NBA Spotlight: Defending the Pick and Roll

NBA Spotlight: Defending the Pick and Roll

The Basketball arms race is in a never ending state of motion. As offenses evolve to score in more creative fashion, defenses have had to adapt more ways to stop the enemy from scoring. The pick and roll is the oldest play in basketball and for good reason. When done properly, it can morph unified defenses into confused individuals. However, as time has passed, defenses have grown to make those very same offensive tactics too risky to execute.

We will look at four of the best defenses in recent NBA history and how they defended the wing and spread ball screens. It’s important to note that every team uses multiple coverages however the specific styles you will see, were lethal during their time. All of the terms and numbers are provided by our friends at

Here is a short list of statistical terms we will be using in this article:

  • Defensive Rating (DRtg): Points allowed per 100 possessions.
  • Turnover Percentage (TOV%): The percentage of a teams defensive possessions that end with a turnover.
  • Steals, Blocks, Fouls, Defensive Rebounds per game (Drpg) and Opponent 3pt%


—–Boston Celtics 2007-2008

The team that dominated with the “Ice” coverage A.k.a “Blue” or “Down” had a very impressive season in which they achieved a first place defensive rating of 98.9. This is a very effective coverage that favors teams who don’t want the ball to get to the middle of the floor especially if your post players are better at protecting the paint than they are hedging out on the perimeter. The best part about this coverage is that your other defenders don’t have to rotate and can proceed to stay the help side. Basically imagine your defense overloading the strong side of the floor (where the ball is) and only leaving a skip pass to the corner open. This can be problematic especially to teams that have large playbooks that require heavy passing. If teams can’t move the ball, they will become stagnant, which works in your favor!

Because teams were unable to consistently attack the middle of the floor. The Celtics boasted the following statistical achievements:

  • 1st in opponent 3pt% (31.6)
  • 5th in steals (8.5)
  • 9th in Defensive Rebounding (31.9)


—–Side Pick an Roll

When keeping the ball on the sideline, the only weakness to exploit is the pop out to the three point line by the screener. However our next closest defender stunts and recovers back to his man in the same fashion that you would in a zone defense.


—–Spread Pick and Roll

While the ball is up top, we still want to focus on keeping the ball away from the screen to focus on containing the ball. By overloading the Strongside of the floor, the offense is forced to hesitate on their attack.



—–Miami Heat 2012-2013

Next up, we look to really speed up the tempo with the Blitz package also known as “Red.” This style requires a very specific roster strength that favors multiple athletes as well as posts that can hedge and trap aggressively on the ball handler. The goal is to make the other team uncomfortable by relentlessly attacking them. This creates a free for all on the ball for any of the weak side  defenders (away from the ball), that believe they can go for the steal. This also favors quick teams that may not be effective rebounders since this defense keeps the ball away from the paint. Once the ball is trapped, the defense is essentially scrambling to anticipate a steal wherever it is possible.

The team in south beach sprinted their way to the following numbers:

  • 9th in defensive rating (103.7)
  • 3rd in steals (8.7)
  • 5th in Turnover percentage (14.8)
  • 8th in fouls (18.7) and impressive for a team that’s so aggressive on this end of the floor.

Once the post defender jumps out to trap the ball, the other three defenders need to form a triangle behind that trap. Two of those defenders deny the passing lane one pass away while the fifth defender takes away any cutter to the basket leaving the opposite skip pass open.


—–Side Pick and Roll


—–Spread Pick and Roll


—–Indiana Pacers 2013-2014

The organization that brought the term “Smash mouth” basketball back into the NBA did so in a tremendously physical fashion. They did so using one of the standard defensive schemes known as “zoning up”. I personally will also call the coverage “green”  to stick with our color theme. This works favorably for teams with a slower post player who basically guards the lane one on one until the guard fights through. This is a very simple coverage since the post players role never changes. Depending on the offensive players shooting ability, your defender will either chase them over the screen to force a midrange shot and discourage the three or go underneath the pick and let them launch it from deep.


The ground and pound pacers were able to rack up the following numbers during that season:

  • 1st in Defensive Rating (99.3)
  • 1st in Defensive Rebounding per game (34.5)
  • 5th in Blocks (5.4)
  • 4th in opponent 3pt% (34)


—–Side Pick and Roll


—–Spread Pick and Roll


—–Golden State Warriors 2016-2017

The defending champs enjoyed stopping opposing teams with their switching defense. They used what we call the shell principle which means that the Warriors will keep a body between their man/ball and the basket at all times. While they boast a very large roster in terms of height and length, what’s important is that all of the players can defend multiple positions. The perimeter players can be physical and front down low while the posts can move well enough laterally to contain dribble penetration. The final detail involves switching defenders on the Weakside of the floor to avoid a point guard defending a post player for too long.

Dub Nation was able to stifle offenses with the following numbers which are an indication of how active the team was on their defensive rotations:

  • 2nd in Defensive Rating (104)
  • 1st in Steals (9.6)
  • 1st in Blocks (6.8)
  • 1st in Opponent 3pt% (32)


—–Side Pick and Roll


—–Spread Pick and Roll


That does it for NBA Spotlight: Pick and roll defense! Feel free to contact me via twitter @KJ_the_scout or via email at for more details on these defensive coverages.

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