Part I: The Purpose

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

The purpose of this blog is to provide a detailed progression of how to install a complete offensive and defensive system for any basketball team. Much of these thoughts were initially based on Coach Rick Torbett’s Read and React offense. Over the years, it has evolved into a description of experiences in how to teach the game. It is a result of success and failure.  It is ever changing.  I hope to provide a holistic approach to teaching the game of basketball.  The better we teach the game, the better our players will learn it.

Extensive experience, research, and conversations have led to the development of the philosophies and practices discussed in this blog.  Lessons are still being learned and will be incorporated into this ever-changing documentation of coaching and playing the game. However, the foundation of this philosophy is rooted in the basics of the game. This approach is designed to be holistic, progressive, and aggressive. It is meant to teach offense and defense from the ground up, in a way that provides players and teams a path towards success.

There are a few problems I’m trying to solve. How can we better teach the game?  How can we grow our game?  How can we help our players quickly adapt to any situation they face? How can we daily mold our philosophy to more types of players with fewer changes in what we teach?  How can we teach offense and defense at the same time?  How can we get more done with less time?  How can we be great defensively and still be good offensively?

I have taken the Read and React and made some modifications. The more I coach players, watch players be coached, and observe the game in general, there are certain trends that I see in how players play on both ends of the floor. This has helped form my definition which is as follows:

The Read and React offense is a layered collection of offensive basketball concepts that give players with the ball the freedom and players without the ball the structure necessary to generate scoring opportunities in an unpredictable yet organized and coordinated manner.

I have taken this framework and am working to create a way for coaches to be better.  I want to provide a resource that will help coaches no matter what they run.  It’s not about Read and React.  It’s about the game.  It’s about teaching and playing the game of basketball better.

The layers that make up the offense provide the opportunity for coaches to implement a variety of different offensive strategies, while continuing to keep everyone on the same page.  The first few layers are basic in some way to most any offensive system.  The mastery of these basic layers will provide numerous scoring opportunities for teams at all levels.  At the same time, as defenses become more advanced, additional layers can be added to help keep defenses off balance and provide additional options for attacking them.

This style of offense is amazingly simple in its design, allowing players to naturally utilize their strengths and hide their weaknesses while at the same time providing a cohesive framework for the team to function.  However, this simplicity does not imply that players will be able to execute it immediately. Execution of the offense still requires breakdown and consistent practice. This practice can occur during individual skill development or in team practices. Repetitions can occur during offensive or defensive segments. Whole practices can be designed around the offense for any type of player for any type of game plan or philosophy.

When executed properly, fundamental offense will expose poor defensive habits in your team as well as your opponent. Fundamental offense will also expose individual offensive weaknesses and provide a tool for improving both offensive and defensive skills. It is up to the coach to determine how they spend their time.

While many coaches try to tailor their offensive playbook to their team’s strengths and weaknesses, teaching players to play offense naturally takes advantages of those strengths and can hide those weaknesses.  Now coaches can focus more time on devising defensive strategies for their teams, while players use their natural individual abilities in a coordinated manner to find scoring opportunities as a team.  The breakdown of these defensive strategies fits in with the design of the offense in such a way that allows each layer of offense and defense to be taught in an order and progression that builds a team’s whole system logically.  This allows coaches to be more organized and efficient with limited practice time.

Since we’re teaching OFFENSE, as opposed to AN OFFENSE, players can use these same engrained habits in pick-up games anywhere they are.  Teams and individuals can always practice team offense even if coaches aren’t around. It gives players structure for pick up games that still lets them “just play.”

Also, the concepts are easily transferable from one player to another. Coaches may have to hammer the little details, but at least the players can have a general idea of how the offense works going into practice. Knowing the offense is very simple.  Executing it takes time and repetition.

Here’s Part II of the introduction: “Why Change?

Part II: Why Change?

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

Admittedly, the R&R is a significantly different style of basketball from traditional systems. While the change may seem difficult at first, it is liberating and powerful for players and coaches. There are numerous advantages to playing this style of basketball.

