Two General Concepts to Explain Offensive Basketball

Last week, I conducted a clinic in Boulder and attempted to emphasize two offensive objectives: an individual’s goal is to create space and the team’s goal is to disorganize  the defense (the first is the focal point of Hard2Guard: Skill Development for Perimeter Players and the second is the foundation of Developing Basketball Intelligence).

Before I teach a specific skill, I want players to understand these general concepts. If I have the ball, I want one of three things to happen: (1) create space for my shot; (2) draw a second defender to create a shot for a teammate; or (3) be in a position to pass to a teammate when he creates space.

There are two important take-aways from these goals: (1) the dribble is not an end – the dribble is used to create a shot or pass; and (2) typically, you are most open when you first receive the ball.

If I do not have the ball, I have two basic options: (1) make a cut to create space for myself or (2) do something (cut, screen) to help a teammate create space whether with the ball or away from the ball.

When players internalize these general concepts, the specifics are easier to teach. Look at the two ways to teach a pick-and-roll:

Traditionally, to teach the pick-and-roll, teams start in a 2v0 drill where the screener sets a screen at a specific point, the ball handler dribbles to a specific point and the ball handler passes to the screener rolling to the basket. Next, in a 2v2 or 5v5 scrimmage, the players attempt to replicate this exact scenario: the screener tries to set a screen in an exact spot, the ball handler uses the screen and looks to make the same pass.

When building the pick-and-roll on a general foundation, the specifics are less important. Instead, the screener knows that he can do one of two things: cut to create space for his teammate or set a screen on the ball to help his teammate create space. The ball handler, as he uses the screen, knows that his goal is either to create space for his shot or to create space for his teammate. There is no specific area where this has to happen.

In a traditional approach, players narrow their focus. When a coach coaches in a specific way, players tend to have inattentional blindness: even though a teammate might be open elsewhere, their focus is narrowed to the specifics and they miss other things on the court, some of which may be more advantageous. The pick-and-roll becomes the end. On the other hand, when the goal is more general, a pick-and-roll is simply a tool to create space. It is a means to an end, but if there is a better means or a way to create a better end, the broad awareness enables or empowers players to make the better play.

From a team perspective, the general goal of disorganizing the defense builds upon this idea of creating space. With the pick-and-roll example, the traditional approach emphasizes scoring with one of the two players involved with the PnR, or some teams employ a specific approach to use a third player either as a passer or shooter.

In the more general approach, it does not matter who scores. If I run a side PnR and the defense helps and uses three players to defend the two players in the PnR, someone is open. If we move the ball, the singular action disorganizes the defense (3 defenders for 2 offensive players) and creates an open shot for an offensive player somewhere. The challenge is finding the most open player, who may be missed if the specific instructions narrow the players’ focus and vision.

In the clinic, we used a 2v2 drill (see Blitz Basketball) with the ball handler penetrating and his teammate in the corner. Now, I introduced three specific actions for the wing: (1) backdoor cut; (2) stay; or (3) loop. How does one decide? Spacing. What movement creates the most space for you (the wing) or the ball handler? If the ball handler gets into the paint on his drive, the wing can stay. If his man helps into the paint, he is open in the corner for a shot.

Therefore, the help defender has to make a decision – he cannot help on the ball and defend the shot. If the ball handler’s penetration is outside the lane, a help defender can stop the ball and defend a shot from the corner: when I demonstrated, it was no more than two steps to move from preventing the drive to closing out in the corner.

Therefore, since staying is not an option, the player loops or cuts backdoor. If the help defender loses vision (leverage), the cut backdoor should be automatic because you create the most possible space, and you move closer to the basket for a better shot. If the help defender maintains leverage so he can see man and ball, the loop behind the dribbler creates the most possible space from his defender.

Rather than running an offense where the man in the corner makes a specific play every time, he reads the penetration and creates the most possible space. This is not an A or B decision. In a sense, I want to free players from making the “right” decision, and empower them to make what they see as the “best” decision given the circumstances. If the player does not make the best decision, he probably will not be open for a shot, but it is not the end of the world. We keep playing and maybe the next action creates an open shot. When reviewing the game, we can discuss the decision and use it as a learning point. What did he see? Why did it not work? It is not trying to do one certain thing or “run the offense,” but developing the confidence to make decisions in an effort to create space and disorganize the defense.

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