Photo credit: KarynStepien.com
Raptors Playbook: Zipper Pick & Roll (SLOB)
Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors every Wednesday during the regular season. This week, we’ll focus on a the Las Vegas Summer League Raptors’ SLOB Zipper Pick and Roll. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.
This specific sideline out of bounds (SLOB) play is often triggered by a coach or a player making a zipper gesture, as head coach Jama Mahlalela does in this clip here.
The play starts with the point guard making a zipper cut, which is done by running from the strong side baseline to the free throw line. To ensure that the point guard is available to receive the inbounds pass, the power forward will set a down screen for them.
This simple action provides the ancillary benefit of forcing the ball handler’s defender to trail his assignment. As a result of this, the primary defender is often coaxed into tightly pressuring the ball, which is relevant for the ensuing action.
Upon the completion of the entry pass, the point guard will turn into a screen set by the weak side big-man in the middle of the floor. Since the primary defender has had to recover from the zipper cut, they will likely pressure the ball handler tightly and force themselves into trailing over-the-top of the screen.
As the screen setter rolls hard into the paint, a two-on-one advantage is created with the point guard probing into the middle of the floor, trapping their on their hip. At this point, it is up to the ball handler to decide their method of execution. During Summer League, the Raptors have often found Jakob Poeltl rolling to the rim. His improved finishing ability in traffic has made this playcall pretty deadly for Toronto.
When this play is run with two non-shooting big-men on the floor, the power forward will curl from the strong side of the floor, underneath the basket and present himself on the opposite side of the basket in the “slot”. This provides the point guard with the option of a release valve, also known as “shorting” the pick and roll.
This strategy is effective for a few reasons. Firstly, it leaves the weak side of the floor with one shooter that typically lifts or fills above the arc. This creates a “single side bump” for the weak side defender, where they have to walk the fine line of defending their own assignment and “bumping” the rolling screen setter. This plays into the strategy’s second important factor, in that “shorting” the pick and roll is done to combat teams that like to load up on the ball handler in pick and roll scenarios. If the ball handler feels overwhelmed by the increased attention and pressure after a screen, they can use the release valve in the slot to find a better passing angle. This release valve often has a better sightline of how the single weak side defender is playing between their primary assignment and the roll man.
However, when this play is utilized with the screen setter being the only non-shooting big man on the floor, the roll man often has to take on more of a playmaking role, similar to that of the power forward that is “shorting” the previous action.
The screen setter in this instance, Poeltl, wisely opts against rolling hard into the paint where the ball handler would be unable to pass to him. Rather, he short rolls to the free throw line area where he can make a decision based on how the two weak side defenders decide to guard three offensive players. Poeltl sees that the weak side corner defender has completely abandoned their assignment, while the uppermost weak side defender has no intention of recovering to that spot on the floor. Poeltl then makes the smart three-on-two pass to an open corner shooter who converts.
The last important note as it pertains to the Summer League Raptors is that their high frequency of calling this play has seemingly worked to their advantage, as defenders are anticipating the high screen.
To capitalize on this, Fred Van Vleet has shrewdly faked towards the screen before rejecting it and driving towards the emptied paint. In this instance, Van Vleet was able to draw a shooting foul because the defense was ill-prepared and out of position for his drive.