I think there are certain things that are hard to change about today’s player and style. I think the selfishness and the isolation is here to stay for a while. When you watch highlights of the Magic and Bird era there was much more passing and ball movement involved. The game itself was more enjoyable one to watch on strictly a purist level. The pick and roll today is much more advanced as well as defensive rotations. I think coaches have really revolutionized off the ball rotations, pick and roll coverages as well as shrinking the floor instead of denying one pass away.
One aspect of the game on all levels that has taken a hit is screening. It’s hard to find a lot of teams that screen well. A lot of our game is so much isolation and dribble oriented that many teams don’t take advantage of screening. Even on ball screens, I notice that a lot of screeners slip the screen or just screen an area and never make contact with the defender guarding the ball handler. Good screening teams are so hard to defend, because if done correctly a screen can cause most teams to switch allowing the offense to have an advantage. So many times you watch The San Antonio Spurs set great pin downs enabling shot makers to get that extra second they need to get their shots off. I lose track of how many great ball screens that Tim Duncan sets that forces the defender guarding him to switch on Tony Parker enabling him to isolate against a bigger slower opponent giving him all the space he needs to blow by them and get easy shots. This isn’t because of all the elaborate sets that their coach sets, it’s just the result of knowing how to make simple basketball plays. I use the Spurs a lot in examples of screening teams because they are one of the older teams in the NBA and continue to compete for championships. This isn’t just because of screening, but by converting easy plays by setting good screens they can take advantage of mismatches on the floor. By setting good screens and rolling their big men hard to the rim it enables them to get easy baskets without having to run a million plays. They can simply come down in early offense and set some screens to see if they can free up Manu or get Duncan on a deep post up. This also can get them uncontested shots early in the shot clock instead of pounding the ball and taking tough contested shots deep in the shot clock. In the flow of the game the goal is to take as many easy uncontested shots as possible. No way will you win by isolating the majority of your possessions. You need to find easy ways to score, and if you cant get it in transition or second chance points then screening will have to be one of your team’s best weapons.
I think it’s so easy to take advantage of simple things like screening. I think average teams as well as teams that are older who can’t isolate and get into the lane can benefit form being great screening teams. Like I’ve posted in earlier blogs this has to be a philosophy that you hold your teams accountable for every day, especially in practice. There come times when you want your big men to slip the screen to gain certain advantages, but to continue to have screeners that don’t hit someone on the screen is really hurting your team. Any team or workout that I’ve ever been a part of I always hold player’s accountable for not hitting someone on the screen. It’s just silly to think that there are so many opportunities that teams miss out on because they don’t screen well. When good screen are set it forces defenders to switch and rotate forcing them to panic and play on their heels. Especially if you have active big men that you roll to the rim on ball screens, pin downs, and dribble hand offs hitting people on screens gives you such an advantage.
Just like anything else it needs to be instilled in practice and you must stay on your players about hitting defenders on screens. Don’t let them get away with just being robots and setting their screens on areas instead of hitting someone. Your ball handlers can be more efficient as well as your shooters. In practice you can set up so many 3-on-3 situations where you teach them how to get open and defend screens. I think before you put your sets in early in the season you should spend a day or two breaking down the offensive and defensive aspects of screening. Make sure your players understand both sides of the ball with screening. This way in games you can run any offense and your players will understand. When opponents run different sets, your players will already understand about staying connected to their man and how the player guarding the screener needs to stay connected to their man and in some cases help on the shooter coming off the screen. I’ve always been a firm believer in having your players understand pin downs, cross screens, back screens, wide pin downs, zipper screens, and ball screens that they will be prepared on both sides of the ball at least on the defensive end. Just like anything else if you practice it and break it down easily players will benefit greatly from it.
When working with bigger wing players, I always tell them when they need easy baskets in the flow of the game to set ball screens on the point guard. Usually if you set good screens your opponent will more times than not call for a switch. This will allow the wing player to have a smaller point guard on them. I always tell them when the switch occurs to roll that guard to the elbow or post and take advantage of the mismatch. My players always know to take advantage of cross screening for their big men to get open on the ball side. Same thing hit the bigger man with the screen and force their opponent to switch leaving a big man with a sing player on their back posting them up on the block giving them the advantage on the post. These are all examples of what basketball plays are. These are simple ways to gain the advantage by executing. In my opinion this is the way the game should be taught. Break it down into small pieces and teach your players how to take advantage of forcing mismatching by simply screening.
Screening is only one part of the game that needs to be cleaned up. But if players understand the benefits from screening and know form their coach that they need to hit defenders when setting them you will see improvement. On ball screens the same thing from hitting the defender with it and then rolling hard to the rim it can cause some issues for opponent to defend you. Players like Tim Duncan, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison are just a few players that are great screeners at the NBA level. The next time you are watching a game on any level pay attention to how players screen. A lot of them are in areas and initiate the screen, but more times than not they don’t make contact. This is the result of wanting to be in the right place and do what the coach wants but not understanding why they are doing it. Players at all levels, especially the younger ones desperately need to learn the benefits of screening. It is part of the game that can improve your team at all levels.