarding the person with the ball. Once that occurs, the player with the ball moves towards the screen in a way that actively stops their defender from following them.
Once the defender gets hung up, the pick-setter moves (rolls) towards the basket. That gives the ball handler two options: they can pass the ball to the player moving towards the basket or they can use the space created by the screen to take their own shot.
That creates a lose-lose situation for the defense. They can follow the ball handler and risk giving up an easy basket down by the hoop, or they can sink back and let the shooter take an open three. There’s no easy solution, and every choice leads to disaster.
A Rare Constant
Most pick and rolls are conducted by a smaller guard and a big forward or center. Big men can also hand the ball off to the guard, but that style is much less common. Most of the time teams want a guard popping out to either shoot or pass, as that’s what they do best.
That emphasis on the shooter is why the pick and roll is still an incredibly popular move that helps run some of the best NBA offenses. Despite that, it has become a bit less constant over time. It’s changed a bit as well.
Both of those shifts come from the fact that so much of the NBA is centered around three point shots and long range shooting. While offenses once only ran through the pick and roll, now teams run a four or five spread with all or most of their players out on the wings.
That leads to a lot more slash-and-kicks, as well as many more swing passes. Both of those emphases are not conducive to the pick and roll. Still, it hasn’t gone away like many other moves. It’s just changed as time has gone on.
The rise of the three pointer caused teams to shift to a brand new type of pick and roll. Rather than running it on the elbow, they shifted it further out to around the three point line. It requires quicker players to execute, but it’s much more effective with today’s deadly shooters.
Few basketball offensive sets are more effective than the pick and roll. While many moves have faded out over time, it continues to be an evergreen that’s used by three-focused offenses, as well as teams that want to work the key or the middle of the floor.
That’s why it’s used so much at every level, and why it continues to persist in such a fluid game. Basketball may undergo more shifts as the years go on, but chances are the pick and roll will still be around.