  1. Emphasis on Offensive Team Fundamentals
    1. Spacing
    2. Player Movement
    3. Ball Movement
  2. Coaching Advantages
    1. Compression of time frames in practice
    2. Provides framework for developing strengths and weaknesses
    3. Ability to use the same drills to teach offense and defense
  3. Player Advantages
    1. Allows players to take advantage of their strengths
    2. Hides players weaknesses
    3. Allows players to make plays
    4. Reduces need for a specific type of player
    5. Reduces what players have to think about
  4. Competitive Advantages
    1. Unpredictable movement
    2. Constant movement
    3. Incorporates any offensive concept
    4. Works against any defense 

Offensive Qualities

Spacing, ball movement, and player movement are the three most important qualities in any offense.  Playing offense in this way has these three qualities inherently.  There is no hoping that your offense has these qualities. If your teams stick to the very basic teaching points that you repeat every day, they will be spaced.  They will move the ball, and they will move themselves.  In fact, it becomes difficult for them not to play offense without these three most critical qualities.

Coaching Advantages

As a coach, I always think we need to cover more information.  Practice is never long enough.  We always feel like we need to spend more time working on something. The R&R doesn’t change that feeling, but it does allow us to cover more in that time than we could traditionally.  Skill development occurs every day. It becomes part of the same drills that are used to teach the offense.  Defensive drills are the same drills that we use to teach the offense. The drills don’t have to change. All that we have to change is the emphasis depending on what we’re trying to work on. The number of drills that we can run is long as well. If one drill gets “boring,” there are plenty more that we can use to teach skills or team concepts.  Regardless, every time we do a drill, we are working on some aspect of the offense, even though that may not be the emphasis.  Habits are slowly being created every day as we repeat the layers over and over again.

Player Advantages

This style of play allows players to use their strengths to be successful.  A shooter can find ways to get open shots.  Numerous driving opportunities will be created for penetrators.  Versatile players can take advantage of mismatches that may occur.  Post players can play to their own strengths without having to worry about their weaknesses.  The highly skilled players will have more success in this offense. However, even one-dimensional players can find success in the R&R without the coach having to make special accommodations for that player. Less skilled players can also find a role.

It’s unlikely that a championship team can be comprised solely of role players. The R&R doesn’t change the fact that talent matters. However, different kinds of talent can work with the R&R. Teams don’t need to have a specific composition to be successful in the R&R.  They can all have similar skill sets or they can all be different.  Each player is able to do what they do well, while the offense will continue to function. The more talented a player is the more they will be able to take advantage of what the R&R offers.

Basketball IQ is not required to play this style of offense. Although the offense’s name starts with the word “READ”, the reads are simple and the reactions are predicated.  If the player passes, they cut to the basket.  This is a habit that can be drilled.  If a player attacks the basket to the right, the other players rotate in the same direction.  Again this is a very simple read and a very basic habit that can be drilled until it is instinct.  No thought process is involved.  Again a high IQ player will be able to use that IQ to take better advantage of the opportunities that the offense will create.  However, a high basketball IQ is not required for the offense to work.

As players spend more time in the offense, their IQ will grow. When certain actions become habit, they begin to see other options that the offense gives them.  As coaches, we can dictate that certain players do certain things if they don’t do it on their own, if we think it is important for them to do so. We can foster the development of their IQ, but it is not a requirement for the offense to work.

Competitive Advantages

This style of play is very unpredictable.  Players have significant freedom to make the offense work.  Coaches can add rules to the offense as they deem necessary.  However, in it’s purest form, players follow their trained habits until a scoring opportunity is found.  Since the offense is always moving, defenses must continue to work to defend it.  There are very few breaks for defenses against the R&R.  Especially if the offense is looking to be aggressive, one small slip up by the defense will likely lead to an open scoring opportunity.

This helps make drills less predictable as well. Have you ever been in practice and the drills aren’t very game like? How much of that is because when players have the ball, they feel restricted to certain actions? What if players felt more freedom in drills because this is how they are encouraged to play? Your defense will improve because they won’t be able to easily predict what’s about to happen.

The offense also incorporates any offensive concept that a coach prefers. A well oiled R&R team would be able to emphasize specific actions for a certain opponent based on their defensive strategies.  They would be able to employ different concepts as needed.  Regardless, the R&R will provide numerous scoring opportunities.  It is only up to the players on the court to convert. The R&R is flexible enough to be able to attack any type of defense.  Only a couple small adjustments need to be made in order to play against zone defenses.  The same concepts and principles work against press, trapping, and junk defenses.  Players don’t have to worry about what defense the other team is in.  They just have to follow their rules and they will find ways to score.  Again, the question is can they convert?

