What is an Illegal Screen in Basketball? [Examples]

illegal basketball screen

I remember the first time I was called for an illegal screen during my playing days. I was setting a screen near the top of the key with the hopes of getting one of our best shooters an open look at a three-pointer. Unfortunately, I kept moving my feet while setting the screen and blocked the defender’s path.

I’ll never forget my coach yelling, “Son, just stand there like a statue next time!” If you’re new to the game of basketball and not sure what an illegal screen is, this article will be a huge help to you. Here is an explanation of what an illegal screen is in basketball, with several examples from real games.

What is a Screen in Basketball?

illegal basketball screen

A screen in basketball happens when an offensive player gets in the way of a defensive player. The purpose of a screen is to get an offensive player the reasonable space needed to either shoot an open jump shot or drive the lane to the basket for an easy layup. The screen is often highly successful against the man-to-man defense but can also be used against the zone defense.

The famous “Pick and Roll” offense is highly dependent on the players being able to set good screens. If the majority of players on your team are good dribblers and not afraid to set tough screens, consider employing the Pick and Roll offense.

What is an Illegal Screen in Basketball?

An illegal screen is called in basketball for a wide variety of reasons. The offensive player must give the defender a reasonable amount of space to avoid the screen. 

This is where things get a bit blurry because it’s a judgment call by the official. Each official has a different perspective on what “reasonable space” means. How much space should you give the defender? 

To be on the safe side, give the defender a full step of space while setting your screen. If you form a strong base every time you set a basketball screen, the official is more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if it’s a close call and not blow the whistle.

Moving Screen

The most common illegal screen is when the screener keeps moving to get in the defender’s path. As a coach, teach your players the importance of keeping their feet set when setting a screen. 

Teaching your players the proper screen techniques will save you lots of frustrating turnovers! Tell them what my old coach told me. “Stand like a statue when setting a screen.”

Extending Legs or Arms

The screener can’t extend his arms or his legs to impede the defensive player from guarding his man. If a player does this, the official will catch him almost every time. 

Not only is it an illegal screen to try to trip or bump another player, but it’s also a sign of poor sportsmanship. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with playing tough but nobody needs to play dirty.


If an offensive player leans in to expand his screen and makes contact with the defender, the official will call an illegal screen. Leaning in makes it too obvious to the official, so stand up straight and don’t ever lower your head or shoulders.

Penalty for an Illegal Screen

When a player is called for an illegal screen, the offense forfeits possession of the ball to the defense. An offensive foul is called on the screener which counts against his foul total for the game. 

If the defensive team is in a bonus situation, the illegal screen foul will result in free throws. This could swing the momentum of the game in a major way. Be sure to have your players work on setting proper screens in practice to avoid being called for illegal screens during games.

Examples of Illegal Screens

Below are some of the most common illegal screen violations. Watch them in slow motion to see why the illegal pick was called.

Leaning In

At first glance, this looks like a legal but tough screen. The screener does a great job of setting a strong base. 

However, in the slow-motion replay, you can see him lean into the defender just a tad bit before contact is made. This one is a close call, but it looks like the officials got this one right.

Moving Screen

Example #1 in this video is the prime example of a moving screen. Notice how #23 not only gets to the correct spot way too late, but her feet never get set. This was an easy illegal screen call for the referee to make.

Extending or Not Giving Reasonable Space

There are several things wrong with this screen. Notice how the screener not only gives the defensive player zero space, but he also leans into the defender and even extends his shoulder out into him. This one was too obvious for the official.

Examples of Legal Screens

Back Screen

This is a fantastically executed back screen. Notice how the screener is away from the ball (off-ball screen) and catches the defender off guard. This allowed the other offensive player to cut toward the basket for an easy dunk.

Cross Screen

Here’s a good example of a cross screen. These are typically executed inside the paint. Notice how this cross screen helps prevent a double team on both the ball handler on the perimeter and the post player down low on the block.

Double Screen

Check out this beautiful example of the double screen. See how the Toronto Raptors use two offensive players to set screens at the same time around the three-point line. This results in a wide-open three that the offensive player easily swishes!

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