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Reading Ball Screens in Basketball

Reading Ball Screens in Basketball

This basketball coaching article was written by Kyle Ohman. Coach Ohman is the co-founder of and is a private basketball trainer located in Tampa, FL. Kyle also has collegiate and professional playing experience as well. 


Having a point guard or wing player that can successfully navigate a ball screen in basketball and then use it to create offense for a teammate or themselves can have a huge impact on an offense. It helps create the quality paint touches and ball movement that every offense desperately craves to get a quality shot.

Great ball screens not only get the ball and offense moving, but they put the defense in a tough situation. They force the defense to communicate and rotate on a high level, and if one defensive player is not on the same page as everyone else, it opens up a great shot or a finish for the offense. If you don’t put pressure on the defense with some kind of screening action, penetration, ball movement, etc., you will not put them in any difficult situations. Great offenses in basketball put a strain on the defense and force them to either raise to a high level or get beat.

Talking about the importance of ball screens is not new; you most likely already knew everything you have read thus far. So this offensive basketball coaching article will not go in-depth any further on why you need to be using ball screens. Instead, it will break down some of the more common types of ball screen reads that a ball handler is going to have to make throughout the course of a basketball game and season. This is really important because defenses will have different ball screen strategies; most will even have different strategies for the players involved in the screen or where the screen is taking place on the floor.

As a basketball coach, if you can teach your players the different types of ball screens that they will see, they will be able to handle anything that the defense throws at them. This will allow your team to run offense regardless of how the other team is guarding ball screens.

Here is a breakdown and several basketball drills focusing on the most common types of ball screen defenses in basketball and what the ball handler should do to exploit each type of defense. The screener has a big role in the process and needs to learn when to roll, space, set another screen, etc. However, this article will focus on reading ball screens in basketball from the ball handler’s point of view.

It is important to note that the better a ball handler is able to set up their defender before using a ball screen, the easier it will be for them to read what the defense is doing. Regardless of how the defense is guarding a ball screen action, make sure that your players set up their defender each time before using the ball screen.



Quick Hedge Ball Screen Defense

A quick hedge in basketball is when the on-ball defender tries to fight over the ball screen, and the post defender briefly shows or hedges on the ball handler before getting back to their man. This type of ball screen defense is basically saying that the guard defender will be able to fight through the screen and that the post player only needs to buy them a little time to get through it. This is also probably the most common type of ball screen defense in basketball.

To take advantage of this type of ball screen defense, the ball handler needs to be aggressive off of the screen. The guard needs to attack the post defender’s outside hip and look to turn the corner. Most basketball post players aren’t very good at moving laterally, so the opportunity to drive their outside hip is available if the ball handler is aggressive. Once the player has gotten the angle on the post defender, they can attack for a finish at the basket, a pull-up jump shot, or create for a teammate. It will be up to the ball handler to read the help defense and then make the correct play.


Ball Screen Keys:

  • Set up your defender before using the screen, and then be aggressive attacking the hedge.
  • Once you get past the post defender, don’t be in a rush. See the floor and make the right play.


Basketball Drills (videos):



Hard Hedge/Trap Ball Screen Defense

If the player handling the basketball is really good at using ball screens, the defense may choose to hard hedge or full out trap the screen. They will do this because they want to get the ball out of that player’s hands and keep them from having the ability to get into the paint. Another reason the defense may trap is to turn up the pressure and try to get a steal on the pass out of the double team. Either way, though, you don’t want to play into the defense’s hands by simply picking the basketball up as soon as they trap or hard hedge.

The ball handler needs to handle the trap with poise and then make the correct read. There are a few things that the ball handler can do to exploit a hard hedge or trapping ball screen defense. The guard must first be aggressive in coming off of the screen. This will force the trap to really have to be on time and to be efficient. If the ball handler uses the screen at half speed, it will be a lot easier for the defense to prepare the trap.

A great move to use against this type of trapping defense is a ball screen split. This move will be used if the post defender shows too early on the trap and leaves a small gap to split through. The ball handler must attack at the post defender to get them to show, and then stay low and push the ball through on the split. Don’t give away the split move too early. You must force the post defender to jump out on the hard hedge/trap before looking to split.

However, if the post defender does a good job of being patient and sets a good trap, the ball handler is now going to need to use the retreat dribble move. The retreat dribble will create the space that the ball handler needs, and from here, they will have two options. They can either pass out of the double team to an open teammate (do NOT float or lob your pass), or they can look to attack the post defenders outside hip. The post defender will not be comfortable closing out the retreat dribble that far out on the floor, which will leave them exposed to the drive. From here, the ball handler has the ability again to create for themselves or a teammate.


Side Note: If the defense is over showing on the double team before the ball screen is used. Have the offensive post player slip the screen for a shot or finish. This will keep the defense more honest on the next screen.


Ball Screen Keys:

  • Come off of the screen hard and put pressure on the post defender to slide their feet.
  • Create as much space as you can on the retreat dribble, and keep your eyes up to see the floor.
  • Don’t pick your dribble up unless you are going to make a pass.


