Dear High Ball Screen,

This is difficult for me to say (well, write). I just want to be friends.

I know. I know. We’ve had some great times. And, I’m sure there will be more to come, but right now, I just need some… space.

You see, we’ve had this love affair for a long time. Heck, you were probably the first screen I was introduced to as a young basketball player. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I’ll always cherish our memories.

Letter to the High Ball Screen

But, I recently got to thinking. Are we as compatible as I think we are? Do I love you because my previous coaches told me to? Are you just a Sacred Zombie Cow? Or, do we really fit?

I needed to know (for both our sakes) so I decided to test it out on the biggest stage I could find: the NCAA National Championship game – theoretically the two best non-professional basketball teams in the world. It would be perfect. I would chart all the amazing impact you made in that game and fall in love with you all over again. You know, just like when we were younger.

Well, that’s what I thought would happen.

Instead, here’s how that chart turned out:

I know that’s hard to swallow so let me clarify what I mean.

A direct basket is a score by either the ball handler receiving the screen or the screener (rolling, popping, etc.) after setting the screen.

An indirect basket is a score by any player as a result of the screen, but not directly related to it. This happens when the screen creates turmoil in the defense and a score results. Or, if the ball handler uses the screen, then pitches for a shot. Or, even if the screener gets the pass and finds an open shooter once help arrives.

Non-related baskets are those scores on any possession where a High Ball Screen was used, but had nothing to do with the score. For example, a High Ball Screen is set, the defense stops it, the offense resets (calls a play, runs a motion, etc), and scores. That basket had nothing to do with the High Ball Screen except that it occurred on the same possession.

You see, I didn’t want to believe it either. But, the numbers don’t lie (at least in this one admittedly small sample).

You were only responsible for 6 baskets that entire game.

You were only successful (directly and indirectly) 15% of the time you were used.

Let’s just say I’m rethinking our relationship. Sure, I still want you around to shake things up every once in a while. You’re great at that! Yeah, I’d love to see you in late shot clock situations or as part of a Quick Hitter. But, as a significant part of my offense… I just don’t think so anymore.

So, listen High Ball Screen… let’s just be friends.


PS: Even though we’re not as intimate anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t want to spend time with your siblings. The Pin Screen, the back screen, post blocking, and the others… those are some screens I could see myself getting to know on a deeper level. Thanks for understanding.

8 Responses

  1. Hey Scott,

    I am a very true believer in tracking and stating what works and doesn’t in a game, and I would hope you know by now I believe in the complete Read and React system that you guys put in motion. With that being said I think you are missing the boat by a couple of latitudes because I believe although the ball screen may not produce many baskets with this action, it does create that seed in the back of the defenders mind that makes him cautious of the screen. By doing this it also backs him off of the ball handler giving the handler some breathing room. Just my take on it and interested to see your and any other reply’s.


    Coach Thomas

    1. Hey Coach Thomas,

      Love your comment. I totally agree with what you’re saying – it is nice to keep that defender wondering when he’s next going to get hit. And, I’m with you also that it can give the ball handler some breathing room.

      I don’t want to get rid of the High Ball Screen (I think it has it’s place), I’ve just grown frustrated with the basketball community’s recent obsession with it.

      Also, I’d suggest that when you use a HBS every other trip, the defense gets used to it and it becomes increasingly less effective. I just think there are many more creative ways to attack the defense (especially with the Read & React) to get so tied down into one action.

      PS: I will concede this as well – the statistical sample of one game is certainly small. It would require a much larger sample to really draw concrete conclusions about the HBS’s true effectiveness. But, I figured the evidence (and my impressions) were compelling enough to put it out there.

  2. I’d like to add to that thought….most people run the Pick & Roll as a two-man game. With the R&R, it is a 5 man game (assuming the others Circle Move/Post Slide on the drive). It creates a lot of movement and decision making within the ENTIRE defense which, of course, creates a ton of chaos.

    As a 2 man game…yeah, it has its moments. As a 5 man game (ie. Read and React)…its pretty awesome.

    My take, at least. CHEERS!

  3. I agree the Ball-Screen has its place along with almost all screening, and as you well know the basketball community is a copy-cat community. For example you had the dribble drive craze and now it is the ball-screen craze, way back when i was in school, it was the flex craze and it will continue for as long as there is Basketball. Look at the high school and college football now, spread craze.

    Just the way it is, that being said ball-screens for a two man game tends to lead to a lot of standing around and watching if ran non-stop.

    Just my two cents.

  4. I like the high ball screen an awful lot. Every time I see it used or use it myself, I think of the Duke teams with Sheldon Williams and JJ Reddick that were so successful using it. But…

    I think that making it a mandatory part or a specific action off of the secondary break or a tool to initiate the motion can cause serious issues. If an opponent is fully aware that it is going to be used frequently, they will, most likely, spend lots of time game-planning it in order to exploit a weakness. Furthermore, as soon as you have success with it, there will be a time-out where the opponent prepares for it more, so the next time could be a turnover waiting to happen.

    I really feel that this is the type of thing that should only be used sporadically. I also actually prefer P&R action from the wing or corner even more. I also agree that when the other 3 players have an action to carry out while it is happening, as the RnR offense prescribes, it can really open up some big plays when the defense adjusts and rotates to cover it. For instance, a wing P&R will almost always leave the natural pitch wide open for a 3 on the opposite side of the floor. I have often encouraged my teams to P&R on the opposite side of a hot shooter to set up this very action.

    Just like anything though, the more you use it, the more your opponents will prepare for it. It is best to have a system in place where you can simply take the things that the defense is giving up.

    1. Great analysis coach. I especially like the comment about the P&R being more effective from the wing or corner. In fact, in the game I generated the statistics from, there were several successful P&R’s from the wing position – the defense has less time/space to react and the screen is always much cleaner than when done from up top.

      And, I couldn’t agree more with yours and Craig’s statement about the HBS being much more effective when all 5 players are involved. Unfortunately, a HBS often signals to the other three players that they can take a break and watch what happens.

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. A HIGH ball screen? Is this different from other ball screens? Is it the same as the sprint ball screen from one of the R&R layers? Or is there just ONE type of ball screen?

  6. I have to agree with some of the other guys, the high ball screen has become a lttle too prevalent in basketball, especially at college level. I can see its prevalence in the NBA, because you only have a 24-sec shot clock. When you have 35 secs, you could start with more motion and work for a shot that way and resort to a HBS if the motion breaks down and you’re against the clock.

    One could say that the overuse of the HBS has contributed to lower scoring because only 2 attackers/defenders are involved in the play while the other 6 guys are standing around and the other 3 defenders provide help on the screen. If the other three offensive players are not hitting open shots or converting dish-off opportunites, it leads to sluggish offensive play…

    That’s why I like the R and R because all 5 players involved and you get the defense moving and all 5 are playing instead of 3 just being spectators…

    Love the article, think you hit the nail on the head


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