Fast Break Drill #1

Here’s a Fast Break Drill. It emphasizes passing, catching, sprinting the floor, The framework is pretty basic. How can you tweak it to make it different?

Change where the lines start. Dictate the type of passes players make. Put time on the clock. Make a number of layups in a row or in that time, or even both. Dictate that the layups have to be perfect (bank swish). All passes must be perfect. Run the drill to the other side. Add another ball. Make them finish every layup off of two feet.

There are probably lots of other ways to tweak this drill to make it different. You can run the same drill every day, but you don’t have to run it the same way every day in order to help your team improve. Be creative. What different ways can you think of to run this drill so that helps make your team better?

fast break drill 1 Fast Break Drill 2Fast Break Drill 3 Fast Break Drill 4Fast Break Drill 5

Player Movement

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

Player movement is probably the most debatable part of coaching basketball. There must be hundreds and maybe thousands of different diagrams that show different types and combinations of player movement. Coaches are constantly trying to come up with new ways to move their players to find new ways to create scoring opportunities for their team.

Of course this player movement is dependent on the first two qualities of good offense. Teams must have good spacing and ball movement first. Player movement without ball movement isn’t enough. If the ball isn’t moving, (or if the defense isn’t worried that the ball is going to move), then the off ball defenders will have a much easier time defending the player movement. Poor spacing rarely results in good offense. Coaches are constantly trying to figure out how to have good spacing with coordinated ball movement and player movement that will result in the best scoring opportunities for their teams.

Just like there are tons of different floor plans in houses across the world, coaches have different playbooks that have use different kinds of player movement. Just like bedrooms are typically similar shapes and sizes, there are some plays that a lot of different coaches run with their teams. However, most coaches have plays that are unique to them or that have their own twist.

There are tons of books, videos, and websites filled with plays. The question is how do you decide what to use with your team?

You can ask all kinds of questions to help decide how you want your players to move.

  1. How do I get the ball to certain players in certain spots?
  2. What do I know how to teach?
  3. What can my players learn, understand, and execute?
  4. Whose team is like my team and what do they do?
  5. Who are my best players?
  6. How will I get these players shots?
  7. What’s the hardest thing to guard?
  8. How can I put my players in situations where they can be successful?
  9. How can we have uncommon actions that teams aren’t used to guarding?
  10. What type of players do I have?
  11. What actions are going to help them be most successful?
  12. What types of defense will we face?
  13. What offense is fun to teach?
  14. What happens when the ball gets driven?
  15. What happens when the defense takes away a certain action?
  16. What happens when they switch a screen?
  17. How much do my players have to think and how much can they play without thinking?
  18. What weaknesses do my players have?
  19. What strengths do they possess?
  20. What offense will work against styles or types of defense?
  21. What offense is difficult to scout?
  22. What offense gives players freedom to create within their skill sets?
  23. What offense gives players structure so that there is accountability?
  24. What can we do so that everyone has to be guarded all the time?
  25. How can we get the ball into the lane via the dribble or the pass?
  26. What gives us a good chance to get offensive rebounds?
  27. What kind of offense moves the help defense?

Once these questions are answered, now the player movement has to get organized in a way to present to your team. Are you going to run a bunch of quick hits? Are they out of similar or different alignments? Are you going to run continuities? Maybe you’ve decided a motion offense is the best way to go. Maybe you like a combination of them all. Whatever you decide, player movement is important to creating good offense. This blog has lots of articles that discuss player movement in the Read & React style of offense. Every coach has to make their own decisions for their teams. The question becomes what do you think is best for yours.

“Hustle”: Top 10 Truths

This entry is part 29 of 28 in the series Leadership

My wife and I just finished reading “Hustle” by Joshua Medcalf. If you’ve never heard of him or his partner Jamie Gilbert, now you have. They have hustled to become great through their organization “Train 2B Clutch.” If you haven’t read the book, you should. If you have read it, it’s probably time to read it again. It speaks truth. If you can’t handle it, then don’t waste your time. Keep living your life in your comfort zone. If you can, you’ll be glad you did.

