Category Archives: Offensive Strategies

5 Finishing Essentials

Essentials of FinishingWith the abundance of dribble drive and pick and roll based offenses in the game today the ability to finish at the rim is more important than ever.

While there are dozens of specific finishing moves that can be used by the advanced offensive player, there are 5 essentials skills that are necessary regardless of which move is used.

The 5 Finishing Essentials include:

  1. Start Low and Finish High. Stay low as you begin driving to the rim but finish as high and as close to the rim as possible.
  2. Plant your Foot (Feet). Planting your foot helps you transfer your speed and momentum into vertical power while also establishing a pivot foot.
  3. Jump Up not Out. Think high jump not long jump
  4. Protect the Ball. Big defenders want to block your shot and small defenders want to snatch it away from you. Keep the ball “inside” your body as long as possible so its not exposed to a defender. Think defender – body – ball until you’re ready to shoot.
  5. Keep your Eyes on the Ball. Watch the ball from the time it leaves your hand until the time it goes through the net. Even if you get bumped and knocked off balance you should keep your eyes focused on the ball. On the slim chance you do miss your shot you should be the first to see where it is heading and have the best opportunity for an offensive rebound and put back.

Teaching Points for Passing

Teaching PassingThe best teaching and coaching is done in sound bytes not speeches. Here are several bullet points from Pure Intensity Basketball that can be used as you teach your players the proper way to pass.

Passing Teaching Points

  • Hips dropped, back straight
  • Tuck ball in towards body with the elbow behind the ball
  • Punch hand, wrist, elbow through the ball on the pass. Lock elbow on release
  • Snap wrist and follow through just like a jump shot
  • Hit receiver on time and on target. Aim small, miss small. Hit receiver’s fingers
  • Never take a shooter or scorer out of position or pull them off balance with a bad pass

Passing Against Pressure Teaching Points

  • Fake a pass to make a pass
  • Defenders hands are down – air pass by the defender’s ear
  • Defenders hands are up – bounce pass under defender, hips to knees
  • Defender pressures to one side – strong or weak side pivot pass
  • Defender bodys you up after weak side pivot – 2nd pivot back to strong side

Passes Players Should be Able to Execute

  • 2 handed overhead skip pass
  • 1 handed baseball pass
  • Right & left handed air pass
  • Right & left handed bounce pass
  • Strong side pivot wrap pass (post entry)
  • Weak side cross over step wrap pass (post entry)
  • 2nd pivot pass – weak side cross step, then 360 degree front pivot back to the strong side


What is a Good Shot?

JumperI’ve been watching a lot of club and now high school basketball this Spring and I’m somewhat shocked at how many really bad shots that I’ve seen players take.

I can’t believe that these players would knowingly take bad shots so I have to think that they just don’t understand what a good shot looks like.

In other words, they think they are taking good shot’s but they’re really not.

Following are several descriptions of a good shot as listed in a Florida State player’s handbook:

  1. It is a shot expected by your teammates
  2. It is a shot you are ready to shoot
  3. It is a high percentage shot for you
  4. It is a shot that can be rebounded by at least two rebounders
  5. It is a shot that we can play defense from
  6. It is a shot which is demanded by the clock or by the score

Special note to coaches: Don’t get upset or frustrated when your players take bad shots in a game if you allow those exact same shots in practice! I guarantee that whatever you demand and/or allow in practice is going to show up come game time – whether it’s good or bad!

10 Great Basketball Offenses – 1970’s Style

Basketball OffensesQuick – what are some of the best offenses used in the game today? Here are some off the top of my head – Dribble Drive, Motion, Triangle, High Low, Princeton, High Pick and Roll. I’m sure there are probably others that you came up with that just didn’t cross my mind.

45 years ago things were a little different. I recently came across a book written in 1970 by William Healy that is called “10 Great Basketball Offenses.” The offenses described in the book include:

  1. The Single Pivot Post Offense
  2. The Double Pivot Post Offense
  3. The Reverse Action Offense
  4. The 1-3-1 Offense
  5. The Illinois Continuity Offense
  6. The Rotation Offense (Invented by the book’s author in 1949)
  7. The Shuffle Offense
  8. The Pick and Roll Offense
  9. The Fast Break
  10. The Zone Offense

Most of these offenses seem to use the offensive center primarily as a screener and/or passer and the main objective is to get an open 12-18 foot jump shot. Of course, this book was written long before the 3 point line and shot clock came in to play which made several of these offenses practically obsolete. (The offenses themselves might be obsolete but several of the principles and objectives are still being used.)

It makes me wonder what books written 45 years from now will say about today’s offensive philosophy, offenses, and set plays?

Coach Wooden Would’ve Loved Watching the Spurs

Coach Wooden and the SpursLike a lot of basketball purists, I’ve really enjoyed watching the San Antonio Spurs play during the NBA Playoffs, especially when it comes to their offensive execution.

Many in the media have called it “old school” basketball and in a lot of ways I suppose it is. Years ago legendary coach John Wooden wrote that there four essentials for offensive basketball:

Conditioning – physical and mental condition is necessary to maintain effort and execution throughout  the course of an entire game.

Skill Instruction – Teaching players quick and proper execution of the basic fundamentals is a prerequisite for any tactical instruction. Not even the finest strategic instruction can overcome poor execution of the basics.

Team Spirit – A coach must ensure that every member of the squad is eager, not just willing, to sacrifice personal glory for the benefit of the team.

Flexibility – Every offense must have a defined structure yet offer many options that allow a team to diverge from the pattern to take advantage of a mismatch or a one on one situation.

The next time you watch San Antonio play, pay particular attention to Coach Wooden’s four principles and notice how many times they are evident in the Spurs’ offense. They really are playing old school basketball and that is one of the reasons they are so successful.

Paul Evans’ Offensive Philosophy

Paul Evans OffenseYears ago, before taking over at UMASS, Kentucky’s John Calipari was a young assistant coach to Paul Evans at the University of Pittsburgh and insiders can still see Evans’ influence on Calipari and his teams today.

Coach Evans believed in running a set offense while still giving his players the freedom to attack the defense whenever they thought they had an advantage,

Evans offense at Pittsburgh was based on the following philosophy:

  • You need an offense that gets you high percentage shots
  • You need an offense that forces the defense to defend everyone
  • You need an offense that can score with your best defensive team on the floor
  • You need an offense that can get you to the foul line more than your opponent
  • You want an offense that’s flexible enough to allow for individual initiative
  • You want an offense that’s simplistic

If you happened to TiVo any of the recent NCAA Tournament go back and watch Kentucky’s run to the finals and you will notice that the Wildcats offense follows the above philosophy point by point, even though it’s over 25 years old.

Sometimes newest doesn’t mean the best.

Ricky Rubio’s Crossover

CrossoverRicky Rubio’s mastery of the behind the back crossover has helped make him one of the elite guards in the NBA. In case you missed them in the latest edition of ESPN Magazine, here are the 6 steps that Rubio uses to break down his signature move.

1. A good crossover starts with footwork. If I’m going to dribble from my right to my left, I take a small jab step to the right to make it look like I’m driving. That gets the defender to bite.

2. Once the defender commits, the ball should be at my hip ready for the transition. I pause for a split second to freeze the defender. He doesn’t know if I’ll keep going right or go to the left.

3. I don’t worry about where my hand is on the ball. How do I know I won’t get called for travelling? I move quickly enough that the referee doesn’t have time to see and blow the whistle.

4. This is a fast move and I am reacting to the defender. I decide right off the dribble whether to drive to the basket or to pass. I can usually do either. I like defenders not knowing what to expect.

5. After I get the ball to my left hand, I put my body between the ball and the defender. I keep the ball on my hip as I go by him. That way he can’t go for the steal or he would be called for a reach-in foul.

6. My head is always up, looking for a teammate or a route to the basket. Even when I find who I want to get the ball to, I keep looking around. I don’t want to telegraph the pass.

Set Plays or Motion?

Set Plays vs. MotionOver the last couple decades I have met dozens of coaches who run motion offense and motion offense only.

They run the same motion against man to man, 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone, Box & 1, Triangle & 2, and any and everything else that the defense throws at them.

These coaches proudly announce to the world that they are teaching their teams how to play the game and not to just run plays.

At the same time I have also met dozens of coaches who only run set plays on offense.

They have plays for 3’s, plays for the post, plays to isolate mismatches, and plays to counteract anything the defense does.

These coaches feel that they too are teaching players how to play by providing a variety of previously practiced options instead of relying on everyone’s decision making.

The ironic thing is that I’ve heard both groups of coach’s say “It doesn’t matter what you run but how you run it that counts.”

If that’s true then why do both groups refuse to change or even compromise?

Longtime NCAA Div. I assistant Coach Randy Brown has listed 10 advantages to both motion and set plays.

Let’s first look at his advantages of running motion:

  1. Motion is a “thinking” offense that requires players to have some basketball IQ.
  2. Motion is a combination of every pass, screen, and cut known to the game of basketball.
  3. The Snowflake Theory – no two possessions are ever alike.
  4. Can highlight your best player by constantly screening for him.
  5. Offense can react to the defense instead of moving in a predetermined direction.
  6. Motion is unpredictable making it very hard to guard. You can create hundreds of unique entries.
  7. It is impossible to scout because of its flexibility and adaptability.
  8. Screening, cutting, and ball movement are an unstoppable combination.
  9. Multiple opportunities for getting the best shooters open.
  10. Role definition is clear cut, letting players perfect their specific roles within motion.

How many of these motion advantages do you agree with? How many do you disagree with? Why?

Now let’s look at Coach Brown’s 10 advantages of running set plays:

  1. Coach has large degree of control over which players take the shot. Set plays are purposefully designed for specific players to receive the ball in specific spots on the floor.
  2. Execution is high due to the predetermined nature of set plays. Players know exactly where to start, what to do during the play, and how to finish the play.
  3. During late game or special situations, set plays can be very good.
  4. Coach can determine who handles the ball during plays to reduce turnovers.
  5. Sets plays take advantage of players’ strengths and hide player weaknesses.
  6. Set plays can be called by the coaching staff.
  7. Set plays can focus on a 2 point basket, a 3 point basket, or a need to penetrate.
  8. Each set play can have multiple options. One play becomes six plays by reading the defense.
  9. Makes for a difficult game prep for the opponent because each set must be defended.
  10. Set plays can be altered each year based on player strengths and skills.

