What is a Moving Screen in Basketball?

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Sometimes, a moving screen call on the offense can mean the difference between winning or losing a basketball game. And when it occurs during crunch time of a highly competitive game, it can be a controversial call that would warrant several years-long debates. The Warrior’s dominant 2016 NBA season, for example, has been plagued by allegations of lenient officiating of moving screens for Stephen Curry and co. So, what is a moving screen in basketball and why is it so important to learn how to avoid it?

What is a Screen in BasketballWhat is a Screen in Basketball?

First of all, we need to define what a screen is in basketball, how it is different from a pick, and how to execute it legally.

The screen is one of the most indispensable basketball plays there is. It’s a tactic where an offensive player runs across a stationary teammate called the screener in order to shed their defensive player. Screeners then use their bodies to block a defensive player’s path, thereby preventing them from getting to their desired defensive spot. 

Another variation of this tactic is the pick. The principle is the same. However, in a pick, it’s the screener who goes to the ball handler and establishes position in the projected path of the ball handler’s defender in order to prevent them from getting to a favorable defensive spot.

Since they’re pretty similar, the rules governing picks and screens are, at their core, remarkably similar. In both cases, the screeners or pickers need to be demonstrably first to their spot to execute this offensive tactic legally.

The effectiveness of this prolific strategy has caused the genesis of many different types of screens in basketball, such as the backdoor, flare, elevator, flex, and many others. While they may vary in complexity, the principle remains the same with each of them – to block an opponent from getting to their desired spot on defense.

What is a Screen in Basketball

Most NBA coaches use a variety of screens and picks in just one playmaking them the most utilized strategies in basketball. A lot of modern basketball plays, for example, can be described as a complex system of screens and picks that present the playmaker with different options. The simple yet effective pick and roll play, for example, has become the NBA’s most utilized plays at occurring about 18.6% of the total plays run per game.

For a ball-handler, a successfully executed pick can mean an open jump shot, an open lane to the basket for a drive, or some room to find an open teammate for a pass. A screen for an off-ball player, on the other hand, can free him up to catch a ball or open up a lane to the basket for a clean cut.

Like other offensive tactics, there are some rules to executing the screen legally. The most important of which is that the screener must remain stationary throughout the play. Screeners must also refrain from initiating contact with the defender by extending their arms and legs.

What is an Illegal Screen in BasketballWhat is an Illegal Screen in Basketball?

A screen can be deemed illegal by a referee if illegal contact by the screener impedes the defensive player from assuming their desired spot on the floor. Illegal screens or picks can happen under these two general categories:

Types of Illegal Screens in Basketball

  • Moving Screen – A screener must establish a legal screening position before getting in contact with a defensive player. A legal screening position necessitates leaving the defender enough time and space to avoid contact with the screener or picker by stopping or changing direction. A screen in which the screeners extend their hips beyond their normal vertical frame is also a form of moving screen.
  • Illegal Contact – Screeners or pickers must not, under any circumstance, initiate contact with the defensive player. This usually happens when the screener extends their arms, elbows, knees, or feet beyond the width of their shoulders.

What is a Moving Screen in BasketballWhat is a Moving Screen in Basketball?

Moving screens are one of the most often called illegal screens in the game. This is because the principle of giving the defender reasonable time and space to maneuver around the screen can be tricky to navigate for both the executing screener and the referee monitoring the play. The call is made even more challenging to make if the defender is already in motion before the screen is set.

What is a Moving Screen in Basketball

Officials also have to make these crucial calls in real-time making it a truly difficult decision. As such, illegal screens under the moving screen category are one of the most challenged calls in the NBA, especially in the closing minutes of the game.

What Makes a Moving Screen Illegal in BasketballWhat Makes a Moving Screen Illegal in Basketball?

Referees must be vigilant in looking out for moving screens as it can give the offense a blatantly unfair advantage. A screener in motion makes it impossible for the defender to get to a spot where they can get to their defensive assignments. Without it, screeners can simply form a moving wall of bodies in front of a ball-handler to free him up for a shot anywhere on the court.

It’s also essential to regulate the execution of the screen to prevent injuries to players. Getting blindsided by a screen at game speed can cause some serious neck injuries to the defensive player.

