The pick and roll is the most popular action in the NBA. It is also one of the most dominant. To compete for a championship, every team needs to have a good pick and roll duo. The Golden State Warriors ran it the least in the NBA at just 12.1 times per game on average. However, they were the best at it, converting 0.99 points per pick and roll possession last season. It is more important to be efficient than to do it in high volume, as exemplified by the Warriors’ dominance over the last five years. Every pick and roll needs a great ball-handler and a great big man, and the best teams over the always have both.
Best Pick and Roll Pairings in the NBA
10. De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III
This young pairing is all about potential. De’Aaron Fox was a finalist for the most improved player award last season and almost led the Sacramento Kings to a playoff appearance. Marvin Bagley showed promise in his rookie season in the league. He can provide great vertical spacing with his leaping skills and agility. He can get up to his peak vertical quicker than most bigs and seems to come down faster too, allowing him to jump again faster. Fox has infamous speed with the ball, which makes him a threat to drive on every pick and roll. He’s also improved as a shooter off the dribble too which stops defenders going under his screens as he can pull up from deep.
9. Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson
These young guys would be higher on the list if they had any game time together at all. They are about to be a difficult pairing to deal with. Zion Williamson has generational talent and athleticism never seen before for a player his size. He can set a hard screen and roll to the rim like an unstoppable train. Lonzo Ball is a passing savant who can find his teammates anywhere on the floor. He hasn’t been the best shooter in his young career but running pick and roll with Williamson is sure to give him a lot of open looks. The other player who is sure to benefit is J.J. Redick. Williamson’s gravity will drag help defenders from all over the floor. If Redick’s man foolishly leaves him open then Ball will find him for three-pointers. The New Orleans Pelicans are going to be dangerous.
8. Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic
The Portland Trail Blazers made it to the conference finals last season despite not having Jusuf Nurkic. The big man from Bosnia sets some of the hardest screens in the whole league. He can roll hard to the rim and finish. He’s also shown the ability to play out of the short roll when Damian Lillard is trapped as the ball-handler. Lillard is one of the best deep range shooters in the league. He is a threat from anywhere inside the half-court line, meaning that Nurkic can set the screen very high, giving Lillard a lot of room to operate in. He is an absolute nightmare for big men trying to contain him. Once he turns the corner it is almost always a bucket.
7. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis
Another pairing that hasn’t played together yet but is certain to dominate. Luka Doncic has shown he can score from anywhere on the floor. He has also shown off some impressive playmaking skills by averaging six assists per game last season. Kristaps Porzingis is a unique player because of his physical build. He is able to catch the ball up high and keep it high away from the defenders to finish at the rim. What really sets this duo apart is Porzingis’ ability to pick and pop to the three-point line. He shot 39.5 percent from behind the arc in the 48 games he played in the 2017-18 season. The Dallas Mavericks could be a playoff team next season if this pick and roll duo lives up to its potential.
6. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
This is a tried and tested partnership that has carried the Utah Jazz into the playoffs for the last two seasons. They rely heavily on the Donovan Mitchell pick and roll out top, especially in the post-season. Rudy Gobert is his favorite player to run it with, no doubt because of his ability to set solid screens and dunk on most players. Mitchell is a creative force out of pick and roll situations. He can pass, drive or shoot. With the addition of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic in the offseason, that will ease the burden on Mitchell slightly. This should hopefully lead to his efficiency increasing despite a decrease in volume.
5. LeBron James and Anthony Davis
This pairing has the highest ceiling of any pick and roll duo on this list. LeBron James is one of the best pick and roll ball handlers in the game. He can get to the rim at will and draw fouls whenever he wants. He is also one of the best at reading the defense and finding the open shooter on the weak side corner for an open three. Anthony Davis is arguably the best roll man in the league. He can roll hard to the rim, roll short and facilitate, catch lobs, make mid-range jumpers, floaters, and even post up if nothing comes of the pick and roll and he gets a mismatch from a switch. The Los Angeles Lakers should hope that James and Davis have good chemistry and can make it work so they can compete for a championship.
4. Trae Young and John Collins
The Atlanta Hawks have got themselves an elite pick and roll duo in Trae Young and John Collins. Young is already one of the best passers in the league, especially out of pick and roll. He can pull up from deep like Lillard. He can also sling passes to the weak side corner, with either hand, like LeBron James. In addition to those attributes, he’s shown an ability to get to the rim and finish craftily like Kyrie Irving. To pair with him, they have Collins who is a freak athlete. He plays above the rim with superior athleticism and agility to most other big men in the league. This team will make the playoffs in a weak eastern conference if Collins and Young stay healthy.
3. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic
Some people would have the Denver Nuggets young duo as number one on this list because of their unbelievable chemistry. They seem to always know what each other is thinking at all times. Jamal Murray has a very tight handle, enabling him to split screens at a high level. He can get to the rim or stop on a dime and shoot the jumper. Nikola Jokic is nothing short of a basketball genius. His creativity for passing makes him one of the hardest to guard big men in the NBA. He has a great three-point shot as well as crafty ‘flip’ shots which he can get over any defender. Combine those skills with his size and strength and that makes him a top-three center in the NBA. What makes this pick and roll so special is their ability to improvise. Jokic will instantly rescreen for Murray if nothing opens up on the first pick. They can even switch roles and have Murray screen for Jokic and this works just as well because of their unbelievable chemistry.
2. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green
The Golden State Warriors run pick and roll least in the entire NBA but they are the most efficient at it. The only times when the Warriors actually run it is in semi-transition. Draymond Green will set the ball screen very high for Stephen Curry who will then splash from way downtown with just a sliver of daylight. If he’s not open for the quick three then Curry will quickly shovel the ball to Green who is the best player in the league in a short roll situation. He excels in four on three situations that Curry generates with his massive gravity. Kevon Looney has made a living from catching lobs from Green out of the short roll. It also gives Klay Thompson plenty of spot-up jumper opportunities from the corners where he feasts. This pairing seems to complement each other in a way that no other pairing does.
1. James Harden and Clint Capela
The Houston Rockets style of play means they run a high volume of pick and rolls every game. James Harden and Clint Capela are more of a traditional pick and roll pairing than Curry and Green. Harden is a crafty guard who is unstoppable one on one. Capela is a tall center who catches lobs and finishes them at high efficiency. When the pick and roll was invented, Harden and Capela are what was imagined. Harden is such a dominant offensive player that he cannot be stopped by just one defender. The big man defender must step up otherwise Harden will knock down one of his patented step-back three-pointers. However, if the big man steps up just an inch too far to contain Harden, he will throw the ball up high in the vicinity of the rim, and Capela will finish it at the rim. This play is so dominant that teams have resorted to employing very unorthodox tactics in order to try to contain it. But even something as insane as guarding Harden from behind didn’t work.
Pick and Roll in the NBA
The pick and roll may be the most popular play in the NBA but there are so many ways to run it. The top three teams in this list all run it in totally different ways because of the variations in their personnel. Despite the differences, the basic pick and roll action will be sure to remain one of the most used plays in the NBA because of its simplicity and effectiveness.
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