We’re all familiar with the following movie scene: someone is in danger of being shot by their enemy, so in order to provide themselves with some safety in the form of a shield from the imminent bullets coming their way, they take someone near and dear to their enemy as a hostage. For example, Men In Black:
Defending ball screens is much the same. The on ball defender is in danger of being screened by their opponent, so in order to provide themselves with some safety in the form of a shield from the imminent screen coming their way, they take someone near and dear to their opponent - the ball handler - as a hostage.
By this I mean that the on ball screen defender, upon hearing the screen be communicated (ELO -Early, Loud, Often) should lock into (ideally) the femur shaft of the ball handler with their forearm, just below the femoral head, and position their body in close proximity to the ball handler. This prevents the screener from being as aggressive with the screen, as a highly physical screen would also impact the ball handler, in all likelihood leading to a turnover.
Therefore the screen must be set more passively, and the on ball defender has a better chance of preventing the ball handler from getting to the shoulder of the screen, and blowing up the ball screen without the help of a second defender on the ball. If the screener shifts the screen higher in order to get the on ball defender, the on ball defender now has a better option to go under the screen.
I’ve found using the terminology, “take a hostage” to be very effective in explaining this concept to young players (for example, 10 year olds), all be it with some unpacking initially. However, once the concept is initially taught, “take a hostage” is well understood and acts as an excellent verbal cue.
Below are a series of clips featuring the Denver Nuggets, and primarily Torrey Craig, formerly an excellent import for the Wellington Saints in the New Zealand NBL (2015-16), doing a good to excellent job of “taking a hostage.” Although I’m sure Coach Mike Malone would like some of the communication and decision making following the screens being navigated to continue to improve. However, on the whole, the Nuggets’ defence ranks 6th in the NBA per Cleaning the Glass and has been a catalyst in their Western Conference leading 21-9 record.