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Offensive and Defensive Strategies Tips

Read these 20 Offensive and Defensive Strategies Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Basketball tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Breaking the Half-Court Trap

The secret to beating pressure defenses such as a half-court trap is to spend a little time each day attacking the pressure. Make the practice more difficult than the real thing. Maybe put more players on defense to really simulate pressure.

Pressure is a funny thing. It's different for everybody. Some definitions of pressure are: "the burden of mental or physical distress" or, "an oppressive condition of physical, mental, social distress." Some players get stressed and oppressed more quickly than others. That is what the defense is counting on. The defense wants you to feel the kind of pressure that is: "a force that compels one into mistakes." The more you practice against pressure, the less it will surprise you, and the next time you face a half-court trap will be less stressful. Additionally, formations are not as important as principles. Here is how to attack a half-court trap:

  1. Advance the ball until you feel pressure
  2. Draw the trap
  3. Look straight ahead
  4. Look diagonally to the middle
  5. Reverse the ball
  6. Repeat
(Hint: If they are all covered and the ball is being trapped, the deep person is open.)

More specifically:

  1. Use a 2-1-2 alignment
  2. Keep your guards on the lines that divide the court lengthwise into thirds. In other words, stay away from the sidelines.
  3. Place a player in the middle (diagonally) between the two circles.
  4. Two players should start at the foul line, extended (straight ahead). They should be active.
  5. Your guard with the ball should bring the ball up the court with his head up, looking for the strongside straight ahead or to the middle. He should never dribble the ball into the front court unless he is sure he can take three or four dribbles AFTER crossing half-court. Try not to dribble the ball over half-court unless you pass through the center circle. Most teams want you to cross half-court and pick up your dribble so that they can trap you on the sideline.
  6. If the ball goes to the strong side (straight ahead), the guard should look for the center, slashing ball-side to the basket.
  7. If the ball goes to the middle, look away from the direction of the pass and pass to the weak side forward, who is slashing back door to the basket.
  8. If the guard cannot pass to either of these two, he should reverse the ball to the other guard (before the ball crosses half-court), who is always behind the first guard. He should then attack the weak side, looking straight ahead or diagonally as before.
  9. Always attack the strong side--this allows the weak side to open.
  10. Once you have the ball in the front court, keep attacking via the pass. Try to score before they can recover. Place an emphasis on offensive rebounding, as it is difficult to get a good defensive blockout when the team is trapping.
Some additional tips would be:

  • Never pick up your dribble without knowing where you will pass the ball.
  • Encourage, or draw, the double team and then pass before they can set it up.
  • Remain poised. Don't let one mistake lead to two or three.
  • Beat them up the court by fast breaking so that they won't be able to set up their press.


Improve Team Defense

It's important to understand that, in order for your team to be good on defense, everyone needs to play together, just like they do on offense. This is called "team defense." To make sure that the team is as good as possible on defense, everyone needs to be in the proper position. Here are some guidelines to help in your positioning:

Always try to put defensive pressure on the player with the ball. Pressure makes the offense worry more about the defense than its offense. Rick Majerus, when he was the coach at the University of Utah, said that pressure is when the referee is counting.

Take a few steps in the direction of every pass that is thrown. This will put you in a position to stop your man if he tries to cut to the basket. You also will be in the right spot to help your teammates.

Always be able to see your man and the man with the ball. You need to be able stop your man AND help your teammates if they get beat.

React to the ball and help your teammates. The only man who can score is the man with the ball. If he's open, go guard him. If he passes the ball back to your man, sprint back and be ready to pressure him again.

If everyone on your team executes these fundamentals, you will not give up many easy shots. This puts your team in a position to be successful.


Open the Back Door

Most good offenses have some fundamental principles of spacing, ball and player movement, offensive rebounding possibilities, and transition-defensive balance; however, outstanding offenses use human nature, pressure, and good defense against itself to create passing and shot opportunities. The "back door" is a great counter to good defensive pressure. The back door refers to when the player is being overplayed and cannot catch the basketball. The player should then change directions and make a quick cut behind the defender, through the "back door," to the basket. Offenses that have some "back door options" are very effective against teams that play a pressure defense.

Most back-cuts are pressure releases against defensive overplays; however, they can also result from defensive errors such as losing vision of the ball or losing vision of the player that they are guarding. Even so, a large majority of open back cuts do not just happen by accident; they are set up with ball control and good outside shooting. The constant player movement and exchanges have a tendency to lull even the best of defenders to sleep.

