Eleven days into the WNBA season, it’s a little early to be drawing any real conclusions (although the ‘Minnesota good’, ‘San Antonio bad’, and ‘What the hell is going on in Phoenix?’ hot-takes are already emerging). So we’re going to take a look at one of the key building-blocks of virtually every modern offense in professional basketball. The pick-and-roll – or even just the pick – is an incredibly simple concept. You put a teammate in the way of your defender, and then force the defense to deal with the problems that creates.
We don’t see quite as much ‘true’ pick-and-roll in the WNBA as in the NBA, where a big sets a screen for a ballhandler, then immediately barrels down the lane looking to receive a pass for an easy score. That’s probably because it’s slightly more difficult to gain the full advantage. If DeAndre Jordan finds a sliver of room, Chris Paul tosses the ball near the rim and it’s a dunk; if Rebekkah Brunson finds that same space, Lindsay Whalen still needs a lane to get her the ball.
But we still see plenty of it, and plenty of success:
And we see a whole hell of a lot of pick-and-pop, or pick-and-amble-around-outside-looking-for-something-else-to-do.
The most interesting elements come in all the different ways teams try to defend the pick-and-roll (or just the on-ball screen, considering the defensive team doesn’t initially know whether the screener will roll, pop, or do something else). In that video above, San Antonio tried to trap ballhandler Erin Phillips, and she made the pass to the wide open Plenette Pierson for the finish. In an ideal world Jayne Appel-Marinelli was probably expected to get there quicker to help, but this is San Antonio we’re talking about. Literally a couple of minutes later they tried something different on essentially the same play, and that got beaten as well: