The Best Pick-and-Roll Players in the NBA
One of the coolest features within NBA.com's Stats page is the ability to sort by play type. You can look at just about every type of play and look at a player's production or efficiency in that kind of possession.
This includes transition, isolation, and post ups, among other staples of NBA offense. Probably the most popular of these is the pick-and-roll.
Pick-and-rolls are such a large part of NBA offenses today. It's taken over isolations and post ups that were much more prevalent in the days of the great NBA bigs. As such, it's important to have players who can execute in the pick-and-roll.
So, which players -- as either ball-handlers or rollers -- have most efficiently executed their team's pick-and-roll offense so far this season?
Each of these players has a usage rate of at least 26.5%, and four of five own a rate north of 30%. However, there is a distinct difference in pick-and-roll frequency between the trio of Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, and James Harden, and the pairing of Kawhi Leonard and Bradley Beal.
While Lillard, Harden, and DeRozan all own a pick-and-roll frequencies of 39.2%, 38.4% and 40.7%, respectively, Leonard and Beal operate off of a pick-and-roll on just 24% and 24.8% of their possessions. So, although they less frequently utilize screens, they are still as effective when they do get the opportunities.
It turns out that the most efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler is the most efficient shooter, as Lillard leads the group of five with an effective field goal percentage of 54.7% in pick-and-roll situations. He also stands out for his low turnover rate, which sits at just 9.8%.
Beal exhibits the same level of ball security and nearly the same level of shooting (54.5% effective field goal percentage) as Lillard, but he lacks in free throw frequency (10.6%) and shooting foul frequency (7.3%). Leonard's turnover frequency is slightly higher, at 11%, but he tends to get to the line more often given his 19.2% free throw frequency and 15.8% shooting foul rate.
If we're talking getting to the line, DeRozan's definitely the best. His shooting foul frequency is 17%, and his and-one frequency stands at 2.8% -- the highest of the five. For that reason, he averages 10.7 points on just 7.6 field goal attempts off the pick-and-roll.
In terms of raw points per game (11.6), Harden comes in second in the NBA on such plays. But, he lacks in efficiency due to a high turnover rate (21.5%) and a low score frequency (44.2%). His volume and ability to draw fouls keep him in the top five. Harden draws a shooting foul on 16.6% of his possessions while averaging 7.2 field goal attempts per contest via the pick-and-roll.
Unsurprisingly, all five of these players primarily play the center position. As a matter of fact, each of them stand at least 6'10" tall and meet the qualification of at least 50 such pick-and-roll possessions.
Rudy Gobert is far and away the best of the five on a per-possession basis, at 1.53 points per possession. He has been a part of the pick-and-roll on just 17.8% of his possessions, but he's achieved this level of efficiency by shooting 80% scoring on 78.2% of the opportunities. Gobert only makes 1.1 field goals off the pick-and-roll per game, so his 3.0 points per game suggests that when he's not scoring he's getting to the free throw line. And he does, at 27.3%, get to the line quite frequently.
The next-closest player in terms of getting to the line is Joel Embiid, who draws a shooting foul on 21.1% and an and-one on 7% of his pick-and-roll possessions. In doing so -- and hitting at an effective field goal percentage of 67.4% -- Embiid, on somewhat of a part-time basis, has produced 4.1 points on a group-high 2.6 attempts off the pick-and-roll.
Embiid is the highest raw producer between the five and Clint Capela, with 3.8 points per game off pick-and-roll plays, comes in second. Unlike the others, Capela (26.5%) spends 25% of his possessions as the roll man in a pick-and-roll. You have to believe that, from the above list, a lot of that comes with Harden as the ball-handler. As a result, Capela receives a lot of lobs, which is a big reason for his 67.6% effective field goal percentage.
The only player with a frequency above 20% is Enes Kanter, who plays 23.7% of his offensive possessions from the position of a roll man in the pick-and-roll. He's been the recipient of many great Russell Westbrook passes and has converted on 62.1% of his 2.4 attempts per game. In his limited time off the bench, Kanter scores 3.7 of his 12.5 points per game from pick-and-roll plays. His 2.6% turnover rate is also lowest of the five big men.
Brook Lopez appears in a pick-and-roll on only 12.7% of his offensive possessions. In little time, though, Lopez has shot an effective field goal percentage of 62% with 3.2 points a game. The fact that he averages a mere 1.1 field goals per game in this play type suggests that he is more likely to hit a few threes popping out off a pick-and-roll.