So many coaches are worried about being scouted. Please scout us.  Can I send you film? The more time you spend worrying about us, the less time you’re focused on your team. We don’t know what is going to happen from one possession to another.  Actually, I am pretty sure what’s going happen.  We are going to be spaced, we are going to move the ball, and we’re going to move without the ball. We’re either going to get a shot attempt in the lane (over half the time), get an open shot from the perimeter (we pass up as many as we take), get fouled, or we’re going to make an aggressive turnover. I don’t know how that’s going to happen. I don’t really care how it happens. However, I do know that we’re going to find a good scoring opportunity more often than not. This means that if we don’t make our first shot, we’re probably going to be in pretty good offensive rebounding position. The question becomes are we consistently able to put the ball in the basket.

You can tell your team that we run the R&R.  You can scout our tendencies.  You can tell you’re team that we’re aggressive. You can play with 5 defenders in the lane or you can pressure us.  It doesn’t matter.  We’re going to play the way we want. If you have better athletes than us, you may win.  If we have better athletes, then we’ll probably win anyway.  If we’re even athletically, our style of play is going to be tough for anyone to beat. You have to hope that we struggle putting the ball in the basket.

Up Next…..the Importance of Fundamentals….

Part III: Importance of Fundamentals

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

The offensive system and style of play described here are grounded in the individual and team fundamentals of offense.  The fundamentals are the ingredients for success.  They are not the icing on the cake or even prerequisites.  The fundamentals ARE the offense.  Not only is the offense a means to score points in game situations, it also becomes a conduit for improving players’ weaknesses on both ends of the floor.

The complication of the system is not in its individual layers, but in the habitual execution of the fundamentals required.  The list of offensive fundamentals is quite long.  When defensive fundamentals are added to this last, the list becomes longer.  As a result, an organized and detailed plan is needed for the organized and progressive instruction of all skills required to be a good player and to build a good team with the Read & React.

Players and teams who are strong fundamentally will pick up the offensive concepts quickly and will enjoy playing this way.  Players and teams who are not fundamentally strong may struggle initially in the proper execution of this style of play.  The team concepts of spacing, floor balance, and movement, along with the individual skills of ball handling, passing, cutting, and footwork are required in order to run this offense successfully. Naturally, they are required to run any offense successfully.  The great thing about the Read and React is that the fundamentals are all that is needed to make this offense work. The offense allows coaches to teach these fundamentals with every repetition of every drill.

The success of the offense relies on the habitual execution of fundamental skills. Changing habits is tough and can take a long time.  Whether these habits are learned habits or bad habits, if they are not in line with the Read and React, they must be changed in order to implement this offense.  The habits and instincts that constitute the Read and React can take time to learn. Just as every player learns math at a different pace, the same will apply to these habits. However, they are all habits that do not take any kind of special ability and can be learned through consistent proper repetition.

These same fundamentals that players must execute offensively must also be defended in order for teams to have success.  Regardless of a coach’s defensive philosophy, a coach can use the Read & React system to teach defensive concepts and fundamental skills as well. The lack of predictability in the offense helps prepare defenses for opponent’s offenses. Defending an unpredictable offense in practice makes defending a predictable offense in games easier.

Careful and detailed teaching methods must be used to reinforce the importance of the basic fundamentals to the success of the offense.  Consistent offensive success in the Read & React will not occur based solely on player positioning and movement.  Offensive success is achieved through the consistent execution of offensive fundamentals in conjunction with specific movements and positioning.

When coaches are teaching these fundamentals, the offense is being taught.  Coaches don’t have to teach the fundamentals and go back and teach the offense.  They can and should be taught together.  While these fundamentals should be taught in any offensive system, many coaches stress the movements and positioning of the offense instead of the offensive fundamentals required to execute the offense.  When implemented properly, this offense will improve the skills of your players as well as the effectiveness of your team.

I know you’re waiting for some R&R details. We get started in Part IV, “The Basics.”

