Modern Moves: Chris Paul’s pick-and-roll snake


Pick-and-roll defense in the NBA has one main goal: keep the guard out of the middle of the floor.

The invention of “ice” defense on side pick-and-rolls is entirely geared toward this objective. Defenders will jump toward the middle of the floor well before screens actually arrive in order to lock off that area and force the offensive player toward the baseline, where he can use the sideline and baseline as extra defenders, restricting the space with which the guard has to work.

As defenses have become more complex over the last decade or so, offenses have had to adapt to find new ways to take advantage. Chris Paul has become a master of getting to the middle of the floor no matter what, exerting immense pressure on the defense as they scramble to take away his options and the weapons around him. Paul “snakes” the pick-and-roll, flipping the screen and taking the open space the defense provides. But instead of trapping himself along the baseline, he crosses back over toward the middle of the floor to get into that dangerous area.

Teams like to combat the ice coverage by flipping the screen, as Clint Capela does in the above clip. When Capela flips to a flat screen — in which his feet are parallel to the baseline — Paul can get in front of his guy and cross over to the middle of the floor. Once he does, there’s perhaps nobody more dangerous in the league than Paul in those areas because he’s a lethal mid-range jumper, in addition to being a fantastic passer.

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Once again, watch how Bryn Forbes jumps over the screen before Capela gets there, making it easy for the Swiss center to flip the screen around and get Paul moving toward the basket. Even though the Spurs initially keep Paul out of the middle of the floor, their drop coverage gives him a lot of space to work with between the screen and eventual contact with the defensive big man. All it takes is one left-to-right dribble for Paul to get to the free-throw line, where three San Antonio defenders crash in on him to try to deter the jumper.

When teams bring up their big men to try to combat Paul’s ability to get back to the middle of the floor, it usually doesn’t work very well. Paul’s handle is too tight and big men are usually much too slow to be able to contain him toward the sideline.

As Paul comes around the screen, DeMarcus Cousins meets him north of the elbow, lunging well toward the 3-point line to try to deter Paul from going to the middle of the floor. Paul doesn’t let that stop him, using his superior lateral quickness and ability to handle the ball under pressure to get to his spot. Once he’s there, there’s not much Sacramento can do defensively; the Kings either commit to him and give up a dunk to DeAndre Jordan, rotate over and give up an open 3-pointer or they let him take the mid-range jumper. They played the percentages and gave up the mid-ranger, but that shot from Paul is very efficient.

Guards will also snake back across the paint when defenses implement “weak” coverage, in which defensive guards will jump the screen again to force the point guard toward his weak hand, usually his left hand. Guys like Paul and Kyrie Irving are excellent at making defenses pay for that coverage, snaking back toward their stronger hand.

The primary defender jumps above the screen in a very similar to way the ice coverage we saw earlier, giving up the left side of the floor in order to keep Paul and Irving from going to their right. Both all-world guards take the space given to them, and then cross back over toward their right, keeping their defender behind them while they probe the defense and make the correct decision for their team.

There are plenty of guards in the league who have implemented this into their games and Paul certainly wasn’t the first to do so, but he’s mastered it in such a way that any pick-and-roll he doesn’t snake is an aberration from his norm.

Next: The Encyclopedia of Modern Moves

Snaking back toward the middle of the floor or to get to the offensive guard’s stronger hand puts so much pressure on the defense that it’s become the go-to move in pick-and-roll for a lot of high-level primary ball handlers. With so many teams using the same pick-and-roll principles, these guards have figured out different ways to get to the positions on the court where they’re most effective. As guards like Paul and Irving spread various techniques throughout the league, defenses will adjust to the new order, spurring a whole new era of offensive and defensive advancement.