Pass, Cut, & Fill: Description

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

Pass, Cut and Fill/Read Line is probably the most natural of the layers for players to learn in the Read and React Offense. It is also the stepping stone for many of the advanced layers of the offense.

Many coaches argue that this is the first layer that should be taught to players. I understand their points of view, however, I respectfully disagree.  If you’ve read any of my previous posts about the attack dribble, you know I’m a huge proponent of attacking defenses off the dribble.  Granted this is a weakness for some players. There may be end of game situations where this might not be the best way to play. However, just because I advocate teaching it first, doesn’t mean that I think that passing isn’t important or that it shouldn’t be taught. On the contrary, good offense requires players to pass the basketball.

You may be thinking, “This coach is a real idiot. What kind of basketball coach spends a week playing 1 on 1 when it’s a 5 on 5 game?  There’s no way that team plays together.  How can you run team offense without passing?” You’re partially right.  You can’t.  However, if your team learns to play aggressively, I think they will learn to play better together.  I discussed a few reasons that I believe you teach in this order in an earlier post, here are a few more.

  1.  Passing is “passive”.  (no pun intended)
  2.  We can move right into advanced layers after we cover this layer with no review or breaking of habits.
  3.  Generally players will pick this layer up quickly.

As important as this layer is to the foundation of the offense, it may be the most taken for granted.  While Pass & Cut is the predecessor to most of the advanced layers in the offense, players should still learn to attack defenses with it.  Players can view this layer as a “waste” and just a way to create movement.  However, if players can learn how to pass and cut effectively, even good defense can be exposed.   It is critical that players understand more than just the basic movement.  They must be drilled on quick reactions to defensive positioning in order to maximize the potential benefits of this layer of the offense. They must learn to anticipate when cutters will be open and deliver well timed and well located passes to these cutters.  It will take time for these skills to develop, but through time and repetition these skills will improve.

This layer also generates continuity for the offense.  Previously, players who passed were “out of the drill”. Since we hadn’t taught them what to do when they passed, we just told them that they were out. Running drills with this restriction may still be advantageous in some situations. However, players will now be taught what to do after they pass the ball.

The “attacker” for this layer is always the player who is cutting to the basket, and the receiver will be the player with the ball. However in this layer, the “attack” can be initiated in three different ways.  As a result, this layer has been divided into 3 sub-layers.

BASIC PASS, CUT, & FILL (Passing to players 1 pass away)

For the first sub-layer, the initiator is the person with the ball who passes to a player “1 pass away” from them.  On this pass, the passer becomes the “attacker” by cutting hard to the basket.  The “receiver” must read the attacker’s defender and execute the next action. The player without the ball who is one pass away must fill the open spot that was just vacated. The cutter must fill the open spot that was created by the other players filling the empty spots (at least for now).

In a 5 out alignment, all perimeter players must fill their spots up from the baseline, and all spots will be filled.  (see above)  Of course when multiple actions occur in succession, all 5 spots will not be filled which creates a constantly evolving alignment.

In 3 out and 4 out alignments, players will need to fill the spots that are one pass away. However, these alignments provide more spots than there are players.

As you can see, 1 has the option of going either way.

If 1 goes to the right corner, 5 is isolated in the low post with no help defense in the area.  This is a good way to get a post player the ball.  Lots of good action can be created from this alignment.

1 going to the left corner might provide a more traditional look because the floor is more balanced.  Screening options have not yet been discussed but there are multiple screening options between 1 and 5 if 1 goes to the left corner.  Notice 3 must fill up either way.  If 1 goes to the left corner, he/she is NOT required to fill up to the next open spot.  The player can fill if they want, or if the coach tells them to.  (see below)

As more layers in the offense are covered, players will be begin to learn the advantages of leaving spots open that are more than one pass away as well as filling up all the open spots.

Players must learn that spots that are one pass away must be filled. However, be period of time between a player receiving the ball and the players filling is important.Ball handlers should be shown that the time between when a person cuts and the next player fills is a prime opportunity to use the North-South dribble to get into the lane.  In this situation, the cutter is occupying the first line of help defense with their cut and the next help defender may not yet be in position.

