Back Screen: Offensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The Back Screen is possibly the hardest off ball screen to defend. It sends a cutter to the basket. The player defending the cutter can’t see the screen coming, Not to mention, the second you help too long on a back screen, you’re going to give up an open 3. Depending on who is defending the screener, you might end up with a mismatch in the post if there’s a switch. Execution of these fundamentals will help players maximize the effectiveness of the back screen.

1. Sprint to the screen
It might sound dumb but sprinting to set the back screen is probably the most important key to setting a good back screen. Getting separation from the defender is important, but the bigger factor is the reaction time of the defense. The less time they have to react to the screen the more effective it will be. If the defense doesn’t have much time to react, something good is probably going to happen.

2. Call your teammate’s name
In this style of basketball, we teach players to watch the ball. We always want them to be ready to move when the ball moves. Since these back screens are random, players who are off the ball need to know that a back screen is being set for them. Otherwise, they might not see the screen until it’s too late. I don’t think it matters if the opponent hears a player’s name being called. There’s too much going on for them to process that and react quickly enough.

3. Stop in time
There’s nothing worse than getting called for an illegal screen. It’s a turnover that results in a foul and it wasn’t even around the ball. If you sprint to the screen, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting close to the defender. Stop in plenty of time and let your teammate use the screen. If you called their name, they should be able to recognize the screen and use it effectively.

4. Use the screen 
The first three points are the screener’s responsibility. The next point is up to the cutter. If the screener has done their job, then the cutter’s job shouldn’t be that hard. Many times cutters don’t wait on screens. Because this screen isn’t planned, the cutter shouldn’t be expecting it. Waiting on the screen shouldn’t be a hug problem. Because it is random, the cutter will more than likely be “late” using the screen, but to me that’s ok. Late is ok if no one is expecting it. The cutter must run the defender into the screen and then cut off the screener’s hip using a good change of direction and speed. They must finish their cut through the rim and prepare for the next best action. This could be another back screen, they could just fill out, or they might have to react to the drive of the person who just screened for them.

5. Taking advantage of the advantage
When the screener’s defender sees the back screen being set, the most natural reaction is to stop early and protect the rim against the cutter. Whether this is the defensive technique that the team wants to use or not, many players will do that naturally. If that’s the case, the screener has a distinct advantage especially if they are a good shooter. It is very difficult for the player defending the screener to protect the rim and closeout to the screener. After the screen, the screener must quickly face the basket and evaluate the defense before the pass arrives. They have to know that if a good screen was set, that they are probably open with an opportunity to make an aggressive play.


32 Split Low

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

32 Split Low is the next call that we will explore.

“32” specifies a 3 out 2 in alignment.

“Split” specifies that the post players must be opposite of one another at all times.

“Low” specifies that the ball side post player should be in the low post.

***Side note: Remember the post spots are the Short Corner, Mid Post and Elbow. While the short corner is “lower” than the mid post, I’m referring to the mid post.

Remember these diagrams are not actions that are set in stone.  These are just possibilities. Your players will come up with more if you let them. I had fun with this one. I would like to see what other people come up with.


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The point passes to the wing. Boring right? You’re right it is, but I had to start somewhere. The screen for 2 from 4 is optional because 2 can just fill, but while 4 is there, they can make themselves useful. This could turn into a back screen or fade screen as well. For now we will keep it simple and have 2 fill the top spot while 1 fills out to the opposite side. Later, you’ll see what happens when this player fills to the ball side.








Page 637Of course, 5 is posting up and looking for the ball. If 1’s defender stops in help, like they are probably taught, 5 may not be open. That’s ok, because 1’s defender just set themselves up to get screened. If 1’s defender follows them out of the lane then 5 should be open for a post entry.  Of course if 4’s defender is helping off on the post then they should be open in the high post.

In this situation, let’s just say 1’s defender is in help side on 5. 4 can pin in 1’s defender. 1 lines up with 4 and 3 throws the skip pass. 2 cuts because they were skipped. In this case, they fill to the ball side. Since 5 is now opposite the ball, they fill the high post while 4 fills the low post.

