Bobby Knight's Simple Offense Tip On Screens &
Why You May Never Use Down Screens Again

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When I was watching a basketball game the other night, Bobby Knight talked about screens away from the ball. He mentioned that he did not like screens in which the player receiving the screen moved away from the basket because it was more difficult for the player to be a scoring threat.

An example of this would be the down screen. A player on the wing sets a screen for a player on the block.

If you think about it, the player has to do a full 180 degree turn in order to become a scoring threat. This does a few things:
  1. Less efficient and less accurate shots, because of all of the body movement. It also gives the defender more time to get a hand up to contest the shot. Even at the pro level, a contested shot has much lower percentage than an open shot. Check out these articles for more on that:

    Contesting Shots - Decrease Your Opponent's Shooting Percentage by 25%

    Open Vs. Contested Shots - Sacramention Kings' 2004/2005 Statistics

  2. Offensive player loses offensive advantage to drive to the basket. As mentioned above, this gives more time for the defender to recover which will make it harder for the offensive player to drive by the defender.
Instead, Bobby Knight likes screens where the players going towards the basket. An example of this would be a Away Screen. This is when a player from the high post goes to set a screen for a player in the wing/baseline area. This will accomplish the opposite of the down screen.
  1. More accurate and efficient shots. This will give the player momentum heading to the basket. With this screen, the player can quickly square to the basket and shoot with a higher percentage. Personally, I feel like I develop a better rhythm for the shot when going towards the basket rather than away from the basket.

  2. Offensive player gains offensive advantage to drive to the basket. In order to close out on the shot in time, the defender has run very hard which will often force him to over-pursue and the offensive player can easily fake the shot and drive to the basket.
Now, I'm not against down screens to start a play or get the ball to the wing, but I don't think it is an efficient way to get a shooter a high-percentage scoring opportunity.

If you run a motion offense or a patterned offense that uses lots of down screens, you might want to consider emphasizing and incorporating other types of screens instead.

Personally, after hearing this advice, I will think twice about how I implement a motion offense and what screens I teach/emphasize.

What are your thoughts about this? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...


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coach john says:
11/9/2018 at 1:10:37 PM

Good points to reaction of defender playing screen.. Player with ball must be intelligent to read them also. Spacing the floor remains so important . Not all players are skilled or intelligent enough to make those read decisions against good heat on the ball.


Bruce Robbins says:
11/17/2017 at 11:03:09 AM

This was addressed above, but I thought I would confirm what was said. Coach Knight did run down screens, but his down screen had the screener inside the cutter moving from the top of the floor toward the baseline. This gave the cutter three basic reads. The screen he hated, which some people call a down screen was a pin screen with the wing screening toward the block. Coach Knight taught that with a player on the wing and a player in the post the inside man was the screener. In other words, the player on the lane would back screen for the player on the wing.


Gordon Kaplan says:
10/24/2016 at 3:21:42 AM

I've run Motion Offense both at the prep and collegiate level - in addition to spending a year in Bloomington pursuing my masters and watching Coach Knight run practice every day.

Generally speaking, if there's a viable scenario for a screen to the block from the wing - regardless of what terminology one prefers, be my guest and run it that way. It's your team. I can tell you from experience that it crowds the lane, reduces the variety and efficacy of cutters and generally makes for crappy motion. But hey, even crappy motion can put the ball in the basket in December. February is another matter.


paul pliler says:
10/26/2015 at 12:35:39 PM

Pin screens are a great way to get the ball to post players. Have used the same offense for years and had lots of success . If you don't have good post players(which i have had from time to time) then it is not so great and I have used ball screens


Coach says:
8/20/2014 at 4:19:14 PM

Hello guys. The problem with this "downscreen" and attributing it to Coach Knight is that this is not a Knight downscreen at all. Downscreens are set when the screener's back is to the ball. The diagram shows a "pin" screen, not a downscreen. I completely agree with the premise that pin screens are not very good. We do not let our kids set them at all (neither did Knight for that matter). Furthermore, the downscreen is best set guard spot to wing. Anyone who claims to have all of Knight's tapes/dvds should definitely know the difference.

Someone said to be careful of listening to Knight because look how many people ballscreen today. That is really sad. I've actually had a conversation with Coach Knight about ballscreens and a lack of movement in today's game. He said that he thinks the game is the way it is today because "coaches are lazy". Couldn't agree more.


Ken Sartini says:
3/1/2014 at 12:26:39 PM

Brian -


Joe, I guess spelling wasn't one of them. :-)


Brian Sass says:
3/1/2014 at 9:50:50 AM


Coach Sad has had a tremendous positive impact on my coaching. JMO is just one of the many things I have picked up from him.

A treasure trove of information, he is. (Channeling my inner Yoda.)

Roy Williams uses down screens and away screens in his 3-2 motion offense. His rule is he sets a rear screen always for the person who just had the ball. Why? Because that defender who was just guarding the ball is the easiest to find.

When swinging side to side, he sets a down screen onthe side the ball is going to looking for the pin down and post up. He sets the rear screen (flex from post to wing, fade from point to wing) for where the ball just was.


Ken Sartini says:
2/28/2014 at 12:31:18 PM

We always told our kids, the person who sets the best screen will get himelf open the easiest just by opening up, coming to the ball and making himself available. Coach Sar



Joe Haefner says:
2/28/2014 at 9:32:27 AM

Good points, Brian.

"JMO".. it looks like Coach Sar has been rubbing off on you.


Brian Sass says:
2/28/2014 at 8:13:27 AM

I like down screens. But I like them more for what you get for the screener than the mover. I'm surprised no one has said anything.

Down screens allow your screener to get excellent position and an excellent seal close to the basket. We had a game we won where we screened little on big on a down screen 4 straight possessions during the key part of the game. We got a great post up for our wing player against a smaller perimeter defender.

Sometimes I think actions should be run as much for the position they put the screener in as much as the mover.




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