Saturday, March 29, 2008

Perfecting the Art of the Pick and Roll

For nearly two decades, point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone redefined the art of the pick and roll within Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's system. Opponents knew the pick and roll was coming, but could do little to stop it. The well-executed play of Stockton and Malone led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.

The details were what made the pick and roll successful for Utah. Stockton, the NBA's all-time assist leader, set up and utilized Malone's ball-screen perfectly every time. Then, Stockton's unparalleled basketball IQ and passing ability went to work.

If Stockton chose to dish it off to Malone, undoubtedly the first scoring option, he could be confident that his pass would be caught. An underrated aspect of the pick and roll is the hands of the roller; Malone's were excellent.

Additionally, defenses were left wondering how to contain Malone. With his tremendous strength and athleticism, Malone was a great finisher. However, his mid-range game made the pick and pop equally deadly.

This was where the their teammates became important. Defenses would have to send a help defender to cover Stockton and Malone. The three additional Jazz on the court would move without the ball. Byron Russell would back cut. Jeff Hornacek could spot up for a three. This gave Stockton several more options and helped clear the lane for Malone.

All in all, the pick and roll was a large part of what made the Jazz successful as a team, leading teams to implement more ball-screens. Today, the ball-screen dominates NBA basketball, largely based off of the success of the Jazz with Stockton and Malone.

The real question is this: which current duos and teams best utilize the traditional pick and roll, as well as its variations?

New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is among the NBA's best creators. The Hornets succeed running screens for Paul, who is able to find Tyson Chandler dropping to the rim or David West setting up for a jumper. Still, the Hornets could still improve. Defenses know Chandler, without a good perimeter shot, will attack the rim while West will settle for a mid-range shot. The Hornets are not among the top three.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combine for an effective pick and roll pairing for the Lakers. The Lakers screen to open up Bryant, with Gasol as the second option. This is also the case in Detroit with Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Neither are in the traditional Utah Jazz mold that we are focusing on.

The first place to look for a well-executed pick and roll is, where else, Utah. Coach Jerry Sloan has found new players to run his old system. Guard Deron Williams does his best imitation of Stockton while forward Carlos Boozer is the new Malone. (They even have Kyle Korver shooting the three like Hornacek!) Williams, known for his basketball intelligence, sets up the screens well, allowing him to find open teammates or to utilize his jump shot. Boozer finishes strong in the paint off of the roll and has a solid mid-range game for the pop. Most importantly, the two have great chemistry, making for a successful duo.

The next home to a well-run pick and roll/pick and pop is Toronto. The Raptors have a two players tailor made for the play: Spanish point guard Jose Calderon and forward Chris Bosh. Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league. Bosh, though not as strong, is among the NBA's best shooting big men. He is often on the receiving end of a Calderon's pass off of ball-screens.

The best pick and roll tandem in the NBA resides in Phoenix. While known for their fastbreak, the Suns look to point guard Steve Nash and forward Amare Stoudemire to generate half court offense. Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, is probably the most cerebral offensive player in the league. His passing skills are matched by few. (Oh, and he's just like John Stockton: a white point guard.) Nash's tremendous shooting ability can hurt defenses if he is left uncovered off of a screen. Then, add Stoudemire to the mix. He is among the NBA's most athletic forwards, allowing him to attack the basket when he rolls. Like Malone, Stoudemire shoots extremely well, putting the defense in a difficult position. One thing is for sure: if defenses over commit when trying to cover Nash and Stoudemire, Phoenix has plenty of shooters to pay them pay.

Though the pick and roll or the pick and pop have become an essential part of the NBA, there is one key (outside of Stockton and Malone being on a different level) that separates them from the legendary combination of Stockton and Malone. For the most part, teams call screens to open up the court of their guards, leaving the big men an afterthought. For Utah, Malone was always the first option. A few teams are still successful with the traditional Stockton to Malone pick and roll.


About the Undrafted Free Agent

Ron Crimson was the only player on the high school roster to not get in a game. He couldn't argue with the decision, because he sucked. Needless to say, yet stated anyway, when he entered the NBA draft following his sophomore season in college, he went undrafted. Now, Ron Crimson is the Undrafted Free Agent.

Contact the Undrafted Free Agent

Interested in informing the Undrafted Free Agent of his mistakes, advertisement opportunities, or a scoop on the latest sports scandal? (You can guess which is more likely.) Well, email him at undraftedfreeagent [at]

Look at This!

There's nothing here; I just needed to fill some space. Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! I also needed to balance it out a bit.

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