Part IV: The Basics

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

Let’s talk about some of the basics of this offensive style of play. Players can start in a 5-out, 4-out 1-in, or 3-out 2-in alignments.  The 3-out and 5-out alignments use the same spots for player landmarks.  The spots in a 4 out are very similar except that the top spot is split into two. As a result, in a traditional 4-out set, there are 6 possible spots in the offense. The adjustment to the 4 out spots from a 5 out alignment is not difficult with proper repetition. Some coaches use the 5 out spots in a 4 out alignment to simplify the teaching. There are advantages to both methods. I prefer using the traditional 4 out spots.

Each of these perimeter spots is at least 1 step and at most 3 steps behind the college 3-point line. Successful execution of all of the layers of the offense requires that players work from these areas.

In order to streamline the implementation of the Read & React Offense, the teaching progression and all drills assume a 5 out configuration initially. Your team may use a 3 out 2 in or 4 out 1 in as its primary set. Once players understand the offense from a 5 out configuration, the adjustments to a 4 out 1 in or 3 out 2 in set are fairly minor.

The layers of the offense have been organized into 5 groups.

  1. Dribbling Layers
    1. Attack Dribble (Circle Movement and Baseline Drive)
    2. Post Slides Basic
    3. Dribble At
    4. Power Dribble**
    5. Circle Reverse**
    6. Post Slides Advanced (Circle Movement)**
  2. Passing Layers
    1. Pass, Cut & Fill (One Pass Away, Read Line, Skip Pass)
    2. Post Pass Basic (Laker Cuts)
    3. Zone Adjustment (Hook & Look)*
    4. Post Pass Advanced (Relocate, X-Cut)**
  3. Next Best Actions
    1. Posting Up
    2. Back Screens*
    3. Multiple Screens**
    4. Corners**
    5. Pin & Skip*
  4. Post Screening Actions
    1. Ball Screens*
    2. Weak Side Off Ball Screens (Pin Screens)*
    3. Ball Side Off Ball Screens*
  5. Team Concepts
    1. Transition**
    2. Press Break**
    3. Changing Alignments**

The asterisks (*) denote “advanced layers.” The double asterisks (**) are high level layers. The basic dribbling and passing layers must be taught to all players. They must also be taught before the other layers are taught.

Some of the layers apply only to perimeter players.  These are colored in GREEN Other layers require a combination of post and perimeter player interaction. These are colored in BLUE. The last group of actions is team concepts that integrate each of the other layers.

Perimeter players are players who are on the perimeter when an action occurs, not just “guards.”  Post players are players who are in the lane when the action occurs, not just “post players.”

Any player could be on the perimeter or in the post at any given time.  A player’s role can change from one to the other in a matter of a couple seconds. It is important that all players are able to react from either position. Players will be taught to react properly from perimeter positions first. Then they will be taught how to react from the post.

Foundational layers are layers that are necessary to execute offense. Each of them is predicated on the action of the ball handler.  While some of the supplemental layers are dictated by the action of the ball handler, players without the ball initiate some of the supplemental layers. The fundamental layers will be taught in the following order.

  1. Attack Dribble (Circle Movement & Baseline Drive Adjustment)
  2. Post Slides (Basic)
  3. Dribble-At
  4. Pass, Cut, & Fill (One Pass Away, Read Line, Skip Pass)
  5. Post Pass Basic (Laker Cuts)

From here, the Next Best Action layers can be implemented in any order the coach desires.  If the team is going to play with at least 1 post, the post screening actions can be introduced now as well.

The basic layers are required for a complete workable offense.  Youth teams may not get very far past those layers. However, once those layers are mastered, they will be able to progress to other layers. The advanced layers and high level layers are not requirements, but they should be added as the basic layers have been mastered.

The team concepts are not required either. There are numerous ways for teams to get into movement of the offense. Teams can start with very basic strategies.  The configuration of the offense may change from possession to possession or even within a single possession without the team even realizing it.  Regardless of the configuration, it is critical that players maintain good spacing. Initially, players should strive to play from the predetermined spots, so that proper spacing will be achieved. As players become more accustomed to proper spacing, operating from each of the “spots” is less critical as long as proper spacing is maintained.

You got the WHOLE. Time for a few of the PARTS. “The Breakdown” is next.