Human nature dictates that anytime a shooter makes a shot, that defender is naturally going to play a little tighter and be susceptible to the back door. So run a back door to a player who has just made an outside shot. If an offensive player takes a step in any direction, the pressure defender will naturally also take a step in that direction. When the ball-handler gets closer to another offensive player, his defender will naturally play a little tighter on him. A nice way to signal a back door is to have the ball-handler dribble at a teammate. The teammate can make his back door cut at a particular interval (say, two dribbles). Then, the passer knows exactly when he is making the back door cut and can be prepared to pass.

Anytime you're being overplayed, you should take your man back door. The player being denied the pass should take one more step toward the ball and then plant a foot and cut hard to the basket. The cutter can also give a hand signal, such as a closed fist instead of an open target hand, as he is setting up the cut. The passer should make a bounce pass to the cutter. Timing is very important and should be practiced extensively.

Another possibility is to pass to a player who steps up the lane. For example, the point guard could pass to a post at the corner of the free throw line who could hit a wing player cutting. Based on the location of the wing and the defender, the wing would have a great angle to catch a little bounce pass off of the hip of the post player. Once again, the timing of this play is important, as the player may only be open for a split second.

There are countless back door opportunities from a number of different angles that can be used to get some easy baskets against teams that play good pressure defense.


Motion Offense Basics

There are many forms of motion offense used by teams across the world. You have the passing and screening type of offense, which is traditionally used by teams like Indiana, Duke, and now Texas Tech, a passing and cutting type of motion used by UNC and Kansas, a structured motion used by Virginia Tech, and an open post motion used by Cincinnati, Kansas State, and now West Virginia. There is also the Dribble-Drive-Motion (DDM), which was popularized by Memphis, and similar offenses that emphasize the dribble more than the pass. All of these offenses have some things in common:

  • You must read the defense
  • You must pass away from the defense
  • Constant movement and/or screening
  • Good screens and/or cuts
  • Ball reversals by moving the ball from side-to-side
  • Level of the offense's structure will be determined by level of talent
Simple Motion Principles :

  • If ball is on top, screen down or back-screen for a teammate on each side of the floor.
  • If ball is on wing, screen away for a teammate.
  • Catch and hold the ball for a two-count, looking for cutters.
  • Post players post up for a two-count, then go away to screen for a teammate.
  • You can use the three-point arc to help you keep proper spacing.
  • Players without the ball should use the V-cut to get open and show a target hand where they want the pass.
  • If overplayed and unable to get open to receive the ball, go back door or go screen for someone else.
  • If defense switches, the screener should ALWAYS step back toward the ball.
  • Screeners can give a visual signal (fist in the air) and/or a verbal call (the teammate's name) that they are screening.
  • Pass away from the defense and hit the teammate's target hand.
  • Pass the ball quickly--don't hold it any longer than a two-count.
  • Don't stand, cut, or go screen for someone.
  • Be patient. Be quick, but don't hurry.
  • Use the dribble only to improve the passing angle, drive to basket, or get out of trouble.
As a coach, you have to stress shot selection and explain that to your players. They must know what type of shot YOU think is a good one in your offense, not what THEY think is a good shot.


Zone Offensive Principles

Zone defenses, at times, are our biggest nightmare. I once heard Larry Brown (Hall of Fame College and NBA Head Coach) say that when he plays a zone defense, he feels that the other team will make EVERY outside shot, and when the opponent plays a zone, he thinks that his team will NEVER make an outside shot. I feel the same way sometimes. Players need to understand WHY they are attacking a zone in a particular way. Concentrate on the SKILLS of the game, not just SYSTEMS. A good grasp of some of the following zone offensive "habits" will put your mind at ease (at least a little bit!).

To start your zone offense, it's a good idea to get in a "gap alignment." Against an even-front zone (2-1-2 or 2-3), get in an odd-front set (1-3-1,1-2-2, or 1-4). Against an odd-front zone, get in an even front set. This is to make two defenders think about which one should guard you. If a defender is in a direct line between you and the basket, MOVE. Basically, put players where the defense isn't.

Try to get some "gap penetration." Dribble into a gap and dish to the basket or kick out to a shooter, but look to pass to where the defender comes from. Only dribble to improve a passing angle into the post. The second time a player touches the ball on a possession is a good time to look for this type of penetration. Move the ball and move players to DISTORT THE ZONE. Dribble-drag a defender, drive a gap, improve passing angles, screen, skip, swing, cut, flash, or overload to shift the zone. FREEZE THE ZONE by taking one or two dribbles AT a defender--pass or kick it to the perimeter.

After the zone has shifted, use pass fakes and shot fakes.

