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  3. What Is An Illegal Screen In Basketball?

What Is An Illegal Screen In Basketball?

ByQueen Ballers Club|@queenballers| July 7, 2021
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Today we’ll take a look at what a screen is, and what makes for a legal screen and an illegal screen in basketball. A screen in basketball is a move where an offensive player basically creates a wall that stops a defender so an offensive teammate can run around to get an open shot or drive to the basket.

Screens are used a ton by WNBA and NBA teams, and are a key part of many offensive schemes including the pick and roll and pick and pop. So in this article, we’ll explain what the NBA and WNBA rule books say. We’ll also check out types of screens you can use. And we’ll even clarify whether illegal screens are fouls, and why they’re important to call. Let’s get after it!

Definition of a screen

A screen, also called a “pick” is type of legal block. The offensive player acts as a wall on the side of or behind a defender, using their body to stop the defense. The goal is to free up their teammate to take a shot or receive a pass. Here’s a quick example of a flare screen set by WNBA Champion forward Stefanie Dolson that helps sharp shooter and WNBA Champion Allie Quigley get a nice open look:

Types of screens in basketball

  • Ball screen: This is when the screener sets a screen for their teammate with the ball.
  • Off-ball screen: When a screen is set for a players who doesn’t have the ball in their hands.
  • Back screen: An act where the screener sets up on the back of the defender.
  • Flare screen:  This is a screen set away from the basketball, where the player being screened for instead of cutting to the basket fades out to the three line.
  • Pick and roll: A popular and effective basketball play where the screener sets a ball screen and then rolls towards the basket to try to get a pass and a shot.
  • Pick and pop: A play where the screener sets a ball screen and then rolls out towards the three or extended foul line to try to get a pass and a shot.
  • Double screen (or re-screen): A play where the screener sets a screen, and then another screen in rapid success. For example, if a guard has the ball, the screener sets an on the ball screen. If the defense fights through it and it still right on top of the guard, the guard can turn around and bring their defender back onto the same screen in the reverse direction.

There are tons of reads you can make coming off any of these types of screen to get open looks, which is what makes the screen such a powerful offensive weapon. Here are just a few offensive screen reads from Steph Curry:

Here are the rules in the NBA rule book on screening:

A player who sets a screen shall not (1) assume a position nearer than a normal step from an opponent, if that opponent is stationary and unaware of the screener’s position, or (2) make illegal contact with an opponent when he assumes a position at the side or front of an opponent, or (3) assume a position so near to a moving opponent that he is not given an opportunity to avoid contact before making illegal contact, or (4) move laterally or toward an opponent being screened, after having assumed a legal position. The screener may move in the same direction and path of the opponent being screened.

In (3) above, the speed of the opponent being screened will determine what the screener’s stationary position may be. This position will vary and may be one to two normal steps or strides from his opponent.

Here are the rules in the WNBA rule book on screening:

When a player screens in front of or at the side of a stationary opponent, she may be as close as she desires providing she does not make contact. Her opponent can see her and, therefore, is expected to detour around the screen. If she screens behind a stationary opponent, the opponent must be able to take a normal step backward without contact. Because the opponent is not expected to see a screener behind her, the player screened is given latitude of movement.

To screen a moving opponent, the player must stop soon enough to permit her opponent to stop or change direction. The distance between the player screening and her opponent will depend upon the speed at which the players are moving. If two opponents are moving in the same direction and path, the player who is behind is responsible for contact. The player in front may stop or slow her pace, but she may not move backward or sidewards into her opponent. The player in front may or may not have the ball. This situation assumes the two players have been moving in identically the same direction and path before contact.

Screening a moving defender

To be legal, the offensive screener needs to get directly into the defender’s path. The screener must also give the defender the opportunity to avoid contact. The defender’s speed will determine the distance the screener must give them. Once the screener arrives at the screening spot, they can then move in the same direction as the defender or move slightly to firm up and absorb the contact.

Here Atlanta Dream guard Odyssey Sims screens a moving defender correctly:

Screening a stationary defender

To be legal, the offensive screener can get as close to the defender as they want, short of illegal contact. If they screen from the back, they must give the defender one step of space to be considered legal. When screeners re-screen they always must establish a legal position again, prior to contact.

Here the Los Angeles Sparks’ Bria Holmes does a nice job giving the defender space and screening at the right angle in the path:

For a legal screening stance, the screener’s legs should be no wider than shoulder width. The screener’s arms should be tucked into their body (think about touching your hand to your opposite shoulder), and not extended outward from their sides or forward. The screener needs to be in an upright position, and not extending any part of their body outward.

Here’s an example where WNBA Champion and Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart does a good job with her screening stance, not leaning in and keeping her appendages in:

Once the screen legally establishes a position, they can move slightly to firm up.

Here Washington Mystics’ forward Elena Delle Donne tucks in her arms and moves just tiny bit to her right and moves a little to absorb the contact, a legal instance of firming up:

In short, to set a legal screen in basketball, get directly in the defender’s path. Leave enough space between you and the defender to give the defender the opportunity to avoid contact. Stand up straight (don’t lean in) with your arms tucked in and your legs planted under your shoulders. Firm up to take the contact, but other than that don’t move.

  • Arrive on time
  • Stand up straight
  • Arms in
  • Watch your angles

What’s an illegal screen in basketball?

Here are some specific regarding what makes a screen illegal from NBA Sr. Vice President of Replay and Referee Operations Joe Borgia.

Illegal screening on a moving defender

A screen is illegal when the offensive player doesn’t get directly into the defender’s path. Or when the offensive player doesn’t give the defender the opportunity to avoid contact. Or if the screen contact impacts the defender’s speed, quickness, balance or rhythm that’s illegal as well. You also can’t continue to move laterally while making contact.

Illegal screening of a stationary defender

If the screener gets to close, doesn’t provide enough space, or doesn’t establish legal position on the re-screen, it’s illegal.

Illegal screening stance

If the screener extends their arm or pushes the defense off, that’s illegal. When the screener’s legs are outside shoulder width it’s illegal if the stance causes the defender to hit the leg impacting their speed, quickness, balance, or rhythm. Though if the defender had hit the screener in the chest area or avoids contact completely, it would not be illegal.

Illegal screener’s movement

They can not deliver a blow though. For example, they can’t extend an arm into the defender’s chest. That would be illegal.

Examples of illegal screens

  • Moving screen: This type of illegal screen occurs when a screener is still running to get into position or moves to a different side than the defender’s direction, as the defender bumps into them.
  • Leaning in: This illegal screen happens when the screener leans their body over to try to block more of the defender’s body.
  • Extending screen: A blocking screen is when the screener moves their arms or legs too wide.
  • Not enough space: This happens when the screener hasn’t provided the defender at least a foot of space if they’re stationary, or adequate space for their speed.

Why are illegal screens important?

Screens can be really physical. Imagine you’re running at top speed and all of a sudden someone opens a car door on you. It’s going to hurt! So calling illegal screens helps protect the players on the court.

Answers to common basketball screen questions

What is a moving screen in basketball?

A moving screen in basketball is when the screener doesn’t plant their feet, or moves in the opposite direction or laterally away from the person they’re screening. A moving screen is a foul.

Is an illegal screen a foul?

Yes an illegal screen is an offensive foul. When a screen is called by the ref, it’s a turnover for the offense, and the defense gains possession of the ball.

Is a moving screen illegal in the WNBA and NBA?

Yes a moving screen is illegal in the WNBA and the NBA. You can move slightly in the direction of the defender, or to firm up. But other than that movement during screening is not allowed.

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