4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 4 player Combinations

4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

Version 1
Page 286
Page 287 Page 288 Page 289
Version 2
Page 290 Page 291 Page 292 Page 293

If the initial attacker were to reverse pivot and pitch it back to the safety, these diagrams could look much different.  I have added those to the to draw list.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Read Line

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

5 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
Since this is the first action that is not initiated by the ball handler, a defender is needed in order to initiate the action.  Locate 5 players on the court in 5 spots.  Place a dummy defender in position 1 pass away from the ball.  Have the defender step across the Read Line.  The player then cuts back door while the other players fill.  The defender can stay in one location and continue to step over the Read Line as players fill.  This dummy defender could be another player, a coach or a manager.


You:  WHOA!  Slow down coach.  What is the Read Line?
Me:  We use the college 3 point line as our Read Line.  You may choose use the high school line or the NBA line for your team.
You:  So you’re telling me that you use the 3-point line to initiate an offensive action?
Me:   Well sort of.  The line can’t really initiate an action.  Only players can initiate actions.
You:  I was wondering about that.  So who initiates this action?
Me:  This layer is initiated by the defense.
You:  But coach, I don’t want the defense to dictate what we do.
Me:  I hate to tell you coach, but they already do. When they play man to man, you do one thing.  When they play zone, you do another thing.  When they trap, you do another thing.  Defense always dictates to the offense in one way or another. Some defenses dictate more than others. Some defenses give up more than others. Some defenses give up exactly what they want.  Some defenses give up everything.  In any case, defense makes an impact on how we play offense, don’t they?
You:  OK. OK.  I still don’t like it. But I’ll entertain you for a second. What is the action?
Me:   It works like this.  When a player who is one pass away from the ball has a defender who steps over the Read Line, they immediately cut to the basket.
You:  That’s it?  It’s that simple?
Me:  Yep.  That’s it.
You:  Well that makes sense, except I want #23 to catch the ball on the wing every time.
Me: If defense wants to keep #23 from catching the ball badly enough, they will.  They might give up a lot in the process, but they can keep #23 from catching the ball.
You:  Coach, you can’t keep Lebron from catching it on the wing.
Me:  You’re right.  But you don’t have Lebron on your team.
You:  Don’t I wish I did.
Me: We all do. Now that we’re done dreaming, I’ll give you 3 reasons why this layer is important.

1.  We fight fire with fire.  If the defense wants to attack us by denying a pass, we will attack them by cutting to the rim.
2.  The action initiates offense without the ball handler having to do anything.
3.  It eliminates confusion between the ball handler and the receivers. Either the receiver is open or not.  Either they are going back door, or they aren’t.

You:  Those are 3 pretty legitimate advantages.
Me:  Not to mention the options that the cutter has that we will talk about later.
You:  I have one more question.  We emphasize playing in gaps defensively.  We are never in a denial position.  How can we practice this action if we’re never over the Read Line defensively?
Me:  That’s a tougher question to answer.  I hope to help you figure that out as I describe an implementation plan for this layer.

2 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This building block is very similar to the 5-player building block with 2 players.  Players without the ball can start in a position one pass away. Coaches can also have them start more than one pass away.  In this situation, players fill up to the open spot in order to learn the Read Line action.  In either arrangement, a dummy defender steps over the Read Line.  Players without the ball must react quickly to the dummy defender with a hard cut to the basket.  Passers must learn to make the pass as early as possible and work on fitting passes into tight spaces or making the pass late when the defender has relaxed.

Defenders can be live in this building block as well. This may only be applicable to teams with defensive philosophies that have off ball defenders close to the line of the ball. This is a good start to teaching players how to defend the back door cut. For teams who play off the line of the ball significantly, this may serve no purpose as a defensive building block.

3 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is very similar to the previous building block except there is now a player to fill the empty spot. The dummy defender can stay in position and step over the Read Line for each new receiver as they fill.

