The other day I did a teleconference with #GBetBBChat founder Jon DeMarco (follow @Coach_DeMarco on Twitter). Coach DeMarco meets with coaches every Wednesday at 8 P.M. to uncover literally every topic you can think of in the game of basketball. I asked him about screening and on a narrower level ball screens. Here are the major takeaways from our conversation.

The Why in Ball Screening

Ted Talk speaker Simon Sinek would argue that we always start with why. Players need to hear the why to buy into setting good screens. Coach DeMarco’s rationale for screening is, “A good screen creates a scoring opportunity.” Not exactly an earth-shattering statement, but consider a few things if you teach screening on this premise.

First, how often do players go through the motions when setting a screen as opposed to actually setting it? Second, if the same player that went through the motions could visualize or recall a play in which the team scored off of a screen each time they went to set a screen how would that impact the play?

The Who in Ball Screens

Forwards are the ones setting ball screens exclusively on my teams. When we break out into drills or small-sided games, the guards are never permitted to set them. We do have players that are versatile who handle both roles, but it is usually one or two players only. I asked Coach DeMarco what he thought of guards setting screens and he brought up a couple good points.

If you have a guard who is a great shooter, that player setting a ball screen can cause problems for defenses. Teams that hedge are really going to be in a bind because it leaves this player free for a moment in a pick and pop. Addiitionally, if the ball screen is followed by a flare screen, fighting the screen is a major challenge.

The other consideration that needs to be made for the screener is their motor. Coach DeMarco told me that his teams did not have the personnel to overwhelm opponents with size, but they would have success on ball screens simply by an undersized forward rolling hard to the rim.

The What in Screening

Coach DeMarco mentioned two principles that I have not taught in the past and will incorporate moving forward. First, the player coming off the screen should go shoulder to hip. I have heard this before, but did not explicitly teach it well enough to players in the past. If you have the opportunity to watch your team run sets with screens (on ball or off ball) count the amount of times that this is actually taking place. As disappointed as I am with myself on failing to teach this concept, my opponents are also failing. I think it is an under-taught part of the game in general given how many possessions feature some type of screen.

Second, Coach DeMarco used the analogy of a screener getting to the screen in the same manner a wide receiver gets separation. Screeners should avoid disclosing where the screen will take place and the angle they will take. The same exact analogy can be used for a player trying to use a screen. Players at the high school level have a tendency to telegraph screens. Think about how much easier it is for teams to get ahead of hedging, blitzing, etc. when they know a few seconds before the play happens.

The How in Teaching Ball Screens

Coach DeMarco told me that his most recent teams were more concerned with defending screens in practice than generating offense with them. Their offense centered on a dribble drive motion offense, but they needed to defend teams that emphasized ball screens. Their progression in defending the dribble drive went from 2 on 2 to 3 on 3 to 4 on 4. Each time a new player was added, they put that player in the corner to space the floor.

I have always liked Bob Hurley’s pick and roll drills (see page eight). It is a great introduction to showing players the variety of options they have in a ball screen. Inevitably though teaching through a small-sided game where a ball screen initiates any scoring will help players make decisions. If you have multiple coaches available, it is a much more efficient way to run practice. One coach can teach defensive decision making and the other can drive home the points above regarding the technique and opportunities available to the offense.

Tom Izzo on Defending Ball Screens

Coach DeMarco heard from high school coach Cory Meyer Tom Izzo state that if he were a high school coach he would teach players to switch all ball screens. The rationale behind it being that teams at the high school level are atrocious at taking advantage of matchups. In the past, I have had teams that will switch one hundred percent of the time. Coach Helen Williams convinced me that a team which does not switch plays with a tougher and more competitive mentality.

Hearing Izzo’s perspective is still something worth reflecting on. Offensively, we need to teach players two things. First, look for that matchup. Whether it is a big on a little or a quick player on a slow player. Players need to develop the IQ and we can help them with this by emphasizing personnel and communicating our own team’s strengths. Second, once the player with the mismatch has the ball, they need to make a good decision. Too often these players interpret a mismatch as an opportunity to force a shot. There might be a double or triple team that ensues because their opponent recognizes the situation as well. Getting the best shot out of a mismatch does not mean that the player with the physical advantage is shooting it.

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