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.

32 Split Low

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

32 Split Low is the next call that we will explore.

“32” specifies a 3 out 2 in alignment.

“Split” specifies that the post players must be opposite of one another at all times.

“Low” specifies that the ball side post player should be in the low post.

***Side note: Remember the post spots are the Short Corner, Mid Post and Elbow. While the short corner is “lower” than the mid post, I’m referring to the mid post.

Remember these diagrams are not actions that are set in stone.  These are just possibilities. Your players will come up with more if you let them. I had fun with this one. I would like to see what other people come up with.


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The point passes to the wing. Boring right? You’re right it is, but I had to start somewhere. The screen for 2 from 4 is optional because 2 can just fill, but while 4 is there, they can make themselves useful. This could turn into a back screen or fade screen as well. For now we will keep it simple and have 2 fill the top spot while 1 fills out to the opposite side. Later, you’ll see what happens when this player fills to the ball side.








Page 637Of course, 5 is posting up and looking for the ball. If 1’s defender stops in help, like they are probably taught, 5 may not be open. That’s ok, because 1’s defender just set themselves up to get screened. If 1’s defender follows them out of the lane then 5 should be open for a post entry.  Of course if 4’s defender is helping off on the post then they should be open in the high post.

In this situation, let’s just say 1’s defender is in help side on 5. 4 can pin in 1’s defender. 1 lines up with 4 and 3 throws the skip pass. 2 cuts because they were skipped. In this case, they fill to the ball side. Since 5 is now opposite the ball, they fill the high post while 4 fills the low post.

4 may not be able to receive a pass off of a seal from the pin screen, but 4’s defender is going to have to make a choice.  Little do they know that behind them the other post player is moving to the high post and taking away help side defense.  3 is filling the top spot which brings the last help side defender 1 pass away. If 4’s defender plays behind, we should be able to get 4 the ball. If not, the lob should be available.



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If you’re Phil Jackson, this might look familiar. There’s a strong side triangle on the left side of the floor. We could have had this alignment on the first pass if 1 had cut to the ball side corner. Of course there are dozens of actions in the triangle that start from this alignment.

For the sake of continuing the offense, let’s say 4’s defender plays behind and we’re able to get the ball to 4.  1’s responsibility is to Laker Cut. Now they could Laker Cut and screen for 2, 3, or 5, but for now we’ll say they just fill out. Notice how turning the Laker Cut into an X-cut or into a back screen as a NBA would make things interesting.

Again 1’s defender should stay in help, which sets them up for a nice little pin screen from 5. 2 fills up from the corner. Of course 5 may be open on a dive to the basket, but that probably turns into a lay-up so let’s keep going.



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Notice if 4 puts the ball on the floor to the baseline side, 1 would fill the corner spot following the Baseline Drive principles.  If 4 drove middle, everyone would circle move. The question might be what about 5. I would encourage them to circle move to the right and be available around the low post/short corner.

However, 4 doesn’t feel comfortable trying to score or put the ball on the floor so they decide to kick it out to 2. They could kick it to 1 or 3 as well. The best option is the open option, and for now we’re going to say 2 is the open player.

4 could repost.  They could sprint into a ball screen, but in this diagram they screen away for the other post player. 5 knows their job is to go low since they are on the ball side.  4 has to stay high.  Notice we look a lot like we did in the second diagram.



Page 640This time instead of a skip pass, 2 passes to the top to 3 and cuts to the basket.  5 steps up and back screens 2’s defender on the cut. As 2 exits the lane, 4 back screens 1’s defender as 1 cuts to the basket.  Then 5 sets the second screen for 1 to either flare to the wing or curl to the lane. You might be thinking, there’s no way I could get my players to do all this.

I say, why not? Let’s keep moving. I will address that in a minute.










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1 and 2 have basically switched sides of the court. However, these actions were not predicated. Who knows what kind of match-ups we have right now. It’s quite possible that the defenders have switched at some point along the way or that a defender has gotten themselves out of position.  However, let’s say they’ve played great defense on actions that they couldn’t foresee, because our own players aren’t following a prescribed set of actions.

