The Ball Screen in College Basketball

Ball screens can serve three primary purposes.

  1. Relieve pressure on the ball handler.
  2. Create a mismatch for the ball handler or the screener
  3. Puts defenders in a position to make decisions on what they allow and what they take away.

For the most part, guards in the college game are good enough ball handlers to keep the defense from taking it. There are only a few instances where ball screens are used to relieve pressure.

Most ball screens are set post to guard. As a result most teams aren’t going to switch when they are playing man to man.

Against man-to-man defenses, setting ball screens puts defenders in positions to make decisions. Go over? Go under? Show? Hedge? Ice? Trap? Jam? Am I leaving anything out? Setting ball screens forces defenders to make decisions. When Steve Nash was in his prime, there was no right decision. There’s a reason he won the NBA MVP award. It wasn’t because he was the best athlete on the court. Off a ball screen, he was unguardable. Go under he’ll shoot behind it. Go over and he’ll finish in the lane. Trap or Ice and he’ll find the open player. Hedge and he’ll split it.

He’s not the only one. There are numerous NBA players who have similar skill sets and athletic abilities. The reason ball screens are so effective at higher levels is because the players have the skills to make defenders pay no matter what they do. 

How would you guard Karl Malone or Tim Duncan when he’s setting a ball screen? You can’t do anything that would leave them open which gives the guard a huge advantage. I’m not sure there are that many players at the college level who can compare to those two post players. 

 When players with limited skill sets are involved in ball screens, the decision becomes easier for the defender. If they can’t shoot, go under. If they can shoot, go over. If they are small or can’t handle it or you just want to be disruptive, trap or ice it. Against undisciplined defenses, the ball screen will work great, but so will anything else. 

 To say that that ball screens should not be set would be unintelligent. That’s not the case at all. However, the more they are utilized, the easier they become to defend. Defenses can predict that it’s coming. They learn to adjust. 

In the college game, the best shooters aren’t as good as NBA shooters especially off the dribble. College decision makers aren’t nearly as good as Tony Parker and Chris Paul.

Why would we put players in situations where only the best players can be effective on a regular basis?

Why not use them occasionally? Why not use them strategically?

Even an average hitter will eventually hit the fastest fast ball if that’s all the pitcher throws. A decent defense will adjust.

Without the skill set, the ball screen isn’t that effective. If you’ve got a player that can really do it all, then set ball screens for that player as much as you want.

It all goes back to what fits your personnel. 

I just don’t see that many guards or posts who have the skills to effectively execute ball screens on a regular basis. I see a lot of ball screens that are more detrimental to the success of the offense than they are helpful. 

Posted in R&R