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How the Nuggets can use the “Spain” pick and roll

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Coach Nick at BBall Breakdown helped explain a new way to run the pick and roll. Could it help the Nuggets?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

While perusing Twitter, I came across an incredibly interesting video that showcased a new way that NBA teams are starting to utilize called the “Spain pick and roll.” Coach Nick of Bball Breakdown does really excellent work and recently made a video about the new play, showing the new wrinkle it brings to a standard pick and roll.

As the video expresses, the play was first seen from the Spanish national team, featuring various NBA caliber players like Pau and Marc Gasol. The play starts out like a normal HORNS play (two players in the corners, two players at the elbows, and a ball handler at the top of the key), except it shifts one player at the elbow to the middle of the paint. The ball handler runs a pick and roll with the player at the elbow, and as the roll is occurring, the player in the paint sets a back screen on the roll defender to create more chaos.

This action causes four options to open up in succession:

  1. Ball handler drives to the rim for a layup.
  2. Ball handler passes to wide open roll man.
  3. Back screener pops to the top of the key for an open jump shot or secondary drive.
  4. Ball handler kicks out to either three point shooter in the corner.

Each option is easy to execute for the offense, but defending the action is difficult for the defense. The reason is the switching of roles in the paint. Once the back screen occurs, that player has to switch on to a guard driving downhill quickly, while the ball handler’s initial defender must bother the initial roll man.

Here it is visually:

BBall Breakdown

This is how the play starts: high pick and roll with a roamer in the middle of the paint. It looks fairly innocent initially and close to a normal HORNS set.

BBall Breakdown

As the first pick ends and the second pick begins, Pau Gasol begins his roll to the paint, while the paint player screens Aron Baynes, his initial defender. Gasol isn’t exactly fleet of foot, but the action gives him plenty of head start to beat Baynes to the rim. The corner three also has a potential opening depending on how far the defender sags into the paint.

BBall Breakdown

Notice how the play finishes: two players are tracking the initial ball handler, Pau finishes a lob ahead of Baynes, and the paint player is suddenly by himself on the perimeter (I believe this is Marc Gasol). A simple action that utilizes just one pass to generate a dunk, the most high percentage shot in basketball.

What if the lob was covered? Passing out to an open three at the top of the key or in the corner isn’t a bad idea, nor is simply taking a mildly contested layup if the ball handler has an opening.

How can the Denver Nuggets take advantage of this play?

First, it’s easy to see Kenneth Faried filling the role of the initial high screen and roll player. He rolls hard to the rim and can elevate above it to collect alley-oop passes, just like in the play depicted above. That’s a skill that will work wonders for this play.

Second, the ball handler could be a number of players. Mudiay and Nelson could certainly run it, and because of Mudiay’s ability to throw accurate lob passes and hit players all over the court, I think he would be a good ball handler here.

Third, the screener for Faried could be any number of players. In the starting lineup, Nikola Jokic and Danilo Gallinari make sense. Both shoot threes well from the top of the arc and both can be playmakers if they are covered up after the pass. Another way to run it is with a small guard as the back screener, like Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, due to their ability to pop more quickly behind the three point line. This is an action that the Nuggets have used previously with Murray, and it is something the Golden State Warriors do with their guards, most notably Stephen Curry.

Finally, the two players in the corners would likely be the best possible three point shooters the Nuggets have from those locations. Right now, both Gary Harris and Darrell Arthur shoot an absurd 50 percent or better from the corner three locations, so those two would more than suffice on this play. If lineups become too difficult to insert Arthur, both Gallinari and Juancho Hernangomez shoot better than 40 percent from the corners as well.


The Nuggets utilize a free flowing offense that gives the players a lot of freedom to make plays for themselves or play through Nikola Jokic. This is a set play out of a timeout or in a crunch time situation that would help provide the Nuggets with an edge. The goal is to make scoring as easy as possible for the team, and with so many great options in the Spain pick and roll, there is little downside to using it in a key scenario. With the team looking to gain every little advantage that they possibly can, the Nuggets should consider a pick and roll concept that is already being adopted by several teams.

(Shout out to Coach Nick at BBall Breakdown for the excellent work he and his staff are doing. This play is a gem. Go follow their work on YouTube, Twitter, and their personal site, bballbreakdown.com)