Sports & Games

Learn About Ball Screens in Basketball: Steph Curry’s 7 Tips for Setting Up a Ball Screen (With Video)

Written by MasterClass

Sep 4, 2019 • 6 min read

A ball screen is an offensive basketball play in which a non ball-handling offensive player screens a defender by placing their body between the defender and a teammate. This creates space for teammates to catch or distribute passes, attack the hoop, or shoot a jump shot. The most common offensive play in NBA basketball, there are several different types of screens and several different defensive approaches to defeat them, and there are basketball rules against illegal contact in screens to prohibit its illegal use.

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What Is a Ball Screen in Basketball?

In the simplest terms, a ball screen (also known as a basketball screen, or a pick) is a basketball play practiced and executed by a basketball team in which a teammate positions their body in front of a defender to create space for a teammate to shoot, attack the basket, or pass the ball without defensive intrusion.

  • Ball screens are the most common way a basketball offense attacks a basketball defense, with screens occurring on nearly every basketball play, whether in transition or in a half court set offense, and even in the backcourt as a ball handler tries to advance the ball.
  • There are multiple different types of ball screens and many ways a screen set can occur, though each can be exploited by defenders (and a basketball coach) with a sound defensive system.
  • Screens can involve each and every basketball player on the court. For example, players Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and the rest of the Golden State Warriors often utilize creative ball screens through the NBA playoffs and NBA finals.

What Are the NBA Rules Guiding a Ball Screen?

It is important to note that according to the NBA rulebook, a screen setter’s feet must be planted while setting a screen. If their feet are in motion, it is an illegal screen (also called a moving screen or illegal pick) which will result in an offensive foul and automatic turnover.

If it is deemed the screening player set a blind screen while moving his feet, meaning he intentionally bumped into an unaware player, he can be given a technical foul which will result in a technical free throw.

What Is the Purpose of a Ball Screen?

The purpose of a good ball screen is to create separation from defenders. The majority of screens take place between two teammates who are not handling the ball at the time of the screen. One teammate positions his body to block a defender and the other teammate moves into the space created by this screen.

With pick-and-roll screens, however, the screen action takes place directly with the ball handler (generally the point guard), who is then able to shoot, pass, or drive to the basket.

In addition to creating space for a basketball offense, ball screens are also effective ways to:

  • Confuse the defense. With every player potentially being a screen-setter, running multiple ball screens can cause defenses to lose track.
  • Force defenses to switch into less reliable matchups. Defenders often switch their defensive assignment based on how an offense sets screens; offenses can anticipate switching rules and use ball screens to get favorable matchups.

5 Different Types of Ball Screens

There are numerous different types of ball screens and most are off-ball screens, which involve two teammates who are not handling:

  1. Backscreens. An off-ball player screens a defender in the high post to allow a teammate to back door cut from the perimeter to the interior.
  2. Double screens. Two separate teammates set screens for the same penetrating teammate.
  3. Cross screens. The screener sets the pick in a driving lane allowing an interior player (a big man or a post player) the room in the low post to post up, receive an entry pass, and attack the hoop for a dunk or a layup.
  4. Down screens. The screener sets the pick near the baseline (not the sideline), giving a teammate an open jump shot, often from behind the three point line.
  5. Flare screens. The screener sets a pick near the top of the key above the free throw line (the nail) creating space on the perimeter for an open jumpshot.

What Is the On-Ball Screen?

The most significant type of ball screen in today’s basketball offenses is different from the others because it directly involves the ball handler, the pick and roll.

Also called an on-ball screen, this play is a direct action between a ball handler and a teammate.

  • Once the non-ball handling teammate sets the screen on the ball handler’s defender, the ball handler can then either attack the basket, shoot, or pass to his screening teammate
  • This screen setting teammate cuts to the basket (the “roll” in “pick and roll”) or spots up for an open jump shot.
  • The pick and roll is the only screen in which a teammate sets a pick on the defender guarding the dribbler to separate the ball defender from the dribbling ball handler.

What Is a Dribble Handoff and How Do You Perform It?

The dribble handoff is another screening technique, in which the screener starts with the ball and hands it off:

  • Approach the dribble handoff like a ball screen: stay close to your screener as they hand you the ball, giving them the best chance to block your defender.
  • After exiting the screen, use your opposite shoulder to shield the ball from your defender as you finish at the rim or prepare to take your shot from further out in the field.

Steph Curry’s Tips for Setting Up a Ball Screen in 7 Steps

With the right basketball training, setting screens can become second nature. They certainly are for NBA All-Star Steph Curry, who has the following tips:

  1. As the ball-handler, it’s your job to set up the screen by directing your teammate to a specific location on the court.
  2. Keep level with your screener’s position to prevent your defender from shooting the gap between you and your screener.
  3. As you initiate the screen, stay tight to the screener by staying low and touching their shoulder or calf. Reject the screen if your defender shoots the gap around the screen. Alternatively, curl to the basket if your defender follows you through the screen.
  4. As you exit the screen, keep your eyes up and survey the floor to decide whether you should pass the ball or drive it to the basket.
  5. Look for your screener to be open for a pass if he or she rolls to the basket.
  6. If you decide that driving the ball to the basket is your best choice, avoid drifting laterally on the court.
  7. Keep your shoulders squared with the basket to protect the ball from shot blockers, and don’t take your shot underneath the net. Instead, take off from a healthy distance in front of the basket so that defenders can’t reach the ball from behind, then lay it in.

3 Tactics To Defeat A Ball Screen

There are three primary strategies or tactics in a defense’s playbook that basketball teams can practice in basketball drills and use in game for ball screen defense.

  1. Fight through the screen. Instead of going around the player setting the pick, push through to minimize the space given to the offensive player.
  2. Switching. Two defensive players switch their defensive assignments, minimizing the open space an offensive player has.
  3. Help defense. Similarly, defensive players can anticipate the space a screened teammate will leave open (generally on the weak side of the floor) and, in a well coached defensive system, will slide into that space in what is referred to as help defense or a defensive rotation.

Want to Become a Better Athlete?

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