How big-on-small screens give offenses a greater edge
Ball screens and countless types of off-the-ball screens are difficult enough for the opposition to defend. When offensive packages use those screens with different players at different locations, it’s even harder.
One method that defenses use against screens is to switch, but offenses can counter that strategy with their personnel. Having post players screen guards creates two mismatches when the defense switches. That could mean a small perimeter player defending a bigger post player, or a slow post defender trying to keep pace with a speedy guard. This creates more defensive problems and several opportunities for the offense.
These various sets/alignments show different entries executed by using big-on-small screens. A distinct commonality with each play is if it fails to produce a shot, all players end up in three-out, two-in spot-ups, creating seamless transitions from the initial entry into an assortment of continuity or motion offenses.
DIAGRAM 1: Play one (A). The first play is executed from the twins set. 1 has the freedom to attack either side of the floor, but in the diagram 1 signals to run the play to the left. As 1 brings the ball across the line, 3 makes an L-cut up and out to that side’s free-throw-line extended. At the same time, 2 flashes across the lane to the opposite side midpost. As 1 makes the wing pass to 3, 4 steps up to set a big-on-small backscreen for 1. 1 scrapes off of 4’s outside shoulder and makes a lob-cut to the basket.
DIAGRAM 2: Play one (B). 3 has four pass receivers balanced as legitimate inside and outside scoring threats. He can look to make a lob-pass to 1; to 2 posting up on the new ball-side block; to 5 on the new ball-side high post; 4 at the top of the key; or 1, who has looped out to the weak-side wing.
If no shot is taken, 3 should be able to reverse the ball to an offensive big. 3 immediately scrapes off of 5’s big-on-small backscreen and slash-cuts to the opposite block. 5 then slips out to the vacated wing, giving space for 4 to diagonally set their big-on-small downscreen for 2 to break to the top of the key. This presents a 3-point opportunity for 2 and eliminates help-side defense for 3’s defender. If 1 turns down the two primary targets, all players are in the same three-out, two-in spot-ups.
DIAGRAM 3: Play two (A). The next play is executed from the “Hi-Lo Stax” alignment. 5 sets a big-on-small pin screen, with 3 popping out to the free-throw-line extended on his side of the floor. 1 makes the pass to 3 and starts to empty out before breaking back to the top of the key. On the pass to 3, 4 cuts across the lane to the new ball-side block, looking for the inside pass from 3. After screening for 3, 5 continues across the lane to set a second big-on-small screen, allowing 2 to flash toward the ball to the high post. 5 then empties out to the new weak-side wing, eliminating help-side defense for those guarding 4 and 2.
DIAGRAM 4: Play two (B). If no shots are taken, 3 can reverse the ball to 1 with 3 quickly rubbing off of backscreens by 2 and 4 to the opposite block. As 1 receives the ball, 5 steps up to set a big-on-small ball screen for 1 to advance to the free-throw-line extended on the opposite side. After the screens for 3 and 1, 5 sets a big-on-small screen for 2, who cuts to the top of the key for a shot. This gives the offense a solid perimeter and eliminates help-side defense that 3’s defender requires to properly guard 3 on the ball-side block. If 1 turns down the passes to 3 and 2, players are now in the proper three-out, two-in spot-ups.
DIAGRAM 5: Play three (A). This play is executed from the three-down set, with 4 setting a big-on-small ball screen for 1 to dribble to the free-throw-line extended. As 1 aligns with 5 in a vertical line, 5 makes a strong duck-in cut. 4 immediately cuts to set a second big-on-small screen for 2 to break to the top of the key for a scoring opportunity. This allows 5 to isolate their defender with 4 out on top, and 3, 2 and 1 spread out along the perimeter. If 5’s defender plays behind their man, 1 should be able to pass to 5 for a high-percentage shot. If 5’s defender fronts his man, 1 can lob the ball to the corner of the basket. If 5’s defender denies in a three-quarter fronting position, 1 can still lob the ball to 5 or pass to 3 in the deep corner.
DIAGRAM 6: Play three (B). If no shot is taken, 1 reverses to 2. 1 immediately uses 5’s big-on-small shuffle-cut backscreen to cut to the opposite side of the floor. At the same time, 3 lifts to the vacant wing area.
If 2 reverses the ball to 3, 3 could have an ideal passing angle to hit 5 posting up. If 2 swings the ball to 4 on the wing, 2 diagonally screens for 5 to break open to the top of the key. This action helps isolate 1’s defender on the block with presumably not much post defense experience. Also, players defending 4 and 5 should both be guarding men outside of the arc. The different screens and cuts have moved players into high scoring opportunities. In the end, players are in three-out, two-in spot-ups for a quick transition into the last phase of the offense.
Coaching staffs can pick one or two offensive alignments that fit their personnel or philosophy and build an offensive package that uses the big-on-small screening concept to gain a greater advantage against opponents.
John Kimble coached basketball for 23 years in Illinois and Florida at the college and high school levels, accumulating more than 340 victories. He has authored five coaching books.