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What is a Screen in Basketball?

screen basketball

In basketball, like in any other sport, teams use various strategies and tactics to score or defend their lead.

These plays are often drawn up by the coaching staff and applied by the players.

It’s possible the team leader will even call an audible if he senses their strategy is exposed by the opposition.

As we know, the ultimate goal on offense is to sink a bucket.

While clutch players are able to do the impossible time after time, it’s not good strategy to rely on them exclusively.

The opposition will hone-in on this tactic and guard the player more diligently. They may even double-team this particular player, if necessary.

That said, you might see teams take advantage of mismatches between head-to-head players such as in size, speed or reach.

Alternatively, teams can employ a screen to give their shooter just enough time to get a clear shot at the basket.

This is but a simple concept when using the screen. I’ll explain more complex situations below, but let’s start by defining what it is…

What is a Screen in Basketball?

A screen is a tactic used by an offensive player to block a defender’s movement using their body. The screen, also known as a "pick", is used to create space for a teammate to dribble or get open for a shot. To set a screen, the player will position themselves in front of a defender and establish a stationary position.

The screen is effective in that it causes the defensive team to rotate coverage and potentially create a mismatch with the ball handler.

While the screen is activated, the remaining players might also shift their position to disorient the opposition.

It all depends if the offensive team intends to drive the net, get an open shot or attempt a three-pointer.

So, at minimum, the screen involves two players. But it can encompass the whole team, if required.

Lastly, screens can be set between players away from the ball handler to interrupt coverage.

For clarification, see the following clip comprising of complex NBA screen plays:

The Pick and Roll (Most Popular Screen)

Probably one of the most popular screen plays is known as the pick and roll.

This play involves two defenders, the ball handler, and their teammate.

The concept is to shift coverage and give the open offensive player a mismatch to their advantage (typically in height).

That player then drives the net while the ball handler passes them the ball for an easy basket.

What makes the pick and roll so dangerous is that there are other options on the drive.

It all depends if the defensive team anticipates the play, or the screen is soft.

The best way to demonstrate each situation is by video.

Take a look at how Larry Bird explains it. The video is old school, but it’s still plenty relevant today.

Can you move during a Screen? (Illegal Picks)

When setting a screen, the player must maintain a hard position to block their opponent.

Once the blocker establishes his pick, he cannot move backwards or laterally to impede the defender’s progress.

This is known as an illegal pick and when caught, the referee will issue a personal foul to the offending player.

As a result, the defending team will be rewarded with possession of the ball, while the offensive team is charged with the turnover.

Embed from Getty Images

Types of Screens

There are plenty of ways to set up a screen.

In fact, based on Basketball for Coaches, there are 17 ways to apply the tactic.

For the detailed strategy guide, make sure to check out the link here.

For now, you can check out my list below of all the known screens used in coaching drills and gameplay.

Screen Types
16Step Up

Final Thoughts

While basketball is considered not to be a contact sport, the game is highly physical.

The energy and strength needed to get just the slightest advantage on the court is impressive.

Of course it helps when genetics is on your side.

Height, weight and mobility are key factors in gaining an edge against your opponents.

That said, when you factor in solid scoring with proper coaching and strategy, the team will be that much better.

If you regularly watch NBA games, or any other professional basketball leagues, you’ll commonly come across screening tactics.

These plays are part of every offensive team’s repertoire to make scoring easier.

Not every team is going to have a Lebron, Kobe or Michael Jordan on their team to score the clutch field goal.

Even these superstars weren’t always flawless every game. They relied on their teammates to deliver as well.

And while certain teammates were not as gifted, they still were able to contribute in other ways.

Providing the perfect screen or pick happens to be one of many options.