Top 10 Pick-and-Roll Finishers in the NBA
The pick-and-roll is very much in vogue right now, especially when these elite finishers are storming down the NBA courts. Much to the chagrin of the Association's defenders, all 10 of these players are going to be on the receiving end of passes after they roll out of their screens during the 2012-13 season.
Being a top-notch finisher in the PnR game requires size, timing and athleticism. Two of the three generally won't suffice. A player must set a solid screen, roll toward the basket at the correct time, receive the play and, most importantly, put the ball through the hoop for two points.
Please note that the pick-and-pop variation is not being considered here. Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh, for example, are not going to be included as a result, although they'd certainly be in contention if plays that resulted in mid-range jumpers were included in the scope of this article.
We're also only talking about the players who receive a pass to finish the play. Take LeBron James. He has screens set for him and then explodes to the basket, finishing the play through contact more often than not.
While that is indeed finishing the play on a pick-and-roll, he isn't technically a "finisher" because the ball was in his hands at the start of the play as well.
It's generally quite difficult for non-power forwards and centers to work their way into these rankings.
10. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
It's only fitting to lead off the rankings with a power forward who expects big things from his pick-and-roll game during the 2012-13 campaign. Here's how LaMarcus Aldridge responded to a question about playing with Damian Lillard on an interview on Portland's 1080 The Fan:
He's a really talented player, he's good at passing the ball. He can score it also. Him and myself, we should be a pretty dynamic duo in the pick-and-roll.
No matter who he's screening for, Aldridge can finish with devastating power and soft finesse around the rim when he rolls to the basket and receives a pass from the ball-handler.
While the Portland Trail Blazers star excels shooting mid-range jumpers and using his turnaround on the blocks, he's quick and mobile enough to make the PnR game an impressive secondary weapon in his arsenal.
9. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
While Kevin Love isn't as athletic as many of the other big men in these rankings, he's still a deadly finisher in the pick-and-roll game, especially when Ricky Rubio is healthy and threading the needle with his passes.
Love is solid when moving to the basket and can score through contact, but it's his jumper that makes him so effective.
When the former UCLA standout plants himself in screening position, the man guarding him has to worry about shutting down the pick-and-pop because of Love's deadliness from the perimeter. That extra moment of hesitation often gives the Minnesota Timberwolf all the time he needs to get a full head of steam going toward the basket and create separation from his defender.
8. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers
I apologize for my inability to find a picture of Andrew Bynum in action while wearing a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, but blame the big man's knee for that. And really, I have no regrets about putting this incredible afro on display. Here's hoping he continues to grow it out and one day challenges Oscar Gamble for historical afro supremacy.
Bynum is an old-school back-to-the-basket player at heart, but he has the physical tools to work his way out to the high post and thrive in the pick-and-roll setting.
The bulk of his frame and his surprising athleticism allow him to draw contact and finish the play, whether he has to go over or around the awaiting defenders.
Bynum should end up running the pick-and-roll often with Jrue Holiday as the young point guard looks to take the next step as an NBA floor general. He'll be the focal point of the Philly offense once he's healthy, and the PnR will be one of the biggest reasons for his success.
7. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
Now we go from one center with health problems to another.
Andrew Bogut has largely been forgotten about by NBA fans because of his lack of time on the court during the 2011-12 season. It seems like he's never getting mentioned in discussions about the best centers in the league anymore even though he's still a defensive beast and a fantastic pick-and-roll finisher.
When healthy, Bogut is one of the most adroit players in the league when on the receiving end of a pass while cutting to the basket. He has enough touch to get creative with his shot, but he also has the sheer mass to turn into a freight train.
Then again, it's all about health for Bogut. Until he proves he can stay on the court—at some point, too many "fluke"/"freak" injuries might actually indicate an injury-prone nature—it's tough to move Bogut up any higher.
6. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
From the beginning of the play to the rim-rattling slam at the end of it, Marc Gasol is an ultra-effective pick-and-roll player.
One of the most underrated aspects of Gasol's game is his ability to set bone-crunching screens. When he plants his body, he immediately turns into a brick wall. It's almost impossible to quickly get around a screen set by this center.
