Top 10 Qualities of Good Offense

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

Good offense is like a well built house. It’s not enough just to have good players or a good plan. It’s just like having a good plan but builders who can’t drive a nail, or maybe the builders are great, but the plan isn’t.  Teams who play good offense are a combination of good offensive players and the systems they play in. It’s not enough to have good plays; and good players can be limited in the systems that don’t fit them. Granted great players can fit in a lot of different systems. Most of us don’t coach great players. Let’s be honest, only a small percentage of players play professionally. Most of us coach average players. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, in order for us to run good offense, our systems should have the following qualities.

  1. Good Spacing
    In my opinion, it’s the foundation to efficient offensive basketball. If your spacing is bad, the rest doesn’t really matter.
  2. Ball movement
    Here’s where you build your house. Ball movement is the structure. If you can move the ball with good spacing, you’re 75% of the way there.
  3. Player movement
    This is your floor plan. What’s the layout? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? How big is your kitchen?  Do you have a garage?   I don’t think it’s as important as the first two, but you have to make good choices to have a functional house. Keep in mind, the more rooms you have, the more there is to take care of.
  4. Takes advantage of players’ strengths
    What kind of floors do you like? What color are you painting your walls? Recessed lighting and ceiling fans? Do these things fit the room that they are going in? In other words, does your offense fit your personnel?
  5. Hides players’ weaknesses
    Similar to the previous point, if your return duct for your HVAC has to be in a certain area of the house, can you hide it with a closet? Where do you put your water heater so it’s not an eye sore and so that it doesn’t use valuable square footage?  Not all of us can afford a tankless water system right?
  6. Flexible and adaptable to personnel
    You know when you get your furniture arranged a certain way, and then you want to change things around? Isn’t that similar to when one player leaves a team and a new one joins?  Maybe you want a different type of player or maybe it’s hard to find one like you had. Let’s be honest, no two players are exactly alike.
  7. Simple so that players can play more and think less
    We don’t want 7 different light switches on the wall where we have to figure out what goes where. We don’t want to have to use 5 different remotes just to watch our favorite sitcom. If we can’t hit one button to pop the popcorn in the microwave, it’s probably too complicated.
  8. Organized
    A messy home is a sign of character. At least that’s what somebody said once. I think it’s easy to agree that it is important for offense be organized. The trick is everyone has a different definition of organization.
  9. Difficult to scout
    We want to know our house inside out. We don’t care if other people know about our house, but even if they know about our house, they could never copy our house, and they definitely can’t stop us.
  10. Enable the ball handler to be a threat on every catch
    Get rid of the clutter. Ever been in a house that’s so overly “decorated” that it looks like the clearance section at a flea market? There’s so much extra junk that you lose sight of what’s really happening.

Each of these qualities is mentioned in different articles on this blog. I will follow-up this post with a description of each of them and how each of these in inherent in the R&R.


The Power Dribble: Offensive Points of Emphasis

The Power Dribble has a few different points of emphasis that should be part of teaching this layer.  Among other things, the Power Dribble is a great way to turn an uncomfortable situation into an attacking situation. No matter what it is used for, but these points of emphasis are vital to its proper execution.

Imagine your guard picks up his/her dribble at an inopportune time. The other perimeter players are being heavily denied and your post player comes to the perimeter to relieve the pressure and receive a pass. So what happens now? This probably isn’t a very good shooting opportunity. You may not want your post player attacking the rim off the dribble. This player may not be a very good passer either. Their post player may be coming up to pressure this player as well. You may be saying to yourself, this situation has gone from bad to worse. This is where the power dribble can be helpful. The post player can turn their back to the defense and make a power dribble in the direction of a perimeter player. Normally this would be a dribble at and this player would go back door, but because the player has their back to the basket, the player will start in a backdoor cut and then come back to the ball for a hand off. This dribble hand off can send the perimeter on an attacking dribble with the post player’s defender having to switch out and help on an attacking guard. Now our story has taken a turn for the better don’t you think? The post player can roll to the basket or pop to the perimeter. More importantly, pressure has been relieved and the offense can run freely again.

The Dribble

The dribble must take the ball handler towards their teammate.  This helps close the gap and helping the handoff occur more quickly.  The dribble must be strong and protected. If the ball handler needs to take more than one dribble that is fine but they must be sure to keep the ball away from the defense.

Setting up the Handoff

The receiver must set up the handoff well in order to maximize the effectiveness of the power dribble. Since this action is similar to a dribble at, the receiver should take a step or two towards the rim just like they would if it actually were a dribble at.  Then they should come back to the ball to receive the handoff.  If the defensive player doesn’t respect the cut, they should be wide open.  If they do, the handoff should be able to be executed simply and cleanly.

The Handoff

The ball hander must allow their teammate to take the ball from them.  The ball handler should not try to pass or flick the ball to their teammate. This handoff must be practiced properly to insure a solid transfer even under heavy pressure.  If the ball handler doesn’t feel like the handoff can be completed safely, they can take the ball away from the cutter. The ball should be well protected by the ball handler.  It should be held close to the body and in a position where only the offense can get to the ball.

After the Handoff

The new ball handler should look to get to the basket on the handoff.  Similarly to a ball screen, it is very possible that the ball handler’s defender gets caught up in the handoff. This could leave the ball handler an attack lane or the opportunity to shoot if the defender goes under the handoff. As the handoff is occurring, the other players should be filling spots. However, they should be anticipating that the new ball handler will attack which would mean they would rotate back in the opposite direction.

The player who initiated the power dribble has the freedom to roll to the basket or to pop to the perimeter based on that player’s skill set.  The coach may dictate this decision, or the coach may let the player make this decision. Either one can be very effective if it is matched to the player’s skill set.


Dribble-At: Defensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 24 of 24 in the series Dribbling Actions

The Dribble-At is a very sneaky way to generate offensive scoring opportunities. It can be used in its most basic sense as a way to generate movement and release pressure. However, as players improve their skills it can be a way to create scoring opportunities. While overuse of the Dribble-At can cause your offense to be stagnant, using it occasionally will cause catch undisciplined defenses sleeping and is the trigger for a lot of different secondary actions. It is not difficult to defend the Dribble-At as long as defenders are alert and disciplined, but defenders can easily lose focus.

  1. Staying between the ball and the basket
    In the case of a Dribble-At, the ball handler isn’t going toward the rim. It is important that the player guarding the ball stays between the ball and the basket. In many cases, the defender will over pursue the ball handler in an attempt to cut them off. When they do so, they open up a lane to the basket if the ball handler can quickly change direction.
  2. Defending the cutter
    If you’re defending the cutter, you just can’t get beat back door. It’s really that simple. This can be a result of being too focused on the ball. It can be a result of over playing the receiver. It can be simply a matter of losing focus. However, defending the backdoor cut is only step one. It’s important to maintain good defensive positioning even if the backdoor pass is denied. The cutter can post up at the end of the cut. The cutter can decide to screen. The cutter might react to penetration. They might fill to the weak side of the floor. The key is to maintain sound defensive positioning relative to the ball no matter what the cutter does.

Back Screen: Offensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The Back Screen is possibly the hardest off ball screen to defend. It sends a cutter to the basket. The player defending the cutter can’t see the screen coming, Not to mention, the second you help too long on a back screen, you’re going to give up an open 3. Depending on who is defending the screener, you might end up with a mismatch in the post if there’s a switch. Execution of these fundamentals will help players maximize the effectiveness of the back screen.

1. Sprint to the screen
It might sound dumb but sprinting to set the back screen is probably the most important key to setting a good back screen. Getting separation from the defender is important, but the bigger factor is the reaction time of the defense. The less time they have to react to the screen the more effective it will be. If the defense doesn’t have much time to react, something good is probably going to happen.