Now 3 decides to dribble-at 1 for a dribble handoff. 2 fills just as they would if it were a dribble-at.  4 and 5 wait patiently and prepare for the next action.






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As 1 turns the corner, 2 circle moves while 4 and 5 slide away from the penetrator to either open up the lane or open up themselves.








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Now 1 has a decision to make. Does the action have to stop on this penetration?  Of course not. 1 might dribble back to the top of the key and pass to a wing.  They might kick out to 2 who makes an entry pass to 4 and Laker Cuts.  The action could continue as long as the clock is running and the offense doesn’t give up possession of the ball by either shooting it or turning it over.

The point here is that this is just one combination of actions that are based on this one alignment.  Yet, the action could look very different at any number of points along the way. In each frame of the action, the ball handler could have chosen any number of different actions to take with the ball. Then as a cutter, what they do when they cut changes things. Even which side of the court a player decides to fill makes things different as well.





This may seem complicated. Remember all the players are doing is executing one simple action and then reacting accordingly. They don’t need to know what action to execute next. They just need to focus on executing the next one correctly. The action of the post players is not predicated either. Remember they have two rules to follow in this case.  The first is that when the ball is driven towards the basket to move out of the way.  The second is based on the call that we made at the beginning, “32 Split Low”.

You might wonder how post players know when to set these screens. You’re right, there are no rules, but they can be taught. These screens aren’t being set by them going way out of their way.  All of them “make sense” based on their location and the cutter’s movement. All they really need to do is see the cutter coming prepare for the contact. The cutter just needs to use the post players as they cut off of them.

The good news is that the offense doesn’t break if someone forgets to set a screen. Maybe a post player is busy posting up instead of screening.  Well this can be just as effective. Maybe they decide to set another kind of screen somewhere along the line. That’s good too. This single possibility has a number of others built into it. The way I see it there are no wrong answers as long as players remain spaced, move themselves with a purpose, and move the ball with a purpose, including attacking the lane off the dribble.

32 Split High

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

This is a first on this blog.  I’m actually talking about making a call. You might be surprised. I certainly think there are times when a coach can impact a game by making the right call. The question is how does that call change the team’s outlook. I will cover that in a different post. For now, let’s look at “32 Split High”.

“32 Split High”

“32” is obviously 3 out 2 in. That’s the easy part.

“Split High” refers to the location of the post players. “Split” tells them that one should be high and one should be low at all times. “High” means that the ball side post should be at the high post.

All I’ve done is called an alignment.  I haven’t called any actions. I haven’t restricted the play of the offense.  I’ve just created the opportunities for some interesting offensive spacing and actions.  There is no set pattern here. Let’s look at a couple different possibilities when players follow the basic concepts that we’ve outlined so far. These are actions that just naturally flow off of the basic actions of the players.  The combinations and possibilities are endless.


Page 629Initially, you might ask which post is “High” when the ball is in the middle of the floor.  You can answer that any way you want. It could be either, both or neither.  There is justification for all three answers.  I chose the 4 just because that’s how I happened to draw it. There is no specific reason.

In a very inauspicious beginning to the action, the point guard passes to the wing and cuts to the basket just like they are supposed to.  2 fills the spot vacated by 1 and 1 fills out to the corner.






Page 630As 2 fills up, 5 yells “PIN” on the backside and 4 sets a back screen for 2.  You can certainly call this a fade screen.  It could also be considered a “PIN” screen. Either of those are fine, but to keep it consistent with I’ve written so far, it would technically be a back screen. Pin screens are set on help side defenders.  2’s defender is 1 pass away. Depending on your defensive terminology, this could be considered “help side”.  Usually, I reserve help side for more than 1 pass away. Again, it’s up to you, it’s just important that you’re consistent with your players.

Back to the action. 4 is screening for a defender who is moving to get in the gap defensively to help on the potential middle drive from 3. 5 has pinned in 1’s defender. 3 has driving lanes and also has 4 passing options.  If the defense cheats the pin screen, 5 could be open on the weak side.  We’re screening for 1 and 2 and 4 might be open on the slip.  2 could certainly cut to the basket if the defender tries to chase over the screen.  In this case the defender tries to go under the screen.