After setting a screen, the Spaniard's knack for running the floor and his intelligence both come into play. Gasol times his rolls perfectly and then utilizes his size and finesse to finish the play.
Unfortunately for Gasol, his jump-shooting and passing skills don't come into play here. That said, his effectiveness in this area is still staggering when he's on his game.
5. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
If you look past the major-market teams, one of the more interesting storylines to follow in the NBA this season will center around Marcin Gortat. After developing into one of the more quality big men in the league, Gortat will have an opportunity to show that it was him that was responsible for that success, not Steve Nash.
Playing with Nash was undeniably beneficial for Gortat's growth, particularly in the pick-and-roll game, but the Polish Hammer still proved to be an adept finisher off his rolls.
He understands exactly where to go after setting his screens, and he has great touch when laying the ball in off the backboard. Gortat might never throw down powerful dunks like a certain former Phoenix Sun (hint: see the next slide), but he doesn't need that type of punctuation to complete the play effectively.
After Nash made Gortat look like a true stud at the center position, it's time to see if Gortat can use what he's learned to make Goran Dragic look like a star.
4. Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
At one point, Amar'e Stoudemire was the best pick-and-roll finisher in all of basketball. When he was on the receiving end of Steve Nash's brilliant passes, the power forward made rims shudder at the thought of what he would do to them.
However, Stoudemire's effectiveness has been declining as his knees continue to fail him. At this point in his career, I have reservations about moving him any higher because of that deterioration. He's also been receiving less PnR opportunities with the New York Knicks.
Even without the explosiveness of his prime, particularly when talking about his once-deadly first step to the right, STAT remains an elite finisher in these situations. He understands the play perfectly and is still more athletic than some NBA power forwards can even imagine.
3. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
The Josh Smith and Jeff Teague pick-and-roll combo is going to be used a lot more often during the 2012-13 season now that Joe Johnson and his 18.8 points per game have departed for the Brooklyn Nets.
That's a positive for the Atlanta Hawks, as Josh Smith is one of the best finishers in the NBA when he goes to the basket, and the more he runs PnR plays, the less often he can hoist up ill-advised attempts from outside the paint.
Smoove is terrifyingly athletic and doesn't hesitate in the slightest when he's forced to drive into big bodies. He's quite adept at finishing through contact, but it's his hops and speed that allow him to truly thrive when awaiting the pass from his point guard.
Between Smith's pick-and-roll finishing abilities and Al Horford's prowess at hitting pick-and-pop jumpers, expect the ball to be in Teague's hands early and often as the Hawks set screen after screen.
2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
It's pretty incredible what Blake Griffin has managed to accomplish in just two seasons at the professional level. In that pair of go-arounds with the Los Angeles Clippers, the power forward has become one of the best players at his position and stands in a tier of pick-and-roll finishers that is only occupied by two players.
Griffin might be offensively limited by his struggles from the charity stripe and his lack of an elite jumper, but his PnR game is not exactly providing any limitations.
Chris Paul must love playing with Griffin because his lob passes after the power forward rolls don't even need to be that accurate. If he throws it up in his general vicinity, the result is probably going to be a thundering alley-oop that elicits cheers even in away games.
Griffin's ability to finish plays is really the one part of his game that people don't question. We've seen the highlights. We know how explosive, dexterous and powerful this young star can be when he's in the air.
1. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
As good as Blake Griffin is at finishing the play on pick-and-rolls, he still pales in comparison to Dwight Howard (assuming health, of course).
D12 is just ridiculously powerful and explosive. He can finish through any defender when he has a head of steam going to the basket, but he can also show off his impressive hops and finish over the top of the defense after a lob pass.
The scary part is that he's earned this reputation while setting screens for Jameer Nelson. Last I checked, Steve Nash—even a 38-year-old Nash—is a significant upgrade in this department.
Howard is one of the greatest PnR finishers of all time and certainly the best of this generation. Nash is the best PnR passer of the current generation and remains in a tier occupied by only himself and John Stockton.
That combo is going to create some magic.