Comparing On-Ball and Off-Ball Screens

Published 06/01/2015 by Jordan M. Foley

The ability to set effective screens is an integral part of every NBA offense. It facilitates movement and forces defenses to communicate and respond in ways that create mismatches, cutting lanes, and open jump shots. Vantage has tracked 370,163 set screens, comprehensively catalogued from every team in every single game this season. Those totals have been very evenly split, with 180,106 coming away from the ball (48.7 percent) compared to 190,057 set for the ball handler (51.3 percent). Vantage tracks not only overall Solid Screen% for all screens set this season, but the database also allows us to parse through various on-ball and off-ball screen dimensions and metrics. Despite how evenly the total screen distribution seems, many teams exhibit huge differences between off-ball and on-ball screens based on their offensive strategies. The graph below provides a breakdown of a few standout teams in this regard.

Note: The regular season average Solid Screen% is 63.9 percent for on-ball screens and 74.5 percent for off-ball screens.

MAGIC: 7,956 ON-BALL SCREENS, 62.8 SOLID SCREEN%

MAGIC: 4,513 OFF-BALL SCREENS, 74.1 SOLID SCREEN%

Orlando's screen use was dissected in more detail in the beginning of April, but they finished the season ranked 2nd in total on-ball screens set and ranked 27th in total off-ball screens set. Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton rank 9th and 14th, respectively, in total on-ball screens received, getting them largely from Nikola Vucevic (2,915 total) and Channing Frye (1,819 total). Despite the fact that the Magic have a below-average Solid Screen% for both on- and off-ball screens, they still retain the 10th highest Set Screen Points per 100 Chances at 16.2 and rank 9th in overall Set Screen Outcome Efficiency at 14.2 percent. Part of this is explained by Orlando's league-leading number of pick-and-pop plays, which universally have a lower Solid Screen%, and with shooting big men like Frye, Vucevic, and Harris, the Magic can generate offensive threats with less contact or rerouting on their screens.

JAZZ: 8,003 ON-BALL SCREENS, 60.5 SOLID SCREEN%

JAZZ: 7,204 OFF-BALL SCREENS, 75.6 SOLID SCREEN%

The Jazz rank 1st in total on-ball screens and 7th in total off-ball screens. They have the second-highest screen rate in the league at 1.40 Set Screens per Chance, behind only the Charlotte Hornets at 1.41 Set Screens per Chance. The drop off between 2nd place and 3rd place (0.11) is the same as the distance between 3rd and 9th place. The Stifle Tower, Rudy Gobert, leads the team in Set Screen Points per 100 Chances at 9.9 (league average for power forwards and centers = 7.7) with a total Set Screen Outcome Efficiency of 12.6 percent (league average for power forwards and centers = 15.0 percent). While Utah sets screens at the highest rate, they rank 21st in Set Screen Points per 100 Chances at 13.8 (league average = 15.0) and dead last in overall Set Screen Outcome Efficiency at 10.8 percent (league average = 13.2 percent). Utah's 27th-ranked Solid Screen% during on-ball screens puts a damper on their scoring efficiency because they lack big men that shoot as often as Orlando's big men. The Jazz also have the highest number of off-ball screens where they give no effort (268), so despite their high screen rate, Utah has a harder time translating screens into points and solid offensive looks.

CLIPPERS: 7,275 ON-BALL SCREENS, 67.5 SOLID SCREEN%

CLIPPERS: 4,183 OFF-BALL SCREENS, 76.1 SOLID SCREEN%

The Clippers, like the Magic, have made clear choices based on personnel to heavily tilt their screen distribution toward their star, Chris Paul, who has received the lion's share of L.A.'s on-ball screens at 53.5 percent of the total (3,890, to be exact). Paul's brilliance at point guard is the main reason that Glen Davis (20.7 percent), DeAndre Jordan (21.1 percent), and Blake Griffin (20.3 percent) all rank in the top 5 in Set Screen Outcome Efficiency during the regular season. As a result, the Clippers have led the league throughout the season in both Set Screen Points per 100 Chances at 19.6 as well as overall Set Screen Outcome Efficiency of 17.5 percent. L.A.'s screening efficiency was their offensive engine throughout the season, and it translated into the playoffs before their improbable collapse against the Rockets.

WARRIORS: 7,216 OFF-BALL SCREENS, 73.5 SOLID SCREEN%

WARRIORS: 4,603 ON-BALL SCREENS, 69.5 SOLID SCREEN%

The Warriors set the fewest on-ball screens in the league, yet they hold the 2nd-highest on-ball Solid Screen% behind only the Spurs (71.3 percent). On the other hand, the Warriors have the 4th-highest number of off-ball screens, allowing them to facilitate the movement of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on offense when they don't have the ball. The vast majority of their off-ball screens are set in the high post (1,452), left wing (1,071), and right wing (886). The runner-up in the Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green, leads Golden State in off-ball screens and holds an individual off-ball Set Screen Outcome Efficiency of 8.8 percent. The ability of the Warriors' key shooters to move without the basketball and cut efficiently and intelligently makes their overwhelming use of off-ball screens entirely understandable.

CAVALIERS: 6,757 ON-BALL SCREENS SET, 66.2 SOLID SCREEN%

CAVALIERS: 4,316 OFF-BALL SCREENS SET, 74.0 SOLID SCREEN%

Golden State's opponent in the finals is the exact opposite, setting the 10th-most on-ball screens and ranking 29th in total off-ball screens. Tristan Thompson, who has been having a wonderful postseason, not only leads the team in total on-ball screens (2,072) but also holds an impressive 69.3 percent on-ball Solid Screen%. Kyrie Irving (2,347) edges out LeBron James (2,184) in total on-ball screens received. Since Cleveland's offense relies more upon the penetrating ability of LeBron and Kyrie, their lack of off-ball screens makes sense.