3 offensive players 2 defenders 1 action
It’s important for the offensive players to cut when the ball handler “sees” them.  Receivers could make a great back door cut, but if the ball handler doesn’t see them it doesn’t matter.  Place  the defenders on the players off the ball.  The defenders can be over the Read Line or not.  The ball handler looks each way.  If the defender is over the Read Line, the player cuts backdoor.  If not, they stay.

A building block of any more than 3 offensive players is probably not worth very much until other actions are combined with it.  For teams that play on the line of the ball defensively, this will fit right into what they do defensively.  These teams should force their teammates into a steady stream of backdoor cuts by players one pass away. For teams that play off the line, coaches may want to have a manager or coach step in as defenders.  It may be difficult for them to learn this habit if they don’t play this type of defense on a regular basis.

Remember the Dribble-At?  Let’s say the player one pass away should be making a Read Line cut.  Maybe they don’t see the defender.  Maybe they forgot.  Maybe they never knew to start with. Well if the person with the ball recognizes this situation, they can Dribble-At this player and send them back door.

There’s another situation that may you may consider a “Read Line situation.”  This one is up to you.

Maybe the defender isn’t over the Read Line, but the ball handler still doesn’t feel comfortable making the pass.  Maybe they are in a position to to steal the pass without being over the Read Line.  Maybe the ball handler just doesn’t want to pass to that player right now. As opposed to that player standing still, they can cut to the basket.  So the rule can be stated like this.  If the ball handler recognizes you as a receiver who is 1 pass away but does not pass you the ball, cut to the basket just as if your defender is over the Read Line.

An Important Detail:
Keep in mind, we only use the Read Line for players who are 1 pass away. We don’t want to help the defense get in better position.  A player who is more than 1 pass away and who is over the Read Line is in pretty poor defensive position.  We want to keep that defensive player player there.  While I’m sure this offensive player could get open for a layup, if everyone follows the Read Line rule at the same time, they could all end up at the basket at the same time.  Now no one is open.  Limiting this rule to only the players who are 1 pass away is important to giving cutters who cut to the basket a chance at  being open.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Implementation Plan (1 action Part breakdown)

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

I have decided to break down the breakdown. This post will cover 1 action building blocks for the Pass, Cut, & Fill layer of offense. There are so many offensive and defensive concepts that can be taught with just one action. Before players are asked to defend multiple actions, they must be taught to defend individual actions. This can also help slow the game down for players offensively. Before worrying about executing a second action, they can learn to take full advantage of individual action.

In the 3, 4, and 5 player building blocks, the idea is that players execute single actions on the coaches command. Coaches may decide to design the drill from the building block in such a way that players stay on the court for more than one action. The idea is that players execute one action and fully complete that action offensively and defensively before they execute the next action.

2 offensive players 1 action
For this introductory building block, players start at two adjacent spots. The player with the ball passes to the other player and cuts to the basket. Coaches can stop the drill right here since that is literally 1 action. However, this can become pretty boring pretty quickly.

I would encourage that the the building block be finished with a pass to the cutter. The receiver delivers a pass to the cutter. Since the receiver passed to the cutter, they should cut.

I know this is a second action. I know this is considered a “Post Pass.” I know we haven’t covered it yet. We won’t really cover post passes until the next layer. However, it’s pretty simple. When you pass, you cut. Right? Not very difficult. Keep it consistent. It will make the next layer easier to learn. I also think it’s important to show players that it is possible to score off of this action. It isn’t that we just Pass & Cut for fun. It is meant to be a scoring option.

A tendency in this very simple building block is that players tend to turn this into a layup drill. This is not a layup drill (even though it’s a good way to work on finishing). This is a Pass & Cut building block. Offensive players should really tune into their spacing, passing, catching, and cutting fundamentals. You may have to teach those skills in some sort of individual breakdown. These small things can make a big difference for players. It’s tough to find time to do everything. It’s up to you to make decisions on what’s most important.