Examples of Moving ScreenExamples of Moving Screen

Illegal screens under the illegal contact category are relatively easy to spot. An extended arm or legs are more noticeable than whether a screener has given enough space for the defender to react.

Moving screens are much more difficult to spot in real-time. Referees are often put in a spot where they’d have to make subjective decisions on whether screeners provided enough space and time for defenders to react. In pressure-packed tight games, these can be too difficult to call.

Failure to establish position in the defender’s path – If the screener fails to establish a position in the defender’s path before making contact, he will be called for a moving screen. This means he must have an established position in the defender’s path with arms and legs extended no further than their shoulders. They must also provide enough space for the defender to avoid contact. Contrary to popular belief, screeners don’t need to have both feet planted on the floor to establish a legal screen.

Failure to establish position in the defender’s path

Moving while still in contact with the defender – Even upon establishing a legal screening position, a screener can still be called for a moving screen if he readjusts while still in contact with the defensive player. Remember, screeners must let defensive players avoid the screen either by stopping or changing directions. However, once the screener is through, the screener can roll towards the basket or pop in the perimeter for an open jump shot.

Failure to leave enough space for the defender to avoid contact – Generally, referees give screeners up to one step from the defender to establish a legal screening position if the defender is not in motion. If the defender is moving, on the other hand, a two-step distance is the established distance of a legal screen. However, when a defender is moving laterally at game speed, it can be difficult to discern whether contact happens while the screener is still in motion too.

Screener extends hips, legs, or arms into the defender – When screeners fail to obstruct the defender’s movement through a legal screen effectively, they tend to extend their arms, legs, or hips beyond the normal vertical frame of their body. These will all be called for an illegal screen. It’s important to remember that screeners cannot initiate contact in any way and that they must allow the defensive player to avoid the screen. 

3 Common Situations When Moving Screens are Called3 Common Situations When Moving Screens are Called

If the ball handler moves too early – Communication is crucial to a successfully executed screen. The screener must let his teammate know precisely when it’s okay for them to move. If the teammate they’re screening for moves while they’re not yet in a legal screening position, it’s most likely going to result in a moving screen. 

While the defender is already in motion – It isn’t easy at game speed to assess exactly how much room screeners must give defenders during a screen. Screeners must calculate it depending on how fast the defender is moving. While there’s an established 2-foot distance.

Screener’s arms get entangled with the defender – While it’s not a requirement to put your hands across your chest or torso when executing a screen, professionals do it for a very good reason. Having your arms hanging loose at your side can result in having them entangled with the defensive player’s giving the referees a reason to call an illegal screen due to illegal contact. 

What is the Penalty for a Moving ScreenWhat is the Penalty for a Moving Screen?

Because of the massive advantage that screens can give the offense, the rules have set some impactful penalties for using illegal screens. A moving screen in NBA and International rules basketball is counted as an offensive foul. This means aside from a turnover; a personal foul is also counted against the screener. If the screeners commit an illegal screen with no more fouls to give, they will automatically foul out of the game. 

The screener’s team, on the other hand, will be penalized with a team foul. So, if the moving screen occurs when the team is already in the penalty, the defensive team will be awarded a free throw and possession with a full shot clock.

Player Executing the Screen The Team Screening
Personal Foul Team Foul
Turnover Penalty-Free Throw (if committed with no more fouls to give)

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Moving Screen in Basketball?

Screens, in their many different variations, are starting to eclipse the formidable pick and roll. These days, it’s common to see shooters working off screens to get open for a catch-and-shoot situation, not just the likes of legendary marksmen like Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. AI-powered data analysis even suggests that a typical game sees about 200 screens. 

As one of the most prolific offensive tools in a basketball team’s arsenal, the game officials constantly closely monitor the rules governing screens. It’s essential for coaches and players, therefore, to know what is a moving screen in basketball.

What makes the moving screen even more problematic is that referees often have to call them from a subjective point of view. The reasonable space and time principle, for example, is open for interpretation.

However, having the moving screen rule in place is crucial in keeping the game fair and safe for every player. Without it, large offensive players can simply block defenders from getting to the primary scorers. This way, the moving screen helps keep the game elegant, fluid, and, most importantly, balanced.

You can find answers to other frequently asked questions about basketball here.

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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