The pick and roll is one of the most fundamental plays in all of basketball. It was made famous by John Stockton and Karl Malone in Utah during the 1990’s, and since then has been the backbone of modern offense in the NBA.
There have been many variations of this set, but for the most part it has always involved a guard utilizing a screen from a forward and either using the pick to score or dishing the ball to the big man on the roll. In this era of position-less basketball, there has been a shift to a new version of the old classic: the inverted pick and roll.
Unlike the traditional two man game, this inverted pick and roll has a forward-type as the ball handler and the guard as the screener. It has left teams in a bind. Inverted pick and rolls are a counter to teams going to a “switch everything” defensive strategy.
The two teams that run this dance as well as anyone in the NBA are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The reason these two teams can run this type of offense is because they have forwards who are both elite ball handlers and passers. The Cavs run a LeBron James-Kyrie Irving pick and roll and it forces defenses to pick their poison. Teams that trap LeBron are asking to give up wide-open shots because he is one of the greatest passers in the history of basketball. Indiana opted to switch this action, and poor Jeff Teague was left to the wolves trying to stop the human freight train that is LeBron James. If teams hedge hard out on James he can dump the ball of Irving and let him either rise up for a jumper or scoot the basket. There is a reason that Cleveland ranked third in the NBA in Offensive Rating (110.9) during the regular season, they have two unbelievable offensive talents.
In Milwaukee’s version of the inverted pick and roll, the Bucks rely heavily on their Greek savior Giannis Antetokounmpo to create as the ball handler. The Bucks run their point guard, whether it be Malcolm Brogdon or Matthew Dellavedova, out as the screener and put defenses in a pretzel. There is not a point guard on planet earth that can afford to switch on to Giannis, so teams either trap or hedge onto him to force him to give it up. Delly has shot the reasonably well (36.5% on above the break three point shots) and has some experience being a secondary creator from his time in Cleveland, but Brogdon is the more menacing option. His strength and shooting make him a threat as a roller and leaves defenses scrambling to recover.
A solution that a team like Toronto could go to is to slide a bigger defender like P.J. Tucker or DeMarre Carroll onto Brogdon and stash Kyle Lowry onto Tony Snell to make switching a more viable choice. Snell has shot the ball better this season than he ever did during his time in Chicago, but Lowry is a stronger enough defender that he could easily neutralize him. If Toronto counters with that, look for Snell to become the screener to punish that decision.