Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
The pick-and-roll has become one of the most effective and prevalent offensive plays of the modern era. If a duo like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love hopes to challenge John Stockton and Karl Malone for PnR supremacy, the point guard will have to possess a nearly perfect understanding of the defensive strategies against the league's most popular play.
There are essentially five ways to defend the pick-and-roll, although the first one just involves preventing it from ever happening by forcing the point guard away from the screening big man. So really, we're dealing with four legitimate—and common—defensive strategies.
The first is for the defender to fight over, under or around the screen, leaving the defense in its original man-to-man matchups. This is also the least popular strategy because it really doesn't work too often.
An intelligent point guard can drive to make the defense play if the defender takes too long to get past the pick. A sharpshooter can make his man pay if he chooses to go under the screen, leaving the point guard open for an easy three-point shot without much of a contest.
Shows make up the next two types, as a defense can employ either a hard or a soft show.
A hard show involves the defensive big man coming around the screen quickly, essentially faking a trap to force the point guard into a hasty decision. The immediate presence of a large body in his driving lane forces the point guard to slow his momentum, either grinding to a halt or retreating backwards as the big man catches up to the player he started out guarding.
If a point guard recognizes that a hard show is coming, he can drive into the big man quickly and create a blocking foul, or at the very worst cause him to stay out in no-man's land, far away from the basket and his original man. The point guard can also slip through the two defenders and create a mini-fastbreak opportunity.
Soft shows are slightly different, and this is the standard pick-and-roll defense employed by NBA teams.
Essentially, the big man involved in the play starts to play de facto zone defense, waiting to react to the point guard's initial move as the man guarding the point guard fights past the screen. The onus is on the floor general to make the first move, and he must read the defense properly or risk a quick turnover.
However, a quick-thinking point guard can exploit this method of defending. It's possible to both drive or kick the ball to a teammate and exploit the defense. Whether it's the rolling screener or an open teammate on the wing that ends up with the ball, the entire defense has to shift quickly because it's committed two players to stopping the point guard for a moment.
Next is the trap, which is an even more aggressive defense than the hard show. Instead of recovering to the original responsibility, as is the case in a hard-show defensive strategy, the non-screened defender sticks with the point guard and forms a double-team with the man who was screened.
Although this move can create some frantic action from a point guard, an intelligent and disciplined player can break this strategy down in the same way he can exploit a soft show. Two defenders are now assigned to one player, which means that someone has to be left open. It's just all about finding that guy quickly.
The final defensive strategy against a pick-and-roll is hedging, which isn't used too often. And when it is used, it doesn't work too well except in very small doses. The non-screened player helps out then immediately retreats to his original man.
Of course, this leaves an easy decision for the point guard, who must keep his dribble active and remain patient. Once the second defender is retreating and the screened player is recovering, that's when he should explode to the basket or take a jumper.
No matter what defense is thrown at a pick-and-roll point guard, he can take advantage of it. The key is knowing what to expect and how to react. NBA teams aren't going to stick with the same strategy for prolonged periods of time, especially when that strategy fails to promote success.
Given the prevalence of the pick-and-roll game in the current version of The Association, point guards must be familiar with all of these defensive strategies and how to render them ineffective.