Everyone wants to hammer Terry Stotts for the way the Blazers played ball screens against Steph Curry in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. But no one seems to be saying anything about the players actually getting through the screens. Time after time the Blazers guards just hung on the ball screen and didn’t make much effort to beat it. With the drop coverage on the big, Curry was wide open for a number of good looks at 3.
Beating screens is an important concept to teach. It seems like we always teach how to help on screens with the man guarding the screener, but we don’t spend as much time working on beating screens. It’s almost as if we give the defender getting screened an excuse – you got screened, so we have to help you.
I think you have to be intentional about the way you teach beating screens.
Mentality. Like so many things you teach, beating screens starts with your mentality and emphasis. Tough players don’t get screened. Tough teams don’t get screened. Our teams are never allowed to say “I got screened.” It’s not accepted.
One job. We make it very clear for our defenders. If someone is trying to screen you, you have one job – to beat the screen. That’s it. We will have help in place for a curl, a fade, or a back-door. Your job is to beat the screen. If they refuse it or back cut it we’ll give you help until you recover. Beat the screen.
Get to help first. Beating screens starts with your initial positioning. This is one area where I think coaches sometimes put their players at a disadvantage. You can’t ask a defender to get up on the hip of a shooter and trail him on all screens and expect him to be in the right help side position away from the ball. So you have to think about that with regards to your defensive approach. We are always sprinting towards the ball in help side, so we are going to be up the line to get through screens. That means we should beat (most) screens on the ball side, or over the top of the screen. The way you beat screens has to fit in with your defensive positioning.
Play low. Simple, but crucial, you have to play low on defense especially when you are trying to beat a screen. There will be contact, and once you engage in that contact the lower the are the stronger you will be. If you aren’t low enough your man as well as the screener will be able to move you where they want you. The low man wins when beating a screen.
Ball foot up. Footwork is often overlooked in many areas, including when talking about beating screens. We always want our players to have their “ball foot up” on defense, meaning the foot closest to the ball is slightly above their opposite foot. This will still allow them to face forward and see both the ball and their man, but it will also dictate the way they beat a screen. It will allow them to turn their body sideways, so as never to be square to the screen, giving the offensive player more of a target to hit. This is the way we teach our guys to “skinny” through a screen.
Fake at the screen. Almost every screen is going to move, so we tell our players to “fake” at the screen to make it weaker. If you go hard in one direction and then plant and change directions to go the other way around the screen, you’ll generally catch the screen leaning or moving in the other direction. This will make the screen weaker – or possibly move it out of the way – so that you can run through it. Faking at a screen is a great concept to teach.
Run through the screen. We don’t want our defenders to stop at a screen and try and maneuver their way around out. We want them running through it. Don’t stop running. I don’t mean run right through your defender. Obviously you have to do what you can to avoid the screen (stay low, fake at it). But keep your feet moving. Don’t stop on two feet and then try and dance around a screen, keep your feet moving and run through it.
It’s not a perfect world. No matter what you like to teach, the game moves at a fast pace and things don’t always happen the way you expect. You might get caught out of position. They might move the screen, knowing which way you are going to go, making it unreasonable to beat the screen that way. We always say to our guys “it’s not a perfect world.” Ultimately, your job is to beat the screen, and if you have to go a different way to do it, then you do. We want to teach it a certain way, but we have to understand that in a game it may not go as planned.