Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Dumb" Answers Part III (a.k.a. "The Doozy")

10. Can you please explain the pick and roll?

(sigh) I knew this was coming. Why, oh why did I not just blog about exobiology or world politics or something simple like that? OK, courage Dave...you can do this!

When you're playing defense you always want to keep your body between the man and the ball so he won't get an easy pass. The classic phrase is "ball-you-man". You're right in the middle there, keeping the other two apart, like a nosy mom at the middle school dance.

Failing that (or if your man already has the ball) you want to keep in between your man and the basket so he can't just waltz in and score. This is called staying in front of your man.

The pick and roll is a clever scheme designed to foil the defense in its quest to stay in between.

The "pick" part is easy to see. Have you ever been walking with a friend down the sidewalk and a lamppost gets in your way? You have to go around it, right? And when you go around your friend gets slightly ahead of you. Well...that lamppost just set a pick on you! Pretend your friend has the ball and you are guarding him. When you hit that lamppost and have to go around, he gets to scoot ahead and thus has a free look at the court without your little meddling self in there. That's the goal of a pick.

To set a pick, an offensive guy (usually big) just stands there, not even moving. The dribbler dribbles past him, just like walking by a lamppost, and the defender gets rubbed off against that guy. If the defender tries to get around Mr. Wideload by following around the same side as the dribbler (called going over the pick), he's a step behind. The dribbler gets to drive towards the basket and all the defender can do is follow helplessly. On the other hand, if the defender goes around the other way, hoping to meet the dribbler on the other side of the pick (cuts into the street to go around the lamppost in our example, also known as going under the pick) the dribbler just stops behind the picking guy and takes a free shot. He'll get it off well before the defender can make it all the way around the pick.

The only real rule is that the guy setting the pick has to remain still. He can't move around to block the defender's progress, nor can he jab his elbows and knees into the defender as he passes.

If you ever play someone 2-on-1 and want to win a lot, just let your best scorer dribble the ball while the other guy sets a pick on the lone player. Your team can shoot open shots to its heart's content.

Unfortunately for our offensive heroes, NBA basketball is played with an equal number of players on each team. So far we've accounted for the dribbler, his pick-setting teammate, and the guy defending the dribbler, but what about the fourth guy...the one defending the picker? This is where the "roll" part comes in.

You can demonstrate this easily with a little imagination and an ordinary chair. (You really need to do this in order to get it...it's a visual thing. But make it an easily movable chair. You don't want to use your loveseat unless you want to see what it's like to be picked by Shaq.) Set the chair in the middle of the floor, facing you. The chair is the pick-setter. You are the defender. Imagine the basket is on your left, and on your right is Mr. Dribbler, the guy you're guarding. Walk towards the chair as if Mr. Dribbler were getting ready to send you into a pick. Stop when you get to the chair. Now you're in the exact predicament we described above. If you go to the right around the chair and follow Mr. Dribbler you're going to be behind him and he's going to cut to the basket. If you go to the left around the chair Mr. Dribbler will immediately stop and become Mr. Open Jumpshooter, hitting his shot before you make it around the chair. So what do you do?

Lucky for you, there's a defender guarding Mr. Chair too. (Just imagine him.) He's on your team. And seeing your predicament, he yells out a magic word... "Switch!" That means he'll take over for you guarding Mr. Dribbler and you're now responsible for guarding Mr. Chair. Now look what happens. He takes two steps forward and picks up Mr. Dribbler coming past that pick. No shot, no drive. And Mr. Dribbler has conveniently deposited you right on top of Mr. Chair, so it's an easy matter for you to pick him up. The fiendish plan has been foiled! The good guys win the day!

Well...not quite. Remember that roll thing? You are now guarding Mr. Chair. You two are facing each other. Mr. Dribbler and his new defender have now gone past and Dribbler still has the ball. Now take Mr. Chair and rotate him in place, 180 degrees away from you, counterclockwise (in other words rotating away from the basket until the back is facing you). That's the "roll". And look what's happened now. You are still guarding Mr. Chair, but you are no longer in front of him, you are behind him (because he turned away from you). What's worse, you are no longer between him and the ball. What's worse than that, you are no longer between him and the basket! All he has to do is cut towards the basket, receive a free pass from Mr. Dribbler, and once again it's layup city and all you can do is follow helplessly.

This is the dilemma the pick and roll seeks to create. If the defenders don't switch the dribbler gets a free layup or jumper. If the defenders do switch the pick-setter rolls to the bucket for a pass and a free layup. It works well, which is why it's still employed routinely after sixty-some odd years of professional basketball.

So...how do you defend the pick and roll? Coaches usually plan beforehand whether the defenders will switch or try to stay with their men, whether the guy defending the dribbler will go over or under the pick, and under what circumstances that might change. Another popular tactic nowadays is for both defenders--the guy guarding the dribbler and the guy guarding the pick setter--to jump to the dribbler at the same time...one from the front of the pick and one from behind. Yes, this leaves the pick setter completely open, but if both players move quick enough and wave their arms crazily enough there's no room for the dribbler to get off the pass. This is called "jumping (or trapping) the pick". Then once the guy defending the dribbler has caught up to his man the player who was defending the pick setter retreats back to his original man. This is called "showing and recovering". It's a very important skill for big men nowadays.