4 may not be able to receive a pass off of a seal from the pin screen, but 4’s defender is going to have to make a choice.  Little do they know that behind them the other post player is moving to the high post and taking away help side defense.  3 is filling the top spot which brings the last help side defender 1 pass away. If 4’s defender plays behind, we should be able to get 4 the ball. If not, the lob should be available.



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If you’re Phil Jackson, this might look familiar. There’s a strong side triangle on the left side of the floor. We could have had this alignment on the first pass if 1 had cut to the ball side corner. Of course there are dozens of actions in the triangle that start from this alignment.

For the sake of continuing the offense, let’s say 4’s defender plays behind and we’re able to get the ball to 4.  1’s responsibility is to Laker Cut. Now they could Laker Cut and screen for 2, 3, or 5, but for now we’ll say they just fill out. Notice how turning the Laker Cut into an X-cut or into a back screen as a NBA would make things interesting.

Again 1’s defender should stay in help, which sets them up for a nice little pin screen from 5. 2 fills up from the corner. Of course 5 may be open on a dive to the basket, but that probably turns into a lay-up so let’s keep going.



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Notice if 4 puts the ball on the floor to the baseline side, 1 would fill the corner spot following the Baseline Drive principles.  If 4 drove middle, everyone would circle move. The question might be what about 5. I would encourage them to circle move to the right and be available around the low post/short corner.

However, 4 doesn’t feel comfortable trying to score or put the ball on the floor so they decide to kick it out to 2. They could kick it to 1 or 3 as well. The best option is the open option, and for now we’re going to say 2 is the open player.

4 could repost.  They could sprint into a ball screen, but in this diagram they screen away for the other post player. 5 knows their job is to go low since they are on the ball side.  4 has to stay high.  Notice we look a lot like we did in the second diagram.



Page 640This time instead of a skip pass, 2 passes to the top to 3 and cuts to the basket.  5 steps up and back screens 2’s defender on the cut. As 2 exits the lane, 4 back screens 1’s defender as 1 cuts to the basket.  Then 5 sets the second screen for 1 to either flare to the wing or curl to the lane. You might be thinking, there’s no way I could get my players to do all this.

I say, why not? Let’s keep moving. I will address that in a minute.










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1 and 2 have basically switched sides of the court. However, these actions were not predicated. Who knows what kind of match-ups we have right now. It’s quite possible that the defenders have switched at some point along the way or that a defender has gotten themselves out of position.  However, let’s say they’ve played great defense on actions that they couldn’t foresee, because our own players aren’t following a prescribed set of actions.

Now 3 decides to dribble-at 1 for a dribble handoff. 2 fills just as they would if it were a dribble-at.  4 and 5 wait patiently and prepare for the next action.






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As 1 turns the corner, 2 circle moves while 4 and 5 slide away from the penetrator to either open up the lane or open up themselves.








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Now 1 has a decision to make. Does the action have to stop on this penetration?  Of course not. 1 might dribble back to the top of the key and pass to a wing.  They might kick out to 2 who makes an entry pass to 4 and Laker Cuts.  The action could continue as long as the clock is running and the offense doesn’t give up possession of the ball by either shooting it or turning it over.

The point here is that this is just one combination of actions that are based on this one alignment.  Yet, the action could look very different at any number of points along the way. In each frame of the action, the ball handler could have chosen any number of different actions to take with the ball. Then as a cutter, what they do when they cut changes things. Even which side of the court a player decides to fill makes things different as well.





This may seem complicated. Remember all the players are doing is executing one simple action and then reacting accordingly. They don’t need to know what action to execute next. They just need to focus on executing the next one correctly. The action of the post players is not predicated either. Remember they have two rules to follow in this case.  The first is that when the ball is driven towards the basket to move out of the way.  The second is based on the call that we made at the beginning, “32 Split Low”.

You might wonder how post players know when to set these screens. You’re right, there are no rules, but they can be taught. These screens aren’t being set by them going way out of their way.  All of them “make sense” based on their location and the cutter’s movement. All they really need to do is see the cutter coming prepare for the contact. The cutter just needs to use the post players as they cut off of them.

