Player Development: Teaching Screening

By John Leonzo

Regardless of what system or style of player your team utilizes, emphasizing and teaching fundamentals is what will make that system work. One of the most emphasized yet under taught elements of offense is screening for one’s teammates in an attempt to help them get open. A huge part of my offensive philosophy has been borrowed/adapted/stolen from Davidson College Head Coach, Bob McKillop. Coach McKillop has what he refers to as the “5 Rules of Offense,” and I have taken his concepts and modified them/adjusted them to make them my own.

My 5 Rules for Offense:

  1. See space. attack space
  2. Catch to attack
  3. Finish everything
  4. Help your teammates
  5. Dribble with purpose

In this article, I will focus on rule #4, “help your teammates”. The most common way to help your teammates is to screen for them. Screening can occur for players away from the ball (off-ball screens), or for the ball handler (ball screens). The types of screens that you utilize in your offense will be dependent upon your personal offensive philosophy, as well as the personnel that you have within your team. It is not enough to tell a player who to screen, or what type of screen to set. Screening is a skill, and like any skill that a coach values, it must be taught, emphasized, and rewarded when executed properly.

General Screening Rules

  • See The Screen – Good players screen defenders, bad players screen spots. A common error that players make when screening is simply running to a spot because that is what coach said to do rather than actually making flesh-to-flesh contact with a defender. The easiest way to solve this problem is for the screener to see the defender that they need to screen, and then sprinting to make contact with that defender. “Seeing the screen” coincides with Rule #1. see space and attack space.
  • Catch A “Full Body” – A “full body” screen occurs when the screener is able to make flesh-to-flesh contact with the defensive player in such a way that the defender has their movement and momentum stopped or delayed for a full second. Often times players screen in such a way that they only make contact with 1/3 of the defender’s body, and as a result, the cutter is not able to attack open space as effectively (rule #1).
  • Wide Base – In order to set a full body screen and delay the defender for a full second, it is vital that the screener has a wide and strong stance. A frame of reference for the screener should be to have their feet slightly outside of their shoulders, with their knees flexed and muscles engaged so they can absorb the contact that will occur when hitting the defender.
  • Pop Your Feet – Turnovers kill offense. Committing moving screens is costly not only because it results in a turnover, but it also counts as a personal and team foul, further hurting your team. One way to avoid moving screens is to teach the screener to “pop their feet”. In order to do this, the screener will sprint to the player who they are going to screen, and land in a jump stop just prior to making contact. The landing on the jump stop will create a “thud” or “pop” sound, letting the cutter know that the screener is set.
  • Back To Point of Attack – In for a screening action to effectively help a teammate get open, it is imperative that the screener set the screen so that their back points to the open space where the cutter can make an effective play. For a down screen, the screener generally wants the screener to have their back to the ball. On a flare screen, the screener generally wants their back pointed towards the corner. For a wing ball screen, the screener should point their back to the opposite block. One a high ball screen, the screener should point their back towards the elbow that they want the guard to attack.
  • The More You Help Others, The More You Help Yourself – The screeners chances to score increase drastically when a quality screen is set. The reason behind this is that when a great screen is set, the screeners defender will likely elect to help on the cutter, thus increasing the open space that the screener will have to make a play upon catching the ball.

Screening Reads:

In a free-flowing motion offense, it is imperative that all players see the floor and react to what is occurring around them. Generally speaking, I like for each screener to make a cut of some sort prior to setting their screen. This will make their defender guard multiple actions, thus limiting or minimizing the amount of help that will be provided on the screen. Below you will see a few examples of cutting prior to screening:

Basket Cut to Down Screen

FastTradePreview (3)

Cross Screen to Back Screen

FastTradePreview (4)

There are many other variations on how cuts can turn into screens, but the examples above should provide you a good idea of the main idea. By setting up screens with cuts, the offense becomes much harder to guard as every action now serves a purpose and each player is a threat to make a play as well.

Teaching and emphasizing screening can be a great way to boost your team’s offensive efficiency because teammates are now working together to create open shots for one another. In turn, the screeners will also create shots for themselves as a result of their unselfish play. As your teams are beginning to prep for the upcoming skill season, be sure to include skills that can be executed off the ball (such as screening and cutting) in order to maximize your player development.

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John Leonzo

John Leonzo is the CEO of John Leonzo Basketball where he seeks to provide the highest quality training for both players and coaches. Through on the court training with players and online courses for coaches, John is able to make an impact in all the areas of the game.

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March 17, 2016 – U.S – Wichita State guard, RON BAKER (31), uses a screen to get past an Arizona defender in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Credit Image: � Kevin Sabitus via ZUMA Wire)