How to defend and SHUT DOWN the pick and roll -- 4 types of coverages

The pick and roll is one of the most commonly used offenses throughout basketball. You’ll see the pick and roll run with 3rd graders all the way up to the NBA. This offense is commonly used because it forces the defense to make a decision every time a pick and roll is executed. Without proper defensive coverages, the pick and roll can generate easy looks for the offense.

Because of this, you must practice and drill the different pick and roll coverages with your team, or they will continually give up easy looks. The type of coverage you decide upon will vary depending on your opponent and the personnel you have on the floor.


Switching the Pick and Roll

This is one of the most common defensive coverages for ball screens. Simply put, the defender guarding the ball and the defender guarding the screener will switch who they are guarding when the screen is executed. This typically allows the defense to prevent any straight line drives to the rim because the defender guarding the screener can pick up the ball-handler as soon as the screen is executed.

When to Use This Coverage

This coverage can be used if you have versatile defenders that can guard multiple positions on the floor. It can also be used if the pick and roll is between two guards or two bigs (not as common with two bigs).

When Not to Use This Coverage

You don’t want to switch the pick and roll if you have defenders that are not comfortable, or able, to guard multiple positions on the floor. For example, if the pick and roll is between the point guard and the center, a switch can create two big mismatches. You’ll end up with your center guarding their point guard on-the-ball, and your point guard trying to stop their center rolling to the basket.

Coaching Pointers

Be sure that the defender getting screened goes under the screen so that the screener isn’t open on the roll. Also, you want to make sure that the defender that is switching onto the ball does not come out too high on the ball-handler and allow him to turn the corner and end up putting your defense at a disadvantage. Be sure that he stays level with the screener.


Hedge and Recover

Hedge and recover is another common coverage that defenses use to guard the pick and roll. The hedge is executed by the screener’s defender -- he jumps out at the ball-handler as he is using the screen to slow him down. As that is happening, the defender guarding the ball can go over or underneath the screen (depending on how good of a shooter the ball-handler is), and returns back to his defending the ball-handler before he can turn the corner off of the screen. As the defender gets back to the ball-handler, the defensive player that hedged out will recover back to his man.

When to Use This Coverage

This coverage can be used in many different instances throughout a game, and is probably the most commonly-used coverage that you’ll see in the high school game. Use this coverage if the ball-handler is very quick and good at turning the corner, but not as good of a shooter. You can also use this coverage if you have versatile big men that can hedge out hard on the ball-handler to stop his momentum, and also recover to their man quickly.

When Not to Use This Coverage

This coverage can hurt your team if you have slow bigs that struggle to hedge out on the ball-handler, instead allowing him to turn the corner to the basket. If you have big men that just can’t stop the ball-handler using the screen, this probably won’t be a good coverage for you.

Coaching Pointers

The man hedging out on the ball-handler cannot let there be any space between him and the screener as he hedges out. If he allows space there, the ball-handler can split the hedge and attack the rim.


Blitzing the Pick and Roll

Blitzing the pick and roll is a coverage in which both the defender guarding the screener and the defender guarding the ball-handler execute a double-team of the ball-handler immediately off of the screen. This also has to be executed with help defense in mind, as you will be putting the rest of your defenders at a disadvantage by executing the double-team.

When to Use This Coverage

This coverage can be used if you are playing against a guard that is looking to attack the rim first and pass second on the screen and roll. By trapping the ball-handler and forcing him to make a decision that isn’t shooting the ball, you can frustrate him and force him into turnovers that he doesn’t usually make off of a screen.

When Not to Use This Coverage

Don’t trap the ball-handler if you have a big that is too slow to effectively trap the ball-handler. If the ball-handler can split the trap easily, your team is at a distinct disadvantage. You also don’t want to use this coverage if you have poor help-side defense. If the ball-handler passes out of the trap and your help-side defense isn’t in a good position, there will be several spots on the floor left vulnerable from your trap.

Coaching Pointers

Your help-side defense has to be in check for this coverage to work. Otherwise - the screener can roll back with a free lane to the basket. Most double-teams on a ball screen should take place on the sideline, and typically you won’t want to use this coverage in the middle of the floor.


ICE the Ball Screen

When you choose to ICE a ball screen in a side pick and roll, you want to have your on-ball defender force the ball-handler to the sideline, away from the screen in the middle of the floor. You don’t want the ball-handler getting to the middle of the floor, so your on-ball defender must defend the ball-handler on their high hip, forcing them to the sideline. As this action is taking place, your defender guarding the screener must position himself along the lane, parallel to the baseline, helping “corral” the ball-handler should he need to help his teammate guarding the ball, but also close enough to his man (the screener) where he can recover if the ball is passed to him.

When to Use This Coverage

This coverage should be used if your team is struggling to guard the sideline pick and roll. It does an excellent job of keeping the ball-handler in check and out of the middle of the floor, where guards are usually most comfortable, and have many more options.

When Not to Use This Coverage

The one shot that your defense is usually most susceptible to giving up when you choose to ICE ball screens is a long mid-range jumper from the screener, or sometimes a mid-range pull-up from the ball-handler if your big’s foot speed is a little slow. However, long two-point shots is the shot that defenses are typically most comfortable giving up, especially from a big man. This is a coverage that is even successful in the NBA because not a lot of bigs hit long two-pointers at a high percentage, so using this coverage for your high school team will usually yield good results.

Coaching Pointers

Help side defense is always important, but if your help side defense isn’t placed properly during this coverage, your defense can be susceptible to giving up easy shots.


No matter the coverage you choose to use to defend the pick and roll, you must drill these coverages before you decide to try and execute them in a game, or your defense will look silly and you’ll give up easy buckets.

Another major key for defensive coverages is communication. Not only you, the coach, communicating to your team which coverages they should be using, but your team communication with one another when ball screens are taking place. Without proper communication, your defense will have break downs on ball screens and you’ll be giving up easy points that could be avoided.


Learn More About How These Coverages Fit In With Your Man-To-Man Defense

Ball screen coverages are just a small piece of your overall man-to-man defense. If your basic defensive fundamentals like communication, staying in a stance, and being in help side are lacking, chances are that you will have a struggling defense. Then, when you factor in post defense, transition defense, taking charges, rebounding, closeouts, stopping penetration, and more, your head may be spinning on how to teach it all.

Fortunately, Jim Huber's Man to Man Defense 4-pack DVD set is perfect for breaking down every aspect of the man-to-man defense, and how you can teach it to your team.

Which ball screen coverages have you seen success with? Have you tried all of these coverages? Let us know in the comments.





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