The ramp-up period heading into the start of the NBA regular season can be an overflow of thoughts and ideas for someone as basketball pilled (and, admittedly, a basketball sicko) such as myself. I find myself going back to previous plays, concepts, and sequences the Golden State Warriors have used in the past and wondering if those can still apply to the modern iteration of a team whose roster has seen several shifts around its core three.
One concept that has always been my favorite — but used sparingly and situationally by the Warriors — is the “inverted” ballscreen. Think of the conventional ballscreen setup: a big setting a screen for a guard or wing handling the ball, or a wing setting a screen for a guard in certain situations. When you invert that setup, the roles flip: a guard or wing setting a screen for a big, or a guard setting a screen for a wing.
Prior to this season, I stated on the record about my desire for the Warriors to increase the volume of their inverted ballscreen sets, particularly for an athletic downhill threat such as Jonathan Kuminga.
Would really be awesome if Steve Kerr brought back inverted ballscreens for Jonathan Kuminga coming off of zipper screens.— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 27, 2023
Using Steph Curry as a screener puts the defense in a dilemma:
• Stay home and no switch = JK goes downhill.
• Switch = JK w/ a mismatch pic.twitter.com/zddTdLXKY5
Inverted screens — especially when set by the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — are a simple way to create dilemmas for defenders, who have three poisons to choose from:
- Do they stick to Curry/Thompson and trust in the ballhandler’s man to fight over the screen, at the risk of letting the ballhandler get downhill for a layup?
- Do they switch the action, which generates two mismatches: a small against a big, or a big/wing against a small?
- Do they double the ballhandler at the risk of letting either the screening Curry or Thompson get open on a pop-out three?
Poison #1 is what Steve Kerr was counting on when he decided to open the game against the Memphis Grizzlies with this inverted-screen set for Draymond Green. Banking on the fact that Green will most likely have his defender sag off of him with the ball in his hands. Kerr had Thompson drop back in the paint to set a screen on Green’s man (Jaren Jackson Jr.), which generates an open lane and layup:
This appears to be the go-to set favored by Kerr with Green as the center — since it was also the set he drew up to open the game against the Los Angeles Lakers last week, with Anthony Davis in the Jackson role (as expected, sagging off and giving Green plenty of space) and Thompson in the role of screener. Again, the reluctance to detach from Thompson is used by Kerr to generate the layup for Green:
Nothing about inverted ballscreens is overly complicated and complex, yet you do need to have the proper personnel for it to work. Curry and Thompson happen to be the perfect screeners for getting Green downhill, especially in situations where they are heavily being top-locked.
When you have athletic drivers in Kuminga and Andrew Wiggins handle the ball — and defenses pick poison #1 — it puts them in a perfect spot to do damage at the rim:
If defenders pick poison #2 — switching the screen and living with a mismatch — it’s a risk predicated on the trust that the defender handling the mismatch will be able to handle the assignment, all in an effort to keep the whole defense from being put in rotation and betting all of their chips on an isolation possession going nowhere.
But a physical disadvantage also increases the chances of an isolation score — either through individual scoring brilliance or having to foul as a result of that physical discrepancy:
Two identical sets above (called “Head Tap” — click here for details) for Kuminga and Wiggins involving inverted ballscreens by Curry. Both instances involve a switch, with Kuminga taking his smaller man to the rim for a bucket and Wiggins drawing a foul after getting the switch.
Sometimes, the switch is forced because of direct screening action — akin to a “drag” screen a big sets for a small in transition — by Curry or Thompson. Defenses having to make a quick decision on the fly often end up with an unfavorable matchup. With Kuminga being more assertive in attacking switches against smaller matchups, inverted screens have become a bread-and-butter concept for him to get to his sweet spots:
When the Warriors run “Head Tap” for Kuminga against the Grizzlies on the possession below, it triggers a perfect example of poison #3:
Curry sets the screen for Kuminga while being top-locked, with his defender not willing to lose contact. Kuminga’s defender ducks under to stay attached, while Green stays in the dunker spot as a potential dump-off target with Jackson stepping up to help on Kuminga’s paint touch.
This forces Wiggins’ man in the corner to “sink” in against Green to cut off that option — the consequence being that Wiggins is left open when he “shakes” up (lifts) from the corner to make himself available. Kuminga sees that option open up, makes the read, and reacts accordingly — a look created by the inverted action, but completed by his improving read-making chops.
Practically the same thing happens on this inverted screen by Thompson for Kuminga:
Kuminga draws two defenders in the paint after the Thompson screen and generates an open shot for Thompson that doesn’t go in. But on the offensive rebound and repossession, he makes a sublime pass on the baseline drift to Thompson, who drills the corner three.
Offenses — especially the Warriors’ — are all about making opponents having to pick their poison. The more complex actions are, the higher the chances of defenses being confounded, which increases the chances of them making one or multiple mistakes.
But even the simplest concepts can do the job. Inverting screens for the likes of Kuminga (who scored 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting and 80.2% True Shooting — his eighth straight game of scoring 20 or more points), Wiggins, and Green aren’t what one would call “complex.”
But can do the job as effectively as multiple moving parts would — as evidenced by how often they’ve been leaning on it to unlock their rim-pressure potential. With all three of Kuminga, Wiggins, and Green on the floor, the Warriors’ frequency of shots attempted at the rim are at 32.6% — equivalent to only 20th in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. But it’s a huge increase from their season-average rim attempt rate of 26.2%, which is dead last in the league.
That feels like a stat to be monitored as this season progresses — and one helped by the increasing frequency of inverted ballscreens they’ve been implementing for the aforementioned three.