Part V: The Breakdown

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

In this blog, each “layer” has its own section dedicated to it.  The section will begin with a description of the layer.  Following the general description will be points of emphasis and fundamentals for the players involved in the reaction.  These points of emphasis should be the primary teaching points as each layer is installed.  The teaching breakdown of each layer follows these points of emphasis including building blocks that can be used to create drills to reinforce the teaching points.

These building blocks could be used as drills.  However, drills should take a number of factors into consideration. Here are three of many important factors:

  1. The number and skill level of players on the team
  2. The number and skill level of coaches on staff
  3. The number of available baskets

Coaches should start with these building blocks and design drills around them. I will be posting a whole bunch of actual drills.  However, any compilation of drills is not all inclusive. There are so many useful variations that will fit other teams better. If coaches understand the building blocks, they can create drills that are better than what I will post, because they will fit the needs of their own team.

However, the building blocks are the keys to building a complete system.  They will follow a logical progression in a Whole Part Whole Methodology.  If defensive concepts can be taught with a specific block, those concepts will be discussed as part of the description for that block.  The specific defensive strategy or philosophy is mutually exclusive from the offense.  However, all defensive strategies have certain concepts that must be taught.  The drills used to teach the offense can be used to teach many defensive concepts as well.

The whole part whole method is used for teaching each individual layer.  Significant time does not need to be spent on the initial “whole” segment. However, it is important that players see the big picture prior to the breakdown of the layer so that the smaller parts will make sense. Many of the building blocks used to teach the individual layers of the offense can be used to teach other parts of the game as well.  They are great foundations for teaching defensive fundamentals, footwork, ball handling, and a long list of other fundamental skills.

No matter what concept is being emphasized, repetition of the layers is required to make the reactions habitual. If the repetition of fundamentals are the focus, defensive players should be eliminated or be dummy players. If the purpose is to test fundamental skills or to improve on the execution of the offense, the defenders should be live.

For coaches who have time to work with their players in the off season, the building blocks can be used to repeat the habits of the offense with the focus being on their individual fundamental skills.  Once practices start, the same building blocks can be used with the focus being on the team execution of the offensive and defensive strategies.

As a general framework for this implementation plan, introductory building blocks for each layer will include 2 offensive players and 1 action.  As players become comfortable in 2 player single action building blocks, additional offensive players will be added to build the complete picture.  In most cases, it will not take long for players to be able to successfully execute 2 player 1 action scenarios.  These basic building blocks are good for the initial installation of each layer as well as the teaching and repetition of the fundamentals required to make each layer work.  However, they should not be relied upon over time for the improvement of overall offensive execution.

If the goal is to improve offensive execution of the Read and React, it is important to use drills that incorporate multiple layers and multiple actions. This of course means that multiple layers must be installed first.  Once teams can execute the foundational layers effectively, the rest will fall into place fairly easily.  Coaches must emphasize the layers they want their team to employ beyond the basic layers. As one of the advanced layers is mastered, coaches can add another one to the team’s repertoire.

The seamless execution of the combination of layers is something that players must master.  However, players should not be expected to execute a combination of layers until they are able to execute them individually. Youth teams may find that the foundational layers are enough for their complete offensive system.  However, once this foundation has been installed and becomes habit, teams should be able to add optional layers in later years to increase their sophistication.

The execution of combinations of layers can be achieved in a couple of ways.  Some coaches advocate the drilling of preset combinations of layers. This is one approach.  However, this blog will advocate giving the players the freedom to combine layers as they learn them with the expectation that the layers that the players choose to execute be done so properly.  The combinations that they employ should not be predicated in teaching offense. Predicated actions are good ways to teach specific defensive concepts.  However, in order to encourage offensive creativity, execution, and an increase in basketball IQ for players, it is imperative that players are encouraged to create their offense as they go.

There are a few ways to achieve this goal. If I was smarter, I might be able to think of more.

  1. Limit the actions to a certain group of actions.  (Attack Dribble would always be in the mix for me).
    1. You can only Attack Dribble or Dribble At.
    2. You can only Attack Dribble or Pass to the Post.
  2. Give them freedom to do whatever they want but they must include a specific action.
    1. You must set at least 3 back screens.
    2. At least 1 guard and 1 post must set a pin screen.
  3. A certain player must always execute a certain action
    1. Kristen must set a screen for every passer.
    2. Michael must Attack Dribble every possession.
  4. A certain player can never execute a certain action.
    1. Johnny can do anything except Pass & Cut.
    2. Christina can do anything except set a ball screen.