Remember the Three D's: Drive, Draw, Dish. Inside players should look to SEAL THE ZONE. After the zone has shifted, the posts can seal high or low IF the defense is INSIDE the offense.

Reseal the next man in the zone after the defender BREAKS the seal. MAKE THE ZONE RUN via the PASS, move the ball quickly (don‘t hold it any longer than a ball fake), seal, skip, and swing. Show some PATIENCE AGAINST THE ZONE. Move the ball, move players, look for cutters, and check all options--in order. Take the high-percentage shots that you want to take WHEN you want to take them; however, the best way to combat a zone defense may be to BEAT THE ZONE UP THE FLOOR.

Defensive rebound and run your fast break BEFORE the zone can set up.

These zone principles should provide a good foundation for any zone offensive attack that you might run.


The Dribble Weave: Basketball's "Retro Offense"

Just like fashions and furnishings, certain basketball strategies travel in cycles and make a comeback every now and then. In the 60's, the Boston Celtics (and even the Harlem Globetrotters) made the dribble weave a very popular offense. With the advent of the passing game, dribbling was discouraged and the weave went by the wayside. When defenses started to really pressure passes, dribble penetration became a major strategy again, hence the return of the dribble weave and the importance of the dribble handoff. Dribble handoffs (DHO`s), when properly executed, are very similar to the pick and roll. The major difference is that the "pick" is essentially being executed by the player with the ball. What makes this most effective is, how do you call an "illegal screen" on the player with the ball?

When the DHO is executed correctly and most effectively, the dribbler should dribble directly at the defender of his teammate who will receive the handoff. While that is happening, the receiver of the handoff should take a couple of hard steps in the opposite direction to divert his defender's attention and "set him up." Prior to any contact, the dribbler should come to a jump stop and execute a one-quarter reverse-pivot, holding the ball "on a platter" (with the palm up) for the cutter to accept the handoff. The dribbler, essentially, is setting a screen on the defender. As when using a screen, the player receiving the handoff should try to cut very close to the dribbler and leave no room for his defender to squeeze through.

Accepting the handoff is an art in itself. To avoid any possibility of the ball slipping through the receiver's hand and to be best suited to handle the basketball, the hand closest to the dribbler should be behind the ball. To do this, the receiver's elbow should be tight to the body and by the hip with the fingers facing upward. Now, the player simply allows those skyward fingers to accept the ball off of the "platter."

These skills should not be taken for granted and should be incorporated into any DHO drill that you may do. Common mistakes, such as the dribbler "shoving" the ball into the gut of his teammate like a football handoff, the receiver trying to put a hand on each side of the basketball, or the dribbler just leaving the dribble behind to be picked up, could result in the basketball being mishandled and lead to unnecessary turnovers.

When executed properly, the DHO can be added to the back door and the pick and roll as a valuable counter to denied passes and a great misdirection play to incorporate into any offense.


Timing is Everything

When playing a team sport, the timing and synchronization of the team's execution is essential for maximum success. Whether it is a basketball offense or defense, a football running back hitting the correct hole, or a baseball double play, TIMING IS EVERYTHING. In the Summer Olympics, we see synchronized diving or swimming, and during the Winter Olympics, there is figure skating in pairs. These athletes are able to do precise moves in unison and under extreme duress during world-class competition. Some basketball teams struggle to pass to an open cutter at the correct time, or to get players to wait to use a screen until the screener is set, or to get proper defensive rotations when a player goes to help.

The single most important aspect of this synchronicity is the proper breakdown and teaching progression in a practice situation. A team or individual cannot properly execute Step B until they are proficient in Step A. Break down the parts of the offense or defense and make sure that each player understands the precise timing of the events.

Once the team is introduced to a concept such as a new offensive set, the breakdown of each individual part of the concept is necessary. Players need to understand when to pass a teammate the ball, what they should look for once they catch it, and in what order. Finally, they need to see the actions of their teammates while they have the ball and what those actions aim to accomplish. Once all players understand this "relative motion," the offense can be put back together and executed at full-speed against a defense.

Constant repetition of these correct methods will eventually build the type of muscle memory and proper habits that are necessary for appropriate execution. Do not allow any "slippage" in practice without addressing the problem. Demand an honest attempt at the perfection of fundamentals by all players involved. Correct any errors and then do it again. Remember, it is not simply practice that makes perfect, but rather the pursuit of perfect practice that makes perfect!


