Abrams on The Oldest Play in Basketball

» November 20, 2009 1:58 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times hits one out of the park today with an article on the prevalence of the screen-and-roll in the NBA. Abrams breaks down the data Synergy Sports Technology style, and comes up with a piece full of interesting analysis.

For instance:

The pick-and-roll is the play of choice for some of the league’s best players, like New Orleans’s Chris Paul, Phoenix’s Steve Nash, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s LeBron James. The league’s dependence on the play is steadily increasing, according to a five-year analysis by Synergy Sports Technology, which logs every N.B.A. game, providing analytics to nearly every team. Use of the pick-and-roll rose to 18.6 percent of the league’s total plays last season from 15.6 percent in 2004-5, when Synergy began tracking it.

And this:

Nelson, who is currently sidelined for at least a month with a knee injury, was the most effective pick-and-roll player last season, according to Synergy. He averaged 1.15 points in offense generated for either himself or a teammate each time he ran the pick-and-roll during an injury-shortened regular season. James was second at 1.1. Paul posted a 1.08. Nash had a 1.06. “It’s sort of like a fast break where you get a numbers advantage,” said Garrick Barr, who is the chief executive of Synergy and who previously spent 11 years as the Suns’ video coordinator. “Pick-and-rolls create a halfcourt advantage.”

Well worth the read.

3 Responses to “Abrams on The Oldest Play in Basketball”

  1. Basketballogy Says:

    A worthwhile read indeed, but there are some curious points made in the article.

    (1) “Use of the pick-and-roll rose to 18.6 percent of the league’s total plays last season from 15.6 percent in 2004-5, when Synergy began tracking it.”

    That statement makes it sound like the pick and roll is a successful play that everyone is coming around to using, however…

    (2) The Lakers used the pick and roll less than other teams in the NBA last season.


    (3) The Heat, Spurs, Nets and Knicks used it the most.

    Apparently, the pick and roll isn’t the be all and end all for team success.

    Jerry Sloan is right about the pick and roll, (which isn’t surprising considering how he used it to get to the NBA Finals twice with Malone and Stockton): the pick and roll is effective, it also leaves 3/5 of your team standing around and uninvolved, and that can bite in you in the end.

    Which is why Cleveland, Orlando, Houston and others seem to use plays that rely on multiple picks, including screens off the ball, and involving all 5 guys.

    For example, in the last Rockets vs. Lakers game, the first play the Rockets ran out of the half time break was a quick hitter that befuddled the Lakers defense and got a quick and surprisingly easy score.

    The play had the point guard bring down the ball, running in almost the same lane as the big that inbounded the ball. The rest of the team lined up with a shooter in the right corner, a big on the left elbow, and a forward beyond the arc on the left wing.

    The point guard ran down the court and straight for the right elbow, with the trailing big right behind him. As the PG got to the elbow, the SG in the corner broke for the same spot and took a handoff from the point guard, and turned the corner to the foul line. The trailing big picked off his man and he had a wide open lane all the way to the rim.

    Meanwhile, as this unusual pick and roll was unfolding, the player on the left elbow ran up to the foul line and gave that player a pick off the ball so his teammate could slash in from the arc and fill the left lane, giving the ball handler 2 targets in close proximity to the basket to hit wiht a pass should defense help and close off his drive to the rim.

    It was a very clever play and all the timing involved must have required quite a bit of drilling, but Rick Adelman’s morphing of the screen and roll showed this play isn’t just meat and potatoes when you absolutely need a score, it is something that can be the sizzle on the steak as well.

  2. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    Good insight. I love the pick-and-roll because, as SVG put it, you can’t take away everything. It’s basketball’s ultimate chess match. There are plenty of ways to defend the play (blitz the ball, lock-and-trail, switch, hedge-and-recover), but you still have to pick your poison.

    It’s a great equalizer.

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

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