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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Daniel says:
2/12/2010 at 5:28:05 PM

I would have to agree with coach Knight. We run a motion offense where we start a play with a down screen to the block area... Then a wing Players gets a layup out of it. The player screened is coming up to the top of the 3 point line and does have momentum heading to the basket. With this screen, the player does quickly square to the basket and can shoot with a higher percentage shot.


Augie Johnston says:
2/16/2010 at 3:18:45 AM

I agree with the shooting percentage decreasing with downscreens, but I still prefer them for a few reasons. With the second screen you just showed in the video you are getting a catch in a very odd place on the floor and it looks ok in the video, because the other 2 players are not out there. Also, the way you get an open shot with downscreens is usually by fading if the defender goes ball side on the screen. That to is not an easy shot, but does give the shooter plenty of time. Another thing is the screener. With a downscreen you can easily dump the ball to the screener in the post if he opens up right after the screen. I guess if you are running a play that ends with the "New york screen" then I would prefer to have that screen over a down screen, but in every other instance I think I still prefer the downscreen. Just my thoughts...


Joe Haefner says:
2/16/2010 at 8:26:49 AM

Good points, Augie. As they say, I guess you need to know the rules before you can break them.


Brandon says:
2/16/2010 at 11:49:46 AM

I agree so much with this because it's true. Our Varsity has the hardest time scoring because I think their offenses are not that strong. I always am looking for a way to get my best shooter open because during this generation of players it is guard heavy and necessary to have good guard play. By setting down screens the players back is to the ball. And I feel that it clogs the lane too much. This happens in a 3 out 2 in motion offense. Thats why I run a 4 out 1 in offense and a 1 3 1 offense. To me it gives guards more room to work on a specific side of the floor while there is still action going on the weak side to keep defenders honest.


Mike L says:
2/16/2010 at 12:33:58 PM

We are going to use downscreens next season, simply to get the ball in play at the wing. At youth levels, any team that moves is going to get open drives.


Andrew Hughes says:
2/16/2010 at 3:32:15 PM

Although I regard Coach Knight as a basketball genius, and own all of his tapes and videos, I would be cautious about following all his suggestions in his new role as a T.V. commentator. Remember that Coach Knight was opposed to on-ball screens as well. Now look at what is back in most offenses.

I also remember his last few years of coaching at Texas Tech, where his motion offense seemed to really struggle at times to get decent shots.

Everything seems to work better if you have great players no matter what you run on offense.


Megan Kennedy says:
2/16/2010 at 10:36:48 PM

I can see your (and Coach Knight's point) but the player coming off the screen should be catching the pass mid-turn or on a jump so they land facing the basket. Coming off the down-screen the player should read what their defense is doing and cut accordingly (toward the passer if being chased, away from the passer for a flare-like pass if the defender jumps over the screen, etc). I would also hope most coaches use a combination of down/cross/flare screens throughout their offense.


Harold Wimberly says:
2/18/2010 at 12:57:03 PM

I also can see some point to Coach Knight, but I also believe that as a Coach you have to look at the players your getting and review what works for them. Smart players can read how to get open off any screen. So much play can come from the down screen, but again it also depends on your players ability.


Coach K junior says:
2/21/2010 at 12:26:08 AM

I only use downscreens to set up spacing for ball reversals to then set up something else. As another option to a downscreen, instead of setting a downscreen, you can set a diagonal backscreen and then pop out with the backscreener. This puts you in the same situation you were in before but gives you an additional backscreen option in the offense.

Just a thought.


Simple coach says:
11/2/2011 at 11:33:27 PM

Downscreen are effective for several reasons. It makes the defenders work if set correctly. It sets up possibly a decent shot coming around screen. Plus it adds pressure to defense to communicate. Once you hear "switch", the down screener pins and rolls to receive a hot pass inside for two points.

Downscreens are even more effective when you are able to read the defense. It isnt mandatory you run off the screen to the same spot. Do a curl if the defense is following. Do a flair or skip if defense is riding the top of screen. And even a classic back door is an option if defense is cheating over the screen.

Unfortunately these screening and picking skills are overlooked as important these days. I guarantee my players more points if they do these and they respond to that.


MikeL says:
12/17/2011 at 7:57:19 PM

We added the "New York" screen to our U 14 boys' team motion offense Thursday night -- the kids loved it! More driving into the lane, less of getting backed down by the closeout defenders.


Justin says:
9/6/2012 at 11:31:09 AM

Instead of down screen, I simply have our point guard keep the ball and a high screen is set. The PG then comes off that high screen heading to the wing and basket but now can also create with an outside shot or crossover. Then, if that isnt there, the block UP screens for the PG screener and cuts to the basket. Then, if then do not get the ball, they will continue through the block and cross screen the other block for another option. The 2 players who are at the top of the key during all of this will also cross screen for possibly at shot there up high near the free throw line.


Steven says:
2/19/2013 at 7:29:53 PM

The down screen is very efficient if the screener posts up after the screen. Get the ball to the wing and let the wing feed the post. Use that down screen to score inside!


Bill says:
9/1/2013 at 7:25:42 PM

When I first started coaching I was a "Bob Knight disciple" and used a lot of his philosophies but as I continued my coaching I developed my own philosophies but kept many of the Knight ideas. As far as down screens our offense uses a TON of them. The key is setting up your cuts, footwork, spacing and knowing where the pass is coming from. In the offense we try to keep the ball off the top and you wouldn't be coming off a down pick to the wing unless the ball was stopped on top and you were coming off a pick from the corner where you set up your cut by using a what we call an L cut (almost the same as a V cut) and coming to the wing. If you read the defense: if your defender follows..curl cut, if switch..back cut, if defender goes under fill wing.
In your first example our rule is inside picks for outside so instead of setting a down pick we would set a back pick and run a curl or back cut off the pick.


Joe Haefner says:
9/3/2013 at 9:41:30 AM

Thanks, Bill.

I use a lot of the same progressions when coming off screens away from the ball.

1. Curl - defender chases
2. Straight Cut - defender stuck on screen
3. Backdoor - defender overplays
4. Fade - defender shoots the gap


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.




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.


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



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:
3/1/2014 at 12:26:39 PM

Brian -


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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