Screening in Basketball – Why, When & How

screening in basketball

What does it mean to set a screen?

Screening in basketball is an attempt of an offensive player to prevent a defender from guarding his teammate. By standing beside or behind, an offensive player allows his teammate to move unhindered, dribble, pass, drive in or shoot towards the basket.

Setting a screen is a particularly important element of an offensive tactic of a team. Its successful use allows players to take the ball, primarily to create a good position for a shot. We say primarily, not exclusively because we’re also setting a screen for other purposes.

For example, when the opponent team is playing pressure defense or when setting a screen for a teammate to get a rebound.

Why do we even screen?

With the constant movement on offense, players try to prevent the defender from continually following them, and this can only be done by screening. Offense blocks the defensive player and disables him in his attempts to defend his basket.

When a team defends with individual defense and all offensive players are covered by their defender, this practically means that you can’t perform an offensive play against the opponent.

When do we use screens?

The screens are used, above all, when the opponent’s defense is aggressive – man-to-man, but we can also use them against zone or combo defense. Furthermore, we can set screens for players without the ball in possession (more often; ball screen) or for a player with the possession (pick-and-roll).

Depending on the screener’s movement direction relative to the basket, we are talking about a vertical or horizontal block (may be high or low).

Especially effective are the so-called back screens or rip screens (a defensive player can not see a blocking player), double screens (stack set), and consecutive screens (one by one).

There are frequent discussions among basketball coaches on what is actually a successful screening, when and how it is set up (technique), where it is set and which is the most powerful screen defense.

How to set a screen in basketball?

A screen is always done with the body. Not with hands, as this would mean a violation of the rules of the game and a foul on the defensive player. An offensive player only comes close to the defensive player and closes a certain passage with his body.

An offensive player who makes a legit screen uses such a move and at the moment tries to get out from his defender. A screen is done very quickly and lasts very short. Just enough to allow the escape to a teammate.

After that, the player who screened continues to move normally on the field and eventually continues to screen the other teammates. The player who is capable of performing the screen well is very useful to his team.

How do we set a good screen?

We can do it with the ball or without the ball. For setting a screen it does not matter. It is much more important to move so that the face is always turned in the direction of the opposing basket. Such a position allows the player to quickly exit from the screen and further movement.

It is necessary to make sure that there is no collision with defensive players, as this will be a violation by the offensive player.

Long-term experiences of basketball coaches point to principles that provide maximum efficiency and the right moment of placing and using the screen.

1. The player using the screen:

  • Must wait for the screen to be set – delay the exit
  • Move slowly, read the defense
  • Then quickly and aggressively go shoulder to shoulder with the screener, with hands ready to accept the ball

2. The player setting the screen:

  • After stopping in front or beside defender, the player that sets the screen must remain firm (stable)
  • Occupy the broader bent knee position (the upper part of the body is upright and slightly moved forward, the arms are slightly folded and relaxed while the fingers protect the body of the body)
  • Use the advantage created by the change on defense
Screening position

We set the screen in the line with the player and outside the paint, as this allows the teammate to go around both sides of the screen and gets the ball near the basket. If we set the screen in the paint, we usually get the ball outside of it or too low.

Two basic types of screen

The standard screen is played with the ball, where the player you want to free by blocking, passes the ball to you or another teammate and stays on the back of the body of the defensive player that he wants to block. With this type of screen, the fast exit from it is especially significant. Such a screen may also take place without a ball, with the ball being previously passed to a teammate who you want to free from a defender.

The second type is what we call the opposite screen. In such a screen, the ball is passed to one side of the field, and then the player runs to the other end and tries to release his teammate with his body. Such a screen can be extremely effective if it’s constantly and properly performed.

What does illegal screen mean?

An illegal screen is when the basketball player who sets the screen:

  • Is on the move at the point of contact
  • Doesn’t have both feet on the floor at the point of contact
  • Didn’t set a screen at the right distance beyond the visible field of the defensive player
  • Did not respect the elements of time and space against the defender on the move at the point of contact
illegal screen

Illegal screen basketball signal (blocking foul)

Basketball screen rules – legal and illegal screen

  1. A screen occurs when a player tries to keep or manipulate a defender to take the desired place on the court.
  2. A legal screen is when a player who screens:
    – is not in motion at the point of contact
    – has both feet on the floor at the point of contact
  3. If a screen is set within the field of vision of the opposing player (in front of him or on the side), the player may set the screen so close (no touch) as he wishes.
  4. If a screen is placed outside the field of vision of the defender, the player setting it must allow the opponent to make one (1) natural step to the screen before the point of contact.
  5. If the opponent is on the move, time and distance elements are applied. The player who sets the screen must leave enough room for the player to whom he sets the screen so that he can avoid the screen bypassing or changing the direction of movement. The distance required is never less than a natural step or two steps.
  6. The player to whom the screen is set is responsible for the contact with the player who set it.

Moving screens, are they legal?

It depends. In the NBA and organized basketball there is no ”moving screen foul”, only blocking foul. Which means that the player can move when setting a screen, but if he stops before the point of contact, it won’t be called as a foul. That’s why many „moving screens“ are completely legal.