Spacing has been discussed multiple times on this blog.
- The Simplicity of the Game
- Skills and Abilities: Offensive Philosophy Part 2
- Teaching Basketball Players to Play the Game
- 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.
- What is good spacing?
- Why is good spacing important?
- 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.