2 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is a great building block for teaching a lot of different concepts. The coach just adds a defender to either the passer or the receiver in the previous building block. Coaches can use this building block with “dummy defense” as a way to continue emphasizing offensive skills and concepts, or they can use it to teach defense. For now coaches may want to limit the offensive players options to only passing. We will combine layers later. However, this can be another way to create a 1 on 1 scenario. If the defender is guarding the player with the ball, the ball handler may be given the freedom to attack off the dribble which will help keep the defender honest.

Numerous 1 on 1 offensive concepts can be taught with this building block.

  • Making a pass with pressure
  • Catching a pass with pressure
  • Footwork on the catch
  • Footwork on a cut
  • Passing to a cutter early in their cut
  • Passing to a cutter late in their cut

Numerous 1 on 1 defensive concepts tie in with this layer as well. Of course these concepts may be approached differently based on the location of the offensive players on the court.

  • Defending a potential passer
  • Defending a potential receiver
  • Defending a player who just passed
  • Defending a player who just caught a pass

There are numerous ways to design drills around this simple building block to teach and emphasize different skills. It is up to the coach to design the drills that fit in with this building block and their philosophies.

3 offensive players 1 action
This building block is very similar to the 2 offensive player 1 action block except now there is a player available to fill the open spot. With only offensive players and only 1 action, this building block may not be very productive at this time. However, it will become a critical tool when multiple actions and layers are included.

3 offensive players 1 defensive player 1 action
Coaches can use this building block with “dummy defense” as a way to continue emphasizing offensive skills and concepts. However, playing live defense just became more difficult. Previously, the offensive player could only pass one way. It was predictable more for the defense, but this is a good way to teach and drill a defensive skill or concept. Now the defense has at least one more thing to react to. The defender can be on the ball or off the ball. If they are on the ball, they are required to react to the pass in either direction. Coaches can give the ball handler the freedom to attack off of the dribble as well. Once the pass is made, the defender must defend the cutter based on the technique that fits the defensive philosophy of the coach. If defended successfully, the receiver may be instructed to take a shot which now turns the building block into a 1 on 1 rebounding drill.

If the defender is off ball, they may be required to either defend the ball if the pass is made to their player, or get into proper help side position. Of course the offense is now filling spots which forces the defender to now find their proper 1 pass away position again. Do your defenders trail their players and as a result give up Draft Drives? This is a good way to teach them to get in proper off ball position more quickly. When we start adding a second action and combining layers, having this defensive foundation will be important.

3 offensive players 2 defensive players 1 action
This is similar to the last building block. Are your defenders both off ball? Is one on the ball and one off the ball? Remember if they are on ball, you can give the ball handler the freedom to attack. This building block is only one action though. So we’re still breaking things down to the basics. Can your defenders defend one action well even though they don’t know what that action is going to be? I know everyone wants to get to multiple actions with different layers. You want to set screens. You want to include post players. So do I, but we have be able to guard 1 action first. If defenders aren’t in position for the first action, can we expect them to be in position once the offense really starts moving?

3 offensive players 3 defensive players 1 action
You’ve trained different combinations of defensive concepts. Now you can put it all back together in a 3 on 3 scenario. Remember we’re still only working with 1 action. However, this trains the defense to defend a single action regardless of the action and when the action is unpredictable. It also trains the reactions of the offensive players. You can have the two offensive players without the ball start with an empty spot between them and the ball. Then they fill the empty spots to start the action.

4 offensive players 1 action
The addition of a fourth offensive player gives coaches the opportunity to continue to teach players to fill up to the next empty spot. However, using four players also allows coaches to start talking about the concept of waiting to fill if they are more than one pass away. This is a very useful way to set up different attacking options. Those will be covered later, but players can be taught to think about being “patient when they fill.” Then if the ball is passed and there is an open spot between them and they ball, they can fill up.

