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How to Defend Ball Screens in Basketball

How to Defend Ball Screens

Great offensive basketball teams set very good ball screens. A ball screen is when an offensive player comes and uses their body to block the path of the defender guarding the basketball to open up the offensive player.

Ball screens are one of the most effective offensive actions. It creates an advantage for the offense because it forces the defense to communicate and work together to defend the screen. Great defensive basketball teams defend ball screens very good. They don’t let ball screens stop them from shutting down their opponents.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the different ways to defend a ball screen and the advantages and disadvantages of each defensive strategy. When you’re done reading, you should have a better understanding of defending ball screens and what type of defense you want to use when your opponent tries to ball screen.

#1 Skill Required to Defend Ball Screens

No matter which type of ball screen defense is used, the two defenders working together to defend the screen must communicate with each other. They must talk through the screen being set and how they will guard and recover it.

To be successful defending ball screens it starts with the defender who is guarding the offensive players setting the screen. If you are this defender, your first job is to communicate to your teammate that a screen is coming and whether it’s going to be on their left, right, or directly behind them.

Once your teammate knows the screen is coming and from where, you must then communicate to your teammate how to defend the screen. It’s your job to either call out the ball screen defense your Coach told you to use or read the situation and make a game-time decision on how to defend the screen.

You will continue to communicate to your teammate until you both recover to your offensive player or switch and get reset defensively.

5 Different Ways to Defend Ball Screens

What’s the consequence of not properly defending the ball screen? The offense will get high percentage shots with dribble penetration, open passing lanes to the screener rolling to the basket, and easy kick-out passes to shooters if the defense collapses because they have to help stop the ball.

The decision of which way to guard the screen can be made based on the advantages and disadvantages of each of these defensive techniques, and how they would apply to the offensive players and the game situation. In other words, different situations call for different defending tactics.

With this in mind, there are five main ways in which two teammates can defend against a ball screen and we’re going to break those down in detail. Read on to learn how to utilize these different strategy, when to utilize them, and the advantages and disadvantages that comes along with them.

Important Note: In these breakdowns, the player originally guarding the ball handler will be referred to as the first defender, and the player originally guarding the screener will be referred to as the second defender.

#1: Hedge Ball Screens

There are two ways to hedge a ball screen: hard hedge or soft hedge. The way to know which hedge to use is by knowing your opponent. If the ball handler is a solid, all around player then you want to hard hedge their ball screen and force them to make a play. If the ball handler is a poor shooter then soft hedge their ball screens and put the pressure on them to knock down a shot.

Hard Hedge

When using a Hard Hedge to defend a ball screen, the second defender will slide out aggressively to stop the ball handler from driving. As this happens, the first defender is fighting through the screen to recover to the ball handler. After the second defender stops the progress of the ball and the first defender has recovered, they sprint back and recover to their original offensive player.

Advantages

    • Prevents ball handler from taking a quick jump-shot or attacking the rim
    • Makes passing to the screener difficult

Disadvantages

    • Vulnerable to being split for an open driving lane to basket
    • The screener will be left open briefly
    • Difficult to recover and defend if offense sets the screen and pops

Soft Hedge

When using a Soft Hedge to defend a ball screen, the second defender will slide out at a flatter angle and show themselves just to prevent an open driving lane to the basket then recover back to their man. The first defender will fight through the screen to recover to the ball handler.

Advantages

    • Difficult for ball handler to drive to the basket
    • Encourages a poor shooting ball-handler to shoot the ball
    • Prevents the screen from slipping to the basket

Disadvantages

    • Gives ball handler an open shot coming off the screen
    • Difficult to recover and defend if offense sets the screen and pops
    • Possibly leaves second defender guarding ball handler one on one

Hedge Ball Screen Demo

2 Defenders Guarding Ball Screen

    • First Defender: Player 1
    • Second Defender: Player 5

Hedge Ball Screen and Recover

    • Player 1 guards ball handler
    • Player 5 guards screener
    • Screener comes to set a ball screen for the ball handler
    • On the screen, Player 5 hard hedges out forcing the ball handler to go high off screen
    • Player 1 fights over the top of the screen to recover back to ball handler
    • Player 5 sprints back to defender screener
    • Player 3 is ready to help if a pass is made to a rolling screener

Want more about Hedging Ball Screens? Watch Coach Chris break down hedging on the whiteboard and in action with game film.