The good news is that the offense doesn’t break if someone forgets to set a screen. Maybe a post player is busy posting up instead of screening.  Well this can be just as effective. Maybe they decide to set another kind of screen somewhere along the line. That’s good too. This single possibility has a number of others built into it. The way I see it there are no wrong answers as long as players remain spaced, move themselves with a purpose, and move the ball with a purpose, including attacking the lane off the dribble.

32 Split High

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

This is a first on this blog.  I’m actually talking about making a call. You might be surprised. I certainly think there are times when a coach can impact a game by making the right call. The question is how does that call change the team’s outlook. I will cover that in a different post. For now, let’s look at “32 Split High”.

“32 Split High”

“32” is obviously 3 out 2 in. That’s the easy part.

“Split High” refers to the location of the post players. “Split” tells them that one should be high and one should be low at all times. “High” means that the ball side post should be at the high post.

All I’ve done is called an alignment.  I haven’t called any actions. I haven’t restricted the play of the offense.  I’ve just created the opportunities for some interesting offensive spacing and actions.  There is no set pattern here. Let’s look at a couple different possibilities when players follow the basic concepts that we’ve outlined so far. These are actions that just naturally flow off of the basic actions of the players.  The combinations and possibilities are endless.


Page 629Initially, you might ask which post is “High” when the ball is in the middle of the floor.  You can answer that any way you want. It could be either, both or neither.  There is justification for all three answers.  I chose the 4 just because that’s how I happened to draw it. There is no specific reason.

In a very inauspicious beginning to the action, the point guard passes to the wing and cuts to the basket just like they are supposed to.  2 fills the spot vacated by 1 and 1 fills out to the corner.






Page 630As 2 fills up, 5 yells “PIN” on the backside and 4 sets a back screen for 2.  You can certainly call this a fade screen.  It could also be considered a “PIN” screen. Either of those are fine, but to keep it consistent with I’ve written so far, it would technically be a back screen. Pin screens are set on help side defenders.  2’s defender is 1 pass away. Depending on your defensive terminology, this could be considered “help side”.  Usually, I reserve help side for more than 1 pass away. Again, it’s up to you, it’s just important that you’re consistent with your players.

Back to the action. 4 is screening for a defender who is moving to get in the gap defensively to help on the potential middle drive from 3. 5 has pinned in 1’s defender. 3 has driving lanes and also has 4 passing options.  If the defense cheats the pin screen, 5 could be open on the weak side.  We’re screening for 1 and 2 and 4 might be open on the slip.  2 could certainly cut to the basket if the defender tries to chase over the screen.  In this case the defender tries to go under the screen.



Page 631Let’s say that no one is open or 3 just doesn’t feel comfortable making the pass or drive at that moment. 4’s defender probably helped on the back screen and will probably be late in getting in position on the ball screen if 4 will sprint to the screen.  If 1 and 2 don’t receive the ball from either of the screens, they should fill up.








Page 632As 3 drives off the screen, this filling movement keeps their defenders off balance.  If either of them help on 3’s drive, then someone will be open.  If not, 3 should be able to get into the lane with 4 passing options. 5 slides down as 3 drives. After setting the screen, 4 can roll to the rim or pop to the perimeter based on the defense and/or their skill set.


I didn’t draw this diagram, but let’s say 3 refuses the screen.  2 would fill behind 3 as a safety on that baseline drive.  1 would still go to the corner for the drift pass and 5 would rise to the elbow. 4 can dive to the rim or pop, again depending on the defense and/or their skill set.






Here’s a whole different set of actions

Page 629Everything starts just like the last set of actions.  1 passes to 3 and dives to the rim.










Page 633This time 4 sets a back screen and 2 dives to the block and posts up.  Maybe 2 gets the ball and maybe they don’t. Either way, 2 and 4 have switched roles. 4 has become the perimeter player and 4 has become the post player. This means that since the ball is on 2’s side, they must come back to the high post, if they are going to stay in the post. In this case, I’m assuming 2 wants to stay in the post for a pass or two but doesn’t receive the ball. If they did receive and entry from 3, there would be a Laker Cut and then who knows what might happen.







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On the pass to 4, 3 cuts off of a back screen by 2.  They might be open, but if they aren’t they continue to the rim and run off a down screen from 5. Without really trying that hard, we’re just set a staggered screen for 3  They can curl off this screen if they are being chased or pop to the corner if not.  As 4 reverses the ball to 1, 5 posts up off the screen and 2 back screens 4 back into the post.  Again if 4 can shoot, 4 might fade off of this screen.