One more item...you won't see as many true pick and roll plays these days as you once did. This is because defenses have gotten better at disrupting them and because the actual "rolling" part takes a little effort and today's player likes to be as (*cough*) economical as possible. You are far more likely to see one of two variations:

The "pick and slip" works just the same, except instead of Mr. Chair rotating to put the defender on his back, he just dives to the basket right away as the dribbler goes by, hoping for a quick pass on the way. This works pretty well if both defenders trap the pick because the dribbler can sneak the pass out before the double-team gets to him, leaving the pick-setter with a free look at the bucket.

The "pick and pop" is also the same as the original, except instead of rolling to the basket for a layup the pick-setter rolls out to the wing for a short jumper from the side. This could open a new angle for the dribbler to pass if the opponents trapped, one that wasn't right through the heart of a double team. Also today's players, in addition to being economical, don't want to dent their shiny uniforms by getting down in the paint. They prefer jumpers.

There you go...now you know the basics of the pick and roll. You can learn a lot more by googling it. Coaches have literally reams of material on variations and defensive schemes. It's like a forest of doctoral theses or something. Good luck.

Oh, and fair warning: unless you want your eyes to bleed, don't watch the Blazers for a good example of the pick and roll or even of defending the pick and roll. We have one (1) guy who will stand in there and set an excellent pick, and that is Joel. (Maybe Skinner too, we didn't see enough of him to know.) Zach is the worst pick setter in the universe. A small, fluffy kitten in traction would provide a more intimidating barrier. His biggest problem is that he'll never wait until the dribbler gets by, preferring to slip out of the pick and say, "Gimme the ball! Gimme the ball!" Obviously neither defender is bothered by this behavior. On defense, Zach also does a mighty poor job of showing and recovering, which is why opponents usually choose the guy he's defending as the pick setter. And our guards are too young to remember whether to go over or under the pick on a given play. They're also pretty small and get rubbed off easily.

If Joel comes back and the point guards grow up a little, maybe you'll see a well-executed pick and roll at some point during the season. Otherwise just watch the Jazz for examples.

Thank you all again for your questions!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

8 Comments:

Anonymous jorga said...

And now that you have your breath back, what is a "rolling" pick?

Thank you for the detailed description (and thanks to whomever asked the question). I didn't move my chair, I just visualized. BUt I think I may get some chess pieces to move around. More interesting than X's and O's and already wearing uniforms.

I finally picked up "Basketball for dummies" and practically the first thing Digger Phelps said was "if you really want to learn the game, pick up a ball and play." Sigh. Once again I'm outside the target demographic.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hmmmm...I haven't heard the term "rolling pick". I didn't come up with anything on the first few pages of Google either. Do you mean "moving pick" maybe?

A moving pick is against the rules. It basically means that the pick setter is moving around trying to interfere with the defender instead of standing still. If that were allowed basketball would look like an NFL offensive line scrimmage. Once Mr. Widebody gets in pick position he can't move his feet. It's up to the dribbler to bring the defender close enough to get picked off.

That said, the officials have really eased up on enforcing that rule this year. If you watch a Phoenix Suns game, you'll see guys setting picks and moving quite a bit. That gives a significant advantage to the offense, which is exactly why the league is easing up on it. They like higher scoring games.

--Dave

7:51 PM  
Anonymous jorga said...

I'm sure you're right; just got my adjectives mixed. thnx.

9:07 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

The pick & pop also leaves the big man in a wonderful position (with a good view) to pass to someone under the hoop if for example one forward has crossed over and set a screen so that there may be some momentary daylight as the other forward crosses back, now guarded on a switch by a new man (who may be indolent or momentarily confused or distracted by what's going on with the ball out on top).

But it has to be a hard sure pass. Hesitate and the opening will be gone. (In fact the opening may only be there one out of six or eight times.) Great passers like Bill Walton or Arvydas Sabonis (to stick with big men) could sense or feel where people were as much as simply follow them with their eyes.

11:26 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

Also, it requires some conviction and art to set a good pick. And there is an unselfish element that is much appreciated by teammates. It creates a bond.

You want your teammates to be reliable. Trustworthy. If there's no trust it's very hard to develop the phenomenon of the "team mind." That is, five players thinking as one.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Amen to that Ignacio. This is a large part of our problem I think. Joel has that unselfish attitude but others don't. And as soon as a big guy starts half-assing picks the guards stop using them well and then you might as well not try because everyone is just going through the motions. This is classic "bad NBA team" behavior and we've got it in spades.

--Dave

11:47 PM  
Blogger BLAZER PROPHET said...

We don't see this as much as today's NBA players are lazy and have poor fundamentals. It's mostly the Euro players & teams that use this masterfully.

7:48 AM  
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