2. Call your teammate’s name
In this style of basketball, we teach players to watch the ball. We always want them to be ready to move when the ball moves. Since these back screens are random, players who are off the ball need to know that a back screen is being set for them. Otherwise, they might not see the screen until it’s too late. I don’t think it matters if the opponent hears a player’s name being called. There’s too much going on for them to process that and react quickly enough.

3. Stop in time
There’s nothing worse than getting called for an illegal screen. It’s a turnover that results in a foul and it wasn’t even around the ball. If you sprint to the screen, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting close to the defender. Stop in plenty of time and let your teammate use the screen. If you called their name, they should be able to recognize the screen and use it effectively.

4. Use the screen 
The first three points are the screener’s responsibility. The next point is up to the cutter. If the screener has done their job, then the cutter’s job shouldn’t be that hard. Many times cutters don’t wait on screens. Because this screen isn’t planned, the cutter shouldn’t be expecting it. Waiting on the screen shouldn’t be a hug problem. Because it is random, the cutter will more than likely be “late” using the screen, but to me that’s ok. Late is ok if no one is expecting it. The cutter must run the defender into the screen and then cut off the screener’s hip using a good change of direction and speed. They must finish their cut through the rim and prepare for the next best action. This could be another back screen, they could just fill out, or they might have to react to the drive of the person who just screened for them.

5. Taking advantage of the advantage
When the screener’s defender sees the back screen being set, the most natural reaction is to stop early and protect the rim against the cutter. Whether this is the defensive technique that the team wants to use or not, many players will do that naturally. If that’s the case, the screener has a distinct advantage especially if they are a good shooter. It is very difficult for the player defending the screener to protect the rim and closeout to the screener. After the screen, the screener must quickly face the basket and evaluate the defense before the pass arrives. They have to know that if a good screen was set, that they are probably open with an opportunity to make an aggressive play.


10 Habits of Great Defenders

Great defenders are hard to find these days. There are good ones and bad ones, but I don’t know how many great ones there are. Good defenders exhibit a lot of these qualities. Great defenders exhibit all of them.