Page 631Let’s say that no one is open or 3 just doesn’t feel comfortable making the pass or drive at that moment. 4’s defender probably helped on the back screen and will probably be late in getting in position on the ball screen if 4 will sprint to the screen.  If 1 and 2 don’t receive the ball from either of the screens, they should fill up.








Page 632As 3 drives off the screen, this filling movement keeps their defenders off balance.  If either of them help on 3’s drive, then someone will be open.  If not, 3 should be able to get into the lane with 4 passing options. 5 slides down as 3 drives. After setting the screen, 4 can roll to the rim or pop to the perimeter based on the defense and/or their skill set.


I didn’t draw this diagram, but let’s say 3 refuses the screen.  2 would fill behind 3 as a safety on that baseline drive.  1 would still go to the corner for the drift pass and 5 would rise to the elbow. 4 can dive to the rim or pop, again depending on the defense and/or their skill set.






Here’s a whole different set of actions

Page 629Everything starts just like the last set of actions.  1 passes to 3 and dives to the rim.










Page 633This time 4 sets a back screen and 2 dives to the block and posts up.  Maybe 2 gets the ball and maybe they don’t. Either way, 2 and 4 have switched roles. 4 has become the perimeter player and 4 has become the post player. This means that since the ball is on 2’s side, they must come back to the high post, if they are going to stay in the post. In this case, I’m assuming 2 wants to stay in the post for a pass or two but doesn’t receive the ball. If they did receive and entry from 3, there would be a Laker Cut and then who knows what might happen.







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On the pass to 4, 3 cuts off of a back screen by 2.  They might be open, but if they aren’t they continue to the rim and run off a down screen from 5. Without really trying that hard, we’re just set a staggered screen for 3  They can curl off this screen if they are being chased or pop to the corner if not.  As 4 reverses the ball to 1, 5 posts up off the screen and 2 back screens 4 back into the post.  Again if 4 can shoot, 4 might fade off of this screen.









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If 5 isn’t open on their seal after the second staggered screen for 3, they can sprint into a ball screen.  5 can roll or pop off of the screen based on the defense and their skill set.  Everyone else is either circle moving or sliding in the post.










Here’s an exercise for you.  Take “32 Split High” and following the concepts that you understand, what are some combinations that you can come up with?  How do things change if there is a dribble hand off as the first action?  What happens if the action starts with a back screen on the wing?  What if we make an entry pass to a post player, but that player doesn’t take a shot?  What other options or opportunities are created?

Keeping Things Simple

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

A recent opponent played a true matchup zone against us. These defenses can give teams problems. Zone offenses tend to be less effective because the defenders aren’t assigned to a certain area. Man to man offenses tend to not work as well because defenders aren’t assigned to certain players either.

Here’s a simple set of actions that we used for a few consecutive possessions in the second half which helped us create a number of good scoring opportunities.  Of course players had to make plays, but as coaches we have to put them in position to do so.

We drew up the first three frames in a time out. The fourth frame was not part of what we did, but it would be one way to simultaneously create two 3 point shots on either side of the court.

The lesson learned here is that sometimes simple is better.  The trick is not the complication of the action.  The trick is putting players in places where they can be successful while creating ball movement and player movement with good spacing. These actions were created based specifically on the skills of the personnel on the floor.

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There are a few interesting things to notice.  The alignment changes in a very simple way from 4 out to 3 out with an even front. Notice how the defense defends the same action differently all three times.

The tandem alignment is designed to take away the middle of the floor.  By starting in a 4 out alignment, it brings out the middle person of the tandem.  This along with the denial of the low post player opens up the high post and causes the defense problems.  The entry to the high post causes confusion.  Now it just takes one attack dribble to hold the low wing defender to create the open 3 point shot.


