7 Ways to Use Ball Screens

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Ball screens have been an intricate part of basketball for a long time. Even kids with no coaching eventually find their way to ball screens. But just like any other skill, understanding how and why will make your ball screens more effective.

 Purpose For Using Ball Screens

Spacing – The most important reason for using ball screens is spacing. Space is the most valuable commodity in offensive basketball. Proper spacing opens driving lanes, forces long defensive rotations and makes the defense play over distance. Spacing makes your offense more effective. Using ball screens  properly can lead to great spacing.

Control Matchups – Want to match a quick guard against a post player on the perimeter? How about getting their best defender off your best scorer. Ball screens are the best way to control matchups.

Get a Shot – In the right situations, a ball screen might be a good opportunity to get the ball handler a shot.


Using The Ball Screen

When using a ball screen, set up is very important.


I like to have the screen set on an angle, about 45 degrees to the corner.


Setting a flat screen, or one that is facing the sideline, presents too many options for the defense to slide by.


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The ball handler then takes the defender below the screen, so he can get a good angle on the screener’s chest, the widest and strongest part of the screener.

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The ball handler should have some type of a “starter” move. A jab step, an inside out dribble, etc. The purpose of the “starter” is to create space so the ball handler can start his move back to the screen. In the best case, it should put the  defender in a recovery mode, which will make the screen even more effective.

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Here are the 7 ways I teach to use ball screens:


1 Over The Top


This is the “base” move for ball screens. Nothing happens unless the defender believes the ball is going to be driven over the top.


The ball handler drives the ball over the top of the screen.


His primary objective is to create as much space as possible, between himself and the screener.


Bringing the ball to the middle of the court creates great space, from which he can reverse the ball, pass to the screener for a roll or a pop, or pitch back to the strong side for another action.


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 Reject the Screen

Once the ball handler have established his effectiveness at going over the top of the ball screen, defenders will try to adjust by beating him to the screen and squeezing over the top. In this case, we will look to “reject” the screen


After making his starter move, the ball handler makes his move back towards the screen.


It is important that he is still thinking of his “base move” (over the top).

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To defend the over the top move, the defender jumps to the screen and tries to beat him over the top.


The ball handler drives over the top and then makes a change dribble away from the screen hanging his defender on the screen

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The most common way to defend a ball screen is the “hedge and get over the top.” In this defense, the player guarding the screener steps out in the dribble lane, forcing the ball handler to go wide over the screen. This allows room over the top for the ball defender.


As the ball handler comes over the screen, the hedge man steps out to for him wide.



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Recognizing this, the ball handler attacks the hedge, forcing him to play the ball.


The ball handler the side steps, dragging the hedge away from the screen.


Space is important. The ball must separate far enough off the screen that the defenders must make a decision whether to switch or recover. At no time should the ball handler pick up his dribble or stop.



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Once the ball handler has created space to the middle, he will often find himself with a mismatch he should be able to take advantage of.



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In an effort to turn the ball handler back toward the screen, create a wider dribble angle or to prepare for a trap, the hedge (screener defender), jumps out high and separates himself from the screen. This makes it difficult for the ball handler to create the space he needs to make the screen effective.



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In making his “base move” (over the top), the ball handler recognizes the hedge has stepped high and has created a gap between hedge and the screen.


Ball handler then attacks the hedge and makes a hard change toward the gap, pushing the ball through first.



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Cut In


In this case, as the ball handler executes his “base move” (over the top), there is no hedge. The screen defender has instead stepped deep and the ball defender still fights over the top.



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The ball handler clears the screen, over the top and immediately makes a change dribble and cuts in directly in front of the screen.


This hangs the ball defender on the screen and creates a mismatch with the ball handler and the screen defender which he can exploit.



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If the ball defender chooses to go below the screen, he is probably doing so to meet the ball handler on the other side of the screen. This usually happens when the defender feels that the screen is being set outside the scoring area.



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When the ball handler clears the screen, the screener turns and set another screen. The ball handler changes back to come off the screen again.



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If the screen is set in a scoring area and the defender goes behind the screen, the ball handler hides behind the screen and looks for his shot.


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Don Kelbick

Coach Don Kelbick has had 27 years of coaching experience, 25 at the college level including 14 years as a head coach and 10 years as a Division I assistant including stops at Hofstra University, Marist College, Keene State College, and Florida International University. In 2 years as a high school coach, his teams produced 6 Division I players and was ranked #1 in Florida 28 out of a possible 34 weeks. In addition to coaching he has scouted for NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Hawks, and served as a general manager in the USBL.