  1. Know what they are protecting
    Playing defense is about keeping the ball from going in the basket. The most obvious goal is to keep the ball from getting to the rim so that players can’t get easy lay-ups. The easiest way to do that is to stay between the player with the ball and the basket. Now this isn’t the only way of defending the ball. The goal could be to keep the ball handler to a certain area of the court or to keep the ball handler out of a certain area. The goal could be to keep the ball from being passed to a certain part of the court or to a certain area. In any case, defenders must know what they are protecting at all times. If they don’t know and understand their purpose their purpose at all times, it becomes more difficult for them to defend well.
  2. Fight to protect it
    Once a defender knows what they are protecting, it has to be a constant mental and physical effort to protect it. Of course defenders must be taught the techniques and concepts of how to defend individually and within the team structure, but it is a constant fight to defend.
  3. Are always ready to move
    Defense is a journey. It’s never a destination. A defender who has arrived is about to get beat. Great defenders are always ready to move. They can’t always predict where they are going to have to move, but when it’s time they are ready. If a player’s feet stop moving, It’s probable that they aren’t ready to react. This is on ball and off ball. We have to be careful when we’re teaching defensive positioning that players know that they are only in the right spot for a split second. The ability to succeed in one brief moment is short lived. As soon as the ball or a player moves, their positioning should probably change.
  4. Move when the ball moves
    There are a lot of defenses and defensive philosophies out there, but all of them start on players moving when the ball moves. If players are late, they are probably going to be out of position, no matter how athletic they are. Players who can learn to move when the ball moves can be great defenders.
  5. Talk with a purpose
    Good defenders talk. Great defenders talk with a purpose. Good defenders call screens. Great defenders tell their teammate what to do when the screen is set. Good defenders see a play develop. Great defenders let everyone else know what’s about to happen. It’s one thing to talk on defense. It’s another thing to talk purposefully.
  6. Go after loose balls with 2 hands
    How many times is there a deflection and a player tries to reach for the ball with one hand to dribble it while losing control of the ball? Whether it’s a loose ball from a deflection or a rebound, great defenders pursue the ball with two hands. It’s not enough for them to touch the ball. They want to have the ball. There may be some instances when players can only get one hand on the ball, and yes one is better than none. We’re talking about GREAT defenders. They find a way to get two hands on loose balls.
  7. Recognize personnel quickly and react appropriately
    The scouting report says that #23 is a 45% 3 point shooter. A great defender closes out and doesn’t give up a shot or a drive. #24 checks in for #23. The scouting report says #24 is 0 for 15 for the year from the 3 point line. A great defender doesn’t closeout on this player if their teammate needs help in the lane.
  8. Help when they are supposed to
    It’s nearly impossible to play good on ball defense every time. There are times when we will have to help. The key is to help with the right person in the right place at the right time. When two people help the defense is in trouble. If the wrong person helps, the rest of the team is forced to rotate in a way that is unexpected. If a player “helps” when they aren’t supposed to, it will force rotations when they aren’t necessary. Great defenders know when not to help as much as they know when to help.
  9. Know how to rebound
    Rebounding is about effort, positioning and then more effort. It’s amazing how players who might not be in position to rebound initially can get themselves in position with just a little effort. Then how many players get position, but then they don’t go for the ball. It’s not enough to just get position. Rebounding requires pursuit of the ball. I’ve coached a lot of players who just want the ball. It’s not complicated, they just like having the ball, and they will do whatever it takes to get it.
  10. Foul When They Want To
    Sometimes players need to foul. Maybe you’re trying to make a last-minute comeback. Maybe you don’t want to give up an easy lay-up and fouling is the only option. Maybe you aren’t in the bonus and you want to make a team inbound the ball against the end of the quarter or half. Great defenders know these situations and know how to foul in these situations. They don’t give up “and 1s.” They don’t hurt themselves or the other team. They don’t get intentional fouls called on them. However, they also have fouls to give because they haven’t fouled unnecessarily in other parts of the game. They know when to try to block a shot and when to stay on the ground. They don’t foul in the opponents back court, just because they missed a lay-up and are trying to get the rebound when they don’t have a chance at it. They move their feet to stay in front of ball handlers and don’t put their hands on them.

Making Second Most Important

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Practice

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right?

You might be thinking…

“Coach, you talk about defense being most important, but you don’t start with it. It doesn’t matter what we think in our minds as coaches, if our players don’t think we are serious about defense they won’t play it. How can your offense be good if your defense isn’t? How can you make defense most important if you don’t start with it?”

Check out Practice Plan #1. This practice was all about playing with the ball and guarding the ball. There are lots of opportunities to play 1 on 1 without it being just 1 on 1. There are lots of opportunities to closeout and help in a more game like environment. Defense is emphasized in almost every segment. Even more importantly, we’re creating a mindset of offensive aggressiveness without having to say it. The players are put in situations where they have to make plays. They can’t hide and let their teammates do the work for them. It’s obvious that they should be aggressive which puts pressure on the defense right away.

You are what you emphasize right? Not only is there a lot of defense being played in this practice, there are lots of opportunities to make defense important. There are a lots of opportunities to critique and correct defense. We might have started with offense, but by the time practice was over, we had the opportunity to make defense most important.

Look at Practice Plan #2. Practice #2 builds off of the first one. There aren’t many new offensive concepts being introduced in this practice, but we are emphasizing good defense on the ball and good team defense if we have to help. Again the same aggressive mindset is being established offensively, but we don’t have to worry about the offense being aggressive. They don’t have much of a choice. We do have to worry about how we’re defending, and it will become very clear who our best defenders are and who really needs to improve.

