Term: Shake

Definition: An off-ball movement during pick-and-roll in which an offensive player lifts along the three-point line behind and toward the ball-handler.

Synonyms: Lift

Explanation: In a typical pick-and-roll with perfect spacing, a big sets a ball-screen on one of the slots with shooters in the strong-side corner, weak-side corner, and opposite slot. The ball-handler, however, enters the paint with only three players in his direct vision: the roller, the slot spacer and the weak-side corner shooter (see above).

With the ball-handler moving toward the center of the floor and his body oriented toward the weak side, the shooter in the strong-side corner can get buried out of sight. This is why he “shakes,” or lifts from the strong-side corner to the strong-side wing. This small but important off-ball movement opens an otherwise hidden passing lane.

The traditional shake involves this corner-wing movement and requires a few conditions. First, the strong-side corner must be filled. Second, the ball-screen must be set on the inside. If it’s a step-up or set on the outside, the spacing will be incredibly tight and the shaker will run his defender into the ball-handler.

If the 2 shakes as indicated by the red line, he mucks up the spacing.

As seen above, it would be better for the 2 to stay put or cut through to the weak-side. It makes more sense for the 4 to fulfill the shaker role, moving across the top of the key toward the ball-handler.

The third condition necessary for a shake is for the screener to roll. If he pops, the same spacing issue occurs: The popping screener floats right into the shaker’s intended destination.

If the 2 shakes, he moves right into the popping 5.

Once again, the 2 has the same options: hold his position in the strong-side corner or get out to the weak-side.

In both the step-up and pop cases, it’s up to the strong-side corner man to read the play. His movements are reactive — based on the angle of the screen and the direction of the ball-handler. In this sense, the traditional shake is merely the third notch in a sequence of events:

  1. Strong-side corner filled.
  2. Screen set on the inside.
  3. Screener rolls.
  4. Strong-side corner man shakes.

Why Shaking Works

The shake concept is based on pick-and-roll defense common to most NBA teams. If the defense doesn’t switch a pick-and-roll in which the ball-handler gets over the screen going middle, its coverage will almost always require the following steps:

  1. The big man guarding the screener either hangs back to a pre-designated depth or attacks the ball-handler.
  2. The on-ball defender fights over or under the screen.
  3. The man guarding the strong-side corner shooter momentarily covers the roller.

If this sequence unfolds, the shake is usually open. We can see the pre-shake conditions appearing in the play below, as Reggie Jackson of the Detroit Pistons uses a ball-screen on the right slot from teammate Jon Leuer. When James Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers attacks Jackson in a “hedge” or “show” defense, his teammate, Kay Felder, fights to get back in front of Jackson.

Per the pick-and-roll coverage assignment, the two Cavs involved with Jackson leave Leuer rolling free to the rim. Mike Dunleavy, who’s original assignment is Marcus Morris in the right corner, is momentarily caught guarding two people: Leuer and Morris.

Morris, the strong-side corner player, reads the roll and Jackson moving away from him. He responds by shaking — lifting along the three-point line and following in behind. As Leuer completes his roll, Dunleavy has no choice but to respect this potential layup opportunity until Jones recovers. This gives Jackson, coming off the ball-screen, an easy opportunity to hit Morris for an open three-point shot. (In a lot of ways, this is similar to the defensive dilemma created by the roll-pop situation in double drags.)

So why does Morris move at all? Wouldn’t his remaining stationary in the corner create the same effect by saddling Dunleavy with two players?

Remember that the shake opens up a passing lane. Let’s look at the same photo above, but notated differently. What if Morris were in the corner?

Look at the passing lane available to the strong-side corner: there is none. Leuer cuts right across it. Jones and Felder are both in the process of recovering across it. Dunleavy, who’s mirroring Leuer, is also in the way. In short, there’s no way to complete that pass. The strong-side corner is hidden.

That’s why the shake is so important: it makes Morris available. Instead of three options, Jackson has four. Furthermore, Morris’ shake gives Dunleavy an additional headache due to multiple moving parts. If Morris remains stationary, Dunleavy can lose sight of Morris and guard Leuer without consequence. He knows exactly to where he must sprint should the kickout to Morris come. But if Morris shakes, Dunleavy wastes an extra quarter of a second relocating him before his recovery begins. There’s also the matter of Jackson’s pass, which is now shorter, and Dunleavy’s recovery, which is now longer that Morris is lifted higher up the floor. All of this cuts into Dunleavy’s chance at recovery success.

Catch-And-Rip Off The Shake

The final benefit to the shake is the perimeter momentum that it creates for the receiver of the kickout pass. In the above example, Morris shoots an open three-pointer. But as the shaker moves along the perimeter, he has a golden opportunity to attack the rim. Given that he is moving directly toward a potential pass, a smart shaker can seize on this advantage by immediately catching and ripping. For the defense, this is an extremely difficult play to guard. Protecting against a drive is already hard against a closeout; doing this while the offensive player has already built steam to the rim is nearly impossible.

Look at how easily Nicolas Batum of the Charlotte Hornets gets to the basket on the play below when he shakes off a Kemba Walker pick-and-roll. Tony Snell of the Milwaukee Bucks, who is caught between guarding Cody Zeller and Batum, has no chance and gets blown by.

Other Shake Situations

The above scenarios cover a classic pick-and-roll alignment. Even though game situations are messier, this doesn’t mean that shake concept does not apply to other offensive arrangements as well.

Recall that, for the shake to be available and useful, the strong-side corner must be filled. In the traditional sense, this is true. But the lifting and following concept can be added to any pick-and-roll, as long as there is a player able to move in behind the ball-handler. Therefore, sometimes the shaker moves wing to slot, slot to top, or top to slot. It all depends on the direction of the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll.

In the play below, Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns rejects a screen from teammate Tyson Chandler and drives to his left. Although Bledsoe does not use the screen going middle — not only does he reject it, but it’s set in the middle of the floor — we have a classic shake scenario unfolding anyway. Think about it this way: doesn’t this play, in terms of the directionality of the ball-handler and roller, mirror a ball-screen set off the right slot in which Bledsoe uses the pick going left?

In this sense, Bledsoe’s decision to go away from the pick creates an appropriate shake for teammate Tyler Ulis. Normal Powell of the Toronto Raptors — who is guarding Ulis — gets prototypically stuck between Chandler and Ulis. This creates the spac for Ulis to knock down a wide open three-pointer.

Pick-and-roll is fluid and the shake is meant to improve the chances of scoring by providing an option. Sometimes, however, given the spacing between offensive and defensive players, it’s better for a player to stay put and stretch out the defense. It is up to the off-ball player to read his man and his help choices before determining the appropriate course. You’ll often see a player shake only when the pick-and-roll ball-handler picks up his dribble: an initial attempt to create space loses out to the necessity of providing relief for the ball-handler. Other times you might see shakes of different distances. In every case, movement is dictated by the defensive response to pick-and-roll.

Film Study: “Shake”

Below is a video compilation of various examples of teams running pick-and-roll and off-ball players shaking. Look out for the different ways in which the defense reacts to the pick-and-roll, and how the shaker responds. No matter the decision, be sure to note how the shake creates tension for a single defender that proves difficult to handle.