Court Vision

There was a very popular Nike commercial that featured Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers early in his career. The humorous (albeit a little sacrilegious) commercial proclaims "King" James as the "chosen one." It goes on to say that he asked the "Sole of the Game" not for "hops" or "handles," but for COURT VISION. Why? For the "glory of the TEAM!" Players in this era are very concerned with their "handles"(dribbling skills), but sometimes at the expense of their court vision. They are so busy bouncing the ball in as many different ways and around as many different body parts as possible that they miss open teammates and offensive options. COURT VISION is essential to effectively running a fast break or an offense. Vision is not just looking up the floor, but also "seeing" what is open and, even better, what is going to be open.

Every time players get the ball, they should square up and look down the court before initiating transition. Poor court vision results in forced passes, offensive fouls against unseen defenders, and the inability to see open teammates who might be able to advance the ball up the court more effectively. Only after the player looks ahead should he put the ball on the floor, and then only to advance the ball up the floor, drive to the basket, or improve a passing angle. Then, when advancing the ball with a dribble, he must be able to dribble without thinking about dribbling or about the opponent who is guarding him. This will enable him to see the court and be ready to pass to a teammate who is open.

Most importantly, players need to know where to look for their teammates. The offense should be "synchronized," or timed, so that players can get open in a sequence. The player with the ball then needs to know the proper sequence to look at. This is no different than a football quarterback looking for his potential receivers. As the player with the ball goes through his options (in order!), he knows what his next move should be.

In order to be a better passer who gets the ball to the right player at the right time, learn to focus under the basket. As you develop your peripheral vision, you will learn to see all of the players on your team and be able to pick out who is open without telegraphing your passes. As important as seeing your teammates is, seeing the DEFENSE may be more important; you will KNOW where your teammates should be through practice and naturally react to their same color uniforms. It is better if you have a "soft focus" on the floor and see your teammates through your peripheral vision. You should concentrate more heavily on where the defense is, attack their weak areas, and pass AWAY from the defensive player.

Remember, COURT VISION is important for the glory of the TEAM!


Understand Relative Motion

Every player, obviously, needs to understand how he is to move within an offensive or defensive concept. This can be described as "absolute motion." Most players can get to that part; however, along with all of the individual fundamentals, players need to understand the concept of "relative motion." This can best be described as realizing how one player fits into the space on the floor, given the "relative" positioning of the other players, both offensive and defensive. A player with this understanding will know how to move to get open, create proper spacing, pass angles, play good on ball defense, and give good team defensive help.

Fifteen-to-eighteen feet of spacing between all of your players will probably give you the best chance of spreading out your offense and making it hard to guard. This will create a number of "triangles" between any three offensive players. These triangles put pressure on a defense and are, really, the basis for offensive plays. Now, put the players in the proper places, and as the Pilgrims said, "Now we're talking turkey."

There is a spatial relationship that a player must keep in order to create a good passing angle. For example, if the player wants to enter a pass to the wing (the free throw line extended to the three-point line), the passer needs to be on the "entry line" (the line that is created if you draw a line from the basket through the corner of the key at the free throw line and extend it to half-court). The passer should be as close to that line as possible to make an effective pass. The closer he gets to the basket, the closer to the middle of the floor he can be. The farther from the basket, the wider toward the sidelines he can be. If a player wants to enter a pass to the post, the passer, the ball, and the basket should all be in a STRAIGHT LINE. That "line of development" will create the most difficulty for the defensive post player to determine a "side" to play defense on. Whatever side he chooses, the offense can make a simple move to feed the post from the other side. When determining passing angles, there is a mathematical relationship between the passer, the receiver, and the defender, and maybe even the basket. (Being a basketball coach and not a mathematician, I'm not exactly sure what the relationship is, but I know that there is one.)

On defense, the defensive relationship is defined by the "ball/man line." The ball/man line is an imaginary line between your man and the man with the ball. Players who have a keen awareness of the ball/man line at all times understand "relative motion." You should be on the basket side of the ball/man line with your back to the baseline and far enough away from your man to help your teammates. This position helps form what is often called the "defensive triangle."

Defensively, always be able to see your man and the ball (this is when your man doesn't have the ball). To do this, you must be in a defensive triangle position consisting of you, the ball, and your man. Flatten out the triangle, with you at the center point of the triangle. When your man is one pass away, you can deny the player from getting the ball. As your man moves, you must move. Any time the ball is passed, YOU MUST JUMP TO THE BALL. Make gradual, quick, immediate adjustments in your stance. You must be in position before the ball is caught. Jumping to the ball allows you to be in proper position to front cutters, avoid screens (be a moving target), and help teammates. Any time the ball is dribbled, you must make the proper ball side or help side adjustments in positioning. Making these small adjustments will prevent you from needing to make one large adjustment.