To achieve mastery of the offense, all players must be comfortable executing the offense as perimeter and post players. Players must understand that their role is determined by their location on the court, not the position listed in the media guide. To start teaching the offense, post players must be eliminated. Post players may not spend significant amounts of time on the perimeter and visa versa for perimeter players.  However, it is inevitable that there will be moments where players will need to be play outside of their comfort zone and must be able to react properly.

Any player who enters the lane or the area immediately around the lane is considered a post player.  Players who find themselves outside the 3-point line are considered perimeter players. Skill sets are irrelevant to the label of post or perimeter for offensive purposes.  At any given moment any player could be either a post or perimeter player and must react appropriately.  The majority of the structure for the offense is for perimeter players.

The Read and React only requires that post players react properly to dribble penetration. Coaches may add other rules and requirements for post players. We will get into some of the possibilities for these types of rules later.

So I’ve made two promises: a bunch of drills and types of rules that you might want to set for your posts. That’s all much later. We’re not there yet. Next, we are going to talk a little about using offense to build your defense.

Part VI: Defense

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

Defense is just as important if not more important than offense. It really does win championships. As much passion as I might have about letting players play the game in this style on the offensive end, I am more passionate about the importance of playing good defense. I believe this style of offense gives coaches the opportunity to build a tough defense. The key word here is OPPORTUNITY. Just like the offense creates scoring opportunities for players, it also creates defensive teaching opportunities for coaches. It is up to us to take advantage.

I will not get off on a tangent debating the pros and cons of different defensive systems. That’s for another place and time. All I’m saying is that whatever defensive system or style you choose, teaching offense this way makes teaching defense make sense.  Teaching players how to play offense layer by layer and then teaching them how to defend layer by layer just fits. Now it’s up to us to hold them accountable and up to them to make it happen.

Good defense isn’t going to just happen; coaches have to make players make it happen. We have to demand it, then teach it, and then demand it some more. The best part about this system is the opportunity to collapse time frames and teach defense using the same drills that are being used to teach the offense. We don’t have to make anything up. We just have to take advantage of the OPPORTUNITY that we’re given.

In teaching the offense, defensive players (dummy and live) can and should be added to drills as the coaches deem necessary.  Initially, drills should be done without defense so that players can focus on the skills that make up the layer.  Defense should be added in order to make the offensive drills more game like once players become more comfortable with the offensive skills and concepts being taught.

If we stop there, we are trying to win games instead of championships. We are trying to make players look good for a highlight reel instead of building complete players.  Would you rather have Carmelo Anthony or Scottie Pippen?  Allen Iverson or Rajan Rondo? Amare Stoudomire or Tim Duncan? All of them are great players. Some of them have highlight reels, and some have rings. Jordan and Lebron are special, one of a kind players. To say they haven’t worked hard would be pretty short sited. However, they were blessed something a little more than most. The rest have natural gifts that need development. We must develop the whole player, not just the offensive player. This style of play makes it possible.

Keep in mind, while we are emphasizing defense, players are continuing to build offensive habits and improve on their offensive skills at the same time with each repetition. The opportunity to teach defense is ours.  We must take advantage.

Teaching Defense

The foundational layers provide a framework for teaching basic player-to-player defensive concepts.

  1. Defending the player with the ball
  2. Defending receivers depending on ball and player position and movement
  3. Defending dribble penetration
  4. Defending cuts
  5. Defending the post
  6. Rebounding

Rebounding, which may be the most important concept on the list, can be emphasized in every single drill.  Teams are going to miss over half their shots.  The question is how many chances do they get at a second attempt.

Keeping people out of the lane increases the opportunity that teams will miss shots.  Defending the ball and dribble penetration is critical to good defense.  Attack Dribble is a great way to teach the first three defensive components in the above list, which are all centered around keeping people out of the lane.

Dribble-At and Pass & Cut allow coaches to teach players how to defend cuts and post players as well as parts of the other concepts. Other layers will provide different ways to teach the same defensive concepts.

