Using Screens to Best Effect

Posted on Jul 07 2020

Developing the skill, concept and understanding of young players to effectively use screens away from the ball to create high percentage shooting options remains an important element for all youth development coaches.

With the increase in prevalence of the drive and kick game, many young players are not being exposed to or developing the art of using screens away from the ball. At the youth level, more perimeter shots are coming from the drive and kick setting, with young players displaying a good understanding of getting to shooting “floor spots” and also displaying good concepts in making the “extra” to create a better shot. Often these shot opportunities are coming to a stationary shooter, or one that has moved into the appropriate floor spot and is a “straight line” or “step in” catch.

But at the senior and international level, the ability of the shooter to create time and space through effective and efficient use of the down and flare screen remains important and youth coaches need to continue to work on this important offensive concept.

As defences improve, it is harder to simply get open through cutting and running to receiver spots. Screening becomes more prevalent against more complex and athletic defences, so the ability of the cutter (shooter) to connect with and use the screen is crucial to player development.

Some concepts and ideas on developing young shooters’ ability to use screens effectively –

The Set-up is Key – 

Much to the success in using screens comes well before the point of the contact. The elite shooters do their work early, influencing their defender to create the best angle to use the screen. Young players tend to watch the ball, elite shooters watch their defender.

When defending a significant shooting threat, the defence will want to make it as physical as possible. The shooter needs to be up to the battle and use that physical presence to their advantage.

This video of Melbourne United and Australian Boomers sharpshooter Chris Goulding demonstrates the work done early in fighting the physicality of the defender and influencing the defence to an area on the floor to set up the next part of the cut.

Goulding is also elite at using the “drive step” to influence on direction and then push hard off to cut at speed in the other. This is important in creating the separation from the defender and building speed to the point of the screen.

Cutting is a Game of Deception – 

Offensive basketball in general is a game of deception and using screens very much fits into that. Use of “mis-direction’ is a big part of the arsenal of great screen users and the ability to influence the defence to a point of advantage for the cutter is key in freeing shooters for high percentage looks.

Some aspects of “deception” that the shooter needs in their arsenal –

  • The “catch fake” – using the hands to make the defender the shooter wants the ball early or in a certain position on the floor
  • The offence can ACT quicker than the defence can REACT
  • Use of the “drive step” or influence steps to shift a defender one way, then cut another
  • Eyes and body language – look one way, go another; “start, stop, start” cutting
  • Mis-direction cutting – basket cut to set up the next cut, flare to set up the curl
  • Patience – better late than early when cutting off screens

Know where the best screeners “live” – 

The best proponents of freeing themselves off screens for high percentage shots know exactly who the best screeners are and know how to make that connection. You will often see elite shooters come out of a time-out talking to their “favourite” screener to ensure they have a connection on the next cut or ATO set. This communication demonstrates the importance to the team-mate of the role they are doing in helping  get a great shot for the team.

Be an elite screener first – 

Steph Curry has redefined perimeter shooting in his NBA career, but an area of his game that is underrated is his willingness and ability screen for team-mates. Curry is a willing screener and this helps him get open in two ways; it occupies his defender in help and potential switches and, it shows his team-mates he values screening and they work they do to get him open.

Similarly Australian Opals star Rebecca Allen is an effective screener and often sets screens to create timing and angles to use the next screen. Her patience to read the defence and how the first cutter is played is key in shaking loose her defender.

Some other aspects to consider when developing this important concept – 

  • Slow to set up, sprint to cut
  • Constantly coach the hands – both in the set-up and coming off to receive
  • Shoulder to hip use of the screen
  • Cut to threaten the defence, not simply to get a catch
  • Embrace the “sacrificial cut” – it is not always about the cutter or the first cutter
  • Teach curl, flare and fade foot pattern consistently
  • Ask questions – “what did your defender do then?”
  • Teach and drill with defence – if reading the defence is key, practicing against defence is crucial
  • Value the screener as an option to receive


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