Combining Actions Part I: Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Pass & Cut

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Combining Actions

We’ve covered all aspects of the Attack Dribble, including Circle Movement, the Baseline Drive Adjustment, and Post Slides. Then we talked about the Dribble-At action.  We just finished talking about Pass, Cut, and Fill to a player 1 pass away.  This is a lot of stuff.  The rules are simply stated.  Applying these simple rules can prove to be just as difficult as the rules are simple.

By now, you’ll realize that players can execute single actions fairly well.  If we’re executing a 2 on 0 Attack Dribble action, they can probably execute it correctly. Of course they can.  That’s all they have to think about. They know the player is going to attack.  All they have to do is rotate correctly.  The same goes for any other single action. Well just like it’s easy for offensive players to execute when they know what the ball handler is going to do, it is also just as easy for defensive players to stop something when they know it’s coming.

There are two important qualities that determine how difficult this offense is to defend.  These are the two factors that will be the most challenging for coaches to overcome. The first is unpredictability of actions. Offensive players must be ready to execute and react to any action. A ball handler who is predictable is easy to guard. A versatile ball handler will be more difficult to defend.  Also this type player will force his or her teammates to be versatile in their execution of reactions. The better players are at reacting to individual actions, the more difficult they will be to defend.  If the defense is in a constant state of reaction to the ball handler, the offense will have the advantage.  If an offense allows a defense to dictate everything action they perform, the defense will have the advantage.

The second quality is the ability for players to execute consecutive actions at full speed. Even if a defense has no idea what’s coming, a decent defense will be able to stop one action.  A decent defense might able to defend 3 or 4 actions.  Eventually, even a good defense is going to have trouble defending multiple consecutive actions if these actions are executed at full speed.  However, this can be very challenging for offensive players.


A player passes, cuts, then fills out.  All of a sudden someone drives and kicks it out.  So they have to stop their fill and rotate.  The person who received the kick out realizes their defender isn’t going to close out soon enough and they drive.  Now the driver has to react as does the player who just had to stop their fill and rotate. Of course the other players have to react as well.

Five players moving at the same time seems like chaos.  Well to defense it is.  Initially the offense is going to look chaotic.  Well it would if you tried to play with 5 players at one time.  I wouldn’t recommend it yet. You need to combine actions first. What does this look like?

That’s what the next post will cover.  I will start by designating specific actions in a specific order.  Then I will generalize to the point where players have the freedom to choose the actions.  For the sake of conciseness, I will keep defense out of the building blocks in the next few posts.  I will reserve that for another post.  The biggest reason?  Things are about to multiply exponentially. You could say they are about to be out of control, chaotic, and overwhelming. I wouldn’t argue with you. Your players probably think so. In reality, they aren’t that complicated.  They just have to follow their rules.

This is where we really get to be coaches. Before, we were teachers.  We were teaching fundamentals.  We were teaching skills.  We were teaching concepts. We can’t stop being teachers.  We will always be teachers.  However, now we can be coaches.  We get to start being creative.  This is where things get really fun.  This is where the discussions can really begin.

OK.  OK. I know you’re ready.  Ready, Set, GO!!!!


Combining Actions Part II: The Draft Drive (2 player building blocks)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Combining Actions

We have already combined the same action back to back.  Back to back attack dribbles.  Back to back Dribble-Ats.  Those combinations are still relevant and useful.  Players must still know how to react to those combinations.  These combinations should still be drilled.

However, combinations of unlike layers should also be covered. When drilling different actions in 2 player building blocks, the Attack Dribble must be the last action for two reasons.  If it’s the first action, the receiver has no one to dribble-at or pass to.  No perimeter actions can follow the attack dribble for the same reason in a 2 player drill. This fact actually bothers me.

I believe it is critical to teach players that possessions do not have to end when a player attacks.  It must be reinforced that the attack dribble is just as much of a way to run offense as passing.  With only two players on the floor, they have limited options.  However, once three players are on the court, actions can occur in any order.  Also, actions can be repeated as often or as little as desired.  A player may only have one player to pass to, but they should always be able to execute any of the fundamental actions.

We’ll start with the most basic combination of actions: the Draft Drive.

The Draft Drive

The Draft Drive is one of the most simple and useful combination of unlike actions in the offense. It is created anytime there is a cut to the basket without the use of a screen.  When a cut is made, a driving lane is created for the ball handler.  Let’s review quickly the four ways a cut can be made by a perimeter player.

1.  After a pass
2. After a player Dribbles-At another player
3. After a skip pass
4. After a Read Line cut

We must constantly emphasize that players cut hard and without delay.  We must demand their cuts be to the rim.  We must demand that players finish their cuts. Cuts that do not meet these criteria do not create optimal driving opportunities. Here is a video clip of a draft drive.  The player with the ball drives right behind the player who just cut.

These are the most basic ways to achieve a draft drive opportunity.  The next post will look at 3 player combinations.

There are two things missing from this post.
1.  Diagrams
2.  Defensive stuff (These posts are getting long enough.  I will talk about defense separately.)