Fast Break Principles

A good fast break is an organized offensive attack from the point of possession. The fast break should lead to quick and easy shot opportunities. Keep the pressure on the defense by having an early offense(also called a "secondary break") that the fast break flows into. The early offense should lead into whatever offensive attack your team is running. Some general guidelines are listed to make your offense a quick-hitting, high-scoring machine.

To start the fast break, all five defensive players must rebound, then turn away from the defense to pass the ball up the floor. If the passer is not able to throw the outlet, he could clear to the sidelines with a couple of dribbles, if necessary, and then pass it.

The other player should run the floor in wide fast break lanes. Throw the ball ahead if someone is open, then attack the basket and look for your shot. Other players should cut to the basket. If no one is open, swing the ball to the other side of the floor and make cuts according to your early offense. A good suggestion for what shots to look for are (in order):

  1. Uncontested layup
  2. Uncontested mid-range jumper
  3. Contested power shot close to the basket
  4. Uncontested three-point shot, if you have rebound position
If none of the above presents itself, look to flow into your designated offense.


Match-Up Zone Defense

When coaching at the youth basketball level, while a man-to-man defense is preferable, a team might want to play a zone defense if the opponent has trouble running its offense against a zone, if the team struggles to defend the opponent with man-on-man, if the team needs to control the opponent's dribble penetration, or if the team wants to put a defender in front and back of a very good post player. If you're worried about giving up open shots, you might want to play a match-up zone, which has principles of both man-on-man and zone defenses. Here are some general match-up rules that you might want to institute:

  • The defense should "match-up" and take the shape of the offense's alignment.
  • Everyone guard one: don't have two defensive players on the same offensive player.
  • Constantly point to the man that you will be responsible for on the next pass and talk to your teammates.
  • Keep your inside players defending on the inside and perimeter players defending on the outside.
  • The post player can come out in emergencies only. For example, when the offense has five players along the perimeter or when you have to defend an excellent perimeter shooter.
  • Do not deny passes out to the perimeter, but do pressure the ball.
  • Stay with the dribbler and switch screens or exchanges to keep bigs in and smalls out.
  • Only guard to the three-point arc in order to keep the zone "tight." This allows you to protect the lane and high post area while giving help in the post.
  • Defenders opposite the side of the ball should be inside the opposite lane line.
  • Guards should dig into the post to help force the ball back out onto the perimeter.
  • Contest every shot without fouling.
  • Block out, pursue the ball, chin the rebound.


Break Any Press

The coach can do a lot to help the team break a difficult press. If the coach panics, the team panics. In the first half, the team will be breaking the press right in front of their bench. Call out instructions to them. Remind them to go to the ball, to cut, to post up, to spread the floor, et cetera.

Emphasize press break rules over a press break offense. Get the ball in quickly! Drill your kids to pull the ball out of the net and fire it inbounds before the defense can set up. Don't run any other drills that result in scores where they are not required to inbound the ball. On your 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 drills, have them inbound the ball after made baskets. On every shell defensive drill, have the defense inbound the ball after every score. The dividends are huge.

Stretch the defense. It doesn't matter whether you start out of a stack--run four across, send guys to the mid-court corners--just get that floor spread.

Discourage the dribble, particularly the speed dribble, against a zone press. Do as much as you can off the pass. Any dribbling should be controlled dribbling, with head up and always reading the floor.

Make sure your receivers come to the ball! They should attack each reception with the same intensity that the defense does. This cannot be overemphasized. Have them jump to the ball and pivot in the air so that they are facing the front court when they land. This gives them much more latitude to attack the defense.

Use V-cuts to get open and ball fakes to avoid telegraphing the pass (“fake a pass to make a pass”). Have your cutters move in straight lines, either toward the ball or toward your basket. Wide arcs and side-to-side cuts favor the defense.

Instruct your players to post up in the open floor, then cut to the ball to get open. Most kids have a tendency to avoid the defenders, thinking that this is the solution to getting open; however, bodying up to the defender and then cutting toward the ball will obviously preclude the defender from beating the receiver to the pass.

Keep the ball in the middle of the floor as much as possible and away from the trapping zones.

If you use your dribble, don't lose your dribble! Once your players start to dribble, make sure they keep it alive if at all possible.

Don't panic. Ten seconds is a long time to get the ball across half-court.

Once you cross half-court, don't make careless mistakes. The press is broken. If you've got an advantage, make the defense pay by scoring a layup. If not, slow things down. We run a pressing defense and get most of our turnovers AFTER our press has been beaten. It just amazes me...

