Pick and roll (On Ball Screens) Against a zone

One of the most common offensive situations used at the moment is the “pick and roll” (or “on ball” screen), particularly in the middle of the court. Whilst this has traditionally been used against man to man defence, it can be equally effective against a zone defence.

Initial Alignment

One of the most important aspects for any offence to be successful is for there to be good “spacing” between players.

With an on ball screen in the middle of the court, spacing can have a player in each of the corners and also on one wing.

To get into this alignment early in the offence:

  • 1 passes to the wing and runs to the opposite corner
  • 5 sets a down screen for 3, who cuts to receive a pass from 2
  • 4 lifts to the wing, 1 and 2 are in the corners.

Setting the On Ball Screen

In a zone, the defence will often not have a defender on the screener. In this situation, 3 must be prepared to shoot as they use 5’s screen.

Alternatively, 3 can look to penetrate into the key:

  • If x2 stops the dribble, pass to 4 (black)
  • If x3 moves to help, pass to 1 (red)
  • Pass to 5, if x4 moves to defend, second pass to 2 in the corner (blue)

Creating 2x1 Opportunity

A pass to 4, creates a situation of 2x1 between the offensive players 1 and 4 against defender x3.

If x3 rotates to the wing, a quick pass to 1, forces x5 to rotate to the corner. 1 must be prepared to drive, as this is clearly a mismatch.

Read the Defence

If 1 does not drive, 5 can cut to the basket and can:

  • “Seal” x3 as they rotate back to the key;
  • “Seal” x4 before they can rotate across the key.

Particularly once the screen has been used effectively, the defence may lift the high post defender (x2) to “hedge” or even switch at the screening action.

When the defence does this, a quick pass to Player 4 again creates the 2x1 situation between 4 and 1 and defender x3.

If x3 rotates to Player 4, x5 must close out to Player 1. This creates a great opportunity for Player 1 to penetrate or for Player 5 to seal either x3 or x4.

Player 3 can also pass to Player 5 as the cut to the basket. Often to make this pass, Player 3 should separate (dribble away) from the defenders.

Using a Re-Screen

If x1 goes “under” the screen, Player 5 should turn to “re-screen”, allowing Player 3 to change direction and penetrate to the elbow.

If x2 rotates to guard Player 3, a pass to Player 4 again creates the 2x1 situation with Player 4 and 1 against defender x3.

If x4 rotates to stop the penetration, a pass to Player 2 creates a shot or an opportunity for Player 2 to drive as x5 rotates to defend the corner.

Player 5 can “seal” x3, rather than simply cutting to the basket.

If x5 rotates to stop penetration, this creates a mismatch with Player 3 possibly being able to drive past x5. Player 3 could also pass to Player 5 as they “seal” x3.

When Defence force sideline

An increasingly common tactic is for the defender to force the dribbler away from the screen. x1 stands next to the screener, facing 3 – making it impossible for 3 to use the screen.

In “man to man” whoever is defending the screener (5) would move to the basket to help guard any penetration. In zone defence, no defender specifically guards the screener.

The screener faces the basket, making contact with x1 with the lower body. 3 penetrates, and 5 cuts into the key.

This form of defending the ball screen can be particularly effective closer to the sideline. When in this position, 3 should retreat dribble toward the middle of the court, 5 re-establishes position and then Player 3 drives at the basket.

3 must make sure that 5 has established position before driving, otherwise 5 is likely to be called out for an offensive blocking foul.

As demonstrated, the on-ball screen can create multiple scoring opportunities against a zone defence. Often the “second pass” is crucial in creating scoring opportunities as the zone will make an initial rotation effectively but a second rotation will often create mismatch opportunities.

For example, Zeljko Obradovic in his clinic Match Up Offence, which is available on FIBA’s YouTube Channel.