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Jump Start Your Offense with Ball Screens

Using the Ball Screen Effectively: Getting Started + Guard Reads

One of the most popular actions in the game of basketball today is the ball screen. Unfortunately, most teams use ball screens, but not all teams spend time teaching players how to use ball screens. In fact, I believe that ball screens are the most overused and under taught concepts in the game today.

Reasons for Using the Ball Screen

  1. Create a Personnel Mismatch

Most ball screens involve a forward and a guard in the play, and because the on-ball defender is taken out of the play once they are screened, a forward has to guard the ball handler for a time. This puts the offense in an advantage situation. Even if the defense does not switch, forcing a immobile post player to guard a quick point guard can be a great way to gain an advantage.

2. Gain an Advantage

This has less to do with position and personnel and more to do with numbers. There are 4 people directly involved in every pick and roll situation. The ball handler, the screener, the on-ball defender, and the screeners defender are all directly involved in the play. Almost every ball screen coverage that a defense employs involves both the on-ball defender and the screeners defender to guard the ball for a short while, giving you a 4 on 3 advantage off the ball. The key then becomes making the right play after the screen occurs.

3. Getting a Shot Blocker Away From the Rim

While I was coaching basketball at the college level, we actually had a set play that involved a continuous high ball screen set by who ever had the largest defender guarding them. Although it was not the physical action of the play we scored off of, we were effective out of that set because the rim protector was no longer in the paint. Ball screens can be a great way to unclog the paint.

4. Put a Defensive Player In Foul Trouble

This goes hand in hand with the last teaching point. Because guarding a quicker ball handler is not the forte of most post players, they have a tendency to foul. Teach your guards to “hunt” for a foul on a post player when they are being guarded on the perimeter. This gets that player off the floor and gets your team in the advantage.

Ball Screen Must for Ball Handlers

  1. Wait, Wait, Wait

Most ball screen actions fail before they even get started because the ball handler is impatient and does not wait for the screen. It is vital that the guard approaches the ball screen at a steady pace, pauses and waits for the screener to arrive, and then use it. One way to teach this waiting is to have the screener “pop” their feet as the arrive to screen. What I mean by that is to have the screener come to a jump stop on two feet prior to screening. Once the ball handler hears the screeners feet hit the ground (“pop”), they know that the screener is set and they can then proceed to come off the screen.

2. Lose Primary Defender

This can be done either by refusing to use the screen if the defender on the ball tries to jump it early and beat you over, or it can be done by burying the defender into the screen. Regardless of what the ball handler choses to do, they must come off the screen without their defender on them. At the very least, they have to come off with their defender trailing them in order for an advantage to be gotten.

3. Sneak a Peak of the Floor

Much like a quarterback makes reads at the line of scrimmage prior to snapping the ball, the ball handler must make a few reads prior to coming off the ball screen. The questions that they must address include: is the ball side corner filled, where are the shooters located, who is the lowest help defender, is the coverage man with or behind the screener, and so on. All of these choices make it easier for the ball handler to make a play once they come off the screen because they have already made a few choices prior to the screen being set.

4. Pace to Find Space

Similar to the first teaching point in this list, it is very important for the ball handler to come off the screen at a smooth and methodic pace. Hurrying off a ball screen leads to turnover and bad shots. While you cannot be slow as you come off a ball screen, you must have a deliberate and focused pace so that you can read the defense, as well as be shifty with the ball yourself. Players that play at once pace are easy to guard. Do not let your players play to fast.

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