Zone Offense Principles: Ball Screens can be effective
I am a big proponent of setting screens against a zone to get players open, as seen in this post. Even though it seems counterintuitive to set screens when players are defending a zone instead of a specific man, screens can still be effective against a zone defense in getting players open, as we saw in the previous post. Today, we will see that even ball screens can be useful against a zone in helping the ball handler get to the dangerous spots on the floor.
It must be noted that we are not referring to pick and rolls but simply ball screens. There will likely not be space for the screener to get open bit if the screen is well designed and executed, it can assist the ball handler in penetrating the gaps of the zone which ultimately helps the offense get open shots. We are going to take a look at one example that Wichita State used in its NIT game against Virginia Tech last season.
In this play, Ben Smith is going to receive a ball screen set by JT Durley on the left side of the court. The high post man, Gabe Blair, sees the ball screen and cuts to the rim to open up the lane. Meanwhile, the opposite wing defender, Erick Green, is forced to stay on the near side of the court to defend Toure’ Murry, who is properly spacing the floor.
Without the spacing by Murry, Green would be able to cheat over to the middle of the lane and cut off the drive by Smith. However, since he has to shuffle toward Murry right before the screening action, he is not able to get over in time to cut Smith off and can only muster a reach in.
Murry was not in great position to catch and shoot but his mere presence forced Green to slide two steps toward him right before the screen. Malcolm Delaney is forced to go over the screen and when Green cannot provide help, Smith has a clear path into the paint where he can create. Durley got a good piece of Delaney on the screen and slowed him up long enough for Smith to get to the lane.
The ball screen helped Smith get into the middle of the lane, where he read the defense and pulled up for the mid range jump shot. Without the screen, he may have been able to attack the gap on his own but I think it is fair to say that the screen which held up Delaney helped him immensely.
The play is helped by the great spacing of the Shockers. From the cut to the rim by Blair and the wing spacing by Murry, Wichita State makes the zone less compact and gives Smith the room to get into the lane.
This play shows how ball screens, if used correctly, can be effective against a zone defense. It takes proper spacing and strong penetration off the ball screen to create a good shot and can be very difficult to defend when executed.