How many of these set play advantages do you agree with? How many do you disagree with? Why?

For me personally, both lists contain things that I agree and disagree with which is not a huge surprise since I have often alternated between motion and set plays based on the personnel I have in our program at a particular time.

I want players to enjoy the success and confidence that comes from improving their skills and maximizing their talents and I also want them to learn the many life lessons that being on a team offers.

However, I also feel (and my administration agrees) that one of my primary responsibilities is to put the players in a position where they have at least a chance to win every game.

Because of that belief, running a combination of motion and set plays seems to work best for me and our program.

The Right Approach to Drawing up Game Winning Plays

Game Winning PlayImagine you are coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and the score is tied with just a few seconds to go and it’s your ball on the sideline. What play are you going to run and who is going to shoot the potential game winning shot?

If you’re like most coaches you are thinking that Kobe Bryant is going to get the last shot and the play you’re going to run is called something like “Give Kobe the ball and everyone get the heck out of his way.” Of course, that would be a good call since that exact same play has won a lot of close games for the Lakers for nearly two decades.

Unfortunately most of us don’t coach a Kobe Bryant type player with the ability to take on all five defenders with the game on the line and so we need to take a different approach.

With that in mind here are some tips for you to consider when planning out your game winning strategy:

1.      KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)

Keep everything as simple as possible. Some coaches like to run very intricate, complicated plays at the end of a game in hopes of fooling or confusing the defense but I don’t think that’s the best approach.

I am much more concerned with whether or not our players know what’s going on than if we’ve confused the defense or not! Because you want to keep things simple it’s almost always a good idea to run a play that your team is already familiar with and has already practiced several times.

Teaching them a brand new play in one minute or less and expecting them to execute it perfectly is not going to end well the majority of times. (I’m willing to bet there’s at least one player on your team who still struggles with your basic offense even though you’ve been practicing it for weeks!)

Another idea when it comes to simplicity – run a play that will get you a good shot in three passes or less knowing that the fewer passes made the better. If you have a few extra seconds then hold the ball before starting the final play sequence. The more people that touch the ball the greater the risk of something going wrong!

2.      Have the right players on the floor

Down 3? Then you might as well have as many shooters on the floor as possible. Down 1 or 2? Then you might want three shooters/scorers and your two best offensive rebounders in the game if there is time for a put back or a tip in.

Who is going to take the last shot? Your best player? That’s great if he is cool under pressure and wants the ball in that situation but what if he doesn’t? You have to have an answer for those questions long before your team is ever in that situation.

Even more important is who is going to inbound the ball and who is going to pass it to your scorer?  How many times have you seen a potential game winning play break down because a pass was thrown a second too early, a second too late, or just a couple inches off target? I’ve seen dozens!

3.      Be a duck

On the surface of the water ducks always look calm and unruffled but under the water and out of everyone’s sight they are paddling and kicking like crazy! You need to be the exact same way because your team is going to reflect your emotion and personality in those final few seconds.

Talk a little slower than usual and make sure everything you say is clear, concise, positive, and brimming with confidence. If you draw your game winner out on a whiteboard make sure it is clear and readable and not just a jumbled mess of scribbles.

You can’t have your players walking out on to the floor confused because there are no “do-overs.” If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind then call another time out and go over everything once again. You’re dealing with kids in a pressure packed situation so do everything you can to remove all doubt and confusion before you ever break your huddle.

I’ve always tried to stress to my teams that the important thing in situations like this is to get a makeable shot and so I put the emphasis on the process and not on the shot itself. This seems to take some pressure off of the shooter and also lets us build on the experience if we happen to miss the shot. You never know how many times a season your team will be in this situation and you don’t want a perceived “failure” to come back and mentally haunt your players the next time.

What Kind of Passer are You?

Type of PasserFormer Princeton coach Pete Carrill has a very unique way of explaining the game of basketball in such a simple way that it is nearly impossible to misunderstand.

What I love about passing is how much it helps to build team morale. Passing makes everybody feel a part of the game, a part of the team.

No single aspect of basketball does more to develop team play than passing, and conversely nothing destroys a team faster than a shooter who never passes.

Unfortunately, many players in high school will not pass the ball to an open man. That’s the influence of greed. Too often, players will pass only after they can’t do something else. That is really not a pass.

I have a way of determining why a player doesn’t pass. If I hear him tell the open man he is sorry he didn’t pass him the ball then I know the passer saw him but didn’t want to pass. A passer who doesn’t see his teammate when he is open never says he is sorry.

Ask yourself a couple quick questions:

Am I helping team morale by passing the ball or am I destroying it by never passing?

Do I pass when a teammate is open or only when I can’t shoot or drive myself?

Am I constantly saying “Sorry!” or “My bad!” after I ignore one of my open teammates?

The answer to these questions will tell you a lot about yourself and will also give you some insight into your future as a  respected basketball player and teammate.