Rules on an Illegal Screen in Basketball

In basketball, one popular method of giving an offensive player room to shoot, dribble or receive a pass is to use a screen. Players that set a screen for a teammate must be careful not to do so illegally. Players can use their bodies to momentarily block or alter a defender's path, thus freeing up their teammate by giving him extra space on the court. But if the player does not set the screen properly, the officials may call him for a foul and award possession of the ball to the opposing team.

Setting the Screen

The player who sets the screen must position himself at least one step away from an opponent if that opponent is stationary and does not see the screener. The NBA and NCAA say the one step should be a ​normal​ step, thus leaving up to the officials' judgment whether the screener violated this rule. Essentially, the screener must give the stationary opponent a legitimate chance to avoid contact.

Leaving Enough Room

If the opponent is moving, rather than stationary, the screener still must be careful to avoid setting an illegal screen. The screener must give the moving opponent room to change direction or stop.

The interpretation of the illegal screen rule often comes down to a judgment call by the officials, since the opposing player's speed determines how close the screener may legally position himself. The NBA and NCAA say one to two steps away is typically enough to make the screen legal.

Making Contact

The player who sets the screen must not make illegal contact with the opponent. Primary examples of illegal contact include sticking out an arm, hip or elbow to hit or impede the opponent, or attempting to kick, knee or trip the opponent. If the screener remains stationary and square, and the opponent runs into his chest or torso, the screen is legal.

Moving Screens

Once the screener establishes position, he cannot move laterally or toward the opposing player whom he is trying to screen. The officials will call the player for a moving screen and charge him with a foul.

The screener is allowed to move in the same direction as the opponent. If the opponent is sliding to his right while guarding the player with the ball, for example, the screener can move along a parallel path and re-establish his screening position.