4 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is very similar to the previous single action building blocks, except now there can be a defender 2 passes away. You could use this building block to teach players how to go from 1 pass away to 2 passes away and visa versa. Again, if they can’t defend one action, how can we expect them to defend more than one. I know this building block may seem “dumb” and a waste of time. Maybe it is for most teams. However, I have learned to never assume that a player knows anything. Making sure players know how to defend players with and without the ball based on the position of the ball and their player is important. Coaches may need to break this down to the most basic level using this building block by controlling the pace of the actions.

4 offensive players 2 defenders 1 action
Now we can start teaching defenders how to work together. This could be two off ball defenders or one off ball and one on ball. Only one action is executed at a time, but now players can start to see how the whole defensive picture is going to fit together. Again, coaches may determine that this 1 action building block is unnecessary. Coaches may only use this building block for one or two practices. That’s up to you. It is still interesting to consider how these simple one action building blocks can be used to teach players how to defend. Do defenders execute techniques correctly in these basic building blocks? If not, then how can we expect them to execute them correctly with more layers or more actions involved.

4 offensive players 3 defenders 1 action
We are building on the previous building block by adding a third defender. Again, this may seem unnecessary. It depends on your team and your players. Helping players see how the whole picture is built is important. Players can get lost if the drill is too big. Keeping the number of players small gives the coach less to watch.

4 offensive players 4 defenders 1 action
This could be seen as a basic 4 out defensive shell building block. By limiting the building block to 1 action at a time, coaches can give attention to specific offensive or defensive techniques and details one action at a time. Players can see the whole picture start to come together.

5 players 1 action
We’ve finally arrived. If you’re still reading, I think you probably get the point. I won’t go through all the 5 player 1 action building blocks. I think there are still some value in these single action drills. Maybe I’ll explore this later. Right now, I am going to get into multiple passing actions as well as combining layers in the multiple actions.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Implementation Plan (Whole)

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

5 offensive players and 5 defenders
We can really show the WHOLE picture at this point.  We can review defensive positioning based on the ball and the player. We can review the defensive concepts what we’ve covered so far. We can also show how we will defend cutters and provide help on cutters. Remember cutters are closely related to post players. So we can mention post defense even though we might not really spend a lot of time talking about it. We don’t spend a lot of time here. However, seeing the whole puzzle picture helps the smaller pieces make sense. Again, it doesn’t matter what defensive philosophy you employ.

5 offensive players
This may be a good time to review everything that has been covered so far.   What happens when someone attacks off the dribble?  What happens when someone dribble’s-at a player?  What happens when a player drives baseline?  What happens when a player drives with a player in or around the lane?  

Your choice to review is optional. I’m going to let you know that many players are going to default to this passing layer, because it’s comfortable to them. They think “because coach is in the gym, I have to pass the ball.” They might think “I don’t want to dribble because I know my teammates aren’t completely comfortable with those reactions yet and I don’t want to make them look bad.”  They might think “I would only drive when my defender is out of position and since there is no defense it doesn’t make sense to drive.”

I think it’s important to keep these actions in their minds.  They must continue to practice the habits.  They must not forget that dribbling is important just because they can pass now.  I want players to learn to use the dribble to create and execute offense, and score but not just score.  I want players to be comfortable with reacting to the dribble.  I want players to learn to visualize defense when it isn’t there.  I know this is the Pass, Cut, & Fill layer.  It just drives me crazy to watch teams “run the play” when there is a clear scoring opportunity and the players are being robots instead of basketball players.

Back on task….

5 offensive players 1 action
Players will start at the 5 perimeter spots.  The ball can start with any player.  Players pass, cut, and fill without defense.  Place emphasis on straight hard cuts to the rim.  Players without the ball must fill one pass away spots aggressively.  Passers must ball fake the cutter before the next perimeter pass is made.  This is used to show the whole layer.  Significant time does not need to be spent on this building block.

