Use THIS Drill To Master Ball Screen Defense

In game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Dallas Mavericks inbounded the ball down 2 with 12 seconds left.

Unsurprisingly, the Mavericks got the ball to Luka Doncic. He was guarded by Jaden McDaniels, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.

The Mavericks center came up and set a ball screen for Doncic. The Timberwolves switched, putting Rudy Gobert on Luka.

Luka was able to break Gobert down and hit a game-winning stepback 3 with 5 seconds left.

After the game, there was much debate about the Timberwolves decision to switch Gobert onto Doncic. It created a mismatch that Luka took advantage of.

In today's game, ball screens are everywhere. If you can't guard them effectively, you will struggle defensively.

Switching can be effective when players are like-size and ability. However, that's often not the case. Luka v Rudy is a great example.

So how do you prepare for those situations?

Try this drill from Coach Ryan Schultz's How To Run Championship Practices

How to Implement Multiple Coverages with The Continuous Ball Screen Defense Drill

Some teams cover all ball screens the same. They might switch or trap every screen. This upside to this is the simplicity. Your players know what to do every time a ball screen is set.

The downside is the defense knows what is coming as well! As Coach Schultz stresses, having multiple coverages gives your team options.

You can choose which coverage to use based on the strengths of the players involved in the ball screen. You can also vary coverages throughout the game to keep your opponent guessing.

In this drill, Coach Schultz focuses on the 3 primary coverages his team uses:

  • Drop coverage
  • Flat hedge
  • Trap

You might want to include other coverages. That's fine! The drill can easily be adapted to include whatever coverages work best for your team.

What's great is your team gets multiple reps working on different coverages.

If you do use the trap, use that on the final rep of the drill. This allows the drill to flow more smoothly.

A Simple Drill Setup for Maximum Efficiency

The drill starts with 4 offensive players and 3 defensive players. The offensive players are positioned on the blocks and wings.

The defensive players are positioned on the blocks and at the top of the key. Be sure to rotate players through multiple spots.


diagram 1

The drill starts with the coach passing the ball to the wing. X1 sprints to cover the wing.

On all 3 reps, the offensive wings should allow X1 to get to them before dribbling. If they go before then, the drill won't simulate a realistic ball screen situation.

diagram 2

On the first rep, the big is in a drop coverage. X1 forces 3 to use the screen (does not allow them to reject the screen). X1 then chases over the top of the screen. X4 stays back to protect against the roll.

This coverage protects the paint. It is designed to allow contested mid-range pullup jumpers, a low percentage shot.

After coming off the screen, 3 passes to 2 on the opposite wing.

 diagram 3

X4, as well as 3 and 4, return to their original positions.

X1 sprints through to cover 2, who holds the ball until X1 arrives.

diagram 4

On the second rep, the defense executes a flat hedge ball screen coverage. In this coverage, X5 moves laterally with the dribbler as 2 comes off the ball screen.

As with the first rep, X1 goes over the screen. X5 continues laterally until X1 gets back in front. X1 should communicate to X5 when he can recover to their player.

It's important that X5 have high hands to deter a pass to 5 rolling.

diagram 5

X5 recovers to 5 with high hands. 2 passes the ball to 3. X1 sprints to cover 3.

 diagram 6

For the final rep, the defense traps the ball screen. As 3 comes off the screen, X4 and X1 trap.

A couple key points:

  • X1 must go over the screen - if they go under the screen, there will be too much space to set a trap.
  • X4 must get perpendicular to half court - they cannot allow 3 to continue to dribble middle.
  • The trappers' feet should be touching - they cannot get split! If they do, the offense is likely to find a passing window.
  • The trappers cannot foul - many players are tempted to reach when they trap. The trappers should mirror the ball without reaching.
  • X5 must anticipate - as X1 and X4 are moving to the trap, X5 must be moving across to take away the pass to 4 rolling.

X1 and X4 trap 3. X5 fully rotates to deny the pass to 4.

 diagram 7

3 Essential Coaching Points to Master Ball Screens

Coach Schultz covers some important coaching points for this drill:

  • Dictating where the ball goes - the players guarding the dribbler MUST make them use the screen. They cannot allow a reject.

If the offense can reject, they really beat two players. Both the on-ball defenders and the screener's defender are now out of the play.

In this drill, the offensive wings are encouraged to reject the screen and drive baseline if the on-ball defender does not force them into the screen.

  • Footwork navigating the screens - for all 3 reps, the on-ball defender goes over the screen. This is a major point of emphasis.

Getting over ball screens is technique and mindset. In terms of technique, players must "get skinny" to present a smaller target for the screener. They must also get their foot over the screen and then sprint to get back in front.

In terms of mindset, getting over ball screens is hard! Most players would prefer to switch or go under. Make clear that they MUST go over.

For the bigs, their footwork is equally important. On the flat hedge, they must be able to move laterally with the dribbler and then backpedal or sprint back to the roll man.

On the trap, they must get perpendicular to half court to stop the ball handler's progress. Finally, both players must have touching feet on the trap to prevent a split.

  • Communication from the big - the defender guarding the screener must tell the guard what coverage they are in. Coach Schultz uses colors. Whatever you call them, your big must communicate "ELO" - early, loud & often!

This allows the guard to know what the big is doing. Having that knowledge before the screen arrives enables the guard to force the dribbler into the screen. It also allows them to coordinate the coverage in sync because they are on the same page.

Final Thoughts: What It's Like Having A "Defensive Swiss Army Knife"

Versatility in your ball screen defense is like having a Swiss Army Knife. You are ready for whatever situation you encounter.

This drill is a great way to practice the fundamentals of different coverages.

Once your players are comfortable with the drill, run the coverages live. You can do this starting 2v2 all the way through 5v5.

When you go live, you'll see which coverages are game ready and which need more work.

While you thankfully won't have to run them against Luka, you'll be more than ready for the teams and players on your schedule!

Related Resources

How To Run Championship Practices With Ryan Schultz

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