Technique of the Week is a HoopSpeak feature that highlights the technical nuances that makes great players special and role players meaningful
Technique: Creasing the ball screen
Why it’s important:
Despite all the advancements in the bodies and abilities of NBA players, one thing has remained constant: nothing beats a good old fashioned pick-and-roll. Well, nothing except the advanced pick-and-roll techniques being taught in the NBA today. The pick-and-roll is the quintessential basketball play because it involves two only two people, but the potential permutations of each instance extend infinitely. Stan Van Gundy is said to have a top secret notebook devoted to the many, many ways to pick-and-roll. It’s hundreds of pages long and written in Jameer Nelson’s blood. There’s probably a few pages in that tome devoted to creasing the screen, which the most creative and crafty pick-and-roll practitioners will do to make this simple action even more difficult to defend. (Hat tip to Brett Koremenos for passing this terminology on to me. He claims to have heard it from an NBA player development trainer).
Some guards like Russell Westbrook and Ty Lawson would likely prefer to get a running start at the rim instead of curling laterally across the court, but depending on the defensive scheme, that sideways motion may be the best way to find breathing room. Today’s defense isn’t just about guarding people, but space. On pick-and-rolls, typically the defenders want to corral the dribbler and, generally speaking, the big man wants to slow the ballhandler enough to allow the ballhandler’s man to recover while rotations in the back of the defense momentarily cover the rolling big man.
But creasing upsets that plan by, in effect, twice screening the on-ball defender. It creates space where there was none, in a soft pocket of the pick-and-roll defense. This is also an excellent way for guards like Steve Nash and Chris Paul, who are equally comfortable attacking or shooting over bigger players, to force a switch.
How it’s done:
If you’ve watched Kobe Bryant closely in the last few years, you’ve seen this variation of “splitting” the pick-and-roll a thousand times. As shown in the video above, creasing is when the ballhandler goes over the screen then cuts back around the screen to completely isolate his defender on the other side of the screener.
The key here is patience. The ballhandler needs to hold for that moment when his defender has been sufficiently baited into following around the screen, but before the helping big man can prevent him from cutting back beneath the screen. Usually the dribbler will take one dribble to draw his man into the screen, then a long lateral dribble to create the desired space. On side pick-and-rolls, this deposits the attacking player at the free throw line and forces the screeners defender to make an unpleasant decision: switch onto the guard or give up a relatively easy midrange jumper. A player like Nash, or Wade, with a live dribble and space at the free throw line is a defense’s worst nightmare.
Who does it well:
Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, JJ Barea, Jason Terry, Stephen Curry
Who needs to do it better:
Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Wesley Matthews, Ty Lawson