P&R and Winning: Can Pick and Roll Help you Win games?

Written by: Chris Hungerford



Time to read 10 min

Team offense in basketball games consists of a collection of offensive actions carried out with the assistance of two or more players. Of these activities, the most regularly used in the last decade is the on-ball screen called the “pick and roll.” This study aimed to examine all of the pick and rolls conducted in the Euroleague championship from all of the 24 participating teams and to review the possible relationships between success in the pick and roll and the overall success of the teams.

For this particular study, 12,376 picks and rolls from 502 matches were examined and classified in classifications according to the end result of the offensive possession.

The results showed that the most efficient type of pick-and-roll offense was when a shot was attempted after 2 passes from the pick-and-roll event, succeeded by the screener’s shot when he rolled to the basket. Additionally, straight regression analysis confirmed that pick and roll effectiveness can predict the final order of the teams.

Conclusively, coaches of the high-level European clubs must be focused on training the players to the most efficient aspects of the pick-and-roll offense, so that the chances of winning the championship are maximized that way.

Basketball is defined as an invasion team sport, where two teams dispute on a common field, and the main objectives are to score baskets, or points, and to prevent the opponent from scoring baskets through individual, group, and team defense. 

Among these team actions, the better the combined organization between players, the higher the probability of winning. Additionally, basketball is a team game lacking various types of interplay, structured or not, for both defense and offense actions. More secondary plays of an attacker-defender game, 1-on-1 plays endure in basketball. Yet, as the game progresses over time, more complicated forms are being recognized.

In the existing study, a situation that involves more factors will be analyzed, particularly a 2-on-2 offense-defense interplay in which, in addition to the offensive ball-handler, a second player is placing himself in the trajectory of the defender of his ball-handling teammate (making a screen for him). In this way, the screener is helping the ball handler to gain an unobstructed/better/easier route to the basket. 

This action, one of the simplest forms of two players working together in a basketball game, is usually called the pick and roll. 
This action is not just providing a ball-handler a better shot, but, also it can lead to creating a good pass to the screener.

This form of offensive tactic is used on every level of basketball competition from pickup games in the hood to the Euroleague and the NBA. Regardless of the offensive system used by any team, the majority of the offensive possessions include some type of the pick and roll action...whenever it is at the beginning, the middle, or at the very end of the play. It is safe to say, based on prior research, that the P&R is perhaps the most-used play during a game in modern basketball. It is probably the only offensive factor that is present as an indicator of performance in any type of match. In recent years, there have been numerous efforts to analyze tendencies in basketball so the numbers are more looked at, overlooked, analyzed, and gathered more than ever.

The results suggest that the better the offense and defense are designed, the bigger chances of winning there are. In other words, if the team concept is putting its players into situations where the players are taking high percentage shots (3pt, layups, and free throw shots) and are making opponents take highly contested 2-point shots, the odds for victory are bigger.

As the research goes on, the best basketball action that is going to put the players into the position to take these high-percentage shots (directly or indirectly) is the pick-and-roll action. 

Additionally, if the team does not use pick and roll action or use it in a poor way, the chances of losing the game are getting bigger.

The Method of Research

The specimen consisted of the 24 teams that played in the 2012-2013 season of the Euroleague Basketball Competition.

This league is the highest level of competition in European basketball and second in the world, right after the NBA. P&R study was performed for all of the games played during the season, but the number of games was not the same for all teams.

Euroleague works with a group system. 24 teams start in 4 groups of 6 teams and all of the teams play against each other in the first part of the competition, home and away. After the group phase, there is the top 16 so now teams are split into 2 groups of 8 and play a total of 14 games in two rounds. The top 4 teams in each group qualify for the Euroleague playoffs.

The best team is playing the best of 5 series, and the winners are qualifying for the "Final 4". This is the 1 game event, winners are playing the finals and the losers are playing for the 3rd place.

A total of 502 games were played and analyzed for this research and Synergy Sports was providing us with the statistical data.

All of the P&Rs that were used and finished with the offensive team keeping possession were analyzed. A total of 12,376 P&R plays were chosen and analyzed. The analysis was based on the finish of offensive possession, with P&R plays categorized into the next categories:

(a) Ball Handler takes a shot, 
(b) A shot from the Perimeter by a third player after just one pass,
(c) A shot from the Perimeter by a third player after two passes made 
(d) Rolling screener takes a shot 
(e) Screener Pops out and takes a long-range shot

For each of the 5 categories listed above, the shot was classified into the following subcategories:

  1. Made Layup (short-range shot)
  2. And 1 Action (made a free throw)
  3. Missed Layup (close-range shot)
  4. 2 free throws foul
  5. a turnover (lost a ball
  6. mid-range jumper made after the dribble
  7. And 1 Action after a mid-range shot foul (made a free throw)
  8. Miss a Mid Range jumper (with or without dribble)
  9. 2 free throws after a foul on the mid-range jumper
  10. 3 pt shot made (with or without dribble)
  11. And 1 Action after the 3 pt shot made
  12. 3 pt miss
  13. any of the above-made actions but after the pass or an extra pass produced with the P&R action which is a primary action.

For the statistical study, the cross-tabulation report was used for the categorization of the different types of offenses and attempts. Sums mean and percentiles are given. Additionally, a Pearson Linear Correlation study was conducted for the initial examination of the relationship between P&R effectiveness and the final classification of the teams, and also, step-by-step regression analysis was used to explore the possible power to predict the final team classification based on P&R effectiveness.


