Countering the deadly two-man game
Having learned about the effectiveness of the pick-and-roll, how does a team counter this simple but efficient play? The answer for the defensive team is unfortunately less straightforward, with terms such as ‘ice’ and ‘blitz’ making it even tougher to understand your options. The most basic way to comprehend this is to understand that you have to sacrifice a particular option that is least favorable to your opponents. The options take three primary forms.
Going over the screen: This is the simplest yet least common strategy. Too many young players give up before they even reach the screen and go under. You have to fight your way through the pick, and if you are able to do so, you effectively kill the pick-and-roll before it even begins. You can ‘ice’ a middle screen by overplaying the ball-handler and forcing him or her to the baseline, where your post player is able to help. Of course, a well-set screen can sometimes nullify this option.
Switching: This is often seen in pick-up basketball and casual settings, where teamwork is generally poorer or less complex. This gives the offense what they want, by switching the big onto the guard and vice versa. However, if you have versatile players or if there is little difference in sizes and skill sets, this is not necessarily a bad option. The Warriors famously used this option to guard LeBron James in the NBA Finals, before collapsing on drives or closing out on kick-outs to the perimeter.
Going under the screen: This is commonly seen at the professional level, but it is not as easy as just going under the screen. Although this can be a lethal mistake against deadeye shooters, well-coached teams are able to ‘hedge’ or ‘show’, with bigs coming out to slow ball-handlers or to force them wide while defensive guards recover by going under. An aggressive version of this is the ‘blitz’, where the two defensive players combine to try and trap the ball-handler, containing both the drive and passing lanes.
Other options: These involve some variants of the above situations. For instance, some NBA teams play ‘zone up’, parking the big man in the paint and preventing both the drive and the roll. This opens up the space for midrange pull-ups, which teams may be willing to give up in comparison to the more efficient close-range shot or corner three off the drive-and-kick.