In the second clip, the person in the middle of the zone is worried about that weak side post player.  She remembers in the previous possession how that player flashed to the high post and compromised their defense.  That little bit of attention draws her away from the cutting post player.  A good post entry and a good individual play lead to a layup.  Notice also in this clip how the weak side post player could have sealed the backside defensive player to prevent their rotation to help.  It worked out anyway, but posting on the weakside can be a huge benefit to the team even if they don’t receive the ball.

This is just a tough individual play.  But notice after scoring the first time how the defense reacts.  They decide to double team that player which obviously opens up other players who react well to the openings it creates.

After this they started fouling and we didn’t run the action again.  We didn’t have to.  It’s amazing how such simple actions can lead to productive offense.

Back Screen: Description (NBA)

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The back screen is the first screening action that we’ll discuss in the Read & React offense.  It is used as a Next Best Action for cutters.  It can also be used as a way to get a player who is in the post into a perimeter spot, or visa versa.

Let’s talk first about the back screen as a NBA.  This NBA can be executed “on accident” or on purpose. Either way it can be effective in creating screening actions, continuity of movement as well as openings for both the screener and the cutter. Back Screens are most effective when set on players 1 pass away from the ball.

In a 5 out scenario, let’s pretend 1 passes to 2 and cuts to the rim.  Based on the Pass, Cut & Fill layer, they are supposed to fill out to the left side of the floor.  What happens if they fill out to the wrong side?  Does the play stop?  Does the offense reset?

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That’s not necessary at all.  The Back Screen Layer allows this player who “made a mistake” to turn this mistake into a good screening opportunity. The cutter just screens for the player in the corner who cuts to the rim and then fills the open spot if they don’t receive a pass.  This is also a good opportunity for the screener to get an open shot.

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This action happens primarily in a 5 out setting.  In 4 out 1 in and 3 out 2 in alignments, there is almost always an open spot for a player to fill. The diagram below shows how it can happen in a 4 out 1 in alignment.

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Of course these “accidental” actions can certainly be purposeful as well.  Purposeful back screens can occur anywhere on the court and can shock defenders who are caught off guard.  Back screens are also the first step in being able to set staggered screens.

We’ll discuss the specifics of setting screens in an upcoming post.  For now it’s enough to know that any cutter can set a back screen. When they set a back screen can be up to you or up to them.  You can have them set back screens after every cut.  You can have certain players look to set back screens.  It’s up to you and how you want to run your team.

Posting-Up: Fundamentals

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The 8 C’s of Post Play still apply, but we probably need to break those down into specifics.  This is especially important for players coming from the perimeter who may not be as skilled in the post or who may be unfamiliar getting post position from the perimeter.

Philosophically, I’m not a huge fan of a post player trying to gain a position that the defense is taking away.  What I’d prefer is to let the defense take away one position and then keep them in that position as the ball moves. It’s easy for post player to get offensive fouls fighting for position that may disrupt the timing and rhythm of the offense anyway.  A defense can take away somethings, but they can’t take away everything.  I would prefer to teach post players how to take advantage of a defender’s position.

Let’s say for instance that a defender is fronting the post.  I’d prefer that the offensive post player concede that position and keep them in that position.  Then as the ball moves that defender will almost certainly be out of position.

A good post player may be denied the ball in one position, but they will use that denial to their advantage to get the ball as it moves.  Of course we want to teach players how to post up.  We want to teach them how to swim, how to duck in,  and how to step in, spin and pin.  Sometimes it’s better to work smarter.  It might make the hard work count for more.

  • Sealing for the Lob
    There’s no easier post move than not having to make one. The opportunity to catch and finish is one that is always a good option. Of course this takes a good read and a good pass from a guard, but the threat of a good lob pass creates longer closeouts on skip passes and a post defender that is less comfortable.  Players who are posting up should know how to seal for a lob pass, how to catch the pass, and then of course how to finish.  This should look different when the ball is on the wing, as opposed to when the ball is at the top, or on the weak side. Maybe their defender did a good job of jumping to the ball on the pass and preventing the face cut.  That’s fine. If the offensive player can learn to keep them in that position, they could have an easy lay-up as the ball is reversed.
  • Step-in, Spin, and Pin
    So now let’s pretend the defender was extremely physical with the cutter.  The defender jammed the cutter, but really didn’t jump to the ball.  The offensive player may not be able to finish their cut to the rim. However, the defender is going to have a hard time keeping the offensive player from stepping between the defender’s legs, spinning and getting them on their back. Again, you can take some things away, but you can’t take everything away.
  • Duck-in/Weak Side Post
    The offensive player decides to post up away from the ball.  You might say, “that’s dumb.” Well, maybe it is because players haven’t been taught how to take advantage of this opportunity.  Their defender relaxes for a second because they are in help position.  The offensive player recognizes the opportunity and ducks in for an easy catch and finish.

