If step one was don’t get hypnotized watching the ball; and two was watch the feet; then three should be watch for people getting in the way. We’ve already opened that subject with the first part of the pick-and-roll/pop—the ball handler trying to run his defender into a teammate (called an on-ball screen). We’ll talk more about this most basic play shortly but for a moment consider that any teammate, standing anywhere on the court, is a screen just waiting to happen—whether you, or he, has the ball or not. Hey, it’s nice to know that when you’re playing down at the Y and you’re utterly exhausted, you can still serve a purpose by just standing there and getting in the way.
Dateline: September 27, 2012––3 days until the start of training camp!
Now back to the dominoes falling in the pick-and-roll/pop. The pick, if well used, will create some (whether momentary or longer) freedom for the player whose defender collides with or has to go around the screen. In the world of the NBA an inch rapidly becomes a mile so the defense usually will be proactive and try to use the screener’s defender to retard the progress of the ball handler coming around the pick. Sometimes they “show” which is to step out into the path of the ball handler forcing him to take the long way around and giving his defender time to get back into position. Sometimes they switch and try to guard the ball handler. Since big men often set the pick, this usually results in a slower man trying to cover a fast one. In either case the showing/switching defender has lost position on his own defensive assignment. This leaves his man to “roll” to the basket hoping for a pass and one of those zero distance shots, or to step away (pop) from the collision to be in position for a jump shot as his own defender drifts away trying to impede the ball handler and the ball handler’s defender tries to get back to his man handling the ball.
The ball handler may pull up behind the screen to shoot, may use the slight separation to “turn the corner” and drive to the basket, may “split” the defenders and drive to the basket, or if he draws both defenders he will pass the ball to the man who set the screen, either rolling to the basket or waiting to shoot having popped out from the screen collision. This mini-drama may be run dozens of times each game, by both teams. If you are just watching this unfold, I think you will be amazed at the myriad of possibilities and outcomes resulting just from this one type of “getting in the way.”
Whether the ball is in motion or not, players often are, and often are running by picks. These screens can be near the basket or far, may be one man or two or even three (getting in the way). If more than one screener they may be together (double screen) or slightly separated (staggered screen). The player “using” the screen may go around it, go around it and double back, start around it and reverse course, or stop behind it. In some respects it depends on what his defender does. A good offensive player can make what the defender does “wrong” simply because whatever he does, there is a way to take advantage of the choice. The only sure success is for the defender to “fight over” the screen, staying with his assigned players by squeezing between the offensive player and the screen he is “failing” to use properly (rather by definition because if he runs close enough to the screener the laws of physics dictate that the human body doesn’t really squeeze very much).
To attune to this action, try to follow a single player on the side of the court away from the ball (called the weak side, and conversely the side with the ball is the strong side). In fact a good measure of a player is whether he is content to stand unmoving on the side away from the ball. Even if he is only waiting at the three-point line for a pass, he can keep his defender from resting by faking like he is going to dash toward the basket, or run around a teammate as a screen. If you see two, or even three players standing on the weak side, you can be pretty sure there is an isolation play or pick-and-roll taking place on the strong side. It is not unusual for there to be a half a dozen screens set on a single trip down the floor (and hundreds in a game). Sometimes there is a whole domino string of interchanges—a player sets a pick, then uses a pick, then sets a pick, crisscrossing the court with a weave of players and the ball handler above the key (the lane plus the free throw circle) waiting for one of his teammates to gain a step on his defender.
Yeah, just watching the picks can be a full time job. Especially watch the offensive player alter his actions depending upon whether the defender goes over (squeezing by or following the offensive player) or under (also called below) the pick. Remember, the point of all this activity is to get a slight advantage for a shooter to take an open shot from a place on the court from which he likes to shoot and makes a high percentage. Or, if you are on defense, to keep that from happening.
We’ll try one last segment tomorrow talking about rebounding and transition (when the ball changes hands) offense. I’d love some feedback on whether this series of posts makes sense or is too simplified. I’ve tried to assume some, but minimal, knowledge. If this works, hopefully it will boost the ESPM-only viewers to enjoying game broadcasts much more than highlights
Boston, and all points beyond