The Flare Screen: Poetry in Motion
The following is an excerpt from an article written recently on BBALL BREAKDOWN that goes over the Flare screen, one of the most unique and difficult to guard actions in basketball. Please check out the article in full here on BBALL BREAKDOWN.
In thinking about the best actions NBA offenses run, the conglomerate of every screen or cut is what makes the system work. No single ball screen is enough to justify good offense; the motion before, after and away from the ball is what makes or breaks a set.
Still, there is room to dive into the details and digest each type of screen within an offense. Which teams utilize each the most effectively? Is there a pattern to when they run those screens? What makes each play so darn difficult to thwart?
A personal favorite is the flare screen, an action far more common on the collegiate level than in the pros due to the IQ of defenders. A flare screen is generally set when the ball is in the middle of the floor. A shooter, also closer to the middle, gets a screen leading him to the sideline. The screener starts on that sideline and, while setting the pick, has their back facing the corner or the side. Here’s a quick example:
To be effective, a flare is set on an empty side of the floor, meaning there is no offensive player in the corner to add a body to the back side.
Essentially, a flare screen is meant to target both defenders in a way they cannot defend both accurately. Take the frame above for reference, where both Portland defenders switch the screen to contest the Nowitzki shot. Any switch or help that comes from Crabbe (Matthews’ original defender) then opens up a slip to the rim for Wesley. The Cleveland Cavaliers, anticipating a switching team like the Golden State Warriors might simply swap defensive assignments when the screen comes, instructing their screeners to slip:
There’s nuance in this slip from Richard Jefferson. Not only does he know to cut to the rim, but he seals off Stephen Curry with his body so when he catches he can simply finish at the rim. Curry has no choice but to foul him.
If switching is out (and often times it is when the flare screen is set by a big man instead of a wing), the man guarding the shooter has no choice but to go over the top of the screen. Go underneath and a three-point shooter has the luxury of time to set their feet.
Even going over the top does not guarantee success, as the pressure is then on the screener’s defender to be in perfect position. He must simultaneously be ready to corral the shooter if his teammate gets hung up on a screen and prevent the screener from slipping towards the rim or the ball. It’s not an easy task by any means.
Some people may talk about turning a down screen into a flare screen, though I consider that a different action altogether. That would occur when a down screen is set and the man defending the shooter tries to go underneath the screen, anticipating an avenue where he can cut the angle and get into defensive position. An adept scorer will notice the defender doing this and fade to the corner, making for a longer pass but more space for the shooter. Watch as Ray Allen makes the adjustment for the Celtics and pops to the wing instead of to the top of the key:
To me, this is not a flare screen. This is a read made by the scorer to fade off the screen instead of curling or cutting straight off it. Fading can occur when a player comes off a down screen. Flare screens are ones where the man receiving the screen starts the possession farther away from the basket than the screener.
There’s also a huge emphasis on footwork and precision from the passer in making a flare screen successful. Starting with the shooter, flare screens naturally lead him away from the basket with momentum carrying them towards the sideline. Shooters are taught to get away from the screen and towards the sideline, but their last step must be toward the basket to offset that momentum and get their body gathered towards the hoop. Likewise, a passer must throw a pass with some zip on it over-the-top of the screen so it gets to the shooter before the defense can recover over the screen.
Now that we’ve defined the parameters for what is and isn’t a flare screen and its proper defensive rotations, it’s easier to appreciate the better utilized flares throughout the league.
To continue reading the article in full, please click here.
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Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).