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Teaching Basketball Fundamentals: The Pick and Roll

Fundamentals: The Pick and Roll

Summary: This article provides a comprehensive guide to coaching and teaching the basketball pick and roll play, emphasizing fundamental principles such as proper screen placement, roll execution, and timing, while also highlighting common mistakes and additional coaching tips.

Table of Contents

When coaching and teaching the basketball pick and roll play, it is important that every fundamental is executed correctly to maximize its effectiveness. The pick and roll is a play that many players understand, but it is not always executed flawlessly. Here, we will outline the basics of this play and the key principles to coach, following the insights from various sources in basketball coaching.

The Setup

This play involves a guard with the ball calling for the pick while a forward or center sets the screen. It is important to use hand signals for effective communication. The guard should use a “fist” signal to indicate they want the screen, or wave the screener away if they don't want it.

The Pick

The screener should have their feet shoulder-width apart, facing the ball handler with knees bent and arms extended outwards. As the guard approaches, they should set a solid screen by making contact with their defender’s hip. This allows enough space for the guard to make a play.

Fundamental #1 Start by teaching players how to set a front screen, the most fundamental screen. The screener should face the defender to be screened, positioning themselves as close as possible while remaining visible to the defender. Stress the importance of wide legs, flexed knees, and raised arms to present a larger target. This will enable the referee to see the screener's hands and help facilitate clean execution.

Fundamental #2 Next, the guard should be instructed to come off the screen tightly and shoulder-to-shoulder with the screener. This allows for a tight seam, making it difficult for defenders to switch or get through the screen. Emphasize that both players must stay connected and move as one unit throughout the play.

The Roll

Once the pick is set, the screener has two options: roll to the basket or pop out for an open shot for a pick and pop. In order to execute this correctly, it's important for both players to read and react based on how the defense reacts. If there is no help defense, have your screener roll hard to the rim looking for a pass from the guard. If there is help defense, the screener should slip the screen and look for a quick pass to the open area.

Fundamental #3 It's essential to teach players how to seal their defender after setting the pick. This helps create space for the rolling big man, making it easier for them to catch and finish at the rim. The guard should also be reminded to keep their eyes up and make a quick decision based on what they see.

The Pop

As mentioned before, if there is no help defense or if the screener is an effective shooter, popping out for an open shot is another option. This requires good spacing on offense, with other players spotting up on the perimeter.

Fundamental #4 It's important to teach players to hold their screen before popping out. Many times, defenders will switch and the screener can slip through for an easy layup or dunk. However, if the defender stays with the screener, they should make a sharp move to pop out and create separation for a shot.


To ensure success, it is vital that all players involved in this play communicate effectively. The ball handler must call for the pick at the right time and use hand signals for better understanding. The screener must also read and react based on how the defense plays them.

Fundamental #5 Stress the importance of timing and patience in executing the pick and roll. The guard should not hesitate too long before using the screen, while the screener must be patient and not rush their roll or pop out.


There are many variations of the pick and roll play that can be utilized to keep the defense guessing. Some examples include a side pick and roll, a middle pick and roll, or even a double pick and roll. It's important to teach players these different options and when to use them based on game situations.

Fundamental #6 Emphasize the need for players to be versatile and adaptable in executing the pick and roll. By mastering different variations, they become more valuable on the court and can help create mismatches against the defense.

Common Mistakes

Improper Placement of the Screen Teach players to set the screen in the right place on the floor. The correct placement forces the defense to make adjustments, potentially creating a scoring opportunity. If the screen is too far outside, the guard may take a shot beyond their range, negating the need for a switch.

The Incorrect Roll Train players to make a roll to the basket rather than turning. A "turn" results in a front pivot and can create a moving pick. The roll is more effective because it positions the offensive player to move toward the basket, leaving the defensive guard behind.

The Incorrect Pass Instruct players to use high passes or bounce passes when passing through a defender during the pick and roll. These passes are more effective in executing the play.

Additional Tips for Coaches

  • Watch game footage with your team to analyze their execution of the pick and roll and provide feedback for improvement.

  • Utilize drills in practice to work on specific aspects of the pick and roll, such as timing and sealing off defenders.

  • Experiment with different variations of the pick and roll in practice to see what works best for your team's strengths.

By thoroughly understanding these fundamental principles, coaches can effectively teach their players how to execute a successful pick and roll play. With proper execution, this play can become a deadly weapon in any team's offensive arsenal.


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