Combining Actions Part III: The Power of 3 Player Building Blocks

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Combining Actions

The 2 player building blocks have their place and their purpose.  They are great for putting a couple actions together and drilling the actions and reactions of the offensive players. They are good for teaching skills and concepts related to individual and team defense.  They are also good for drilling fundamental skills that are tied to these actions.

However, the game is played with 5 players on the court.  We have to get there eventually. In theory, you could put 5 players on the court right now and they have all the tools they need to execute basic offense.  If defense is taught in concert with the offense, then the team should have a general idea of team defense as well.  They have been drilled in all of the basic perimeter actions and how to defend them. They won’t be perfect yet, but I would recommend a little more patience. They might have played 5 on 5, but everything has been very controlled. We don’t want to let them loose quite yet.  Let’s take that next step….

The use of 3 player building blocks provides an excellent teaching and learning environment. Placing 3 offensive players in a building block significantly increases the number of options that players have for the actions and reactions they must execute.  For a team that will play with 2 post players, 3 player building blocks complete the perimeter part of the offense. The third player automatically makes the reactions less predictable and as a result increases the difficulty of properly executing offense correctly.  It’s also easier for one coach to keep track of three players, while providing game like situations for players to be able to learn. It also provides the opportunity for players to focus on what they are doing without worrying so much about what their teammates are doing.  It is also still feasible for coaches to dictate the order of actions of players with three of them on the court (although I would not recommend this).  I’ll explain.

For a 3 player 3 action drill, there are approximately 27 different combinations of basic actions with the layers that have been installed. When you consider that the actions could go left or right, the combinations increase.  When you consider that players have the option to fill to the left or right, combinations increase.  If you consider the baseline drive a different action from a non-baseline drive, the number increases anytime the ball is on the wing or corner. If you consider the skip pass or the read line layers as separate layers, that adds complexity as well.

There are also other variables to consider.  The timing of the actions adds variability.  A draft drive will generate a post slide.  A delayed drive will create circle movement.  The starting points of the ball and players add more variation.  We can really complicate things for players or we can make it simple. It’s all about how we teach it.

Coaches can try to control each of these variables, or they can let the players control some or all of them.  The coach must carefully consider what they are trying to accomplish in designing drills from these building blocks. How these drills are designed and implemented will impact how the players play the game.

My recommendation:  Give the players rules to follow and let them play.  

Here are a few options.  This list is far from comprehensive.

1. Execute any 3 (or 4 or 5 or 6) actions.
2. This possession must include at least 1 (or 2 or 3 or 4) of a specific action.
3. A certain action is not allowed in this possession.
4. The ball must change sides of the court 2 (or 3 or 4 times).
5. The ball must stay on the left side of the court for this possession.
6. All actions must be executed in pairs.
7. No action can be executed a second time.
8. Everyone must execute a certain action before the possession is over.
9. Execute actions but #11 can’t touch the ball.
10. Every other action must be a certain action.

Now try combining some of these rules. Things can get interesting really quickly. What does this do?

It gives the players something else to think about.  They are supposed to be focused on the ball handler. Until now, that’s all they have been forced to think about.  In a game, there are other things to think about besides the ball handler, namely the defense.  While there’s nothing like putting defense on the floor against the offense, you can make the offense think without defense being there. The abilities of your players will dictate which of these rules you will implement.

If we try to teach every possible combination of actions, we would drive ourselves crazy and our players would think that they have to remember every one step by step.  Instead, let players make decisions.  If you want them to make a certain decision, construct rules that encourage certain decisions.  If a player makes a mistake, the question should be asked in some form, “What happened with the ball?”  That dictates what the player without the ball should do. This is tougher for more experienced players.  They tend to want to worry about the actions of other players more than they should.

You can put defense on the floor and play with the same rules. There are additional rules you can install. You can choose to let the defense know what the offense is doing or not.  There are advantages to both.  All this is with only 3 players.  You can really create a lot of variety in what you do while at the same time work on the same habits and fundamentals on both sides of the ball.

This is really fun.  Ok at least to me it is.  I would love comments on different rules that you use or that you come up with.

I’m in the middle of drawing up some of those 3 player building blocks.  My next post will include diagrams of these combinations.  I hope to get that posted this week.

Part IIa: Limitations of 2 player building blocks

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Combining Actions

Two player building blocks have significant limitations. Combining actions with two players is important in building foundational layers of the offense. They are good for teaching fundamental skills in coordination with team concepts.  However, there are limits to their effectiveness.

One important point is that multiple actions must be strung together to execute successful offense. Secondly, defenses must learn to defend multiple actions as well.

Two player building blocks do not allow for more than 2 actions to be combined. The timing of the third and fourth actions is poor.  So while 2 player building blocks and drills are important to the instruction of offense, they are not the only part of the solution. Similarly while they can be used to teach defense, they do not lend to building strong defense. Defenses must learn to defend multiple actions.