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If 5 isn’t open on their seal after the second staggered screen for 3, they can sprint into a ball screen.  5 can roll or pop off of the screen based on the defense and their skill set.  Everyone else is either circle moving or sliding in the post.










Here’s an exercise for you.  Take “32 Split High” and following the concepts that you understand, what are some combinations that you can come up with?  How do things change if there is a dribble hand off as the first action?  What happens if the action starts with a back screen on the wing?  What if we make an entry pass to a post player, but that player doesn’t take a shot?  What other options or opportunities are created?

Back Screen: Points of Emphasis

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

Setting back screens in the Read & React can be very effective, but it takes practice for players to execute this next best action correctly.  There are a number of points of emphasis that we like to talk about when it comes to setting back screens. Careful coordination and timing between the ball handler, the screener and cutter will create scoring opportunities for all three players involved in this action.

Waiting for the Screen
In many cases, we talk about the cutter waiting for the screen.  While this is still the case, it is most likely that the ball handler is the player who will need to be most patient.  Since movement in the R&R is predicated on ball movement, the other perimeter players probably aren’t going to be moving if the ball isn’t moving. The biggest exception to this would be a player making a Read Line cut.  This action fits right in with the back screen.  In the R&R, the ball handler must learn to see the back screen developing.  If they make an action too quickly, it could negate the effectiveness of the back screen.  While a ball handler should never pass up an opportunity to attack, they should give a back screen the chance to develop if they see a teammate going to set one.

Sprinting to the Screen
It’s important that the screener sprint to the screen.  The R&R is a fast paced offense.  There’s not a lot of standing around.  If the screener doesn’t sprint to the screen, the opportunity for the screen to be effective may be lost.  This also forces the defense to work harder and can make the screen more difficult to guard. Jogging to the screen will likely result in poor spacing and offensive confusion. It also minimizes the amount of time that the ball handler has to hold the ball to wait for an action to occur.

So far in teaching the R&R, we have been highly focused on the actions of the ball. If the ball does this, the other players do that.  This is the first action in the offense that requires the offensive players without the ball to be cognizant of something other than the ball.

We want the players without the ball to always be ready to react to the ball. As a result, any time someone is setting a back screen, they must call the player’s name to gain their attention and let them know a screen is being set for them. This is the responsibility of the screener.  Otherwise, the player may be so focused on the ball that they don’t see their teammate trying to screen for them and the opportunity is lost.  We don’t worry about the defense knowing that the screen is coming.  By the time they recognize it, we should be moving on to the next action.

Screening Angle
The angle at which is the screen is set is as important as you want to make it.  Typically, a back screen is set so that the cutter is directed to the basket.  This works and is a good way to teach the back screen to young players.  However, for older more experienced players, the angle of this screen can change. This could be more of a flare screen or a shuffle cut screen.  It all depends on the angle of the screen. This decision could be made by the coach or the coach could give the freedom to the player.  In most cases, the angle of the screen should send the cutter to the basket.

Using the Screen
We’ve  sprinted to set the screen.  We’ve let our teammate know that we’re setting the screen. We’ve set the angle appropriately.  Now the cutter has to use the screen.  The cutter can either sprint to the basket, or they can take more time to set up the screen and then make their cut.  If the defender is caught off guard, a sprint to the rim may be most effective.  If the defender is aware of the screen, the cutter should take more time to set up the screen before they cut.

Shaping Up
One of the best ways to get open is to set someone else a screen.  The screener must remember this fact and be ready to be open.  Once the cutter clears the screen, but not too early, they must get their feet and body in a position to receive a pass and become a scoring threat. This is a great option for a good shooter to free themselves for an open shot.  However, they must be ready to get their feet set after the screen has been set.  Otherwise, it will be a poor shot or a lost scoring opportunity.


Back Screen: Description (NBA)

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The back screen is the first screening action that we’ll discuss in the Read & React offense.  It is used as a Next Best Action for cutters.  It can also be used as a way to get a player who is in the post into a perimeter spot, or visa versa.