In Table 1, the results of the P&R in all 5 selected categories for the 24 teams are arranged. A disproportional link between P&R use and the points acquired from each category was recognized.

In Tables 2 and 3, the results of the P&R used for each separate section according to the player who took the shot (a ball-handler, a receiver of the first pass after the P&R, a receiver of the second pass after the P&R, a roll man, a pop man) and the means of execution as a percentage of total attempts are shown.

In Table 4, the analysis of the 24 teams that participated in the Euroleague during the 2012- 2013 season is given. The table also holds the percentage of P&R accomplishments for each team.

This conclusion shows that the final classification is positively correlated with the effectiveness of P&R use. In this case, additional research on the relationship between the two variables was needed. The negative correspondence is shown due to the ascending way in which the team classification is numbered.

The need to set screens while the offensive play has been noticed from the earliest stages of basketball. The building pillars of old gyms were the first screen ever used and those structures were the idea of how the game is going to evolve. The ball handler would see where the pillars were and he would lead his defender right at the column to gain a clear path to the basket.

Even though the game has evolved and all with the players playing it, many things have changed about basketball tactics. Players now are becoming more athletic with more solid technical skills. Coaches over the years have shown means to use the P&R as the main offensive pattern at many different levels of competition. The pressure to increase the effectiveness of the P&R is more than clear.

Therefore, it could be witnessed that the Euroleague Champions, Olympiacos, have used the P&R as the closing offensive play in 41% of its total possessions. This conclusion is supported by the info that approximately 35% of the effective offense used to create spacing among the top 8 national teams in the 2008 Olympics were P&R related.

Consequently, it is necessary to analyze which P&R options are most effective. Additionally, we would like to know whether the effectiveness of the use of this offensive tactic can predict the final order in any basketball competition.

Shots by a ball-handler after the P&R are the most commonly used P&R tactic, with about 43% of shots following the P&R being taken by the ball-handler.

Players who are spot up and get the first or second pass are taking 28% and 7% of the shots following the P&R. The next offensive option, the screener will take 16% and 6% of the shots following the P&R when he rolls in or pops out of the basket.

Those conclusions appear right. For the most part, coaches demand their players to be aggressive and attack the basket on every occasion. This tactic often makes the ball handler to get a shot following the P&R. The tactic also reveals that a pass to the perimeter (35%) occurs in a shot more frequently than a pass to the screener (22%). Defensive players continuously tend to cover the player nearest to the basket first. However, the 5 P&R execution subcategories are not fairly effective.

Definitely, the ball handler consumes about 43% of P&R plays, but this estimates for only 34.60% of the total points scored from P&R plays. A comparable trend is seen when the screener goes apart from the basket (pop). Although, the latter does not show a big difference in its appearance and the points for which it accounts (6.34% usage with 6.20% of the total points scored). On the other hand, the highest percentage of points is scored when a shot is made after one pass to the perimeter (30.90% of the total points scored and 28.40% of the P&R plays). After 2 passes, we may recognize alike results (8.60% of the points scored from 6.79% of the PNR plays).

A pass to the screener when he dives to the basket in the point produces 19.70% of points scored matching the P&R and accounts for 15.62% of P&R plays. Therefore, it is clear that it is more efficient for a team to pass to the perimeter (after 1 or 2 passes) or the screener when he goes close to the rim. Additionally, for the means of execution, we observe the following:

  • the ball handler is most effective when he drives the ball to the basket (10.85%), when he goes to the line for 2 free throws (8.55%), when he takes a mid-range 2- point shot (7.33%) or a 3-point shot (7.33%). Nevertheless, such tactics also lead to the more turnovers, allowing 22.95% of the possessions to be turned over to the opponent;
  • the perimeter player who gets the pass for a shot finishes the play more effectively with a spot-up 3- or 2- point shot (17.8% and 8.59%, respectively). Such tactics also point to the fewest turnovers
  • for shots after an extra pass (2 passes), a spot up 3- point shot is the most popular tactic (23.78%) with the spot-up 2-point shot the next most popular (8.68%)
  • the biggest percentage of success happens when a pass is made to the screener who rolls in. In such circumstances, the player converts the 2-point shot during a drive at a 41.65% rate, is awarded free throws 4.65% of the time, and draws a simple shooting foul 13.49% of the time. Contrarily, he misses the shot 27.70% of the time and turns the ball over during 12.56% of the possessions
  • in the last subcategory, a screener who pops out will make a 2-point shot 20% of the time, and a 3-point shot 11.34% of the time. In total, the most effective form of P&R attack is a pass to the screener when he rolls in (59.74%) followed by a shot after 2 passes (44.35%), a shot from the spot up player after 1 pass (42.68%), a shot from a pop-out situation (37.07%) and when the ball handler shoots (36%).

The goal of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of the P&R when used to end a possession. All such offensive plays used by the 24 teams that participated in the 2012- 2013 season were examined. 

The results of this research can be generalized for such competitions and high-level teams as all analogous possessions were used instead of sub-samples. The analysis of 502 games and 12,376 P&R plays can provide an almost safe generalization of the outcomes. 

Conclusively, plays that end with the screener’s rolling in the shot and those that end with 2 passes following the P&R are the most efficient uses of the P&R. The least successful use of the P&R is when the ball handler shoots.

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