Pin Screen: The Whole

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

There are so many ways that teams can set pin screens.  They can come from any number of players at any number of times.  The coach must decide which are the best times and places to set pin screens.  In the Description of Pin Screens, a few different options are mentioned.  The primary focus for this section is the Next Best Action. Therefore, we will approach this topic from this angle.  Pin Screens can be set by post players or by alert perimeter players and do not have to be NBAs.  However, in order to keep things streamlined, we will talk about the NBA method first out of a 5 out alignment. This removes permanent post players from the equation and gives ample options for cutters.

As we mentioned in the offensive fundamental breakdown of the pin screen there are three players in this action that we must be concerned with: the ball handler, the screener, and the player being screened for. Since we are talking about this being an NBA, we must have a first action in order to have a second one. Remember our first action can come any number of places. It could be a simple pass & cut. It could be a dribble-at or a read line cut. It could come as a result of a back screen. It could come from an attack dribble and a kick out.

Think about this.  How many times have you ever seen a player attack the lane kick it out and immediately set a screen?  With all the attention going to the ball on the attack and then to the kick out, think about how blind the weak side defense would be to a pin screen.

So with 5 players on the court in a 5 out alignment, start the ball anywhere you want and have the players make one action of their choice and then set a pin screen once they finish their cut. They are learning that it is going to be pretty tough to set a pin screen on the same side of the court that they just passed to or cut from. Most likely, this screen is best set on the other side of the floor. In some cases, the player may have more than one option for screening possibilities.

Below are a few different single actions that can lead to pin screens in a 5 out alignment.  The first is a simple drive and kick.  The initial driver sets the pin screen for the weakside player.

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This is a simple pass and cut.  Most 5 out alignments have this corner player either fill back to the corner that they came from or back screen for the opposite corner.  While both of these are legitimate options, a pin screen works as well. Depending on how the defense rotates, 1 can screen 2’s defender.  If 4 drives baseline, 5 should be wide open.  Can 4 make this left handed pass?

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This just a simple dribble-at.  Again if 1 crosses over and goes baseline, there should be a wide open shooter on the weak side.

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Maybe 4 is being overplayed.  This is another way the Pin Screen can get set.  Remember 2 and 5 don’t have to fill.  They are more than 1 pass away.
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This is the same as the last diagram except the ball is in a different spot.  3’s cut is bound to draw attention from weakside defenders.  When they help, pin them in.



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Again, this is a simple Dribble-At.  In this case the ball is in the middle of the floor, so there is no “weak side”, but player 5 is 2 passes away so theoretically their defender should be in help.  If they aren’t, this can turn into a back screen/flex screen for a layup.

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The ball shifts sides of the floor on the skip pass.  While the defense is recovering to their new positions, 3 can find one who is in help and pin them in.  Most defenses can recover to one skip pass.  Can they recover to the second one when there is a screener there to slow them down?

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This skip pass may seem a little unorthodox, but against a team who is trying to keep players out of the lane, it sets up a nice pin screen on the weak side.

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Here’s another Dribble-At from a different location.  Even if 1 crosses over to their left and attacks the middle of the floor, 2 can seal in 4’s defender for a wide open shot.

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This is the most simple and straightforward action. It’s a simple pass and cut from the top.

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Pin Screen: Defensive Fundamentals

The Pin Screen helps offenses counter help side defense. It is difficult to defend an action that takes advantage of defenders being in the correct position. For most other off ball screening actions, being in the proper position makes a defender harder to screen. In this case, the opposite is true.

Would you tell your players to not be in help position so that they don’t get screened?  I don’t think so, but they might start inching closer to their player and out so that they don’t get screened. It may only take one step to cause a late rotation.That’s part of what makes this weak side screen so effective.

The key to defending the pin screen is to make the pass as difficult as possible. Ball pressure can make the screen irrelevant if the ball handler can’t see the receiver or is under too much pressure to make a good pass. If there is a lack of ball pressure, there isn’t much a defense can do to keep the pin screen from being effective.

Once a defender recognizes that the offense is setting a pin screen, the defender can work to get to either the high side or the low side of the screen.  This way, it becomes easier for them to closeout on the pass while it is in the air. The defender must move on the pass and must closeout well while avoiding the screen as best they can.

In the end, defending a pin screen starts with good ball pressure. However, if the ball handler can make a good solid skip pass, a Pin Screen is one of the most effective tools against defenses who place a priority on being in help position when they are away from the ball.

