The way the game of basketball is changing is as clear as ever. The rapid increase in three point attempts and small-ball lineups have become the focal point of every basketball decision-maker’s vision for their team’s future.
However, there is one aspect of what the game that doesn’t get enough publicity of late: the pick and roll. The pick and roll is as common a play as there is at all levels of basketball as it creates space for the ball handler, the screener, and the other three players on the floor.
This past season the Syracuse Orange’s offense showcased constant pick and rolls at the top of the key. The Orange had unlimited spacing with their array of shooters beyond the arc which allowed the ball handler to have multiple options.
The primary ball handler in these pick and rolls was John Gillon who used his small, yet strong, stature to stay low coming off the screen, allowed him to get an extra step on his defender. A common screener for Gillon was Tyler Lydon who had the ability to roll to the rim and pop out for the long range shot.
Another frequent ball handler was Andrew White III who used his lethal three-point shot to keep the defense on their toes. If the defense decided to commit and double White off the screen, the screener would be left alone rolling to the rim.
The other scenario with White as the ball handler would be the defense playing back and leaving White a few inches of separation coming off the screen. As Syracuse fans saw this past year, all White needed was a little bit of space for him to teach the opponent a lesson.
The Orange had multiple options this past season when it came to the pick and roll, but with the departures of Gillon, Lydon, and White, Syracuse will be looking to fill a massive hole in their offense.
So, what do the Orange have to offer next winter?
Well, let’s take a look at the inevitable primary ball-handler for Syracuse in Tyus Battle. Battle is coming off of an up and down season where he showcased his elite athleticism and developing jump shot.
He didn’t have the ball as often as Gillon and White, but there were times where Battle seemed hesitant to attack the rim off of the pick and roll, causing the offense to become stagnant and disoriented.
If Battle wants to be the go-to-go for Syracuse next season he’s going to need to be confident enough to go in the lane and create for not only himself, but his teammates too. He has the talent to create offense, it’s just a question of if he can takeover a role as important as this one.
Battle can’t do it alone, as, well, the pick and roll involves at least two individuals. Taurean Thompson will be Battle’s most viable counterpart due to his size and versatility. Thompson has the ability to pop out for a jump shot, but his craftiness inside is what makes him most dangerous in the pick and roll.
Like Battle, Thompson needs to be more aggressive if he wants to fill Lydon’s shoes next year. His endless arsenal on offense will insert fear in opposing coaches’ eyes if he can learn how to make his teammates better in pick and roll action.
While Battle and Thompson will be the players doing most of the work, the two upcoming sophomores can’t do it alone. Battle’s ball-handling counterparts will include Frank Howard, Howard Washington, and Oshae Brissett.
Howard is an upcoming junior who will most likely start at point guard, so having the confidence in him to run the pick and roll will be important for coach Jim Boeheim. He hasn’t shown consistency on that side of the ball, but if he can improve his shot off the screen then he can help keep the defenders guessing.
Washington and Brissett are both freshmen so there isn’t much experience there, but the Orange are going to need them to make plays when the defense is denying Battle and Howard. Confidence is key in the pick and roll, and there is no time for these freshmen to be hesitant in pressure situations.
The big men that will be helping Thompson in the pick and roll will be Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe. Chukwu didn’t prove much for the Orange last year, but his sheer size is intimidating when a guard sees him coming to set a screen.
Sidibe is a freshman for the Orange next season, but just like Washington and Brissett, Syracuse will be looking for him to be confident while on the floor. Hopefully he can use his athleticism to keep the defense guessing in pick and roll coverage.
Everyone knows that Syracuse is losing a lot of talent next year, and a lot of that talent was vital to their pick and roll success. A lot will be asked from Battle and Thompson, and if they can create space on offense the Orange will be able to get easy looks in the half court.
There aren’t any LeBron James’ or Blake Griffins suiting up for the Orange next year, but the pick and roll can be done by most players if they can do one thing in particular—create space for others.
Hopefully coach Boeheim chose the right guys for that.