When facing a man-to-man press, you should clear the backcourt and let your point guard bring the ball up one-on-one. That's obviously sound advice. But we sometimes like to invite the trap by having our two or three man linger in the backcourt with the point, staying ten or fifteen feet ahead of him. As soon as the forward defender jumps to trap, the point kicks the ball to his teammate, who then pushes it up the floor four-on-three against the remaining defenders.

Incorporate these principles into your pressbreak and, pretty soon, teams will stop pressing you because of your success against it.


The Right Shot Chooses You!

While the Movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance" centers around golf, it applies in many ways to coaching and the game of basketball. The title character is a mysterious caddie and, in many ways, the consummate coach. Bagger Vance helps a down-on-his-luck golfer become "one" with the game by setting aside his ego and need for validation. At a critical point, Bagger Vance tells him, "There's a perfect shot out there trying to find each and every one of us--and all we've got to do is get ourselves out of its way and let it choose us...Seek it with your hands. Don't think about it. Feel it." So what does all of this mean?

See the floor. Concentrate. Understand the game plan. Be yourself. Play your game. Don't force things. Do your personal best. Let the game come to you. It's all the same thing.

When faced with adversity and a lack of self-confidence, players must reconnect with their potential and trust their instincts. Practice and hard work gets players to the point where they recognize their abilities, understand their weaknesses, and can turn their habits into instincts. Then, they should be able to simply go out and play in a way such that everything just happens the way it is supposed to without much thought.

In a well-designed offense, there are shot opportunities for all players and a progression of options that players need to be able to follow. They should not try to force the ball into places, but instead should use counter-attacks to the defense's strategies to their advantage. The space on the floor should tell players where to go. The opponents' positioning tells a player what is open. Eventually, with proper execution, a shot opportunity will present itself to a player, and that is the right shot to take. The player did not choose the shot--the shot chose him.


To Three or Not to Three: That is the Question

When Joe B. Hall was the basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, they used to say that he could never run a security firm because he wouldn't let his guards shoot! I know some coaches like that now. Hall had some effective big men and wanted to go inside. Having an inside attack is important to any offense, and the ability to put pressure on the defense by getting to the free throw line is necessary. Bobby Knight always stressed making more free throws than the opponent shoots. If you're shooting all perimeter shots without getting fouled, you're missing out on great opportunities. Shooting from the perimeter is widely thought of as a lower percentage shot, but behind the three-point arc, it's also worth more.

Being efficient with your shots is very important. A great way of measuring the concept of shooting efficiency that is used by many NBA teams and was popularized by Mike Dunleavey, a former NBA player and now a coach, is called Effective Field-Goal Percentage (eFG%). It adjusts for the added value of three-pointers. For example, if a team takes twelve two-point shots and makes fifty percent (six shots), they will get twelve points. If another team takes twelve three-point shots, they will only need to make four shots (thirty-three percent) to get the same twelve points. So, by counting them as 1.5 field goals, this system makes it more fair to three-point shooters than field-goal percentage does. [eFG% = (FGM + .5 x 3PM)/FGA]

Players need to find their range. Some shooters simply have not developed their shot to the point where a three-point shot is suggested. If a player has to alter his shooting form to get enough power into the shot at that distance, it certainly is too far to shoot from there.

Players also need to assess their proficiency. Start from close to the basket and shoot several shots. Chart how many are made and missed. Move back a couple of steps and shoot the same number of shots. Continue doing this until the player reaches a point where he cannot shoot without changing his shooting mechanics. Do this over several shooting sessions and the player will see at what point his shooting percentage begins to drop substantially. That should be his shooting range.

You always want good shooters to take open shots. There is a huge difference in shooting percentage (generally over a 40% difference) between wide-open shots and heavily-contested shots.

I suppose that the answer is available strictly in numbers. Evaluate the percentages and IF you have a good Effective Field Goal Percentage and if you are still making enough trips to the free throw line, then start shooting!


Controlled Fast Break

Teams should adjust their speed on the fast break and focus on number advantages and organization, rather than just pure speed sprinting up the court. Too many teams today just fly down the court without any regard to body control, court position, or defensive numbers.

Guards should practice changing speeds in the open court against defensive pressure, including the cross-over from a speed dribble. Ball-handlers must also slow down and be able to find teammates at the end of the break or set up the offense if there is not an offensive advantage.

While running, the fast break lanes should be an all out sprint, and players must learn to slow themselves down enough to gain control at the end of the break. This way, when they catch the ball, they are ready to ride it in for a layup, pull up for a jump shot, put the ball on the floor to drive, or stop under control and search for open teammates.

