December 9, 2020 • From the BenchPlayPlaysWinning Hoops

Integrating Ball Screen-&-Rolls into Man Offenses

by John Kimble, contributing writer

Ball screen-and-rolls have been a staple of offensive basketball for many years.  When motion offenses became the craze in the 1970s, this fundamentally sound form of attack faded away for years. But it has come back and has become very popular again because it can still be very difficult for defenses to stop all aspects of the play.

Some teams might be able to contain and stop the dribbler while other teams might be able to deny the screener the ball as he rolls to the basket. Often, defensive teams cannot successfully stop both of these aspects of the play.

When teams mix in different players as either the dribbler or the screener, it forces every defensive player to be well versed in defending both parts of the play. This is where offensive teams can probe, eventually discover, and ultimately attack those defensive weaknesses. Mixing in “big-on-small” or “small-on-big” ball screens helps neutralize defensive switches while still exploring for individual defensive breakdowns. In addition, when offensive teams mix in the many different types of post ball-screening action; it becomes even more difficult for defensive teams to be well prepared. Still, the traditional ball screen-and-roll can and should be a major building block in the team’s offensive schemes.

Diagram 01

Play # 1 is run out of the “TWINS” Set, which means the play can have a great deal of unpredictability.  01 can wait until the last second before declaring the action side and dribbling off of that “bigs” ball screen. This diagram shows 01 dribble-scraping off of 04’s top shoulder and when contact is made, 04 rolls down the lane towards the basket. This has 02 horizontally stretch the defense by breaking out to his deep corner, 03 breaking out to his side’s free-throw line extended with 05 popping out to the top of the key and therefore vertically pulling a defensive ‘big’ out away from the basket. The horizontal and vertical stretching of defenders virtually takes away any possible interior support that X4 needs to defend 04’s roll to the basket. In addition, if 04 has outstanding offensive post-up skills and/or if it is discovered that X4 has interior defensive problems such as a height disadvantage compared to 04, is in foul trouble, or simply has inferior defensive skills (compared to 04’s offensive skills); this initial part of the entry can reap high dividends for the offense. 01’s first choice is to make the inside pass to 04 on his roll to the basket. 01 also has the options to create a shot for himself, to ‘drive & dump’ to 04, or to ‘penetrate & pitch’ to 02. 01 may make a down pass to 02 who may have a better passing angle to go inside to 04 now posting up. Diagram 01.

Diagram 02

If 02 does not have the opportunity to go inside to 04 or to create for himself, 02 could skip pass to 03 for a 3-point shot on the offense’s weak side. If nothing is available, 02 should make an up-pass back to 01; who may now have an improved passing angle to pass inside to 04. When 01 receives the up-pass, 05 can break from the top of the key to set a long ball screen for 01 still at the free-throw line extended. As 01 makes contact with 05’s top shoulder, 05 rolls hard to the basket with 04 rolling up to 01’s vacant wing position and 02 stepping into the empty post location. This action helps 05 isolate his defender as he cuts through the lane looking for the inside pass from either 01 out on top or from 03 at the wing area. This portion of the play can take advantage of 05’s interior post-up skills or can attack any deficiencies that X5 may possess. If this offensive isolation action with minimal interior help-side support for the defense still does not produce the desired shot, the offense has all personnel in the proper “3-Out/2-In” spot-ups; allowing the next phase of attack to smoothly begin. Diagram 02.

Diagram 03

Play # 2 should be executed out of the “1-DOWN” set, with only 05 switching to the mid-post position on the opposite side of the lane causing the cosmetic appearance to drastically change. This diagram has 05 start on the offense’s left side of the lane. 01  starts dribbling towards 05 and 05 makes a ‘Duck-In’ cut in somewhat of an isolation situation (with all four of his teammates outside of the 3-point line.) This action could immediately take advantage of 05’s inside scoring skills. If 01 turns down the pass to 05, 01 should reverse the ball to 02 and immediately flare-cut to the weakside wing area. 03 drifts down to the post position vacated by 05 and his cut out on top. This pass then causes 04 to step up to set a ‘big-on-small’ ball screen for 02 to use. As 02 dribble-scrapes off of 04’s top shoulder, 04 rolls hard to the basket; with 05 inverting his defender as he breaks to the top of the key. This gives 04 an opportunity to highlight his post-up skills while also attacking any possible defensive weaknesses that his defender may have.  02 looks first to make the inside pass to 04 on his roll to the basket, then to create off of 04’s ball screen, then to skip-pass to 01, or to reverse the ball to 05 out on top. If no shots are created out of the various options and opportunities, all players end up in the proper “3-Out/2-In” spot-ups for various continuity or motion-type offenses to smoothly transition at the end of this play. Diagram 03. 

Diagrams 04 and 05 illustrate Play # 3, which is executed out of the “3-Down” set. This alignment can immediately attack 05’s defender down on either mid-post position where he originally sets up. This diagram has 05 start on the offense’s left side of the floor and with 04 out on top, 01 immediately looks to isolate X5 and make an inside pass to 05 on his ‘Duck-In’ cut into the middle of the lane. This quick action could capitalize on 05’s interior scoring skills as well as attack any inferior defensive skills that X5 may possess. With 04 straddling the 3-point line at the top of the key plus 03 and 02 breaking up to the free-throw line extended on their respective side of the floor eliminates any possible help-side defense that X5 should need to adequately defend 05.

Diagram 04

If 01 elects not to make the inside pass to 01, 03’s cut towards the free-throw line extended puts him in an ideal position to then receive 01’s weave hand-off. 01 flare-cuts after the hand-off to vertically and horizontally stretch (and therefore weaken) the opposition’s defense. Diagram 04.

Diagram 05

After 03 receives 01’s hand-off, he dribbles towards the top of the key to use 04’s ‘big-on-small’ ball screen. As 03 dribble-scrapes off of 04’s top shoulder, 04 then rolls hard to the basket. With 05 breaking up to the top of the key and  02 flare-cutting back to his deep corner, 03 looks to create off of the dribble with his primary target being 04 rolling to the basket and isolating his defender. This gives 03 an opportunity to show his creative skills off of the dribble as well as highlight 04’s inside scoring skills. If no shots are created either inside (to 04) or on the outside (to 02, 05, or 03 who are all outside of the 3-point line); all players are in the “4-Out/1-In” spot-ups so that the offense can smoothly transition into the next wave of attack.  Diagram 05.

These plays out of different sets all include ball-screen and roll action with different dribblers, different screeners, and different initial locations of the ball screens.  A creative coach can come up with many other types of action that will enable his/her team to highlight the individual player’s offensive skills and talents as well as attacking opposing defenses in different manners.