The pick-and-roll is one of the oldest and most commonly run sets in the NBA. Every single team runs it multiple times per game, often to great effect, and has done so for a long time. We all know why.
Screening the ball-handler’s defender creates separation between the ball and the man, and thus puts pressure on the screener’s man to choose between a switch – which could leave a big man vulnerable to being taken off the dribble or result in the player he’s responsible for being open on the dive to the hoop – and sticking close to his own man, which could result in the guard speeding around the screen and heading straight for the basket or pulling up for an open jumper.
To give the defense an additional wrinkle to handle, teams will often bring another player in behind the pick-and-roll as an outlet for the ball-handler. If they cannot get into the lane, and the roll man is covered on the dive, the ball can be swung back around for an open jump-shot, or to kick off another pick-and-roll on the other side of the court.
The conceptual cousin of the pick-and-roll – the pick-and-pop – has seen a surge in popularity in recent years due to the rise in prominence of jump-shooting big men. The pick-and-pop similarly puts pressure on the screener’s defender to choose between picking up the ball-handler coming around the pick, and staying close to his own man to prevent a jump shot. In the pick-and-pop, the screener is really just “rolling” to the spot usually filled by the outlet man on traditional pick-and-roll plays.
Monty Williams’ New Orleans Hornets added a wrinkle of their own to this action. Similar to how the outlet man would slide in behind the pick-and-roll to provide another option for the ball-handler, the Hornets sent the opposite big man on a cut down the middle of the lane to simulate the familiar pick-and-roll action when they ran their bigs in pick-and-pops.
Check it out in real time with Jason Smith running the pick-and-pop and Chris Kaman simulating the roll.
Williams himself says the Hornets started running this play in the playoffs against the Lakers two years ago because Andrew Bynum was clogging the lane. Giving the point guard two options on the play rather than one forces the help defender to choose between staying with his man cutting through the gut of the defense, or jumping out and taking away the pick-and-pop jumper. It puts the defense in the uncomfortable position of having to leave a threatening player open.
This isn’t the only way the Hornets used the roll-pop combination to get one of their bigs open, either. Occasionally you’d see a play like this.
The Hornets start out in a 1-4 set, and send the shooting guard across to the weak side off a screen from the center. This initial action is designed to get the defense moving and in a little bit of confusion before what comes next.
After freeing up the shooting guard to cut across the floor, the center then sets a screen for the point guard coming around the edge and rolls to the hoop. As in many traditional pick-and-rolls, the power forward comes in behind the action as an outlet in case both the ball-handler and roll man are covered. Unlike many pick-and-roll plays though, the action doesn’t stop there. Rather than just act as an outlet man, the power forward keeps coming across the court and sets a screen of his own for the ball-handler coming back the other way.
The center cuts across to the weak side of the lane, drawing the help defender even farther away from the pick-and-pop action now happening on the strong side.
In the play below, Carl Landry sets the initial screen for Greivis Vazquez and rolls to the hoop, while Jason Smith comes in behind and runs the pick-and-pop, and the Hornets are able to take advantage of Kevin Love’s lack of foot speed in space to get Smith another wide-open jumper.
The multiple connected actions in these sets create a lot of free space for all the players involved. The point guard, whether Jarrett Jack or Greivis Vazuquez, has room to turn the corner and wide passing lanes to hit his teammates on the roll or pop. The roll man, whether Carl Landry or Chris Kaman, draws multiple defenders on the way to the rim, and Smith has plenty of space to fire up a jumper.
Many of the principal actors in these plays are no longer on the Hornets. Jack and Landry now reside in Golden State, while Kaman is in Dallas. That’s quite alright. This year, the Hornets can run these actions often with Anthony Davis as the roll man and Ryan Anderson popping out for the perimeter jumper.
Anderson’s expert long-range shooting (39.3% on 3-pointers, 46.2% from 20-24 feet last season according to NBA.com) makes it more likely that his defender will stick to him on the pop, thus creating more room for Vazquez, Eric Gordon or Austin Rivers to speed around the pick and into the lane. And if defenders leave Anderson alone, he’s more likely to make them pay, and more likely to generate that extra point from 3-point range.
Davis will likely be more closely guarded on his way to the rim than either Kaman or Landry were as well. His athleticism and soft touch make him a dangerous finisher (65.3% on 2-point shots [placing him in the top 15 of DraftExpress's database in the last decade], 78% around the basket, 5.1 FTA per game, led the nation in dunks at Kentucky), and defenses have to pay him extra attention. He’s extremely active off the ball, whether he’s diving to the rim out of the pick-and-roll or cutting to the basket from the weak side.
Those advantages created by Anderson and Davis buy just a little bit more space for everyone involved in these plays, and scoring becomes that much easier. For a team that ranked just 26th in points per possession last season according to NBA.com, any slight bit of leverage they can create will help.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com