Let’s talk first about the back screen as a NBA.  This NBA can be executed “on accident” or on purpose. Either way it can be effective in creating screening actions, continuity of movement as well as openings for both the screener and the cutter. Back Screens are most effective when set on players 1 pass away from the ball.

In a 5 out scenario, let’s pretend 1 passes to 2 and cuts to the rim.  Based on the Pass, Cut & Fill layer, they are supposed to fill out to the left side of the floor.  What happens if they fill out to the wrong side?  Does the play stop?  Does the offense reset?

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That’s not necessary at all.  The Back Screen Layer allows this player who “made a mistake” to turn this mistake into a good screening opportunity. The cutter just screens for the player in the corner who cuts to the rim and then fills the open spot if they don’t receive a pass.  This is also a good opportunity for the screener to get an open shot.

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This action happens primarily in a 5 out setting.  In 4 out 1 in and 3 out 2 in alignments, there is almost always an open spot for a player to fill. The diagram below shows how it can happen in a 4 out 1 in alignment.

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Of course these “accidental” actions can certainly be purposeful as well.  Purposeful back screens can occur anywhere on the court and can shock defenders who are caught off guard.  Back screens are also the first step in being able to set staggered screens.

We’ll discuss the specifics of setting screens in an upcoming post.  For now it’s enough to know that any cutter can set a back screen. When they set a back screen can be up to you or up to them.  You can have them set back screens after every cut.  You can have certain players look to set back screens.  It’s up to you and how you want to run your team.

Phase II: Transitioning from the Foundation to “What’s Next”

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

We’ve built the foundation and the primary structure.  Now it’s time to turn the house into a mansion.  The first 100 posts have been all about the Foundational Layers of the Read & React offense. These will always be part of everything we talk about. Why?  Because they are all about that little orange sphere.  They are all about that magic pill we call a basketball.

We started with the Attack Dribble.  There’s no mistaking it’s importance.  Besides being the first main topic, it was mentioned in over 50 of the first 100 posts. You can go back and read about it.  I won’t harp on it anymore right now.

Then we moved on to Dribble-At and then to Passing which covered both perimeter and post passing.  These are critical too. However, to stop with these layers would be like putting up the outside walls and not making rooms inside, not to mention furniture or decorations.

Some teams may only need the foundation.  Some teams may only have time for it.  Some levels of basketball don’t need a mansion.  If you’re coaching middle school teams or rec league teams, the foundation is probably all you need.  It’s probably all you have time for.  You may not even have time for all of those.  However, as the level of basketball increases there has to be a next level, a next step.  The foundation is still critical.  You’ll never get anywhere without it, but you have to take the “NEXT” step.

So you ask….”What’s NEXT?”

These are the “Next Best Actions.” Offense is about to get really fun really quick for those of you who eat, sleep, and drink X’s and O’s. Defense is about to get complicated. The NBA’s (not David Stern’s league) are the actions of cutters.

Remember, the person with the ball has a choice of what to do with the ball.  They can shoot, dribble, or pass.  If they shoot, the response of their teammates is rebound (or prepare for transition defense depending on your philosophy).  If they dribble, their teammates have a specific response based on the type of dribble.  If they pass, there is a certain response.  Unless a shot is taken, each of these actions results in a cutter.

Now we will train the cutter on their “next action.”  Until now, they only had one choice.  Their next action was to fill out to the perimeter.  This action is not eliminated.  This is still an option.  However, they also have other options that they may choose from.  Coaches may decide to make these decisions for them.  That’s another topic and another discussion.  Regardless, every cutter must make a decision on what to do “NEXT.”

The cutter’s options are:

1.  Fill Out
2.  Post Up
3.  Set a back screen
4.  Set a post screen
5.  Set a pin screen
6.  X-cut
7.  Set a ball screen
8.  Set a screen for another cutter

These are a lot of options.  You may only choose one or two of these.  You may be able to teach all of them.  Less may be more for some teams.  Other teams may need all of them. That’s up to you to determine.

I’m going to attempt to cover them all in as much detail as I can.  Covering the foundation was like swimming the English Channel.  Tough, but doable.  Covering all of these seems like the Atlantic Ocean right now.  We’ll see what happens.  One stroke at a time right?