Explore the Gray Area of Illegal Screen Basketball: Dirty or Fair Trick? 

Morgan Wolf

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Is screening legal in Basketball? The common practice to put defenders out of their position is in favor of the offensive team. 

But the question remains, is this offensive strategy okay to practice throughout the match? Or is it just another illegal screen basketball practice?

We will find out today!

But before we do, check out our in-depth articles on Basketball Basics for Beginners to polish your skill of basketball. Let’s dive in. 

Screening in Basketball

Experts say that screening is the second most confusing rule in basketball. The first one is traveling in basketball

Also known as a pick, screening is an essential part of the sport. With the enhanced three-point shooting style, screening has become a popular offensive trick. 

Screening is when one offensive player moves to a spot in order to block the movement of another player in defense to get more space with the ball.  

Different methods are applied in court to implement screening. The most common ones are pick and rolls, pick and pops, and on ball screens. 

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find out your favorite basketball team incorporates one of the screening strategies. 

Key Factors on Basketball Screen 

  • Screening in basketball is a popular offensive move.  
  • It starts with an offensive player placing himself close to the teammate’s defender or in the way of the defender. 
  • The offensive player uses his body to block the movement of a defensive player guarding one of their teammates. 
  • A player who sets the screen is known as the screener or picker. 
  • A screener must remain still while setting up the screen. He can not touch or lean toward the opponent while screening. 
  • The teammate will then have the opportunity to shed the screener with the space created by the screener. 
  • The offensive player can then pass, shoot, or field a goal to the basket. 
  • Even though there are different screening methods, all of them have the same fundamentals. 

Everything about screening seems so fair, right? So, what makes an illegal screen basketball? We will find out in the next section.  

What Makes An Illegal Screen Basketball? 


Source: basketballforcoaches.com

Even though screening looks like a simple trick, certain rules are to be followed to ensure fair play. 

In general, a screener must focus on the fundamentals of the screening. He must ensure enough space for the defender so that the defender has a reasonable scope to ignore the pick. 

Below are some of the reasons why screening becomes illegal in basketball. 

1) Lack of Established Position

As discussed earlier, a screener must provide enough space for the defender to avoid the pick. The spacing rule applies as followed: 

  • There will be a genuine one-step gap between the defender and the screener with the defending player being motionless and still. 
  • However, if the defender is moving, the screener must ensure a two-step gap between them. 

Beyond this, the referee has the right to call if he thinks there has been a violation of the common space and determine whether the defender had the opportunity to avoid a pick. 

2) Moving Laterally or Forward 

No, the screener can not move forward or backward. He has to be still in his place regardless of whether the defender is moving or not. The screen should be stationary and perpendicular to the defender’s way.

It is one of the most common illegal screenings in basketball; often performed by offensive players unintentionally or by accident. Other reasons include 

  • Often while performing a pick and roll or a pick and pop, the screener may move ahead of time during a roll and pop. 
  • Movement may also happen when the teammate with the ball is short in patience and doesn’t wait enough for the screener to set properly.
    You can call it a half-cooked screening.
  • Another common scenario in illegal movement is when a ball handler tries to move around the screener while he has just started to proceed toward the defender. On the basketball court, this often ends in a violation.

However, a screener can move under specific conditions such as to draw a blow or similar to this. 

3) Leaning Toward the Defender

A screener can not lean his body or shoulder toward the defender. This might seem sneaky or tricky! But the referee always marks this and makes a call. 

Even if the screener is stationary, he can not lean his body toward the defender. There are several reasons behind this. The notable ones are, 

  • A screener may try to create additional space for his teammate to take an open shot or drive to the basket by leaning. 
  • Leaning can momentarily throw off the defender’s positioning; also making it hard for him to recover and defend against the offensive play.
  • Some players use leaning as a strategy to draw fouls from defenders who may make contact or react with excessive force by mistake. 

Thus, leaning screens is strictly prohibited in basketball. Basketball players should be well-prepared and well-trained for the fundamentals of screening like this. 

4) Extending Screen 

Similarly, you can not extend your arm or lower part of your body while screening.

Because when you lower down your hip, foot, or knee, it becomes more difficult for the defender to create an opportunity to avoid the screen. 