Mr. Medcalf asked us for the things that affected us most. It’s so hard to pick only one. So here’s our top 10.

  1. Being great is about hustle, dirty work and sacrifice. Nothing more, nothing less. What have we done?  What are we doing?
  2. We need to pray more. We need to pray harder. We need to be more in touch with God’s will.
  3. Are we putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions? Are we doing that for others? Are we helping people cut their ropes or are we only reinforcing their beliefs of inadequacy?
  4. Are we preparing in the right way for the future? Are we using our 86,400 seconds in proportion to the size of our dreams? What do we need to keep doing? What do we need to do differently?
  5. Would we invest in ourselves? Are we taking risks?  Do we hustle regardless of the outcome?
  6. “The true measure of a man is not how hard he fights back when provoked, but how much provoking he can endure, and still respond in love.”
  7. We need to become what God made us to become, but it ain’t gonna just magically happen. It’s going to take patience, perseverance, and hustle.
  8. Are we missing the back door?  Are we afraid to go through it? Are we acting outside the box?
  9. We are thankful for hardships and obstacles. They are making us better. Keep them coming. We have embraced our desert. We are thankful for closed doors. We are ready for more.
  10. We need to say “No” to chasing waterfalls, partially controllable goals, and our “problem addiction.” We need to be more picky about when we say “Yes”.

“Chop Wood, Carry Water” is next. Then we will read “Burn Your Goals.”  I’m guessing there will be more awesome truths in these books as well.

Ball Movement

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

If good spacing is the foundation of the house, the walls and roof are ball movement. Without good spacing, it’s hard to get good ball movement, but if a team has good spacing, the next most important key is ball movement.

This game is all about the ball. Without the ball, there isn’t much point in the game. The team that dictates ball movement is probably the team that’s going to win. Offenses want to control where the ball goes, who the ball goes to, the speed with which the ball moves, and how the ball moves. Defenses want to dictate the same things to their advantage. Defenses have a hard time dictating all those things, and so they pick and choose what is most important.

The three ways to move the ball are by dribbling, passing, and shooting. Ball movement is primarily related to the skills of the player who has it at any particular time. Is that player a good ball handler with either hand or are they limited to one hand?  Maybe they can’t dribble at all without a defender stealing it. Are they a good passer? Are they a threat to score relative to where they are on the court? These are all very basic questions that are evaluated in some way by every player on the court every time a player touches the ball. Offensive and defensive players make judgments on what they think the player with the ball will do every instant so that they can react accordingly. Sometimes this is an obvious decision. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious. Sometimes these decisions aren’t very good decisions; yet decisions are always being made.

More importantly, the player with the ball is evaluating how they will move the ball next. The player with the ball is in control of the situation. The abilities of that player to make a good decision and execute that decision properly play a major part in determining what happens next. Of course this decision is also dependent on the decisions of the other 9 players on the court, but this is what makes the game fun.

Defenses want players who are not adept at dribbling, passing, shooting, or making good decisions to handle the ball more than the better players. In general, defenses prefer the ball be kept outside the lane. Most defenses would prefer the ball to be dribbled backward or laterally as opposed to towards the basket. Most defenses would prefer that the ball be moved slowly so that they have time to remain in good defensive position.

Offenses are designed to get the ball in the basket. In some cases, this means getting the ball closer to the basket.  In other cases, this means getting open opportunities for players who might be away from the basket. Offenses are designed to keep defenses moving so that offensive players can find breakdowns in the defense. The best way to keep defenses moving is to keep the ball moving. While moving players can move some defenders, moving the ball moves all the defenders (or at least it should).

What is most important in coaching ball movement offensively? Is it important to get the ball in certain areas of the court? Is it important to have the ball in a certain player’s hands? Is it important to predicate how the ball moves or make it less ? These are just a few of the questions that coaches have to answer in determining how they will attack opposing defenses. There are lots of different answers to these questions. This blog provides a few possibilities, but there are hundreds more.

I think many times we get caught up in player movement, and we forget to consider the movement of the ball. This blog has indirectly answered many of these questions. It is difficult to answer questions about ball movement or player movement directly without knowing the specifics about the personnel on a certain team. However, it is interesting to talk philosophically about these questions in preparation to answer them when that time comes.

