Many, many fans make the mistake of assuming that anyone who is long and can jump would make an excellent roll man. This simply isn’t true. Roll men must be able to screen effectively. This means actually providing an obstacle for the defense rather than just being run through when bigger wing defenders choose to do so.
An effective roll man also needs to be great at basketball trigonometry. It does no good to create an opening for yourself if there is no angle for the ball handler to pass you the ball. It also does no good to create an angle for the ball handler to get you the ball in a position where you can’t do anything with it. This is why roll men have to be able to read the angles for both themselves and the ball handler.
This above is an example of subtly manipulating the spacing in order to provide a better angle for the passer. Tyson Chandler first sets an effective screen that gives Terry a huge advantage on Dwyane Wade. Chandler then slightly bows the angle of his rim run towards the sideline and slows down in order to create a better angle for Jason Terry to get him the ball around Chris Bosh(who was an elite pick and roll defender at the time). If he rolls faster or more directly, he is still open at the rim, but Terry cannot get him the ball because Bosh is between them. After receiving the past he then makes an adjustment to finish strong around one of the greatest athletes in league history.
The roll man also needs a virtually unlimited amount of energy. The Mavericks run a ton of pick and rolls. A great roll man has to be willing to roll hard even though most of those rolls won’t result in them receiving the ball. Teams are still reluctant to give up shots at the rim, so a hard rim run can open up looks for everyone else on the team even if they don’t result in a stat. This was one of both Chandler and Brandon Wright’s greatest strengths as a Maverick.
Before the Rajon Rondo trade, Chandler and Wright were at the heart of a pick and roll attack that was destroying teams offensively. Both players had truly fantastic hands and great court sense of how to make themselves available to the passer in a position where they could finish.
It’s become common place for Mavericks fans to mention that various players might be the next Chandler or Wright. None of the players who have been mentioned as potential successors have actually succeeded. Part of the intrigue with Tyler Bey was that he had years of experience and success as a rim runner while also defending wings. That potential never materialized in his year with the team but the idea was sound.
Dwight Powell has continued the Mavericks tradition of being an elite rim runner but he does so on very low volume and can neither space the floor nor defend at a high level. Those limitations curtail his value greatly which is why the Mavericks continue to look for another rim runner who does not have those weaknesses.
Rim running is not a sexy skill because so many players at least flash the skill to do it at a high level. When a long, athletic player rim runs and dunks the tendency is to believe they could always do that if they chose to do so. When a random player knocks down a couple of shots, we would not assume they could make more shots if they just chose to do so. Nor should we assume that because a big happens to properly execute a rim run, that they can do so on a frequent basis.
Rim running is a skill, an important one, and we should recognize it as such.