Pick-and-roll play is the staple of modern basketball. Ball-screens have always wreaked havoc by bringing multiple defenders to one offensive player, creating mismatches, and generally scrambling the defense. But that the importance of space on offense is finally understood the way it forever should have been has upped the value of ballhandlers who can produce shots for others or themselves after receiving a pick.
The “pocket-pass,” though, remains the ideal corollary of a ball-screen. You surely know what it is by now; think John Stockton finding Karl Malone over and over in their classic two-man game, LeBron James splitting defenders with a slick dish to a rolling big man, or Kyrie Irving flaunting its value as “Uncle Drew” in those popular Pepsi commercials of yore.
NBA fans see the pocket-pass time and again in a given game, to the extent that it’s barely noticeable anymore. Even so, we’ve never witnessed one quite like this.
One aspect of what made Spain’s Rudy Fernandez a less effective NBA player than his talent suggests he should have been was a penchant for highlight-reel plays when a simpler one would suffice. Is this absolutely mind-boggling pass an example of that hubris? Maybe, but maybe not, too.
We also don’t care, though. This is one of the most creative, beautiful in-game assists we’ve ever seen. Necessary or otherwise, we simply want more of it. Given that Spain lost a close one to Nemanja Bjelica and Serbia today, it seems possible Fernandez and company will need to pull out all the stops to qualify for next summer’s Olympics at the ongoing EuroBasket tournament.
And here’s hoping that desperation leads to more head-turning plays like this one.