We already see the pick and roll in lacrosse, but it really isn’t utilized to its full potential. Time to diversify with your pick and roll game. A screener in basketball has 3 basic options:
Roll: Set the screen and roll towards the basket. Of any option available, this is probably the hardest one to utilize in lacrosse. Defenses clog the interior too much to give a roll man enough space to get off a good shot or create a passing opportunity. Rolling against a defense that likes to extend and pressure can be a viable option because you can run the PNR up high in order to give the roll man space to make a play. Overall, we just don’t see much rolling in lacrosse and for good reason.
Pop: Pretty much every PNR in lacrosse is a pop, in which the screener steps out after setting the screen in preparation to catch and dodge or shoot. It’s a great option that puts a ton of pressure on the defense because it destroys the defense’s spacing by forcing them to use two defenders to occupy a very small area on the field. This leaves four defenders to cover the rest of the defensive end. In this situation, defnders are forced to choose between stepping out on shooters or packing it in to support a slide.
If the players running the PNR are dangerous dodgers, you can generate space off-ball for your shooters simply because the defense has to respect the dodging prowess of the ballhandler and his screener and slough in to support a potential slide. Salisbury’s pick and pop game with Sam Bradman as the screener created huge problems for Cortland in the national championship game using this exact tactic. When Bradman caught on the pop after screening, he had the perfect isolation situation against a defense that couldn’t cover him 1 v. 1.
The problem with popping in lacrosse is its predictability Everyone pops, and unless you have the talent of someone like Sam Bradman, the defense can find ways to defend what becomes a predictable play. This means you need alternatives to popping.
Slip: Slipping is going to set a screen then popping or rolling before the ballhandler uses the screen. Why roll on slip when we know rolling isn’t really effective in lacrosse? Because by doing so, you can create confusion for the defense. The defenders will have to decide what to do with the man covering the slip man. Is he part of the slide package? Do you ignore him? Can he go as the 1 or will he simply support the slide?
Our rule in college for determining a crease slide was generally the defender on the crease closest to the ball. A notable exception to this was if someone cut between the dodger and the man who was preparing to be the 1 slide. The defender of the player making the cut became the 1, with the original 1 supporting him as a 2 slide. Making that determination on a simple cut in a split-second took a lot of coordination. Now imagine trying to make that same split-second decision about a player who you thought was going to be a screener just seconds before. It’s a situation that stretches the communication and mental harmony required from the defense to an extreme level, which is likely to lead to mistakes, which in turn lead to goals.
Slipping to a pop is a viable option too. You still have all the advantages of popping combined with the added effect of some disruption to the defense’s plan. As a defender’s man is going to set a screen, the defender is in close communication with the on-ball defender. He’s letting him know there’s a pick coming, where it’s coming from, and how they are going to play it. Slipping a screen that the defenders plan to switch creates a moment of confusion. Are the defenders still switching men? All it takes to generate an open look is a momentary defensive lapse, even if no one makes a great individual play. Testing a defense mentally is just as important as testing them physically. A physically inferior offense can exploit the mental mistakes of a physically superior defense. This is why slipping screens is an important element for an offense that likes to run the PNR game. It adds variety, and variety makes it harder for the defense to execute precisely.
Another way to add variety to your PNR game is for the ballhandler to dodge away from the pick. Dodging away from the pick has the effect of neutralizing the defender covering the potential screener. You’ve instantly turned it into a 5 v. 5 offensive opportunity. As previously discussed, this stretches the defense and forces them to make tough decisions between respecting shooters and preparing a slide for the dodge. It also adds another layer of variety to what can happen when a defense sees a man going to set a screen for the ballhandler.
None of this is revolutionary or particularly complex. The key to being successful in running PNR action is teaching players how to read the defense and the decision-making process that goes along with those reads. The beauty of the PNR is how it plays out is entirely dependent on what happens in the moment. If you can teach your players how to make decisions in the PNR game and then trust them to make those decisions, they can find significant success from a very simple offensive mechanism.