A good way to understand this is to apply the concept of the "runway" on the fast break. A jet doesn't land on a runway at the same speed as it flies in the middle of its flight. Fly down the lanes, get control on the runway, and then "taxi" into position for a great "landing" and a good offensive possession.


Synchronize Your Offense

When people think of teamwork, the first thing that comes to mind is sharing the basketball. Teamwork is so much more than that. From the simple task of setting and using screens to the complexities of a patterned offense, the players on the team need to work together, all at the same time. If one person lets up, the team will slip. "The chain is only as strong as its weakest link." "The strength of the wolf is the pack." You can say it in many different ways, but the bottom line is that every play, offense, and defense must consist of a constant and synchronized effort by all players involved.

When setting and using screens, the players must execute as if both skills are one. If a player sets a good screen but does not use it properly, the result will be unsuccessful. When setting a screen for a player, the screener should come to a stop immediately before contact with the defense in order to avoid a moving screen.

When a teammate is setting a screen for you, wait for the screener to be set. Timing is so very important; it is better to be a little late than a little early. If you move too soon, your defender may make contact with the screener before the screen is set. This could be a foul on the screener, but it would really be the "user's" fault. Plant your foot and cut off of the screen at the exact same time that the screener hop stops to set the screen.

Screens and cuts should be timed so that the player with the ball is ready to deliver the pass at the appropriate time. In order to do that, he must be looking at all of the options in the appropriate order. Only when those details are covered will the offense be truly effective.


"The System"

“The System” is an extreme run-and-gun style of play that was born from the very pure intentions and idealism behind the "NCAA Division III Philosophy" of the educational benefits that result from participation and inclusion in co-curricular pursuits. So, rather than playing eight out of sixteen players and having half of the team leave the gym unhappy, this style of play allows all players to play and still "get their money's worth" in terms of the number of possessions. Players play in shifts for thirty seconds to a minute-and-a-half. Then, five subs check in. If it's been longer than that, they sometimes even foul, just to stop the clock and get subs in. Using this strategy, a team can play fifteen-to-twenty players per game. Typically, three groups will be used, with the last five players being sort of sprinkled in based on foul trouble and the like. The common misconception is that rapid-fire subtitutions do not allow a player to get into the flow or develop a rhythm, but it appears to be just the opposite--they are never out of the game long enough to get out of rhythm.

A common misconception about "The System" is that it is an undisciplined style of play. If discipline is defined as, "doing what has to be done, doing it as well as you can do it, doing it when it has to be done, doing it that way all the time" (Bob Knight), then “System” teams are as disciplined as any team out there. This (very) fast break is extremely structured and flows into a secondary break that is equally disciplined. The sequence of curls, cuts, screens, slips, drives, and shots are ALL well-thought-out, sequenced, and yes, disciplined. The offense is far more structured than most teams that run a true "motion offense," as that allows for more freedom of movement than does this offense. But they do have the freedom to shoot, early and often.

The System runs a designated outlet to the point guard, a primary shooter runs the right, and the forwards run the left. They do not really look to throw it ahead to the shooter, but rather they clear him through off of a double screen on the weak side. The center trails. This clears the whole right side for the point guard to drive full-speed to the hoop, which is his mission. If, by chance, he cannot, then he knows that the shooter will be in the opposite corner and behind the double for a three-point opportunity. If the shooter does not receive a pass, he does not stop, but rather curls the double screen to the basket and a screener pops the stack in that double screen to the corner for his three-point opportunity. This is a clear-cut offense and is very precise and disciplined. This action of doubles, curls, pops, drive, and kicks continues at a breakneck pace. Players never stop moving and are always looking for "blow by" layups or kick-outs to the three-point line.

When a shot goes up, all five players might crash the boards and not worry much about defensive balance. A team running the system might get back half of their misses in offensive rebounds. You would think that the emphasis on the break and shooting threes would negate opportunities to get to the free throw line (I believe this goal to be worthwhile). But “system” teams typically shoot more free throws than their opponents.

After a score, they get into what amounts to a full-court 1-2-2 full-court press. They have the center on the ball and normally full-front all opponents, daring them to throw over the top. They really leave anyone deep open, using their two deep guys to come up and intercept anything over the top to the front guards. On misses, they jam and double the rebounder with the two closest players and get into a zone press as well, with the same principles. The double teams continue throughout the possession and into the half-court, which would resemble a 1-3-1 match-up half-court trap. If the opponent scores, five inbounds up court quickly and the process starts all over again.

Now, breathe deeply!


