Defending the Off-Ball Screen

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Sight and Communication

Even prior to the screen being set it's important for the defensive team to be aware of what is going on around them and the weak side help defender is usually the key to this. Although players are often taught to see the ball and the person they are guarding, screens are most often set to the blind side of a defender. Keeping the call simple is important and we usually designate that teammates should simply call the name of the person with the screen incoming to make them aware that something is coming their way. Over-complicating this call is too chaotic and will only serve to distract players from a fast paced defensive scenario. The next step in communication is aiding the player in recovery which can come either through making a defensive switch or by telling/aiding the screened player to "fight through" or "get through".

Creating Space

One of the most significant factors in how effective a screen is addresses not only how well the screen is used by the offensive player but how much space the defender has to recover through the screen. Defenders should always have their hands up and wide in their normal defensive stance, this can be utilized to keep space between the screener and the defender getting screened. When a teammate communicates that a screen is coming the player can use their arm to maintain space by holding the ground to their sides and then moving around the screen. It's illegal to push off or to move into a screener with the arm extended but if you are simply maintaining the space that you were already occupying it will give you the extra space that will allow you to get through a screen.

Fighting Through a Screen

Fighting through a screen has two major components:

  • How the player being screened is looking to guard the person, if a switch is not preferable:
    • Player is known to be a good shooter: The defender should look to fight over the top of the screen to be able to quickly contest a shot off a pass. The risk of this tactic is the player making a curl cut off the screen to the basket.
    • Player is known to be a poor shooter: The defender should look to slide underneath the screen which allows the defender to protect the basket and prevent an open cut to the rim.
    • In the case of shooting talent being unknown, defending underneath the screen is the preferable defensive option with the coach being ready to adjust if necessary.
  • How the player guarding the screener:
    • The player guarding the screener can "pull through" which means to grab the man being screened and guide them past the screen into the cutting lane of the offense. Some coaches will even recommend the player grab a hold of the player's jersey to help literally pull them through. As the player guarding the screener can see what is in front of them, their physical contact can help guide the defender past the screen.
    • The player guarding the screener can "show" and this is more commonly done with an on the ball screen. The player steps into the path of the offensive player just long enough to deter them til the screened player recovers.

Switches Off the Ball

Switching is a defensive communication call where players will switch the offensive player they are guarding to prevent the offense from gaining an advantage off of a situation. The most common situation where this is used is away from the basketball is in a situation where a defender is blind-sided by a screen and the player he was guarding has a direct path to the basket.

The easiest remedy to this situation of course is to make sure your team is communcating well which will allow the screened player to fight through it or anticipate it in the first place. Switching is most often employed when a situation arises where defending an open shot attempt takes preference over risking a defensive mismatch. This type of situation is most often seen in when defending with little time left on the clock as coaches will recognize that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Mismatches should be addressed as quickly as possible to get the proper matchup reimplemented as quickly as possible.

Benefits of Switching

  • Less likely to give up an open shot attempt
  • Defensive players will be more likely to maintain position between the basket and the offensive player
  • Often necessary (even if temporarily) against weak side screening offensive sets particularly those that utilize the flex screen.
  • Can help to minimize being face cut.

Risks of Switching

  • Mismatches - A small ends up guarding a big or a big ends up guarding a small.
  • Miscommunication - One player calls a switch and the other doesn't recognize/hear the call. Two players end up guarding the same player leaving someone wide open.
  • Bad positioning - A switch may be called with one of the players in a position of disadvantage to defend a cut.