#2: Under Ball Screens

Under is another way to defend a ball screen and it also has two options on how to defend. The deciding factor to go Under on a ball screener in this scenario is based off if the screener is a shooting threat.

You’ve already established the ball handler is a non-shooter which is why you’re going under the screen but whether your second defender is going to jam or step back while you go under depends on the screener. If your screener is a shooter, jam the screener while the first defender goes under, but if the screener is a non-shooter, step back and give room while the first defender goes under.

Jam Under

When jamming a ball screen, the second defender is going to jam up against the screener. As this happens, the first defender is going to go under both the screener and second defender and recover to pick up the ball handler on the other side of the screen.

Advantages

    • Encourages a poor shooting ball handler to shoot the ball
    • Prevents the screen from slipping, rolling, or popping for a shot

Disadvantages

    • If ball handler is quick they could be a step ahead coming off screen
    • First defender could get caught under the screens

Step Back Under

When stepping back on a ball screen, the second defender is going to give room between themselves and the screener as the screen is set. The first defender is going to go under the screen and through this gap to recover and pick the ball handler back up.

Advantages

    • Encourages a poor shooting ball handler to shoot the ball
    • Allows quick recovery on ball handler and screener

Disadvantages

    • If ball handler is quick they could be a step ahead coming off screen
    • First defender could not have enough room to get through gap

Under Ball Screen Demo

2 Defenders Guarding Ball Screen

    • First Defender: Player 1
    • Second Defender: Player 5

Jam Ball Screen and Go Under

    • Player 1 guards ball handler
    • Player 5 guards screener
    • Screener comes to set a ball screen for the ball handler
    • On the screen, Player 5 jams up close to screener
    • Player 1 goes under the ball screen (including the screener and Player 5)
    • Player 1 recovers on other side of screen to defend ball handler
    • Player 5 is in position to defend screener
    • Player 3 is ready to help if ball handler is able to attack with the dribble

#3: Switch Ball Screens

When switching to defend a ball screen, the two defenders will simply switch their defensive assignments as the ball screen happens and guard the other player the rest of the possession (unless their player sets another ball screen). In basketball terms, as the ball handler dribbles off the ball screen, the second defend will pick them up and continue to defend them while the first defender stays with the offensive player who set the screen.

The best time to use switching on ball screens is if your team matches up really well across the board. Are you players the same height? Same speed and athletic ability? Switching is a great option if that is the case. Otherwise, you’re looking at mismatches which will exploit your defense even more. Your big, slow defender guarding the ball handler is not a smart game move.

Advantages

    • Takes away direct looks and scoring opportunities
    • Simplifies defending ball screens

Disadvantages

    • Can create potential mismatches for ball handler and screener
    • Difficult to defend if screener choose to slip the screen and cut to basket

Switch Ball Screen Demo

2 Defenders Guarding Ball Screen

    • First Defender: Player 1
    • Second Defender: Player 5

Switch on Ball Screens

    • Player 1 guards ball handler
    • Player 5 guards screener
    • Screener comes to set a ball screen for the ball handler
    • On the screen, Player 5 switches on to ball handler and continues to defend
    • Player 1 switched on to screener and continues to defend
    • Player 3 is ready to help if ball handler is able to attack with the dribble

#4: Double Team Ball Screens

When using a double team to defend a ball screen, the second defender will hard hedge the screen to stop the ball handler and force them to retreat their dribble but instead of recovering back they stick with the ball. The first defender will fight through the screen and recover back to the ball handler. Now, you have both defenders guarding and trapping the ball.

