This article was written by Virginia Military Institutes assistant men's basketball coach Chris Kreider.
The goal of any good offense is to constantly look for ways to put the defense in a disadvantage situation where decisions have to be made. One of the easiest ways to quickly get an advantage, or a 2 on 1 situation is by setting a screen. Defensively, it is all about minimizing rotations and being able to individually avoid and properly defend screening actions within a team concept.
Setting and defending screens are not typically considered the more glamorous parts of the game, but as coaches we know how important they both are when it comes to winning. However, most players are not convinced.
So it is our job as coaches to teach concepts and constantly monitor the carryover of both our players and teams when it comes to the component of screening. The fact of the matter is that setting a proper screen can help you win a game, while not defending a screen properly can help you lose a game as well. Enough said!
Just like anything else, screening takes time, repetition and demands attention to detail. The best way I have ever heard screening discussed is by Gordon Chiesa, who refers to screening as a “partnership”. Both on offense and defense, screening is never one player doing their own thing. It is multiple players working cohesively to create and take away scoring opportunities for themselves and others.
Before getting into the specifics, let’s talk about something that is needed on both ends of the floor when it comes to setting and defending screens: TOUGHNESS. This is non-negotiable! Both mental and physical toughness are needed!
On offense, you have to seek contact on the screen and on defense you have to be ready to fight through the screen (avoiding the screen is obviously always ideal). Before you can be good at any of the following, a mindset of “fight” and “doing whatever it takes” must first be embraced!
A great way to establish this toughness in your program is to have basketball drills that are based around promoting toughness. Whether it is fighting through the contact of a pad, a two on two competition game, or whatever it may be; find time in practice to develop your teams toughness level.
Let’s take a quick look at screening from both an offensive and defensive perspective and discuss a few details relating to the setting and defending of screens.
10 Keys to Setting Screens
Want to score? Set a screen! Setting a screen and getting a rebound are two times when it is ok to be a little selfish on the basketball court!
Be quick to set it! Be slow to accept it! Error on the side of being late, rather than early.
Communicate and never assume! Showing the fist and talking to your teammates on offense is just as important as it is when you are defending it!
Be patient! Timing matters! Multiple players working together and communicating quickly is the only way this happens!
It is up to the screener to set a hard and solid screen, it is up to the player receiving the screen to use it! Avoiding illegal screens depends on the execution of the screen and how everyone works together in the moment of truth!
Set up the screen properly! Be an actor! Take 2-3 steps away, change speeds and use the screen! Come off shoulder to shoulder (or shoulder to hip) to make it difficult for the defender to maintain proper guarding position.
Don’t let a screen turn into an “exchange”! Make contact! Hold the screen with a wide and low base for 1-2 seconds in order to avoid an offensive foul.
Screen and separate! Getting away from the defense after setting the screen is crucial! Slip, dive, pop, etc. with a sense of urgency! Never screen and stand!
The location of ball and screen, the angle of the screen and overall spacing on the floor matters! Every screen serves a purpose: whether it is to relieve ball pressure, incorporate false motion to occupy the help or to result directly in a scoring opportunity, etc. Within each specific use for the season, every related detail is important!
Read the Defense
The defense will always tells you what to do! Making the appropriate read (pop, curl, fade, turn down, re-screen, etc.) is totally dictated by how you are guarded and cannot be pre-determined!
10 Keys to Defending Screens
Have a plan! How are you going to guard pin downs, back screens, flare screens, stagger screens, ball screens, cross-screen down screen action, flex action etc.
Everyone should recognize the action as it develops and how to defend it! Know the “what”, but constantly remind of the “why” so that everyone has an understanding of how everyone’s job is important within the five man defensive operation!
Speak our language! Once the plan on how to defend each screen is set, establish defensive terminology so that everyone is speaking the same language!
Call out the screen! Call it at least three times early and loud! Talk out what you are doing! There should be constant chatter on the defensive end of the floor, especially when talking your way through screens!
Any chance you get to dictate the direction or route of the offensive player, do it! For example, in a “choice of sides action” dictate that the offensive player go one way.
Do not allow them to choose which side they want to use. This will make it easier to stay connected and reduce the likelihood of a defensive breakdown.
Have everyone involved working together and on a string depending on the coverage! There will be a lot of situations when help is needed even if it is for a quick second.
Covering for each other until your teammate is back in the play is crucial. Be ready to help! And be ready to help the helper!
Stop the Ball
If and when you do have to help and declare the ball in an emergency situation, never leave the ball until you are called off by a teammate! Stopping the ball is always the priority!
Make it Happen
Don’t get screened! Guard it based on the plan, but be ready to make adjustments on the fly. The game isn’t perfect! Fix it!
Mix it Up
Once again, guard the screening action based on the plan, but be ready to get there using the “path of least resistance”. Using the same route every time allows a good offensive player to get comfortable, so switching it up at times may be the answer.
There will also be times when a play breaks down and the spacing allows you to make a decision on the fly and deviate from the plan. Once again, the idea that the game is not perfect is a reality. When it doubt, get there and make the play!
“K.Y.O.” When it comes to defending screens or any offensive action, it is important to “KNOW YOUR OPPONENT!” Shooter or driver? Right-handed or left-handed? Roller or popper?
Understanding tendencies and adhering to the scouting report in screening situations is very important. It is really hard to take everything away. Preparation and awareness will help make it as difficult as possible on the offense.
Repetition, repetition, repetition! Obviously, you can get as creative as you want to when it comes to creating drills in order to simulate live action. However, an easy way to review how to defend different types of screens is by starting off shell drill with a specific action.
Early on, it is a great opportunity to teach and build up your defensive system. As the season progresses, it provides an opportunity to both prepare for the upcoming opponent as well as to remind and review.
Just like anything else in this game, in order to be any good at setting and defending screens, you have to work at it. Remember, we can’t expect our players to know anything that we have not specifically told them.
You must have a plan, make sure everyone knows it, and then hold everyone accountable to see it accomplished. At the end of the day, we will always get what we emphasize and hold each other accountable for. Take pride in setting and defending screens!