A strict adherence to 2 player building blocks can create a number of different issues.  One issue is that players begin to think that they are supposed to be able to score after only 1 or 2 actions.  Offense will look more like quick hitters more than it will look like any type of continuity.  While that may be ok if good shots are being created, it may not be the best approach all the time.

Notice that in the list of 2 player building blocks, anytime an attack dribble is used, it can’t be followed by anything else.  There is already a notion that attacking off the dribble will end the possession.  While this may be true in some instances, it is important to me that players see attacking off the dribble as part of offense.  It isn’t the end of offense. Why can’t good passing end offense just as much as dribble penetration?

Let’s think about this from a defensive perspective as well.  How many defenders stop to watch a ball handler drive? They are stopping to watch the highlight.  They are hoping the possession is almost over so that they can go play offense.  As a result, they are probably going to be slow on a rotation and not ready to rebound.  As we teach defense, dribble penetration must take priority. Our teams must learn to defend the ball. If we do a good job of defending the ball, the possession will continue.  Defenders must learn to continue to defend no matter what action occurs.

Pin Screen: Combining actions

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Combining Actions

The pin screen may or may not result directly in a scoring opportunity. As a result, teams must be able to combine actions with the pin screen to maximize on the opportunity.  The pin screen can quickly shift the defense and create opportunities for the ball handler, perimeter cutter or post player take advantage of the defense if it did not react appropriately. The pin screen must be followed by actions and proper reactions to fully take advantage of any defensive breakdowns.

So what could happen next following a pin screen if the receiver doesn’t shoot (but maybe even if they do)?

  1.  They could drive. If the receiver’s defender closes out poorly, they should look to attack. They can attack either baseline or middle. On either drive, the other four players should react to the drive appropriately.
  2. If the receiver doesn’t have an opportunity to attack, the player who screened could be open if they have sealed their defender well.  If the pin screener is a good post option, this is a great way to get the ball inside.
  3. Remember the rule on any skip pass is that the player who is one pass away from the receiver becomes the cutter.  It is possible that there are no players 1 pass away, in which case there would not be a cutter.  However, if there is a cutter, there is a good chance this player will be open.

4. What if the screener is not a good post up option? The coach may decide to have the screener go to the other side of the floor. This creates more space for the drive, potential cutters as well as another pin screen opportunity. Having this player on the weak side also provides a weak side rebounder on any shot attempt.

Below is one example of a possession that combines actions in different ways.  This possession starts with a pin screen and incorporates a total of 4 pin screens.  Each one will be explained as we progress through the possession.
Page 366

The possession starts with the post player on the weak side. The post player finds 4’s defender in help and pins her in.  4 hears the pin screen call and slides down to line up with 1 and 5. This helps set up the pin screen and increases the closeout time for 4’s defender.







Page 367When the screen is set, 1 skips the ball to 4. In this situation, 5 isn’t going to be a good post option.  Maybe they didn’t have good position or maybe they thought 4 might shoot it so they wanted to be ready for the weak side rebound.  In this situation, 3 decided not to cut since they weren’t exactly one pass away from 4 when the pass was made.  It wouldn’t be wrong for 3 to cut. In fact they would probably be open, but let’s just say for now that they didn’t.  Instead 1 and 3 just fall in their spots.  Notice that 2 does not fill in. It would not be wrong for 2 to fill, but since 2 is more than 2 passes away, this is acceptable (and probably preferred).

5 decides to set another pin screen on their way to the other side of the floor, because 2’s defender sprinted hard to the midline into help position.



Page 368


So now on 5’s second pin screen 2 lines up with 4 and 5. 4 recognizes the pin screen call and skips the ball to 2. Again in this instance, 2 doesn’t have a good shot or drive opportunity.  Again there is no player 1 pass away from 2 so there is no cutter. If 1 wanted to cut that would not be wrong.  But let’s say again that 1 and 3 just fill.


Against man to man defense, it’s very likely that something would have happened by now, but let’s assume the defense is closing out really well and the offense has to work some more.



Page 369
5 again slides to the other side of the lane and find 4’s defender again.







Page 370
Again the pin call is made and 2 skips the ball to 4.







Page 371

Now something a little different is about to happen. 3 is definitely one pass away this time so that is an automatic basket cut.  If 5 can recognize it quickly enough, maybe they can set a back screen for them as they go by.  1 fill in but again 2 stays because the one pass away spot is already filled.






Page 372


3 finds 2’s defender helping on the action in the lane and pins that player again. 2 lines up with 3 and 4 and readies for the skip pass.








Page 373
Maybe 3 has a mismatch in the post and so 3 decides to stay in the post and seal after the skip pass.  1 fills again back to the other side of the floor.






Page 3742 realizes that the defender doesn’t closeout well this time and attacks baseline.  4 becomes the pitch option. 1 becomes the safety option. 3 and 5 fill the 90 and 45 degree windows.







Is it normal to set 4 pin screens in a possession?  That depends on the defense and how you coach your team. Is it likely that each of these 4 options will in some way, shape or form occur over the course of a game? Definitely.

The pin screen is an excellent tool to create offense for your team. Can your players throw a good skip pass?