So what is an Illegal Screen anyway? 01/2009-updated

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Name of blog Illegal Screen Blog
Blog author Illegal Screen Blog
Blog post date 2009/02/01
Blog URL
Post Topic Team Offense Discussion
What is a screen?

A screen is a maneuver by a player (almost always offensive, although there's no reason in the rulebook that a defensive player can't set one) which requires an opponent to either run around or collide with them, usually to create an advantage a teammate of the screener.

What does a LEGAL screen look like?

To be a legal, a screener must be:
--stationery (with two minor exceptions listed below),
--standing with feet shoulder width apart or less,
--standing without extending the arms, elbows, hips, or knees outside the frame of the body.

So that's it?
Nope. There are restrictions on where and when a screen can be set. As the NFHS rulebook says, time and distance are factors in a screen's legality.

In general, the following rule of thumb must be followed:

The screener must give the screened player a real opportunity to avoid contact with the screener.

That means different things in different situations. where and when can a screen be set?Keeping the above rule of thumb in mind, the answer depends.

If the screener is within the visual confines of a stationary opponent, he/she can set the screen anywhere short of touching the opponent. A millimeter away would be legal because the screened player would be able to avoid contact since he/she could see the screen.

If the screener is outside the visual confines of a stationary defender, he/she must set the screen at least one step away from the opponent. This step gives the screened player the legitimate chance to avoid contact. Think about it...if the player the opponent is guarding runs in that direction, the opponent more than likely will turn his/her head at least a bit in giving chase, thus putting the screener into his/her visual field.

If the opponent is moving, the same rule of thumb applies: there must be a legitimate chance to avoid contact. Here's how NFHS spells that out:

If the screener is screening a moving opponent, he/she must set the screen somewhere between one and two strides from the opponent, so as to give the defender "time and distance" to stop or change direction. The distance will vary based on the speed of the screened player. NFHS does not distinguish between whether this screen is within or outside the screened player's visual field, so the 1-2 strides applies to both.

Ouch! If the screened player can't see the screen, there could be a big collision. What's the call?
It could be nothing. If the screener remains more or less stationary (allowing for minor movements to protect him/herself), and the opponent is unaware, then POW, but neither player has done anything illegal--no foul to call. If the screener throws forward hands, pelvis, knees, chest, etc. and initiates contact, that's an illegal screen. If the opponent is aware that the screener is there but runs through and knocks the screener over, that's a foul on the opponent. Even if the opponent is unaware of the screener, if he/she actively pushes or grabs the screener once the collision begins and he/she becomes aware, that's also a foul on the opponent.

But, to reiterate, a nasty collision between a stationary screener and an unaware opponent is a stone-cold no-call unless the screener has the ball and is knocked back, in which case a foul must be called on the opponent--since that'd be a terribly unfair travel call otherwise.

(NFHS puts it this way: "[T]he opponent may make inadvertent contact with the screener, and if the opponent is running rapidly, the contact may be severe. Such a case is to be ruled as incidental contact provided the opponent stops or attempts to stop on contact and moves around the screen, and provided the screener is not displaced if he/she has the ball.")

Is there any acceptable way that a screener may move?A screener is allowed to move in the same path and direction as the opponent. So, for example, if the opponent is moving towards the sideline, the screener may legally move in front of him/her towards the same sideline.

Also, once a screener has established position, it is perfectly legal for him/her move a little to brace him/herself in anticipation of contact, provided he/she does not initiate any part of the contact. That's a key distinction.

However, other than that, no, a screener may NOT move. If they do, it's an illegal screen.

Common illegal screen movements include the aforementioned throwing out of a knee, hip, elbow, or shoulder to try to clip an opponent going by, or throwing the pelvis, stomach, forearms, or chest forward to make contact a bit more painful when it occurs. Both of these are no-nos, and if contact occurs, it's a foul.

What's the penalty for an illegal screen? Do we shoot free throws?

It depends on when it happens.

Most illegal screens are set by the offense while team control belongs to the screener. This is considered a team control foul. No free throws are shot on team control fouls.

However, not all illegal screens are during team control. For example, there is no team control on a throw-in until the ball is controlled in-bounds. (This is why a team can chuck the ball from its own endline into its backcourt on a throw-in and not get called for over-and-back...they never had team control in the frontcourt.) This is NOT considered a team control foul, and the non-fouling team would shoot free throws: one-and-one if the bonus is in effect, two if it's double-bonus time. (Please note that the opposite is true in NCAA and NBA basketball, where the offended player would not shoot because there is team control on a throw-in under their rules. See Massref's comment below.) (UPDATE: NFHS has changed this rule. As of the 2011-12 season, there is team control during a throw-in, and there is therefore no shooting if an illegal screen occurs then.)

The same would be true in other situations where there's not team control, like after a shot is released but before it is gathered on a rebound, although I'm having trouble imagining a screen at those times. Still, if it happens then, it's not a team control foul.

Can you sum all that up for me?

Sure! Happy to. The screener has to set the screen in a way that gives the opponent a chance to avoid contact by stopping or changing direction. The distance that must be given varies by situation; namely, the visibility of the screener and the speed of the opponent. The screener may move in the same path and direction as the opponent.

The screener must stay within his/her vertical plane: no throwing body parts forward to maximize pain, damage, or psychological trauma to the opponent.

The screener must also keep body parts, from feet up through the shoulders, inside the usual bodily throwing out extremities to the side to clip an opponent, "bump a cutter," or make him/her run farther.

The screened player must attempt to avoid contact. No intentionally plowing through the screener, or pushing or grabbing to clear up their path.

If an unaware opponent collides with a stationary screener, the result may be quite a spectacular crash...but there's no foul unless the screener has the ball and is displaced (i.e, is forced to travel). (And yes, you can set a screen with the ball.)

We don't shoot free throws for an illegal screen if the screener's team has team control. However, remember that there is no team control on throw-ins, and so illegal screens committed before the ball is secured in-bounds on a throw-in are NOT team control fouls. The aggrieved team will shoot free throws on those fouls if they're in the bonus. (UPDATE: as of 2011-12, they don't shoot them anymore as NFHS changed that rule so there is team control during a throw-in.)

I hope this clears things up for the many illegal screen Googlers who land here. Best of luck with your seasons.

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