The High Ball-Screen
A big man sets a screen at the foul line. A guard dribbles past, trying to rub his defender off it. Then the fun begins—and no team has more fun than Illinois from 2002 through '05, with big James Augustine and perimeter teammates Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and Roger Powell. Augustine might slip to the basket and take and convert a pass; at other times the dribbler might turn the corner and be gone. "They had the best passing, cutting and spacing, and just sliced teams up," says St. John's coach Steve Lavin.
Florida will also make expert use of the pick-and-roll while winning titles in 2006 and '07, with guard Taurean Green and forward Corey Brewer running off Al Horford and Joakim Noah. "A lot of us watched Mike D'Antoni and the Phoenix Suns," says Gators' coach Donovan. "AAU kids watch so much NBA that we can put them in situations they're comfortable in. Guys come to us knowing how to space and run the floor."
The high-ball-screen vogue spawns other changes. One is the rise of the so-called Stretch or Step-Back 4: a big man who, in addition to rolling after setting a screen, can step back and threaten with a pass or shot, as Jared Sullinger will do for Ohio State from 2010--11 through '11--12.
Meanwhile, as defenses scramble for ways to guard the ball screen, they spawn a glossary of terms to describe their tactics—from showing and hedging to icing and downing. Says Marquette coach Buzz Williams, "For years ball screens were random. Now you guard several each possession. I can't tell you how much practice time we spend on ball-screen coverage."
Ball screens let today's player do what he wants to do, whether he's a guard or wing eager to dribble and drive, or a big man like Kevin Durant intent on facing the basket. Pick-and-roll is what they see in the NBA, where they want to wind up. "Pearl Washington used to take you off the dribble without a ball screen," says Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "Now you deal with guys with a ball screen, and you want to say, 'That should be against the rules.'"
In 2002--03, when analytics guru Ken Pomeroy dives into reams of play-by-play records to generate "tempo-free" stats, he seeks to create standardized metrics to better compare teams and players that operate at different paces. Then, in '08, Mark Cuban--funded Synergy Sports Technology widely introduces a video scouting tool that breaks down tendencies using all sorts of variables—which allows a coach to say, as Buzz Williams did before his Marquette team beat Xavier in the '11 NCAA tournament, "Two guys involved in the ball screen constitute 42% of Xavier's points, and of that 42%, Tu Holloway is involved in it 63% of the time."