Continuity Offense--On the Right Track

Many coaches call their "patterned" offense a "continuity" offense. In a continuity offense, players continue running the same pattern as the ball continuously reverses sides of the floor. The team is always "in offense" and should not have to "reset" to their original positions. Unlike a freelance motion offense, there is a structure requiring precise court-spacing and cutting. Every player must know each position on the floor. One of the problems with continuity offenses is that they can be a little predictable. This enables some defenses to deny certain passes and make the pattern difficult to stay in.

There are certain types of continuity offenses that I like to call "track offenses." Track offenses have a continuous pattern to them, but react to defensive strategies by changing the pattern mid-stream.

In a track offense, players must stay on one "track" until the need for a counter to the defense switches "tracks" (much like a train on a track) and sends the play into a different set.

I think that these are the best types of pattern offenses, as they enable the offense to "read and react" to how the defense is playing. The offense can then make a variety of cuts to "counter" the defensive overplays. Offensive teammates need to be aware of their teammates' moves and have an understanding of relative motion. This can best be described as realizing how one player fits into the space on the floor given the relative positioning of the other players, both offensive and defensive. A track offense may ensure that this proper spacing occurs. Then, you'll be on the right track!


Secondary Break: An Early Offense

On a fast break, a team's primary objectives should be to get:

1. an uncontested layup

2. an uncontested "power" shot (inside ten feet)

3. an uncontested jumpshot (ten-to-twenty feet)

4. an open three-point shot after a post touch or penetration

5. a contested "power" shot

6. any of the above before the defense is set

If none of the above opportunities presents itself, now there is time to run your offense to try to achieve the above goals. A team should take NO contested outside shots unless at the end of the clock. Your offense should start as soon as the fast break ends. Many people call it a "secondary break," but I like to call it our "early offense".

Your offense should be an organized attack from the point of possession. As soon as you get a rebound or a steal, the team enters a fast break attack, exploring opportunities to outnumber the defense. That fast break should flow into a structured "early offense." The type of early offense should be determined by the kind of shots that the team is looking for, based on it's yearly strength.

If a team has good, big players, maybe the first few shot opportunities in the early offense should give those players the opportunity to post up. If wings are the strength, then the team can run those players off of screens for shots. Guard play may be the strength, and the team can spread the floor looking for drive opportunities. Whatever the team chooses to do should be based on a system that gets better players early shots and then flows into the offense that the team is running at the time.

This type of constant attack does not give the defense time to regroup and may catch them out of position for a quality shot early in the possession.



Many coaches will tell you that the best offense is a good defense. That is true to a large extent. The definition of defense is: "The act of defending against an attack or danger." The antonyms of defense are listed as "aggression or attack." We'll talk in a minute about how I disagree with that when it comes to basketball. In sports, defense is defined as: "Means or tactics used in trying to stop the opposition from scoring." Let's start there.

A good defense may create turnover opportunities that typically lead to easy transition baskets. Missed shots give the defense rebounding opportunities to start fast breaks. Most importantly, defense simply gives your team stops. It's difficult for your opponent to go on big scoring runs when you're keeping them from getting good shots.

On the other hand, your chance of good scoring runs increases because, even if you're having an off night at the offensive end, your lead can go from 4 to 6 to 9 and so on if you don't let your opponent score.

How does a team do that best? There are scores of different methods. Not every team will have the ability to get out and create turnovers, but it is undisputed that shooters miss "contested shots" at a great rate. So, whatever defensive method is employed, it should be developed with the philosophy of being in position to contest shots. We like to talk about "one contested shot." That implies that, if you get a shot, we are going to have a hand up on it and you will only get one because we will get the rebound.

That being said, with the evolution of basketball into a more "attack-oriented" competition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sit back and simply "defend" your basket. It becomes important, at times, to be the aggressor while on defense, rather than the reactor. A lot of this has to do with the role of the official. There is so much contact in the game today that officials seem to be allowing more and more without calling a foul. If they don't control the number of fouls called, they feel that the game will become a free throw contest. As a result, they "let the kid's play" and wait until they see a perceived "advantage or disadvantage" to the contact before blowing the whistle.

Too often, an attacking offensive player will create a contact situation that gets the officials' attention. Then, the "reacting" defensive player continues with the contact and the defense gets whistled for a foul.

So, be the aggressor. Not to the point of fouling, but put the offensive player on the defense. Have them worry about the "attack." Put them in "danger." Make the offense worry about "protecting" the ball, rather than running their offense or getting good shots. Then, contest those shots and rebound. Now you are off to the races!

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Ray Lokar