The double team is a great option when you’re going against a strong ball handler who excels at shooting and dribble penetration and you want the ball out of their hands. If double team their ball screen hen you’re forcing them to get the ball out of their hands along with putting pressure on them to make a smart decision. Other times a double team can be beneficial on a ball screen is when you’re simply trying to catch the offense by surprise or looking to make a play at a critical time during the game.

Advantages

    • Eliminates ball handler’s ability to shoot or drive
    • Pressures ball handler to take care of the ball and make smart decisions

Disadvantages

    • Leaves screener open to roll or pop for a pass
    • If ball is passed or dribbled out of trap then defense has to quickly rotate to recover

Double Team Ball Screen Demo

2 Defenders Guarding Ball Screen

    • First Defender: Player 1
    • Second Defender: Player 5

Double Team on Ball Screen

    • Player 1 guards ball handler
    • Player 5 guards screener
    • Screener comes to set a ball screen for the ball handler
    • On the screen, Player 5 hedges out to force ball handler away from basket
    • Player 5 stays with the ball handler
    • Player 1 fights through screen and comes to trap ball handler
    • Player 3 is ready to help on defense if a pass is made out of the trap

#5: Ice Ball Screens

When icing or downing a ball screen, the first defender will overplay the ball handler in the direction away from the ball screen. The goal is to force the ball handler to reject the ball screen.

Icing a screen works well if the ball screen is on the sideline where you can force the ball handler to the baseline and prevent them from moving the ball back to the middle of the court.

Advantages

    • Can force ball handler to use weak hand to dribble
    • Prevents screen from happening

Disadvantages

    • Can give the ball handler an open drive or pull-up
    • If second defender helps, the screen is left open for a shot

Ice Ball Screen Demo

2 Defenders Guarding Ball Screen

    • First Defender: Player 1
    • Second Defender: Player 5

Ice on Ball Screen

    • Player 1 guards ball handler
    • Player 5 guards screener
    • Screener comes to set a ball screen for the ball handler
    • On the screen, Player 5 stays back to help on ball handler
    • Player 1 overplays ball screen side forcing ball handler to go the opposite direction
    • Player 3 is ready to help if a pass is made to a rolling screener

Defending Ball Screens Correctly

As you can see with all these defensive strategies against ball screens, you have to know when to use them. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages which makes knowing the personnel and game situation even more important.

Does the ball handler have a poor jump shot? Your defenders will want to soft hedge on any ball screen and force the ball handler to shoot the ball.

Is the ball screen on the wing? Try to ice the screen and force the ball handler baseline away from the screen.

Are you trying to catch the offense by surprise? Double team the ball screen.

Can you team guard any position on the court without creating mismatches? Switch ball screens and make the offense find a way to beat you.

Both the ball handler and screener are non-shooters? Step back and go under the ball screen.

Keys to Defending Ball Screens

Communication is the #1 key to ball screens but here are three more points to emphasize with your team.

    1. No Easy Paths to Ball Screen. The defender guarding the offensive player going to set the ball screen should not allow them to easily go where they want. Be physical and get in their way. If you can get them out of their path then they may not be able to go set the screen. Don’t let it be easy for them!
    2. No Direct Paths off Ball Screen. The defender guarding the offensive player going to set the ball screen has to make sure they don’t allow any direct paths off the screen. Whether they’re hedging or double teaming, it’s important to force the ball handler high, away from the hoop.
    3. Stay Low. The defender guarding the ball has to stay low and be ready. If they are quicker than the ball handler and can avoid the screen then they should be able to push the ball handler high and away without help.

Learn More

This article should cover everything you need to know about this defending ball screens, but there's always room to grow. To learn more start browsing through our vast selection of Coaching DVDs right now. Check out some of our favorites!


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Feb 15, 2019 Coach Chris

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