Most screens in basketball, and roughly one hundred percent of the good ones, are used to help an offensive player gain a little separation from a defender who is crowding his space. The screen from Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon that injured the knee of terrific Kings rookie Marvin Bagley III was not that:
To be clear, it wasn’t an illegal play, and no foul was assessed, even though Brogdon did appear to lean slightly forward into Bagley. This kind of screen is not uncommon in basketball. And, though it’s hard to tell from the video, maybe Bagley’s teammates could’ve done a better job of alerting him to Brogdon’s screen. But, man, this sucks so bad. Bagley is having a tremendous rookie season, and is already one of the most important players on a good and fun and ascending Kings team that has a real shot at the playoffs. That his season—and, by extension, Sacramento’s season—could be short-circuited by a brutal play designed to get Giannis Antetokounmpo a running start from half-court is just an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Giannis needs less help than all but maybe one or two other players in the NBA, for crying out loud.
The screen game in basketball is interesting because it forces defenders to make decisions about how to navigate through traffic, and sharp ball-handlers and clever offenses can react to and exploit those decisions in fascinating ways. Less interesting by far is a screen that exists to wipe out a defenseless player 30 feet from the basket, on a play that by design deprives him of the opportunity to make any of those exploitable decisions. Brogdon’s play wasn’t dirty, but it definitely sucked, and the consequences, assuming Bagley’s injury is as bad as it seemed, are lousy for the sport.
The NBA can’t legislate out of the game actions that risk injury, otherwise leaping in any direction would be against the rules. This is not a call for a change in the way the game is officiated. It just deeply sucks to see an exciting player get trucked out of service on a reckless play, even if it’s just an unfortunate reality of the sport. Bagley will reportedly have an MRI on the knee on Thursday.