Keep in mind these practices are a result of the environment I was in. The first day of practice resulted from the team having no skill development sessions in the preseason. We had no on court time with players before this practice. Of course we had some players who returning from the previous season, but we had players who had never played for this team before. From year to year, we couldn’t take things for granted and so we started from the beginning.

Even if we were having an individual or small group workout, we would make sure that we introduced the “WHOLE” part before we did the smaller parts. They might not understand it completely, and we might not be able to go 5 on 5, but when we reference the bigger picture, they will have something to go back to in their minds.

If we could have had 2 hours per week per player on the court, we would have worked on a lot of these skills and concepts then. Our first day of practice would have looked much different. However, our first workout would have been had a similar idea. Learn how to play with the ball and defend it. Once you can do that, the rest becomes a lot easier.

First is Not Necessarily Most Important

This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series Practice

My experience is that a lot of people think “first” and “most important” mean the same thing. While in some situations that is true, I think there are many situations where those two things are very different. One of those is coaching the game of basketball. A lot of what I’ve written about on this blog has to do with offense. Since that is what I’ve spent most of my time writing about, you probably think that’s what’s most important to me. You might think that all I want to do is out score teams. You might think that getting stops is not very important to me.

Let me make this clear, defense is much more important to me than offense. I believe good offense starts with good defense. If you can’t defend, you can’t win championships. Offense is easier when the other team doesn’t score. Whether it’s a missed shot or a turnover, it is much easier to play offense when you just got a stop. In my opinion, the most important characteristic of a point guard is the ability to defend, not the ability to create offense or score. Defending is so much more important to me than scoring. That doesn’t mean I think defense comes first when it comes to teaching the game.

For example, let’s say you’re working on one of the most basic defensive fundamentals: the closeout. If the offensive player doesn’t have the full complement of skills, the closeout becomes easier to execute. If the player can’t shoot and attack off the dribble, then that player becomes very easy to defend. Then when the offensive player has to closeout against a player who can do both, they are at a huge disadvantage.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that you can work on a player’s individual skills for a few days or a couple of weeks and make them proficient at their weaknesses. I understand that developing and mastering skills takes time. It’s not easy to guard an average player one on one. The offense has almost every advantage. However, if your players are closing out on players who offensively limited, they are going to struggle defending players who aren’t.

Let’s take this to a larger topic: defending screens. I believe that you have to teach players how to set and use screens before you can work on defending them. If the offensive players don’t understand the concept of screening, the defense isn’t going to get a good feel for how to defend them. When we’re running a defensive drill, I don’t want to take the time to coach the offense. I want the offense to know what they are doing. If I have to take time to coach offense in a defensive drill, then it does seem like offense is more important than defense.

Finally, in a very broad sense, I believe that teaching the game of basketball needs to be done in a very progressive way. It’s interesting that “progressive” has a couple different definitions and both apply in this case. The game starts with the ball. Offenses and defenses are all predicated on who has the ball, where they have the ball, and where the other players are relative to the ball. It only makes sense to me that teaching players what to do when they have the ball comes before teaching players how to defend.

I have spent a lot of time talking about offense, because I think the offensive side of the game needs to evolve. Isn’t it interesting how football teams are playing more like basketball teams?  They are simplifying their playbook. They are letting players make plays. Our game shouldn’t look like football. I don’t believe it was ever meant to be that way. I believe we should teach players how to play and let them play. Basketball is a beautiful game when players can be creative when they play it.

Additionally, I think a lot has been written about defense and how to teach it. The reason teams don’t play good defense has more to do with a lack of emphasis than a lack of sharing of ideas. I think there are some coaches that have every intention of making defense most important, but end up making decisions based on a player’s ability to score instead. I think a lot of coaches teach offense first and make offense most important.

I want to make it clear that I don’t subscribe to that philosophy at all. I believe defense is most important, but I think you have to teach offense first.