Unconventional NBA Rank: Best Screeners
This series will rank the top players in some intangible skills or statistical areas that do not show up in traditional boxscores. This will be for last season’s production and does not necessarily reflect upcoming potential.
One aspect of the game that is overlooked and under appreciated on a regular basis is the ability to set screens. I believe that setting screens is a skill and needs to be given more attention. Brett Koremenos argued that we should find a better way measure and quantify screens, which would help NBA teams put a larger emphasis on this area.
In an attempt to bring some clarity to a muddled view of who the top screeners are the NBA, I tried to determine who the top four screeners were last season. I looked at who set the best ball screens, as well as the best off ball screens. This list then has an inherent bias toward players that are more involved in pick and roll while leaving some deserving players (notably Reggie Evans) out of this analysis. Therefore, this list should help start the conversation but is by no means the final discussion. This is one of the most qualitative aspects of the game at this point and there are plenty of great screeners not recognized here.
#4 Bismack Biyombo
After the Al Jefferson signing, it was clear to see how moving from Biymobo to Jefferson on ball screens could affect the offense of the Bobcats. Biymobo is a player who understands his role as a screener and works hard to set good screens. He is not a threat to roll to the rim, so he focuses on setting screens to free Kemba Walker.
Off the ball, he works well to free shooters but is not utilized often in this role and sometimes looks to slip screens in this area. He is much better on ball screens, as he pays more attention to getting to an area and making sure he slows the defender down. His limited offensive skills force him into a screening role to be an effective part of the offense and he does a nice job of taking out the defense with solid screens.
#3 Nick Collison
Collison is probably one of the first names that jumps into many NBA fans head when screening comes up. He gets his credit for it and it is definitely deserving. He only ranks as #3 on this list, as he does not always set the best ball screens, although this may be a bigger indicator of how Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant use the ball screens and not a trend of poor screens by Collison.
He may be the best off ball screener, which plays a large role in the Thunder being the third most efficient offense on using screens, in terms of points per possessions (PPP). He seeks out the defender and punishes them with strong screens, many of which the defender runs straight into because of Collison’s perfect positioning. Screening has been a major part of Collision’s career and he is definitely one of the best screeners in the league.
#2 Al Horford
Horford is by far the best offensive player on this list and his screening ability is probably the most overlooked part of his repertoire. On ball screens, he could easily focus on rolling to the rim as he is one of the top roll men in the league. However, he shows a desire to set good ball screens, which helps the Atlanta pick and roll attack by forcing the defense toward the ball handler, which then allows Horford to find offense out of the roll.
Off ball, he helps Kyle Korver get free, which is one of the reason that Atlanta is a top 5 team on using screens, according to My Synergy Sports. Horford does a bunch of things on offensive for the Hawks and one thing he needs more credit for is his screening ability.
#1 Omer Asik
Asik played a major role in Houston being ranked as the most efficient scoring team in pick and roll ball handler possessions, as they averaged 0.87 PPP, according to My Synergy Sports. While most of the credit needs to go to his teammates, Asik continuously set crushing screens to free James Harden, Jeremy Lin and others.
What Asik does well is read the situation and determine whether he needs to go seek out the defender and screen him or go to the space, set his wide body and let his teammate run off him. In this option, he then makes sure he gets a piece of the defender as he goes by to give his teammate even more space.
He is just as effective off the ball, as he frees his teammates, as he is wide enough to force defenders around him and strong enough to not get bowled over as defenders try to run through him. He is the most consistent at setting these screens, as he always seems to get a piece of the defense to free his teammates. He is not a great offensive option, so he focuses on setting these screens and is one of the best in the league.