Pin Screen: Offensive Fundamentals

The pin screen by itself is a not a difficult skill to execute. However, there are a number of offensive fundamentals that are required to successfully complete this action.

The Screen

This is the easiest screen in the game of basketball for players to set.  The chances for players to get called for a moving pin screen are minimal.  The likelihood of the screen being a good one are high.  All they have to do is find a helpside defender and screen them. Ideally, they keep them from closing out to their player.  Most likely, the screener slows the defender down enough to make it difficult for them to closeout.

The Recognition

Three different people must read the situation to make a pin screen effective.  This starts with a screener.  Without someone to set the pin screen the action obviously can’t happen.

It is easiest to teach post players to set this screen. They are in and around the lane and have the shortest distance to travel to set the screen.  Post players are also not required to move as much in this style of offense.  They can stay on one side of the floor and when the ball goes away from them they can find a help defender and screen them easily.

Cutters are also able to set pin screens. However, teaching them to sprint their cut and then stop to find a help side defender can be tough. Many times they are focused on cutting and filling and they aren’t thinking about setting a pin screen.  Of course you could make a call that makes them think about setting pin screens, but then everyone is looking to set them and there may not be anyone on the perimeter to set them for.

Weakside perimeter players are also potential screening candidates.  However, this is even more difficult to teach because they are so focused on being ready to react to the ball that they aren’t programmed to think about sitting pin screens.

The second person who must recognize the pin screen is the person who the screen is set for.  They must read the screen and put themselves in position to make the most effective use of the screen.  They must line themselves up with the ball so that their defender must go around the screen instead of just closing out straight to them.

The final person who must see this action develop is the person with the ball. They must widen their vision and see the screen being set and determine if they can make a good skip pass to the open player.

The recognition for the ball handler and the perimeter player being screened for are triggered by the screener’s call. Offensive players may say that they don’t want to call the screen because they don’t want the defense to know it’s coming. It’s much more important for the offense to be on the same page instead of the defense to know it’s coming. Also, just because the defense knows it’s coming, doesn’t mean they can stop it. In fact, in the pressure of the game situation, the defense may over compensate to the call and then something else will be available.

The Pass and Catch

The ability to make a solid skip pass is critical to make the pin screen work well.  The pass must be thrown strongly, quickly, and on a line over the top of the defense.  Passes that aren’t high enough will easily be deflected.  Passes that are too high will give the defense time to closeout and possibly intercept the pass.  The receiver must have ready hands and feet to be able to take advantage of the defender who should be out of position.

The Seal

Once the screen is set and the pass is thrown, the screener should look to seal the next level defender in the lane.  If the receiver’s defender closes out well, the screener should be open close to the basket. Of course, this requires another effective pass.

Here are some video clips of pin screens.  We don’t score on all of them, but the pin screen is well executed in each instance. The first clip is of a high pin screen against the top of the 2-3 zone.  The receiver does a good job of using the screen.  A well thrown pass leads to an open shot.

When offense is being played like this, it’s pretty hard to guard.

Here’s a clip against a 1-3-1 zone.  This is a heady play by the screener. The post player’s seal serves as a sort of screen as well.

This one might have been a little bit illegal, but again this could easily be considered a post up  by the post player.  In any case, it created an open opportunity.

We turn the ball over, but the kick out to the open shooter shouldn’t have been a difficult play. It was all created by a well executed pin screen.

Keeping Things Simple

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

A recent opponent played a true matchup zone against us. These defenses can give teams problems. Zone offenses tend to be less effective because the defenders aren’t assigned to a certain area. Man to man offenses tend to not work as well because defenders aren’t assigned to certain players either.

Here’s a simple set of actions that we used for a few consecutive possessions in the second half which helped us create a number of good scoring opportunities.  Of course players had to make plays, but as coaches we have to put them in position to do so.

We drew up the first three frames in a time out. The fourth frame was not part of what we did, but it would be one way to simultaneously create two 3 point shots on either side of the court.

The lesson learned here is that sometimes simple is better.  The trick is not the complication of the action.  The trick is putting players in places where they can be successful while creating ball movement and player movement with good spacing. These actions were created based specifically on the skills of the personnel on the floor.

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There are a few interesting things to notice.  The alignment changes in a very simple way from 4 out to 3 out with an even front. Notice how the defense defends the same action differently all three times.

The tandem alignment is designed to take away the middle of the floor.  By starting in a 4 out alignment, it brings out the middle person of the tandem.  This along with the denial of the low post player opens up the high post and causes the defense problems.  The entry to the high post causes confusion.  Now it just takes one attack dribble to hold the low wing defender to create the open 3 point shot.