Furthermore, tripping or lowering your legs can often lead to serious injuries to your teammate/ ball handler or the defender.

To maintain a healthy practice throughout the match, the screener must take care of these factors. 

Plus, often newbies have the tendency to stretch their arms and hold the defender with their hands. But this has to be prevented during the process of learning. With regular practice and drill plays, this can often be ignored. 

Here are a few illegal screen basketball acts. An offensive player while preparing and setting up a screening should improve these habits and have a safe screening along the play. 

What’s The Penalty for Illegal Screen in Basketball? 

So, we learned about both screen and illegal screen. But what’s the penalty for illegal screen basketball? Continue reading to figure it out yourself. 

When the referee detects an illegal screen on the court, the play is immediately blown dead, and an offensive foul is called. 

The offensive team loses possession of the ball, and the opposing team gains the opportunity to take control of the game once more. 

As for the player who has committed the illegal screen, he may get charged with a personal foul over the course of the play. 

Remember that, an illegal screen can often lead to critical results and ultimately change the momentum of the match. 

Thus, it is important that players set screens properly on the court and prevent any illegal screen basketball. 

Examples of Screen in Basketball  

Players have adapted this offensive trick for a long time now. Going back, we will find many names who performed the screen in basketball. Some popular ones are: 

1) Chris Paul 

As a professional NBA player, Chris Paul is popular for his ability to set up teammates with clever screens. He was best known for his unique style with pick and roll passing.

He always delivered precise screens that often left defenders off balance, allowing his teammates to leverage the offensive opportunities. 

2) Draymond Green

Known for his tenacious defense and playmaking skills, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors was a master of setting well-timed screens. In the NBA, he was also known as the Supreme Screener of basketball. 

Interestingly, his ability to use screens effectively played a crucial role in the Warriors’ dominant run during the mid-2010s. 

However, he was rejected from basketball due to his immense aggressive nature – after he stomped on the chest of Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis in a playoff match. 

3) Kevin Garnett

During his time with the NBA, Kevin Garnett was not only a dominant scorer and rebounder but also a skilled defender and team player. 

His savvy use of leaning screens made him a formidable force on the court, creating opportunities for his teammates to score. In his prime, he was notorious for playing illegal screens on court.

4) Tony Parker 

San Antonio Spurs had their most dynamic point guard with Tony Parker. He was best known for his quick pick and roll attack and swift ability to set up plays for his teammates.

He along with the Spurs added another dimension to the offensive game and mastered the loop to perfection. The loop is a triple staggered screen and Tony Parker excelled at it.  

5) Manu Ginobili

Coming from the Spurs again, Manu Ginobili was a crafty shooting guard and excelled at basketball screens. He effortlessly created open opportunities for himself and his teammates. 

Others called him the defensive menace. While others were not comfortable with shot blocking, Manu Ginobili would put him on the line seamlessly for the betterment of his team. 

His unique playing style kept defenders guessing, and his screens were no exception. 

But there are more! We mentioned some of the best screeners in basketball history. Versatile facilitators like Rajon Rondo are also on the list. 

But keep in mind that players’ strategies may vary over time. Recently, many players are developing this strategy following the latest improvements and updates.

Thus, if you are a practitioner of basketball and a wannabe basketball player, keep up to date with the regular and latest updates on basketball. 

Illegal Screen Basketball: Advice to Young Players

Cheating is easy, penalty is not! 

Inside the court, it is important to follow ethics and be fair in the play. It is essential for coaches to train the players hard and advise them that they must have clean and legal screens. 

You may defeat your opponent with a cheap trick! But ultimately, it will earn you a low label and make you a poor player. Thus, follow your trainer and be focused on driving good results with positive acts on the court.

Having a clean and legal match is worth way more than stealing the victory with hidden and illegal tricks!

Last Words  

It is more than simply essential to learn about the basketball screen and its violations. We agree screening can introduce an interesting turn to the match. 

On the contrary, illegal screen basketball rules also help to maintain this trick on track and ensure no specific team/ player draws unethical advantages toward them. 

Players practicing illegal screens will be awarded the penalty they deserve. And it will also end with a poor reputation in their career.

Do you want to get more basketball tips regularly? Stay tuned with us to get regular updates on basketball fundamentals. 

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn