RIP Pick and Roll

The Pick and Roll is a basketball staple. Like a ballet, it must be executed perfectly, with precision and grace. And when that happens, it is nearly un-stoppable.

Except… It died. Maybe last year. Maybe a couple of years earlier. For sure right now.

Nobody uses it anymore. And that has consequences for a certain type of player: the scoring power forward.

In Zach Lowe’s latest, he looks at the PnR combo of Lebron James and Kevin Love. Unstoppable? Nope. Teams just switch. It is actually one of the Cavs least effective plays.

Why? Let me count the ways:

2-Way Basketball

Jonathan Tjarks began writing about the importance of 2-way players early last season. His thesis is that basketball is a continuous motion game, with just five players per side. You cannot afford specialists. A team that fields the most 2-way players is going to win over the long haul.

In a remarkable coincidence, the Warriors went all-in on 2-way play last year. And won the Championship. Who got benched during that historic campaign? Elite PnR-man David Lee.

The NBA has a number of outstanding PnR power forwards, including Kevin Love. But they give up so much defensively that it doesn’t make sense to keep them on the floor.

3-pt Efficiency

PnR is designed to get very efficient 2-pt shots.  Like 55% conversion, for example. But modern 3-pt shooters stroke it at close to 40%, for an effective shooting percentage of 60%.

Modern D

PnR relies on isolation – it is a dance with 4 players. What if the other 3 defenders help? The latest defense rules allow teams to help, effectively using zone principles.


The future of 1-way power forwards looks a lot like the role David Lee is playing in Dallas now. (Also, Mo Speights in Oakland.) Come off the bench, defend against second-tier players, get buckets, sit back down. This is not max-contract level stuff. In fact, it is way down the salary tree.

(BTW – this is also the fate of mid-range shooters. Come in and gun while the 3-pt-shooting starters rest.)

The other option, honestly, is to just convert them to centers. At least half the teams in the league have a “defensive” center who is okay at defense, and awful at offense. They end up being big bodies who get in the way a bit,and absorb some physical punishment. Just as Dallas is now experimenting with Dirk at center, it makes sense for at least some teams to choose offense over defense.