In the second clip, the person in the middle of the zone is worried about that weak side post player.  She remembers in the previous possession how that player flashed to the high post and compromised their defense.  That little bit of attention draws her away from the cutting post player.  A good post entry and a good individual play lead to a layup.  Notice also in this clip how the weak side post player could have sealed the backside defensive player to prevent their rotation to help.  It worked out anyway, but posting on the weakside can be a huge benefit to the team even if they don’t receive the ball.

This is just a tough individual play.  But notice after scoring the first time how the defense reacts.  They decide to double team that player which obviously opens up other players who react well to the openings it creates.

After this they started fouling and we didn’t run the action again.  We didn’t have to.  It’s amazing how such simple actions can lead to productive offense.

Setting Priorities for Post Players

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Post Play

Have you ever thought about keeping your post players stationary in your half court offense? What is the quote?  “Movement is the enemy of the defense?”  Trust me, I still think that is true.  However, I think this is one time that less movement may actually be better.

Post play is more about positioning than it is movement.  A good post player knows how to get position whether it’s on the offensive or defensive end.  I’ve found that the more post players move, the less they get position. Getting position and keeping position requires contact.  Movement reduces the amount of contact that a post player can have.

Let’s think about how we teach a secondary break.  We want our posts to run to the rim right?  Do we want them to go the ball side block if they can bury their defender under the rim?  Of course not.  If they post up at the rim, they catch the ball and shoot a lay-up.  If they post up on the block, they have to make a move to score.  This is all about gaining position. It has nothing to do with moving to a certain spot.

That’s one small example.  Half court offense provides numerous examples of how we should emphasize positioning for our post players over movement. This thought process was inspired by observations playing in a 4 out 1 in alignment.  However, I think there are advantages to minimizing the movement of post players in a 3 out 2 in alignment as well.

In a 4 out alignment, the post player can start anywhere you want them to.  Let’s look at how ball movement and player movement create opportunities for a post player to impact the game without them having to move.

If they are on the ball side, they can be a primary receiver. In other words, they can be option number one for the next pass. They can set a number of screens: ball screens, back screens, flex screens, and down screens.  They can occupy one or more help defenders. Of course, they are a strong side rebounding option. Depending on their location, they can stand in one spot and execute many of these actions at one time.

If they are on the weak side, they can still be a receiver.  They can still post up.  They can flash to the ball.  They can set pin screens and they can still sprint to a ball screen. They can use screens set by other players for them. Moreover, it’s the best place to rebound.  Being on the weak side opens up the ball side block, which creates driving lanes.  It creates interesting defensive rotations. Who helps?  Who doesn’t?  The more I think about it, the more I want to look at this more in depth.

So there are advantages to being on the ball side and on the weak side.  Since the post player can be effective on either side, think how much variety it offers offense if they learn to play on both sides.  The less they move, the more they can evaluate defense and either gain position for themselves or create openings for others.  Instead of chasing the ball as it moves around the perimeter, they can chase rebounds when they come off the rim.

Having 4 perimeter players moving all over the court creates so much movement that it may be better to keep your post stationary. It makes it easier for guards to know where this player is.  They don’t have to wait for the post player to get position.  The post player should be gaining position ahead of time.  It is incumbent on the post player to take advantage of the defense and use their position against them.  There’s no way a post defender can guard all 4 sides of an offensive post player at one time.  If the offensive player knows how to position themselves, they will always be able to make the defense uncomfortable and use it to their team’s advantage. If we teach them position first, before we teach them movement, we may find that they have to move less to be successful because they are achieving better position.

5 on 5 Attack

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

5 on 5 attack

We want our teams to play aggressively.  We want them to look to attack gaps in the defense.  We want them to get in the lane.  We want to them to draw help defenders.  We want them to get fouled.  We want them to take shots in and around the lane.

However, we want them to do this intelligently.  We want them to take good shots. We don’t want them getting in the lane and just throwing it up and hoping it goes in. We want them making effective straight line attacks.  We want them making good decisions and good passes when defense helps.  We want them to take advantage of situations.  We never want to pass up on a good situation to put the defense at a disadvantage.

We also want to put an emphasis on defending the ball.  We want to teach how to help, when to help, and when not to help.  We want to teach rotations and recoveries.  Here’s a drill that you might find useful to teach all these different things.

