Why The Warriors’ Supposedly Illegal Screens Are Actually Some Of The Most Beautiful Parts Of Basketball

Many felt the above screen Draymond Green set for Steph Curry in Golden State’s 118-112 win over Miami on Wednesday night was illegal. There’s a whole r/NBA reddit thread with more than 3,100 up-votes calling what he did “the most illegal screen imaginable.” Green does appear to slide his feet so Deng can’t get over the pick, and moving screens are illegal. It was a simple on-ball screen after Hassan Whiteside swatted Dray’s own attempt at a three, but it calls to mind various complaints and theories about how the Warriors get so many open looks when every opponent crafts their entire game plan around stopping the Splash Brothers.

Technically speaking, Dray was moving his feet on the play a little bit, preventing Deng from getting over by him. But, as the official two-minute report notes, Green “gives him room to avoid the contact.”

The same could be said for the double-drag screen Green and Bogut set for Steph’s shot on the possession before.


In fact, that play’s not even in the two-minute report. That’s how standard such screens are in the NBA. Look at this seemingly innocuous screen Nikola Vucevic sets on Klay Thompson in an effort to open up an Evan Fournier curl on Thursday:

Vucevic shuffles along with Klay to give Evan Fournier even more time to turn the corner, but Bogut had smartly nudged Fournier as he came around, and Shaun Livingston was hedging very closely into the paint, so Fournier couldn’t turn the corner like he wanted to because of Vucevic’s slightly moving screen.

There are a couple other Warriors picks we should look at late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s game, because they go a long way towards illustrating how difficult it is to ascertain whether or not a pick is legal if you’re not well versed in NBA basketball. NBA refs might drive you crazy, but you can’t say they don’t watch a whole bunch of hoops, and the league office’s increasing transparency with their officials has cleared up a lot of the discrepancies that used to drive everyone bonkers. Now, people just save most of their spittle for flops.

So, let’s look at a couple other screens, one where Draymond Green was whistled for a foul, and one where Dwyane Wade complained to the refs afterwards because he thought Bogut should have been whistled for the same thing.

Here’s the play where Draymond gets whistled.


Defenders shoot the gap like Winslow tries to do here all the time. If every offensive player nearby just side-stepped — and reached a standing position — like Draymond does here, guys would be getting knocked down all the time. It could turn dangerous. That’s why the rule spells it out in the most verbose legalese way imaginable:

“a player who sets a screen shall not…assume a position so near to a moving opponent that illegal contact cannot be avoided by the opponent without changing direction or stopping…the speed of the opponent being screened will determine what the screener’s stationary position may be. This position will vary and may be one to two normal steps or strides from his opponent.”

In simpler terms, don’t egregiously step in front of a defender sprinting past you. But, as you can see, Steph throws up his hands in contempt after the whistle, and that’s because Draymond’s pick wasn’t as explicitly illegal as some fans might think. He is stationary, but Winslow’s speed while trying to catch up with Klay didn’t allow him enough time to switch direction or stop. That’s why it was the right call, but some might dispute it.

Now here’s Bogut allegedly setting an illegal screen on Dwyane Wade (you can see Wade get pissy with the ref after Klay’s shot falls true).


Klay pushed off to create the initial separation so Bogut could wedge himself between Thompson and Wade. Then Bogut just bounces back a bit so Klay can step into his shot past the left shoulder of Bogut, with an impotent Wade stuck behind the big Aussie.

These two examples reveal a larger problem when discussing a moving screen: It requires a level of discretion and understanding that’s gonna make us sound like elitists for the rest of this piece. Breaking ranks from the editorial we for a second, I don’t like calling myself a basketball expert. I don’t like even calling myself a basketball authority. It’s a subjective designation and I hate aligning myself with something so theoretical and laudatory in nature. This despite how long I’ve written about the game and how much basketball I’ve actually watched over my sentient life — well over Gladwell’s silly 10,000 hour Outlier demarcation.

But I know a moving screen when I see one, and so do most people who watch professional basketball for a living.

That second tweet by ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss is a joke, we think (who can tell with a conversational medium that discounts body language, timbre and other important attributes of communication), based off the common chorus that Golden State is somehow breaking the rules to win so frequently. How else to explain their dominance? Bogut and Draymond are masters at setting sneaky screens, but doing so on the very fringes of what would — technically — be considered legal. For every jersey and arm hold, for every extra half step to block Steph or Klay’s defender for just a split-second more, there’s often a resulting triple from that Splash Brother. Why do you think the Warriors are on pace for the most regular-season wins in NBA history?

It’s those little things — holding a player down low so the refs don’t see it, a gentle push to get positioning on a rebound, a seemingly errant elbow to thwart a defender’s balance as they’re navigating bodies trying to stay with Steph — that you can’t find in a box score, or even a complicated algorithm; although, the bright mathematical minds who also love hoops are growing at an exponential rate, something I’m really excited about (bring on defensive PER!). Making those obscure plays beneath the surface of a game’s narrative on TV and even online helps create champions more so than the flash we usually highlight. The consistency at making those fractional, largely unseen on-court maneuvers — imperceptible sometimes to even trained eyes, and which I tried to turn a little more corporeal when awkwardly plotting Marc Gasol’s Game 2 in Oakland during last year’s playoffs — separate the great squads from the truly dynastic; the 2011 Mavericks versus the 2005, 2007 and 2014 Spurs; the 1960s Celtics versus the 1983 Sixers.

If you’re a basketball junkie, you know that two evenly matched teams are often separated by these — on their surface, in a vacuum — inconsequential movements that are the unwritten words between the lines on a page; the allure of cleavage instead of the fully exposed breast. It’s basketball as a seduction, and a lot of us are looking for something more than a fling.

Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself, which seduces, or rather the staging of appearance-as-disappearance. – Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller

These brief “flashes” viewers sometimes get of the “appearance-as-disappearance” in a strong NBA screen are some of the biggest reasons why a lot of hoop heads love the Warriors just as much as the casual fans who might only enjoy how seraphic Steph looks when he’s signing autographs and dazzling their kids in pregame.

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