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Building a Ball Screen Offense

If you are planning on building a ball-screen centric offense next season there are a few things you and your coaching staff will have to hash out before the season starts.

There is probably no create action more commonly used than the ball screen. At every level, we see it used as a continuity, as a disguise for other actions, in spread ball screen form, in roll and replace form, and even as a "beat the shot clock" strategy. Whether you are planning on using it as your main advantage creator, a set play, or simply an emergency action I think there are a number of things you should take into consideration during the off-season. Having experimented with this concept this past season I wanted to break down five decisions you'll probably have to make before the season starts.

1 - What are your Teaching Points for the Screener?

Having watched an endless stream of games from the high school season, to the NCAA Tournament, and now into the NBA Playoffs, you realize that there are lots of ways to approach the role of screening in your ball-screen offense. Not only do we need to decide where these ball screens will take place, but we will need to decide which screening rules we will choose to implement. One of the things we have to take into consideration is the level of basketball that we are dealing with. Screening techniques that work in the NBA (with greater lengths of ground to cover, more skilled handlers, and more lenient illegal screening rules) may not work at your run-of-the-mill high school level.

Some choices I think we need to make are:

  • Angles - should they get their shoulders towards the sidelines, or towards the corner of the half-court line.

  • Teaching Points - should we force defenders over the screen or let them choose and allow our ball handlers to react appropriately.

  • Options - do we give the screener options to twist or flip the screen, or simply ask them to set the screen & dive.

  • Emphasis - do we want our screeners to focus on the speed of their screens and simply creating a moment of confusion or do we want to emphasize physical contact and the forcing of switches.

2 - How will you teach your Read Progression?

In my opinion, anything we can to simplify the read for the player with the basketball is a good thing. For players at the high school level reading a ball screen is a lot to take in (their man, the help, the backside, etc). Coming up with a clear read progression for the basketball will help simplify this. I like the idea of:

  • Me, Ball-Side, then Back-Side

By giving the player with the ball a clear read progression of "Me, Ball-Side, then Backside" we prevent opportunities from being missed. They are always hunting their own shot first, and if help defense takes that away we are looking towards the ball side players first to transfer the advantage. Lastly, if nothing is available they will look towards the backside for a pass.

Ball-Side Reads -

Maybe the best example of this read progression would come in the form of "quick pitch shots". The most likely help defender will come immediately from the ball side - we want the basketball focused on making that read first.

  • who helped? (X2 or X5)

  • hit that player

If players are trying to read this, the roll man, and the backside at once mistakes are bound to happen.

3 - Where will players be positioned off the basketball?

You will need to decide what kind of spacing you would like your off-the-ball players to maintain as well. I think having a clear vision of what that spacing looks like will help the player with the ball in his hands make better decisions. If he knows exactly where his players will be he can make a more informed choice about where the ball needs to go when the defense presents itself.

In most cases, we are probably deciding to maintain what I would call (A) spread spacing (one roller, three players filling the corners and wings) or (B) roll & replace spacing (one roller, corners filled, and a replace-cutter). Both of these options will adjust how we teach our read progressions, and how we will flow out of our initial ball screen.

(A) Spread Spacing -

With spread spacing (bottom left diagram) we will have kick-out options in both corners and either the ball side or opposite high-wing areas. Like all ball screen offenses, we will have one roller to the rim.

Because we do not have the replace-cutter coming to the top of the key (as in roll & replace) things like skip passes to the backside corner now becomes a solution available to the ball handler.

(B) Roll & Replace -

With a roll & replace style of spacing we are asking two people to be responsible for the screening action, giving us two other players to "hold the corners".

On any given ball screen we set the handler should know that we have players in the corners, a man at the rim, and a man replacing to the point.

Although this action can reduce space for the ball handler inside the three-point arc, it will give a release valve to the basketball regardless of what the defense does to stop the screen.

4 - What are your solutions for dealing with defenses blitzing the ball screen?

One of the tactics that can give the ball screen problems at the high school level is the blitz. Placing two aggressive defenders on the basketball may create wide-open shots for the players off the basketball at the college and pro levels. However, at the high school level, where decision-making is worse & ball handlers are less skilled, this can create a real opportunity for the defense to create a turnover. If there was one defensive solution that I would practice beating routinely it would be the blitz.

Some of the common solutions that teams tend to use are the short roll, using the ghost screen, the use of a pop, or simply rise a player out of the corner to serve as an outlet.

  • short roll - roll to the free throw line to shorten a release pass

  • ghost screen - sprint into a screen and almost immediately dive

  • pop - pop the screener to shorten the pass

  • rising - sprint out of the ball side corner to be a release valve

Set Play -

One of the interesting solutions that I came across a few weeks ago was running a specific action or set to counter this exact coverage.

In this clip, we get a:

  • ram action

  • ball screen

  • entry to the high post

  • high/low action

This is a unique solution that I could really see giving a blitz coverage trouble defending. If the traditional ways to combat blitz coverage are not working I like the idea of getting your team into a set to accomplish that goal.

5 - How will we flow into our next action?

Probably the last decision that we want to make is what we will flow into once the initial ball screen is set. There are an endless amount of things we could do - so we won't get into that in this post, but I do think there are some general decisions we can make to clarify roles or how we'll play out of the screen.

  • Who is allowed to Screen? - are we allowing any player to set ball screens or are we going to narrow down the players who are allowed to do this? Certainly, our own comfort with structure and predictability will play into this decision.

  • Do we want Continuous Screens or simply a flow into Drive & Space? - are we going to implement a continuity-style ball screen offense or are we simply using an initial ball screen to create an early advantage as we flow into our drive and space game. Things like a shot clock, or defining roles, or even our spacing will then have to be taken into account.

  • Are these Screens called or we do have an established "Trigger" for the Ball Screen? - if we are using the ball screen as a set play then it is clear how we get into the action, but if we are not then we probably want to establish a trigger, or a defined moment that tells our players to set the screen.

  • Are we going to establish any If/Thens? - Establishing some if/thens as the ball is passed out of the screen is a good idea. For instance, if the ball is passed to the "replace man" we are swinging it to the backside. (Video Below)

Concluding Thoughts -

Coaches gravitate towards ball screen actions because of its simplicity. Your team has players who do not create advantages individually, so you simply set a ball screen and create the advantage you need. However, as coaches will find out, bringing a second defender to the basketball can create a new set of problems that you should be prepared for. If we can recognize what those problems will be and decide what solutions we will prepare our players to use then our teams will benefit when the games count.

If you liked the ideas in this post I would urge you to subscribe to my website and YouTube Channel for future content. If you have any drills that you really like on this topic feel free to leave them in the comments or get in touch with me.

Coach Lynch Contact Info: 

Twitter - @CoachLynch_21  

YouTube - Check out My Channel

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