I would recommend running this drill 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 and build it up to 5 on 5.  This drill is best run with everyone on the perimeter.  It could be run with permanent post players though I think this is less than optimal.  The defense in these diagrams is based on helping on the ball from 1 pass away.  If your help defense concepts state that you don’t help 1 pass away, then the defense would look different, which would in turn make the offense look different.  It doesn’t matter what you teach, the drill will still challenge your players on both sides of the ball.

Here’s how it works.  The player with the ball only has two options.  They can shoot or attack.  If the first ball handler has an open shot, then your defense isn’t very good.  The only option that the first player should have is to attack.  The defense knows they are going to attack.  The question is can they make a good enough 1 on 1 move to get into the lane or make the defense help.  If the ball handler can score off the dribble, they should, but let’s assume for a second that your defense is good enough to stop the first drive. The other offensive players should be following their circle movement rules.  If the defense can stop the drive without help. They win the possession.  But again for the sake of argument, let’s assume that a defender helps.  The ball handler would kick out to the open player.  This player has a choice, shoot or drive.  That’s it.  If they don’t shoot then the first ball handler and their defender are off the court and the drill continues until it’s 1 on 1. Can you get a stop for your team when you’re on an island and tired?

If at any point a player shoots, it turns into a rebounding drill with the players that are on the court.  You can score the drill in a few different ways.  You can count the times the offense gets two feet in the lane.  You can count how many times they score.  You can count how many offensive rebounds they get.  You can count defensive stops.  You can count steals, defensive rebounds, good close-outs, good rotations, times that help was not necessary, and any number of other things.

If you want to challenge the defense more, you could have all of the defensive players on the baseline.  You can throw the ball to a random player which forces them to identify their proper defensive positions on the fly, closeout and defend.  Remember offensive players without the ball will need to execute circle movement, as well as the baseline drive adjustment and post slides.

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Send me your comments, questions, thoughts….

Ball Screen: Description

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

A ball screen is simply described as a screen set on the defender who is guarding the ball.  This  remains the same in the R&R.  Ball screens can be very useful in creating offensive advantages.  They can create mismatches or a numbers advantage.  The bigger questions become when and where can ball screens be set as well as who sets them.  As with anything else in this offense, the answer is whenever you want and wherever you want.

By this point, you should have expected this.  The offense creates a lot of freedom for the coaches and players who are in it.  Let’s break this down a little and explore some different options.

In the “pure” version of the R&R, the “default” time to set a ball screen is when the ball handler takes a dribble backwards. We don’t use this rule for a couple of reasons.  As a general rule, we don’t want our ball handlers dribbling away from the basket. The only time where this might be encouraged is to avoid a trap or to run more time off the clock in an end of half or end of game situation. Likewise, if a ball handler dribbles backwards, we may not want a ball screen to be set at that time.  We don’t want our players to have to decide if it’s a good time to set a ball screen in that situation.

So instead of talking about when NOT to set a ball screen, let’s talk about when to set one. You may come up with others. This list is not meant to be exclusive. Coaches can have players set a ball screen when…
1.  Player X has the ball. The cutter or post player must go set a ball screen for that player wherever they are.
2.  Player X cuts.  Every time Player X cuts they must set a ball screen.
3.  The ball is caught in a certain spot by a designated player or by the player in a designated spot.
4.  It is “easy” to do. In other words, the screener doesn’t have to go out of their way to set the screen.
5.  A player sets an off ball screen.
6.  The possession begins.
7.  The possession ends.
8.  Player X calls for a ball screen.
9.  Following a specific action

This was alluded to in the last section.  Who should be the player to set the ball screen?  The primary determination in this decision should be based off of personnel.  Who is your best screen setter?  Which player is going to make the ball screen most difficult to defend?  Who is in the best position to set a good screen?  This is going to partially depend on the alignment that you’re playing out of.  Are you 5 out?  Are you 4 out 1 in?  Are you 3 out 2 in?  If you’re playing with a post player or post players, where are they located?

The location of the screen can also be wherever the coach prefers it to be set. The screen can be set on the wing, in the corner, at the top of the key, or even closer to the basket.  I am a big fan of the ball screen around the elbow area. A “dumb drive” can turn into a surprise ball screen that can be pretty tough to defend.

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In the above diagrams, it could be said that 2’s drive to the middle is “dumb”.  It would be better if 2 went baseline right?  Well maybe.  But maybe 2 prefers going right.  Maybe 2 doesn’t feel comfortable throwing that left handed pass to the 1 on the baseline drive.

2’s drive to the middle can turn into a ball screen that’s pretty tough to defend.  In this case, the screen is set by a post player instead of a cutter, but it’s all the same idea.