This first sub-layer creates significant other options for teams. However, we must talk about the other two sub-layers first.


The second sub-layer is also initiated by the player with the ball by making a skip pass to a player “2 or more passes away”.  In this case, the “attacker” becomes the player 1 pass away from the ball or the player who was “skipped.”  The attacker cuts hard to the rim and the player without the ball closest to the open spot fills that spot.  This parallels the first sub-layer closely.  The only difference being that the passer does not become the attacker.

This places the defender who was 1 pass away in a precarious position.  A good cut by 2 (in this situation) will give them an advantage on their defender.


The third sub-layer is initiated by a player without the ball and introduces the concept of the “Read Line.”  The “Read Line” establishes the collegiate 3-point line as a landmark.  If a player’s defender, who is “one pass away”, steps on or over this line, the offensive player immediately cuts to the basket.  The perimeter player without the ball closest to the open spot fills that spot. If overplayed, the Read Line action is initiated again.  The player who is being denied should time their cut back door so that the ball handler can see them making the cut. If the ball handler is not looking at them, they should wait until the ball handler sees them before they cut back door.

Each of these backdoor cuts opens up driving lanes for the ball handler.  With this type of constant movement, it is difficult for any defense to maintain denial positioning and at the same time take away open backdoor and driving opportunities. This layer will rarely be used against sagging defenses, but it is very good for the release of pressure and as a way to create off ball movement.

As players become proficient at executing this sub-layer, they will begin to realize when they are being overplayed on other areas of the court regardless of the “read line”.  This advanced read will come as a result of the natural reaction that has been taught by using this sub-layer. Players will learn to evaluate the positioning of the defensive player and react appropriately no matter where they are on the court, which is a valuable skill against pressing, trapping and intensely aggressive defenses. The more difficult responsibility lies on the passer to recognize this open cutter quickly and make a good pass to them in what might be a small space.

Cutters must cut to the basket, not away from the basket, or away from the ball.  Cutters who cut without a purpose are easy to defend and are not taking full advantage of the opportunity that the cut provides. We are close to discussing all the different options that a cutter has, which will quickly add complexity to the offense in a very simple way.

The passer must learn to make passes at different points during the cut based on the position of the defense.  The cutter could be open at different times during the cut.  The most difficult pass for the passer to learn to make is the pass early in the cut.  In many cases the cutter is open, but the passer hasn’t learned yet to recognize this advantage quickly enough.  This is the pass that is most often open because of poor reaction or positioning by the defense.

The cutter may also be open late in the cut.  This is after the offensive players have filled their spots and the defense has rotated as a result.  Many times defenders relax once they have defended the cutter initially.  Offensive players who can get the defender on their back may be able to seal and look for the lob pass over the top of the defense.  Passers must also be looking for this opportunity.  Passers have a tendency to forget about the cutter if they are not open initially.  Passers must be made aware of this opportunity and must be trained and encouraged to make the pass to the cutter late in the cut.

Likewise, players must also be comfortable making and catching various types of passes depending on the defense’s position.  A pass to a cutter will cause similar reactions by the defense as a penetrating player.  The cutter must practice catching the ball on a jump stop in anticipation of being required to react quickly without traveling when the defense collapses. This reaction might mean a strong move to the basket, but it could also mean a kick out to a perimeter player or a pass to a post player.

It must be emphasized that every player who makes a pass must cut to the basket. Even in drills where the passer passes to a cutter for a layup, it must become habitual that the passer cuts to the basket.  This serves the purpose of the passer being in better position to rebound any misses by the cutter.

In a 4 out 1 in alignment, cutters must recognize the location of the post player and cut away from them if the post player is in the low or mid post.  As future layers are added, a post player playing in the high post has the freedom to set screens for cutters in the high post.  Likewise, perimeter players who cut will eventually have the freedom to set screens for the post players or other perimeter players after their cut. These options will be covered later in the offense, but can only be used if perimeter players follow Pass & Cut properly.

If players understand the Foundational Layers of the offense, they are now able to compete at a fundamental level against any type of man-to-man defense.  They are also able to work on any defensive concept except for screening actions.  If players can execute these fundamental defensive principles, defending screens will be much easier for players to learn and master.

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