Good Spacing

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

Spacing has been discussed multiple times on this blog.

  1. The Simplicity of the Game
  2. Skills and Abilities: Offensive Philosophy Part 2
  3. Teaching Basketball Players to Play the Game
  4. Team Mentality: Offensive Philosophy Part 3

However, it hasn’t been discussed in detail. I know it’s a pretty basic concept, yet I consistently see that players don’t understand it. They might be able to take a test and pass it, but when they play, good spacing is consistently compromised. I hope to answer three questions in this post so that we can help our teams play better offense.

  1. What is good spacing?
  2. Why is good spacing important?
  3. How can we achieve good spacing throughout a possession?


Offensive spacing is the distance between offensive teammates at any given time. Good spacing has been defined by different coaches as anywhere between 12-18 ft. I haven’t seen many coaches take a tape measure on the basketball court and measure the distance between two players. So how can we concretely define good spacing for our players in a way that is easy for them to understand and maintain throughout a possession?

We can use a few different spots on the court and the alignments that are created when players stand in these different spots. A 5 out alignment has perimeter players on each wing, each corner and the top of the key with no permanent post player. A 4 out alignment has one player in the post and 4 players around the perimeter. Coaches define their “4 out spots” differently. Some coaches have between 4 and 6 potential spots for players in a 4 out alignment. Some use the same spots that are used in a 5 out alignment. Some put two spots outside of each lane line extended, two spots on the wings, with two “optional” spots in the corners. Keep in mind, the post player can be anywhere in the post and good spacing will be maintained. It may be helpful for other reasons to dictate where the post player is located, but with regards to specifically to good spacing it really doesn’t matter. In a 3 out alignment, typically, the spots are the same as a 5 out alignment which of course means they will be spaced appropriately.

When there are two post players, their spacing might be less than 12-18 ft. Defining spacing for post players is a little different. Because post players are closer to the basket, defenders have less room for error. Defenders must play closer to their player. Their decision to help a teammate can result in a layup very easily. One slight misstep or hesitation can result in the offensive post player being open for an easy shot or getting an offensive rebound. As a result, it isn’t the end of the world to have one post player on each elbow or each block. In fact a lot of good offensive actions can occur in these situations. As long as they aren’t standing beside each other, they can still be effective.


Good spacing forces defenders to cover the full width of the court. Defenders who are forced to move laterally often are more susceptible to getting out of position.

Good spacing forces defenders to make decisions in what they defend. Poor spacing allows one defender to guard two or more players at the same time. Poor spacing keeps defenders from having to make decisions on where they are positioned.

Good spacing puts players in positions to make passes safely to one another while at the same time giving them enough space to attack the defense off the dribble without defenders being able to help easily.

A detail that is often neglected is that the more shooting range players have, the more of the length of the floor defenders have to defend. Steph Curry is hard to defend because he is a threat from very deep. Teams who can’t shoot very well provide the defense with space that does not have to be defended. If I don’t have to guard you, it just made my job easier to defend the space where I do have to guard you.

Making Good Spacing a Reality

In order to help players understand spacing, coaches have designed sets that put players in predicated spots. As long as players stand in those spots, the team will have good spacing. That is certainly one way to achieve it. How many sets does a team need? How many sets can a team remember and execute? How easy are those sets to defend? What happens when the set breaks down? Do you want to have to call a play every single possession?  What happens in transition?

Basketball is a player’s game. I believe our role as coaches is to give players the tools to be successful and let them use those tools based on their skill sets. As we teach every piece of the Read and React, we are playing from specific spots. Initially, we are very strict in holding players accountable to play from those spots. Every drill is run from “the spots.” Every time a player isn’t on the spot, we correct them .This helps them learn what good spacing looks like and feels like. As they become more advanced and more comfortable, we will give them a little more flexibility in the location of the spots. As long as they maintain good spacing, the specific spots become less important.

Spacing is critical to good offensive efficiency. As you watch basketball, I bet the better offensive teams are always spaced well.

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.