You can show this layer from any of the 3 main alignments.  It is up to the coach and the personnel.  Regardless, the rules stay the same. When a shot is taken, players rebound.  When a player drives right, everyone rotates right.  When a player drives left, everyone rotates left.  When someone dribble’s at another player, that player cuts back door. When a player drives baseline, 4 windows must be filled. When a player pass, that player cuts. It’s pretty straight forward.  It all sounds pretty simple.  Some players may struggle with it all initially.  But they will learn it.  And when they do, they will be very hard to guard.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Points of Emphasis

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

I debated with myself about whether to include all of the sub-layers in this post. I figured that even though this single post might be longer, it would be better than having posts that repeated a lot of the same information. So these points of emphasis refer to all three of the sub-layers of this Pass, Cut, & Fill layer.

Initiator (Cutter) Receiver (Passer)
Hard cuts Ready to hit open cutter
Cut with a purpose Read cutter’s defender early and late
Just Cut, Don’t Dance Knees bent
Always see the ball Hands ready
Path of least resistance Attack behind cutter
Fill spots from baseline up Catch and land on two feet when possible
Hands ready No Dancing
Pass away from the defense Just Cut, Don’t Dance
Instant Reaction

Initiator (Cutter)

  • Hard Cuts
    Cutting hard makes the offense harder to guard, because it increases the tempo at with which we play. The harder we cut, the less time defense has to adjust. This gives us more chances to catch them out of position. The harder we cut, the more opportunities we have to be open. Just like with the Dribble-At, the cut starts with good footwork. No false movement. Plant and go.
  • Cut with a Purpose
    It’s not always enough to just cut hard. Cutters must also cut with a purpose. In other offensive styles and systems, the cutter is told exactly what they should do, or they are given options to do one thing or another. Cutters are to cut to the rim without exception. They are a scoring option. We want cutters to want the ball. Can you beat your defender on a face cut? Can you beat them back door? We want cutters to get themselves open going to the basket.
  • Just Cut, Don’t Dance
    We don’t want to fight the defense on a cut. We just want to cut. There are too many options when we cut to fight the defense. Tempo is important. Spacing is important. There’s no need to fight the cut.
  • Always see the ball
    If they are open, they might get the ball. Primarily, cutters must always see the ball because they must always be ready to react to dribble penetration. If a teammate drives during the course of their cut, cutters must react correctly to dribble penetration. Failure to react to dribble penetration could result in the loss of an easy scoring opportunity.
  • Path of least resistance
    Cutters must learn to make a quick read of their defender. We don’t want to fight the defense for a certain position. We want to take advantage of whatever position the defense gives up. Defenders can’t take away everything. If they take one thing away, they give up something else. We want cutters to get to the rim as quickly as possible. If they can cut their defender’s face, then great. If not, get to the rim and we’ll go from there.
  • Fill spots from baseline up
    After players finish their cut, they have options. The first option that we will teach is that they must fill out to the open spot. This is the most basic option. When players fill, they must fill open spots from the baseline up. Depending on the alignment and the location of the ball, players may not have to fill the open spot. Players must fill spots that are 1 pass away from the ball. In a 5 out alignment all perimeter spots will always be filled. In a 3 out alignment, cutters will always have to fill up to the next open spot. In a 4 out alignment, cutters will have more options. As a result, players are only required to fill the open spot if they are one pass away. There are advantages to filling up to the next spot, just as there are advantages to not filling up. These will be discussed in a future post.
  • Ready hands
    Just as with any of the other layers, cutters must have their hands ready to receive a pass. You never know when a pass might come zipping your way. (see Nov 3, 2012 #HOTD) You also never know when a shot is going to go up and you’re going to need to rebound.
  • Pass away from the defense
    Most of the focus of the previous points has assumed that the cutter was able to complete the initial pass. I guess we better teach the player how to pass. If the passer will throw the ball away from the defender, they will be successful more often than not. The offensive player should be the only player who has a chance to touch the ball.

Receiver (Passer)

  • Ready to shoot
    The receiver must be ready to shoot. This readiness occurs before they catch the ball. However, their first option must be to score. If they are not a threat to score, they have just become much easier to defend. You may determine that this shot is a bad shot for some or all of your players. I agree that not all shots from all players are good shots. However, it must be understood that you have just made your team easier to defend. Granted, this may be a very small and insignificant sacrifice. We must consider though how many times we limit the shots our players are allowed to take.
    Every time we limit a shot opportunity, we limit our offense. It’s true, we want to take the best shots every possession. At what point do are we taking away good shots from our players and as a result are forced to take bad ones? In games where a shot clock is present, this becomes a very interesting question. In games without a shot clock, it is more a question of shots vs. ball security. If you can trust your players to take care of the ball, then you can be much more selective about the shots you take.
  • Ready to drive
    If your players may not shoot (i.e. they aren’t allowed to), they better be able to drive. If they cannot shoot (because they don’t have the ability or the defense won’t let them), they better be able to do something besides pass. Otherwise they aren’t going to be much of a perimeter threat. The receiver is the next available attacker. As soon as they receive the pass (actually before they receive the pass), they must be ready to attack. There is a small window between the time they receive the ball and the next player fills where a driving lane is likely available. This “Draft Drive” is a very effective way to create scoring opportunities. However, players must be ready to take advantage of it. They have to know it’s going to be there before receive the pass. If they wait too long, the driving lane will be closed down by the rotating defenders, and an opportunity to attack will have been lost
  • Ready to hit cutter
    OK! OK! I get it. You want to get some ball movement. You want to get the best shot. You want your team to attack with the pass too. I get that. Why have a cutter if they aren’t a threat to receive the ball? Yeah I understand that too, sort of. I think a couple previous bullet points touched on the importance of the player cutting. They are a rebounder as well as a snow plow. They clear the way for the ball handler to drive. However, the cutter is a scoring option as well. The passers should look for the cutter. There aren’t many more plays in basketball more basic than the Give & Go. Many times an easy Give & Go turns into an easy lay up.
  • Catch on two feet when possible
    Catching the ball on two feet is so valuable to maximizing options as an offensive player. Being able to go left or right with either foot as a pivot makes the ball handler very difficult to defend.
  • Just Cut, Don’t Dance
    We don’t teach players to get open. Either you’re open or you’re not. We don’t want you trying to get open. If your player is over the Read Line, you should be going back door.

Practice #9

This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Practice
5 Dynamic Warm Up Player led warmup
8 Conditioning 2 groups, 10 full court sprints, 10 far free throw line sprints, stationary ball handling for nonrunning group
2 Stretch & Water be at half court by the buzzer
5 5 on 5 transition
5 ball handling
4 1 on 1 full court
5 PG PUB PG in corner.  Shooter on wing.  Drive and kick.  3 rebounders under basket.  PG defends whichever guard gets the rebound to half court
5 2 on 1 D on ball offense can penetrate or pass. On the kick out, shoot and rebound
4 4 on 0
4 3 on 3 P&C
4 1 on 1 penetrate & reverse pivot
5 2 on 2 full
4 3 on 2 to 1 on 1 drive and kick to 1 on 1
4 4 on 0
5 1 on 1 halfcourt
6 2 on 2 Players on each wing.  Skip pass.  Passer stays (assuming they don’t have to fill.)  Passer must rotate on drive.  Defender must sprint to help.
5 4 on 0
5 3 on 1 P&C
4 4 on 0
15 stations post entry (lob), reading/setting ball screens, defending ball screens
5 intro hook & look
5 intro transition O

This was a very good practice.  80% of this practice was conducted with the guards only.  The posts spent the most part of this practice on bikes or ellipticals working on their conditioning.  They joined us late.

Our guards needed a lot of work on the basic offensive and defensive concepts that we’ve been working about. Hopefully this time was time well spent.

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.