Attacking the Matchup Zone

The Matchup Zone can be very tricky for teams to play against.  Is it man to man or zone? Is it neither or both? The answer to these questions can be yes and no all at the same time. Matchup zones love play against predictable offenses.  They can have very defined coverages and they can make it very tough to score. However, there are a few concepts that give matchup zones a lot of trouble.

  1.  Penetration to the middle of the floor

This can give a lot of defenses trouble, but it makes it especially hard on matchup zones.  It makes the defense collapse and opens up lots of passing angles.  The key though is the recovery. When a matchup zone recovers, are they supposed to recover to an area or to a person?  Well, if your players are moving on this attack, it’s likely that the defense will get confused.  They might recover to the first pass, but they will probably have a hard time recovering to the next one. If another middle penetration follows, then it’s even more likely that the offense will get an open shot.

  1.  Skip passes

Skip passes give matchup zones trouble in the same way that middle penetration does. In a lot of situations, a matchup zone will leave 1 person on the weak side. If the offense has one player on the opposite wing and one person in the weak side post, this puts the weak side defender in a tough situation. Offenses must be willing and able to make good skip passes to make the defense shift quickly.  Just like with middle penetration, back to back skip passes are very difficult for the matchup zone to “matchup” to.

  1. Pin screens

Bullet 2 alludes to this but pin screens force weak side defenders to matchup to one player and then to a second player without them being able to handoff easily.  If the defender wants to cheat the pin screen, the offense can get an easy lob and layup. If they decide to guard the screener initially, then you’ve set things up for an easy skip pass.

  1. Changing alignments

A matchup zone tries to matchup to the offensive alignment. If the offense constantly changes alignments, then the matchup zone can have problems.  If the offense stays in one alignment, the zone can predict where the offenses players are going to be and easily stay in position.  So how can offensive teams change alignments? They can have players constantly cutting to the rim.  They can have players going from post players to perimeter players or visa versa. Any of these strategies will give a matchup zone trouble. It’s not very difficult to generate mismatches in the offensive team’s favor.

  1. Dribble At

Another very simple way to attack matchup zones is through the use of the Dribble-At. When a player “Dribbles-At” another player, two defenders engage the ball for a moment. They can switch or not, but these two defenders must communicate on who should defend the ball. An advantage could be gained immediately, but usually this isn’t difficult for the defense to guard. The real advantage occurs with the other three defenders. The other three defenders’ responsibilities are predicated on who defends the ball. It is very difficult for all 5 players to be on the same page and find their assignments quickly in this situation. If the defense can predict that a Dribble-At is coming, they can plan ahead on how they want to handle it. However, in a R&R style of offense, the random Dribble-At can cause real confusion with defensive assignments leading to open scoring opportunities.

Matchup zones are a like a puzzle.  It can be tough to figure out how to solve it, but once you do, they are very easy to score against.

 

Team Mentality: An Offensive Philosophy Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

The first question about an offensive philosophy surrounds the physical skills of the offensive players. The second question asks about the mental state of the players. Do the offensive players allow the defense to dictate the mentality of the offense? In other words, are the offensive players confident enough in their understanding of the offense that no matter what the defense does, they will be able to generate the best shot every possession?

How many times have you seen a player on offense freeze because they don’t know what to do? Typically this happens for one of three reasons, they forgot what to do, there are so many options they can’t decide, or they aren’t allowed to do what they want. Sometimes this happens when a player catches the ball. Sometimes it happens when they don’t have the ball. We can yell and fuss and scream and teach and whatever we have to do to get the player to remember what to do. Or we can make it really simple and straightforward and we can drill it until they don’t know what else to do.

Players can own an offensive mentality in which they are ultimately confident. There’s no reason they can’t. When they don’t have to worry about “messing up the play,” they can focus on just playing. They can focus on shooting, making good moves, making good decisions, screening, and all the other skills we want them to execute.

This mentality must start with an understanding of spacing, player movement and ball movement. Then it must be complimented with an understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. This starts with understanding one’s self and then understanding one’s teammates. If players understand these things, then I believe they can find a way to beat any defense that’s out there.

I don’t believe they have to memorize 57 quick hitters or 10 continuities to confident in their offensive mentality. At the same time, it takes time and a level of basketball IQ to be able to effectively run a true motion offense. Instead what if we do something that takes the best of both worlds and combines them.

What if we glue players to spots on the floor that they can’t leave unless something makes them leave those spots? That something would be an action that is so simple and that has been drilled so many times that it becomes instinct.  Spacing therefore is maintained.

What if we give the player with the ball the freedom to do whatever they want within their skill set? Now the ball can move freely based on what the player feels comfortable doing based on what the defense allows. Ball movement happens easily.

What if we teach them step-by-step how players can move through the use of concepts and rules that can be drilled and mastered? Now players move in an organized fashion but also in a way that is unpredictable. We have accomplished the criteria of player movement.

Now we have to know our teammates and ourselves. As a player, I must know:

The list goes on and on. However, if a player knows these things like this, it makes offense so much easier to play. Each of these things could happen on the same possession or none of them, but none of them are specific to any play. They are just a part of playing offense.

Don’t get me wrong; there must be some skill level to go along with the mentality. Players must be able to do something on the court. The higher the level of competition, the more they need to be able to do.

However, assuming that there are similar levels of players on the court, I believe that a team of players with a confident mentality regarding how they want to play offense will be able to take advantage of any defense they face. What happens when a defense changes how they defend the post or a ball screen? What happens when a defense goes from a man to man to a match up zone? What happens when the defense starts playing a box and one?

How many times have you seen a defense get into the heads of the offense just because they take something away or do something different? I believe we can severely neutralize if not prevent this from happening. If players know how to play offense, they don’t care what the defense does. They just play offense.

Sometimes players get in their own way. Ever seen offensive players freeze up when the pass they are supposed to make isn’t available? What happens when a player forgets to set a screen, or makes the wrong pass? What happens when players run aimlessly around the court without purpose and spacing, because they don’t really know where to go?

If the offensive players are tied to a play, they are more likely to be unsure what to do if the defense is able to take away part of the play. If the defense can cause the play to breakdown, then the offense is forced to do something else.

I believe these should never happen. Players should be able step on the floor and play offense with very little mental effort. Of course we can practice offense for hours and hours to make sure we get it right, but what about players’ skills? What about defense? If we simplify offense and at the same time make it unpredictable, we can be good offensively, and get better at defending and fundamental skills. If we teach and practice the same concepts on a daily basis, then we can focus on improving on the skills surrounding these concepts as well as defensive concepts.

Players will never worry that the defense took something away. They will never worry about what defense the other team is playing. They will find ways to attack the defense and generate scoring opportunities. It’s really not that hard. I think a lot of coaches make it that way trying to out think the room. If your team has a mentality that they can’t be defended, you might be surprised what they can do.

The only question that remains is can they put the ball in the basket. This is the single biggest reason we have struggled over the last 4 years offensively. We can generate tons of shots and good shots. We just haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket. The best way to defend us has been to let us shoot and then make sure you get the rebound.

Skills and Abilities: An Offensive Philosophy Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

The first major question in developing an offensive philosophy (and not necessarily the most important question) is do the offensive players have the skills and abilities to take advantage of what the defense is doing. In other words, if the defense takes away a certain movement or action can the offensive players take advantage of what the defense gives up? In reference to the last post, if the defense allows a certain movement or action, can the offense capitalize?

For instance, if a defender denies a pass, can the offensive player recognize it and make a good backdoor cut. If a defender fronts a post player, can the perimeter player make a good lob pass away from help side defenders? If a defender chases the offensive player off of a downscreen, can that offensive player curl? If the defender is forcing the ball handler to their weak hand, can that player still be effective? If the defense traps a ball screen, can the ball handler make the proper play to make the defense pay for taking that risk?

How do you defend Ray Allen when he’s coming off of a screen? He’s going to set it up. He’s going to use it. He’s going to make the right read depending on what the defense does. So many times a defenders only chance is too defend him differently than he did the last time to make him uncomfortable and then make the shot a little tougher in hopes that he misses.

How do you defend Tony Parker on a ball screen with Tim Duncan? So many times, the only thing defenses can really do is force one of the two to shoot a jump shot and hope they miss. Without Serge Ibaka on the court, they got any shot they wanted in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. It’s a nearly impossible task.

Complete offensive players make offense easier on everyone else. They create opportunities for teammates that allow them to play to their strengths. One complete player is hard to guard. Two complete players are almost impossible to guard.

If you’re coaching against players who have extraordinary skills and talents, they become nearly impossible to defend with one player. These kinds of players have the skills and abilities to counter almost any defensive maneuver. If you decide to double-team that player, offense just got a lot easier for the other 4 players.

However, most of us don’t have the luxury to coach that level player. Most of us coach players who have limitations. They aren’t proficient dribblers with both hands. They can’t create their own shot. They don’t use screens well. They can’t finish in traffic. They can’t shoot off the dribble. They can’t shoot without dribbling. They are undersized. They are slow. The list of potential limitations is long. Most players have at least one offensive limitation. Other players have more than one. This affects their mentality, which we will talk about later, but at the most basic level, it affects their offensive production.

What if your team doesn’t have one complete player? Like most of us, what if our whole roster is made up of incomplete players? We become much easier to defend. Defenses can make shooters drive. They can make drivers shoot. They can make right-handed players go left. The good news is that the teams we play against are similar to us. Some are better, and some are worse, but the limitations of other teams give us a chance to be successful on game day. Otherwise, we would be in trouble (e.g. the rest of the world during the Summer Olympics). When the USA puts it’s 5 best players on the court, the rest of the world can’t keep up.

Players can develop their skills. They can get better over the course of their careers. However, very few of them will ever be complete players. Even if they have complete skill sets, many of them don’t have the athleticism of a Lebron James or Kevin Durant. So even a complete skill set is limited by their athletic ability.

There are so many situations where it comes down to a matter of the execution of a skill. Some players are more skilled than others. Some players are so talented that a defender might only make it more difficult for a player to execute a skill. They may never be able to take away that opportunity. Other players may have trouble executing the skill even in the most simple situations. Even if the coach calls the perfect play in the perfect situation, if the player can’t execute the skills properly, then the play will fail.

How can we empower players to be successful on offense given their limitations? We teach them how to play and use their skill sets to help the team. We let drivers be drivers. We let shooters be shooters. We let players who can go right go right. We let post players, who might not be good 1 on 1 players, be good screeners. We find ways to help our players be successful no matter what the situation.

How many times do we run an offense that looks good on paper but doesn’t work when our players run it? We’re mad at our players because it isn’t working. Maybe they don’t have the skill set to run that play or that offense. Our players’ limitations severely handicap offensive production. When we run plays or offenses that require players to do things that they are not good at, we make that box even smaller.

I believe players have to have options. Players must have the option to do multiple things with the ball within their skill set when they catch it. Obviously if they can’t do anything with the ball, then there is a bigger problem. Surely if they are on your team, they can do something with the ball. Surely you can help them learn how to take advantage of their skill set in a way that helps the team.

As long as there is spacing, player movement, and ball movement, I believe teams will create cracks in defenses and turn them into gaping holes if we teach them and allow them to do so. If offense is simple, then they can be more focused on their skills. If offense is unpredictable, then the defense has a more difficult time knowing what’s going to happen next. This gives our players with limited skill sets an advantage.

The point here is that an offensive philosophy should allow players to maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. It should be flexible to no matter who is on your team and no matter who goes in the game. If there is an emphasis on spacing, player movement, and ball movement along with the development of skills, then your team will be tough to guard.

Introduction: An Offensive Philosophy Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Offensive Philosophy

Sometimes it’s good to talk skills, drills, and X’s and O’s. Sometimes it’s good to talk about leadership and relationships. Sometimes it’s good to talk about philosophy. Right now, I want to talk about offensive philosophy when it’s 5 on 5. Maybe “when it’s 5 on 5” is more clearly stated by saying when we’re not in a transition opportunity. Of course, it’s easiest to score in transition because the defense isn’t as well organized. Most teams want to create and take advantage of transition opportunities. How many coaches say “we play an fast paced up tempo exciting brand of basketball?” Yeah ok, that ‘s fine but let’s be honest.

Teams can’t always create these situations. The higher the level of play, the more half court possessions there will be. The need to score against set defenses will always exist. Great offensive teams can score when it’s 5 on 5.

Having an offensive philosophy helps coaches define what is important to them. It helps coaches decide what they teach their players and how they teach them. It helps coaches communicate clearly to their teams. If players know what is important to the coach, it is much easier for them to play offense. Players who play offense without a lot of mental stress are able to focus more on executing skills and making shots.

Before we start talking about this part of an offensive philosophy, let’s talk about defense. On any individual possession, defense has the opportunity to dictate the initial action and alignment of the offense. They can choose to play man-to-man defense in a few different ways. They can choose to play a few different kinds of zones. They can choose to press in different ways. They can choose to switch defenses in the middle of a possession. The offense must respond to what the defense does. Their response determines how successful they will be.

A team’s personnel or offensive tendencies may impact the defensive decisions made by a team and a coach. However, on any given possession the defense will always choose their positioning and alignment first. A defense may be excited and ready to stop a team or they may be scared to death before the ball crosses half court, but they will choose what defense they play and what they decide to try to take away.

Once this choice is made, the defense is choosing to give up something. There is no perfect defense. There isn’t one defense that can stop every offense. No one can guard everything. Some defenders are better than others. Some teams play better defense than others. However, even great defenders will get beat against good offensive players.  Great offensive players will beat great defenders almost every time.

A lot of people say there is no defense in the NBA. I agree that some players and teams are not very good defensively. However, it’s very difficult and maybe impossible to guard some players in the NBA. These great players make some teams impossible to guard.

When you watch NBA games, you can see that defenses choose what to try to guard. Their positioning on the court is an attempt to take away something. Let’s be a little extreme for a second. If there are 5 NBA level defenders standing one step outside the 3-point line, it may be pretty tough to get a clean look at a 3 pointer.  If there are 5 NBA level defenders in the lane, it may be pretty hard to shoot a layup. Of course teams don’t play like this, but no matter where defenders position themselves on the court, they are choosing to make an effort to take away something.  They might be taking away the wrong thing. They might not be able to take away that thing, but they are attempting to take away something. However, every time a defender takes something away, they are giving up something else. It is impossible to guard everything.

 

There are two questions that come as a result. We will talk about those in the next post.  Until then….What is your offensive philosophy?

The Power Dribble: The Overview

The Power Dribble Layer is really just a dribble handoff. It is called the power dribble because the action/reaction by the offensive players is signified by the use of a power dribble by the perimeter ball handler.

The Power Dribble Layer involves the ball handler starting a dribble-at action toward the player 1 pass away, and then turning their back to the basket, protecting the ball from the defender, and making a power dribble. This action cues the player who was dribbled-at and started a back cut, to come back to the ball handler, use the ball handler as a screen, and take the ball. In most situations, the new ball handler should look to attack the paint following the handoff while the teammate can look to either roll to the basket or space to the perimeter.

The other perimeter players should be reacting to the movement as well. Just as with the Dribble-at action, the players behind the ball should be filling the next spot. As the handoff occurs and the new ball handler starts their attack dribble, they should circle move back in the other direction. The reactions to this movement can really keep the defense off balance if they are executed properly.

In a way, this layer is a combination of the dribble-at and attack dribble layers. The difference instead of sending a cutter to the basket initially, this action may or may not happen depending on the defense plays the action. Regardless, the actions of the other perimeter players remain the same.

The Power Dribble Layer can be executed by any two players who are in adjacent spots. The most typical situation for players to execute the Power Dribble Layer are with the ball starting at the top and being dribbled toward the wing. However, as the diagrams will show, the Power Dribble Layer can be executed anywhere on the floor.

 

Page 249

1 starts the action by dribbling at 2. 2’s initial reaction is to go back door but then they see 1 turn their back to the basket and power dribble.  They come back to 1 for the handoff and look to turn the corner. 3 and 4 on the initial dribble at start to fill the next spots.  When they see the power dribble initiated, they prepare to circle move right away.  For now, 5 doesn’t do anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page 250As 2 attacks the basket, players 3, 4, and 5 circle move in the other direction. 1 rolls to the basket and fills out.

 

2 has the freedom to attack the lane and make a good decision.  They could pull up and shoot.  They could attack the rim and finish. They could pass to any of their other teammates. They could stop their attack and back it back out to the top of the key. Any of these options are available to 2. None of them should break the continuity of the offense. If 2 backs it out, they are free to execute any action as long as they keep their dribble alive, including another Power Dribble.

 

 

 

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Pin Screen: The Whole Part II

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

The first pin screen article was written with a focus on the pin screen coming as a NBA out of a 5 out alignment. The diagrams showed numerous  single actions that can be easily followed by a pin screen. However, pin screens are no different than any other screen.  They are most effective when the defense doesn’t expect it.  So making it the first action every possession makes it more predictable.

If your players can set a pin screen after the first action, shouldn’t they be able to set one after the fifth action or the 15th action?  Of course a possession may not last long enough to have 15 actions, but the concept is the same.  Once a player finishes a cut, that player can set a pin screen. Pretty simple, right?  I think so, except let’s look at it a little deeper.

One question a coach should consider before having their players set pin screens is the player being screened for.  Do we want to set a pin screen for a driver?

Some coaches may say no. They might say this is a wasted action. If the player can’t shoot it, the screen is wasted and our offense is easy to guard.

Some coaches might say that it doesn’t matter who the screen is set for. The pin screen helps get the defense moving from side to side and increases the chances for a defensive breakdown.

I think this is something each coach needs to answer for their situation on their level. It might even be a question that is answered from game to game.

However, I think we should encourage our players to REGULARLY set pin screens for shooters.  You can change that to ALWAYS if you want. However, at least regularly, if a cutter notices a shooter on the weak side of the floor, they should look for that weak side defender and make the defense pay.  It doesn’t mean the passer has to make the pass.  It doesn’t mean that the shooter has to shoot it. However, the threat of this action will take some of the attention of a help side defender away from the ball.

We’ll talk about the pin screen from a 4 out 1 in alignment in the next post on pin screens.

One Decision Makes a Big Difference

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series 5 player Combinations

Let’s take a quick look at one example of how teaching players to play this way is so powerful. We’re going to look at a traditional 3 out 2 in alignment. I don’t care how they get open.  They can come off screens from the post players.  They can V-cut.  They can post up.  Getting open or being open is not irrelevant, but I’m going to assume that they are. 1 passes to 2.  Fancy huh?

Page 588It’s pretty simple and straight forward right?  When 1 passes to 2, 1 cuts to the basket.  That’s the rule right?  There’s nothing to dispute or discuss. 1 must make a basket cut. We can talk about how they make that cut.  We can talk about faking one way and going the opposite way.  We can talk about sprinting without a jab.  We can talk about cutting in front of the defender or behind the defender.  Again for this discussion, that’s irrelevant. 1 is cutting to the rim. 3 must fill because there is a spot open that’s one pass away.

 

 

Page 589Here’s where the fun begins though.  1 now gets to make a decision. As a coach, you can give the player the freedom to make the decision or you can tell them where to go and what to do.  Let’s look at some different  scenarios.

 

 

 

 

Page 590Let’s say you tell the player to fill the strong side corner. Doesn’t this look like you’re running triangle?  Yeah I know that in the triangle the guard doesn’t cut to the rim.

What happens next?  I don’t know.  It depends on what the ball handler does.  Maybe they throw it to the post player and Laker Cut.  Maybe they throw it to the corner and the post sets a back screen and then a ball screen.  Maybe 4 flashes and 3 pinches the post with 4.  Maybe 5 back screens for 3 or cross screens for 4.  Maybe 2 drives it and hits 4 on a post slide in the short corner. There are other more complicated options.

Page 591Let’s say 1 cuts out to the weak side corner. Remember they don’t have to fill up because they are more than 1 pass away. Talk about an easy and obvious pin screen. 4 doesn’t really even have to do anything.  2 could still drive either way.  They can still throw it to 5.  4 can still flash to the high post.  There are still lots of different screening options.  Can we teach our players to do try different things?  Do we have to require them to do the same thing all the time?  Can we teach them to find ways to score on their own?

 

 

Page 592Let’s say 1 decides they want to screen.  As the next four diagrams show, they really have 3 screening options.  The only one that probably is not a good idea is the screen on the ball.  Though theoretically it would not be “against the rules”, we would not want our players to play that way.

1 screens for 4.  This could turn into a high low look.  It could be a stagger with 5.  It could be a screen the screener if 3 decided to make a Read Line cut and saw that 1’s defender is vulnerable to be screened.  4 could sprint into a ball screen.  4 could flash high and get re-screened on a back screen from 1.  There are numerous other options.

 

Page 593This one may look a little weird, but 1 could screen for 5. I’m pretty sure the defense wouldn’t switch.  Would this be an easy way for 1 to get good post up position? Maybe.  Maybe not. But I have a feeling not many teams cover how to defend this kind of screen.  Maybe you don’t want your 1 in this position, but 1 could very easily be any other player on the court.

 

 

 

Page 594Maybe 1 decides to back screen for 3.  You might say well the lane is so full, 3 will never be open.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  At the worst, 3 is not in a position to make a decision that the defense cannot anticipate.  Maybe 4 or 5 steps up with 1 and sets a double or staggered screen for 3.  Maybe 1 wants to try to get an open look at a 3.  Maybe 1 doesn’t trust 2 to handle the ball and wants to get it back ASAP. Again, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know there are a lot of possibilities.

 

 

Page 595Or 1 could take the boring way out and just fill out to the wing.  Useless huh?  Or maybe vanilla is exactly what is needed right now.

 

 

 

 

 

The point is that a different decision by 1 player changes everything.  It provides endless possibilities.  Just one decision.  This doesn’t include the decisions that the other players could be making at the same time. Is it too much for players?

I don’t think so.  I think we can teach players how to play and then let them play.  One decision can make a huge difference.  Just consider how big of a difference the variety of two or three decisions could make to how your offense looks.  Just think about the scoring opportunities that could be created with this unpredictable variety.  We just need to teach the game better.