The “advanced” layers provide the opportunity to teach more advanced defensive concepts. I consider screens an advanced concept in the offense and should be treated as advanced defensive concepts as well.  Players must have a good understanding of on-ball and off-ball defensive concepts related to the foundational layers before they will be able to grasp defending screens. If players can defend the most basic layers, then they will have a much easier time defending more advanced concepts.  Many times, the difficulty that defenses have defending screens is likely a result of poor positioning or communication that was never established in the beginning. If players are talking on defense, and they are in the right position most of the time, defending screens becomes a lot easier.

As each layer is broken down, the opportunity to teach defense will be discussed. Specific techniques or philosophies will be avoided.  I’m not going to get into that discussion right now. I just urge coaches to teach defense and demand it, even if it means your offense might not be as good. I believe that if you take time to teach defense, your offense will benefit more than if you only teach offense.

I know you’re not here to read about defense. So now we’ll head back to offense.

I’ll discuss why it’s important to teach dribbling actions first. Some of you have been asking for this one.

Part VII: 6 Reasons Why Dribbling Actions Are Taught First

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series R&R Intro

Bob Knight once said that he would like to take his guards to an island with 1,000 basketballs and tell them to dribble til there was no air left in the balls so that when they came back they would be tired of dribbling. That’s not an exact quote, but it’s close; you get the idea. He wanted his players to pass the ball. Useless dribbling kills offensive flow and rhythm. There’s no doubt about it.  However, purposeful dribbling is critical to good offensive execution. Dribbling 1,000 basketball around a deserted island would be pretty useless. So I’m right with him, sort of. I would hope they would come back and want to know how to dribble with a purpose.

Many lessons have been learned about how to successfully implement this style of basketball. The biggest lesson learned is in the importance of how the teaching is organized. Teaching players the Attack Dribble layer FIRST is crucial. I would argue this would apply to any style of basketball, but I must stay on task.

Traditionally, offensive systems, sets or plays use passing as their primary foundation.  While good passing is critical to the success of offense, the effective use of the dribble and specifically dribble penetration is just as important. I would go so far as to say that it’s more critical….STAY ON TASK!

It may seem counter intuitive to traditional practice planning to begin installing an offensive system with dribble penetration. That’s ok.  Some traditions need to be broken. I want to be part of changing how things are done. There are numerous reasons why I think we need to start a new tradition in this case. I will discuss 6 of them.

Reason #1:

Coach Torbett discusses that reacting to dribble penetration is the most difficult reaction for players to learn. Experience and research shows this to be true. Innately, most players penetrate looking to score.  As a result, players without the ball tend to become fans for a moment. They “sit on their couch” and hope to be able to say they were on the floor when so and so made the highlight reel. That doesn’t work very well for me.

Good offense is designed to create scoring opportunities for the 4 players without the ball as much as the player with the ball.  It must be instilled early and reinforced often that players who drive should be looking to create scoring opportunities for themselves as well as their teammates.  Similarly, players without the ball must be moving in order to provide the attacker passing lanes and create scoring opportunities for themselves.  The person with the ball will almost always receive more defensive attention than the other 4 players without it.  Therefore, training the players without the ball to take advantage of this defensive trend will cause defensive breakdowns and lead to numerous scoring opportunities.

Reason #2:

While this initial point is true, there are better and more important reasons to start with this layer. Teaching the attack layer first forces players to struggle initially. Yes, I am ok with my team struggling in the beginning, because they will be more successful in the end.

It sounds so easy; “drive right, rotate right.” Yet they get on the court, and they either stand still or rotate the wrong way. How can something easy be so hard? I don’t know but it is.  This clues them in on day 1 that they must dial in mentally.

On the flip side, players pick up Pass & Cut pretty easily. Teaching pass & cut first gives players a confidence that the layers are “easy” to learn.  Starting with the most difficult layer immediately clues players in that while the Attack Dribble layer may seem simple in words, the execution of it takes practice. Players will be more tuned in and approach the other layers with a higher level of focus, because that first layer was tough to learn. They should always be practicing the execution of the attack dribble layer.

