What is a Screen in Basketball?

So you need to learn how to screen, or pick. Coach shouts “set a screen” or “pick and roll to the basket,” or you heard it during a game and you’re looking for some sweet basketball knowledge.

The screen is a powerful tool in a team’s offense and is a great way for a player to be involved in an offensive set without needing the ball.

But now – you’re asking, “What does that even mean?” and “How do I as a player set a screen?” – aye, we’ll get there soon.

First, let’s see what Wikipedia has to say on the matter:

A screen is a blocking move by an offensive player in which they stand beside or behind a defender in order to free a teammate to either shoot a pass or drive in to score. In basketball and field lacrosse, it is also known as a pick.

Great. Now let’s really break it down.

What is a Screen in Basketball?

Fundamentally, a screen is an offensive maneuver, wherein one player (the screener) uses their body to stop the movement of an opposing player. Typically to separate that opposing player from a teammate (the cutter).

Screens are best set by bigger players, as the move requires the screener to keep a strong stance and a wide base as they take contact from the opposing player or defender.

What are the Different Kinds of Screens?

Basically, you have two kinds of screens. As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, there is the “on-ball screen” and the “off-ball screen,” the main difference between the two is whether or not the cutter has the ball. Since, as the screener, you are either screening on the ball handler or screening for your teammate without the ball, a.k.a off-ball.

I will explain more advanced screen plays below.

How to Set a Screen as a Player? Or How to play a Screen as the Screener?

As the screener, you are the most important person in the screen. It is up to you to disrupt the defense and get the cutter open.


  • Feet set a little more than shoulder-width apart. A wider base makes for a stronger stance, and you want to take up as much space in the defender’s path.
  • Your feet must be set in place before your cutter “takes the screen” or you make contact with the defender. A FOUL may be called if not. The referee may call a MOVING SCREEN if your feet are not set, or an ILLEGAL SCREEN at their discretion.
  • Center of gravity should be low, slightly bend your knees. Keep your torso vertical. This will create a sturdy stance, which is important when taking the impact of the defender. 、
  • Hands should be protecting sensitive areas. Across the chest for girls, and at the groin for guys.
  • Elbows should always be in, a FOUL will be called if they are out. Same for the legs and knees. The referee may call an ILLEGAL SCREEN at their discretion.


  • Run into the spot of the screen and make separation from the defender guarding you.
  • Square your body towards the defender. So that your chest is facing towards the shoulders of the defender.

How to Take a Screen as a Player? Or How to play a Screen as the Cutter?

The purpose of the screen is to get you, “the cutter,” open and in space. Either as the ball handler or while you are off the ball, you should try to lead the defender guarding you into the screener.


  • Set up the screen. As the cutter you can call for a screen by signaling to your teammate on where you want them to stand.
  • Wait for the screener to be set. If you take the screen too early, a FOUL can be called as a MOVING SCREEN, or as an ILLEGAL SCREEN.
  • Take a path close to your screener. You don’t want any space between you and your teammate, forced the defender into the screen.


  • Make a slight fake towards the opposite direction. So when you accelerate towards the screen, the defender hits the screen harder.
  • Accelerate after taking the screen towards the basket. Since the defender is already trailing, or was forced to switch. You can create more distance by exploding to the basket.

3 Advanced Screen Plays

Flare Screen

An easy and effective way to get your shooters open off the ball. As well as a handy three player play, which can branch off into all sorts of offense.

Players: Ball Handler | Cutter | Screener

  1. Screener sets off-ball screen for the
  2. Cutter Cutter sprints to shooting spot beyond the perimeter (3-point line)
  3. Ball Handler passes the ball to the cutter in shooting position

Backdoor Screen a.k.a Flex Screen

A more advanced screen play which can get your scorer an easy look at the basket. The play is best set up in what is known as Flex Offense, but can be pulled off in any sort of manner. Ideally, you want your ball handler on the opposite side of the paint as your cutter/screener duo.

Players: Ball Handler | Cutter | Screener

  1. Screener and Cutter set position near the base line.
  2. Cutter should be above the perimeter (3-point line).
  3. Screen sets off-ball screen for cutter.
  4. Cutter takes screen and sprint to the basket.
  5. While the cutter is in motion, the ball handler passes the ball to the cutter who should be near the basket.

Pick and Roll

One of the most commonly seen on-ball screens at all levels of basketball. The pick and roll creates a scoring threat out of your screener.

  1. Screener sets on-ball screen.
  2. Cutter takes screen.
  3. Screener runs (or “rolls”) to the basket to receive pass.
  4. Cutter has the option to pass to the rolling screener.

Three easy steps and you have a powerful offensive play that only takes 2 players to run. The play opens up more options for the ball handler and gives a chance for the screener to score.

Bonus: Pick and Pop

Similar to the Pick and Roll, but instead of rolling to the basket, the screener takes a shooting stance. So if the cutter chooses to pass the ball to the screener, they can take a quick spot-up shot.


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