    Keep in mind too that there’s rarely help on the help side.  So let me say it another way.  If you can post up the help-side defender, who is going to help them?  They are already supposed to be helping on the ball side.  Occupying a help side defender by posting them up is a great way to attack defenses.

  • Facing up
    I haven’t had the privilege of coaching a lot of BIG post players.  Most of the time they are undersized.  Drop step, hook shots, up and under moves are all wonderful. I’ll let someone else teach them that if I don’t have time.  I want to teach them to face up.  I want to be able to teach them the same things from the elbow, the mid-post, and the stretch (short corner). Not many players are going to be able to successfully execute back to the basket post moves from the elbow or the stretch.  So in 4 out of the 6 spots, they have to know how to operate facing the basket.  So to me, it makes sense to teach 1 thing 6 times as opposed to 1 thing 4 times and another thing 2 times.  Not to mention now you’re teaching them skills they can use on the perimeter as well.
  • Playing from the Elbow
    It’s important to be able to catch the ball at the elbow and make a play.  This could be a scoring play, whether it’s a shot or a drive.  It could be a high low pass, a pass on a backdoor cut, a skip pass, or a handoff.  This is a great place to attack defense, but it’s also going to get the person with the ball a lot of attention. Can your post players catch it there?  Be strong with it?  Make good decisions with it?  Do a variety of things with it?  This is a hard place to guard players in a 1 on 1 situation.  Not to mention all the other defenders are one pass away when the ball is here.  It’s hard to double because rotations are more difficult. But your players have be able to do something with it when they catch it.
  • Playing from the Stretch (short corner)
    This is not a baseball term. Stretch is less typing than short corner, but it also creates a more concrete idea for players why we would want them there.  To me, attacking from the stretch is much the same as attacking from the elbow.  It’s just that players are used to playing one on one from the foul line, not from the stretch. We treat a catch in the short corner the same as a baseline drive.  This player is going to get a lot of attention, and I bet the shooter in the corner is going to be open.

Posting-Up: Whole

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

The description of Posting-Up from a whole perspective is completely dependent on the rules you prescribe as a coach. There are a series of questions in the last post that you might want to answer to help determine your rules.  You could make rules for individual players or for the whole team.  It’s really up to you.

The method prescribed here is just one of many possibilities and is only one example. Keep in mind that the Part break down will be impacted by these rules too.  Maybe another project will be to create some different scenarios and then diagram them.  Let’s keep it simple for now.  Once we install some other layers, we can get more complicated with the rules.

For the purposes of this scenario, we’re going to set up in a 5 out alignment with the 4 and 5 posting for one pass on any cut.  Let’s see what this looks like using some random combinations of layers. This only includes the layers we’ve covered so far.

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This is just one combination.  A pass in a different direction, or drive in a different direction, or even a different Read Line cut would make this look completely different. This doesn’t include any screens. You could probably go through each diagram and find ways to set one or more screens without a lot of effort.  Notice how we started in a 5 out alignment, went to 4 out 1 in, and were in a 3 out 2 in alignment for a short time before we went back.  If 5 sets a back screen in the last diagram, we’re back to 5 out.  I know we haven’t talked about back screens yet, but this is starting to get interesting.

We’re going to break down this posting-up action and integrate in with the other layers.  Then we’ll come back and look at some different combinations of rules.  Got any rules that you use?  Do you have a combination you’d like to see diagrammed?  Email me or leave a comment.