Then as the easier layers are added, their confidence will consistently grow. Teaching Pass & Cut first will create confidence in the beginning only to be brought down by frustration later.  It is better to experience frustration in the beginning as opposed to end.

Reason #3:

Also, it is critical that players are taught starting with an aggressive approach.  Teaching Pass & Cut first will lead to the following…

“Oh look at us, coach.  Don’t we look good passing the ball around the perimeter and cutting to the basket? We have this offense down.  We are ready to play.”


It may look “pretty”, but watch your players. How many of them looked to find the next person to pass to first, instead of looking at the rim? Watch teams who run through their offensive sets 5 on 0.  How many of them have their eyes on the rim ready to shoot or attack on every catch? It will carry over to games. Players will miss opportunities to attack defense that was out of position for a moment. Now the defense has recovered.

Players should always be taught to look at the basket when they get possession of the ball.  They should always evaluate their options to score and attack as well as any options that might exist around the basket. Teaching other layers first takes the players’ eyes away from the basket, leading them to miss scoring opportunities.

Is attacking off the dribble as “pretty” as passing?  Maybe not. But we’re trying to score, regardless of how pretty it is.  Do players attack on every catch?  Of course not. Is the defense thinking that they might?  You better believe it.  Advantage offense.

Reason #4:

In my opinion, the biggest reason to start teaching offense with attacking the basket has nothing to do with offense and everything to do with defense.  If other teams can’t stop the player with the ball, then there is no need for any other layer.  And defensively, if teams can’t guard the ball, then there’s no need to worry about defending players without the ball.  If defenses can make teams pass at least one more time, then they have a chance to keep them from scoring. The closer a player gets to the basket with the ball, the higher their chance of making a shot or getting their own rebound. Teaching players how to attack and what to do when they attack provides a great tool for teaching on ball defense, closeouts as well as defensive rotations. Regardless of the defensive philosophy, defenses must be able to stop the ball, help, rotate, recover, and closeout. Each of these is critical into forcing teams to make one pass and hopefully one more pass. Teaching Attack Dribble first makes this opportunity possible on day 1.

Reason #5:

And now I’ll talk about why it also makes sense to teach passing actions after the dribbling actions. Teaching Pass & Cut early gets players into the habit of filling empty spots. That’s great. It looks pretty right?  Here’s the problem. Besides the fact that players with the ball may take their eyes off the rim, once the foundational layers are finally complete, it is hard to get cutters to break the habit of filling and take advantage of their many options as a cutter.

Teaching Pass & Cut right before the Next Best Action (NBA) layers gives coaches the opportunity to tie NBA’s to the end of the Pass & Cut layer instead of having to go back and break learned habits. Filling is just one of many options that cutters have. Teaching it in this way helps gives equal value to all of these options. Building this habit too early makes players think that filling is more important than posting up or screening.

Reason #6:

Teaching Pass & Cut later also fits into the defensive progression. Once players understand how to defend the ball, they can learn how to defend players without the ball. From cutters to screeners to players who post up, all of these actions come straight out of the Pass & Cut layer. Teaching players how to defend these actions falls right into place.  However, if players aren’t prepared to stop the ball first, it doesn’t matter much how well they are prepared to defend screens.

Players may take more than a full season to react to dribble penetration correctly most of the time.  That’s ok.  You can still score even if they don’t react exactly right all the time. Teaching the Attack Dribble first gives coaches the opportunity to constantly reinforce these habits.  They can and should move on to other layers before this one is mastered.

However, players must know that their coaches want them to be aggressive. Players must take advantage of defensive players who are out of position. When teammates expect each other to be aggressive, they will be more ready to make themselves open on penetration. Once players understand what to do when teammates attack, they can be taught how to use the dribble in other ways as well as how to pass and what to do when a pass is made.

Once these basics have been taught and drilled, a variety of other offensive concepts, from back screens, ball screens, and staggered screens, to dribble handoffs, post play, and weak side screens, are options that the offense provides. How these options are implemented are only as limited as the coaches who are teaching them and the players who are executing them. Regardless, it is imperative that the first offensive concept that is taught is the Attack Dribble.

That’s almost the end of the introduction.  If there are other topics, you’d like for me to discuss, let me know.  Before we get into the layers, I need to explain one more thing.

Then we’ll get down to business of breaking down each layer.