Basketball Drills (videos):



Denying/Downing Ball Screen Defense

One of the things that are becoming more common for defenses in basketball today is denying or downing ball screens (used against wing ball screens). This type of defense has the guard completely deny the ball screen and force the ball handler to the post player that has dropped off their man to wait in the paint/lane line area. The goal of this defense is to eliminate the use of the ball screen.

The ball handler has a few different options from this scenario, but the two primary choices are to refuse the ball screen for a shot or refuse it for a pass to the post player that has spaced to the free-throw line. If the on-ball defender doesn’t do a good job of denying the ball screen, attack their outside hip and go past them like you would a normal ball screen. If you are able to do this, the whole floor will be open because the post defender was positioned on the baseline side.



Once again, the ball handler must be aggressive in trying to use the screen, but when the defender cuts them off, they will attack to the baseline. If the post defender is playing too far off, the shot will be open; if the post defender steps up to take away the shot, the ball handler is going to hit the offensive post player that just tried to set the screen. That means that the post player needs to space to the free-throw line/elbow area as soon as the ball handler refuses the screen. The post player can then either look to shoot, drive, or swing the ball to a teammate.


Side Note: The ball screen refusal move can be used against a trapping or a hedging defense as well. Often, the guard defender will try to jump to the screen early to be able to fight over it. This is the perfect time to refuse the ball screen.


Ball Screen Keys:

  • Make the guard defender jump to cut off the screen, and then quickly change direction.
  • You may need to pass fake before making the pass to the spacing post player.


Basketball Drills (videos)


Defender Goes Under Ball Screen Defense

There are several reasons why the ball defender may go under a screen. The primary reasons are; scouting report defense (ball handler is not a great 3 point shooter), position on the floor (too far out to be a threat to shoot behind the screen), a great screen that the guard defender doesn’t see, or the guard defender is being lazy and going under when the should be fighting through. Whatever the reason is, there are a couple of things that the ball handler can do out of this to exploit the defense (assuming the screen isn’t out at half court).

The obvious option would be to shoot a 3 pointer once the defender goes under the screen, and if you are a good-great 3 point shooter, this is a quality option. However, this most likely is only going to happen if there is bad defensive communication on the screen or the defender is lazy. If you are playing against a good defensive basketball team, this will rarely happen.

So the second reason a defense would choose to go under (not counting half-court screens) would be scouting report defense. The defense is basically saying that they are not worried about the ball handler shooting a 3 pointer because they don’t think that they will shoot it at a high enough percentage to beat them. So if this happens to one of your not so good 3 point shooters, what do you do?

The answer to this question is the re-screen. The re-screen turns a low percentage 3 pointer into a high percentage mid-range shot or a chance to turn the corner. To use the re-screen action, the ball handler will come off the first screen and then immediately turn back around and use the second screen that the post player just set. If the guard defender chooses to go under again, the mid-range shot behind the screen will be open. If the defender tries to fight over, the guard will have the chance to turn the corner.


Ball Screen Keys:

  • The post player must look to set both the screen and re-screen as low as they can.
  • The ball handler must still be aggressive off of the first screen.


Ball Screen Defender Goes Under Re-Screen Basketball Drill


Basketball Drills (videos):



Switch Ball Screen Defense

Most team defenses in basketball will switch ball screens for several different reasons, but the main reasons for switching are strategy (similar positions, they think their post can defend a guard, or an end of clock situation) or emergency (defender isn’t able to get through the screen). If the defense is switching because of similar positions (guard to guard), you should probably change who sets the ball screen. However, if they are switching a big onto a guard, and you have a mismatch, there are a couple of different ways that the guard can attack the post defender.

An important key to make mention of is, making sure that once the switch occurs, the offense stays spread so that the defense can’t switch back. From here, the guard is now going to be able to isolate the post defender in the middle of the floor, and if any defensive player comes off of their man to help, the guard can kick them the ball. The average post defender will try and give space to the ball handler and then use their length to contest any shot or finish at the basket. They are also most likely not going to come out above the 3 point line.

From this type of defensive scenario, the ball handler has two great options of attack. They can either use several dribble moves and change of speeds at the top of the key to breakdown the defender for 3 point shot or pull up, or they can back up towards half-court and get a running start at the defender. A great example of the first type of attack would be Dwyane Wade earlier in his basketball career. Wade would do such a great job of keeping the defender guessing and off-balance before he made the move that he wanted. This type of move has a big part to do with reading the defender and then making the correct move.

An example of the second type of attack would be Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. Both of these guys come at the defender at a high speed and then quickly make a move to pull up or attack right past them. The term you want to think of when using this type of move is “running downhill.” The post player will not be able to react quickly enough to the ball handler coming at them.


Side Note: The other obvious mismatch is the post player posting up the defensive guard on the block. So another great option is to simply space the floor and feed the ball inside.


Ball Screen Keys:

  • Must attack hard off of the screen to get the switch action.
  • Offensive players off of the ball must stay spaced, and be ready to shoot, re-drive, or swing the ball if it comes to them.
  • Be conscious of the time; most switches happen at the end of the clock.


Basketball Drills (videos):




4 Responses

  1. A must for every coach to employ BOTH offensively and defensively- great teaching tool at both ends of the spectrum.

  2. Looking shows that there always another way to offense and to defense because screens and hard hedges open up so many with maybe a steal or a quick pick and roll action

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