This is quite different to many team sports that have:

  • Play stopping after a score, to be re- started in the middle of the playing area by the other team (e.g. football);
  • Play stops and the team that scored then re-starts play (e.g. volleyball).

There certainly are opportunities where play is stopped (e.g. fouls or violations), however generally play is dynamic and fluid, requiring players and teams to make decisions “on the run” within the context of their offensive and defensive rules.

There are a number of “special situations” where coaches may want to implement a different structure or have different rules. The “special situations” under consideration are:

  • Inbounding the ball from the baseline;
  • Inbounding the ball from the sideline;
  • “Late” Shot Clock - offence when there are 10 or less seconds on the shot clock;
  • “Last possession” plays – when a team is down by 3 points or less and has the last possession;
  • Defending a Lead;
  • “Catching Up” when a team is down with a few minutes left.

There are many books, DVDs and websites devoted to “plays” that can be used in each of these situations and many coaches have “favourite” plays or structures that they employ with their team.

This resource does not attempt to be a source for coaches to find various plays and instead the resource looks at the offensive and defensive principles that coaches must address, whatever “plays” they may ultimately choose to use.

Some coaches have intricate “playbooks” with different rules and structures for each situation and infinite variations. This is not necessary, particularly when coaching junior teams. Often, what is required is simply to emphasise a particular aspect of the team’s normal rules of play. Whatever “playbook” or amount of rules a coaches wants to have, needs to be realistic having regard to both the experience of the players and the amount of preparation time the team has.

Baseline out of bounds

This refers to when the offensive team has possession of the ball and is inbounding from the baseline at the basket where they are attempting to score.

There are a number of principles that coaches should consider in choosing how they want their teams to play the baseline out of bounds situation:

  1. Focus on the fundamentals – passing, cutting and catching;
  2. Moving away from the ball;
  3. Moving to the ball;
  4. “Little-Big” Screen
  5. Screening the Screen;
  6. The “safety catch”;
  7. Inbound player shooting.

Focus on the Fundamentals – passing, cutting and catching

The inbound passer cannot shoot the ball and has only 5 seconds in which to make a pass. The focus therefore should be foremost on getting the ball into play, not necessarily a scoring opportunity.

Particularly when coaching children, coaches should focus first on the ability for a player to get themselves open by:

  • Changing direction and pace;
  • Getting “foot advantage” and / or “sealing” their opponent;
  • Cutting toward the ball and not standing still (which can allow a defensive player on the move to intercept the pass).
  • Knowing that, once a player has cut toward the ball, if they do not receive the pass, they should continue to move so that there is space for a team mate to cut.

Equally, when coaching the passer, the coach should emphasise:

  • “Fake a pass to make a pass” – move the defender’s hands to create a passing lane / angle;
  • Take a step back from the baseline to create space if the defender is standing right at the baseline;
  • Not focusing on one particular pass, but instead looking to make the best pass. This is perhaps the worst aspect of using structured plays requiring teams to follow set movement – players get too focused on the option that is part of the play and may not see an open player;18
  • Don’t let the referee’s 5 second count rush the pass – a violation (which allows for defence to be set) is almost always better than an intercepted pass.

Moving Away From the Ball

Quite simply, there is not enough room on the court for 4 players to all cut toward the ball at the one time. Often a player will need to move away from the ball in order to create a space that someone else can cut into.

Young players in particular will often lack an appreciation of how their movement (or lack of it) affects a team mate. This can be illustrated to players through a simple warm-up activity called the Puzzle Game and the game also develops the player’s understanding of how to move as a team to create opportunities.

“Puzzle Game”

5 players do the activity, standing next to one of six cones. The rules are:

  • Player cannot hold the ball more than 3 seconds;
  • The ball can only be caught by a player standing at a cone;
  • Players can move to the empty cone, but they cannot move past a cone that has a player (e.g. 1 could not move past 4 to go to the empty cone)
  • Players can move at the same time but cannot move past one another (e.g. 2 and 4 cannot simply switch cones)

Here is an example of players moving at the same time:

  • 4 starts to move toward the empty cone;
  • 5 moves to replace 4;
  • 2 moves to replace 5.

After this movement, the empty cone is now between 2 and 3. If 3 were to move to that cone, 1 would remain “trapped” and unable to move out of the corner.

However, if 5 (or 2) moved to the empty cone, it would enable 1 to then move to replace them. 5 moving is an example of moving away from the ball, to create a space for 1 to cut toward the ball.

In this example, 2 cutting to the opposite corner creates the space that 1 can cut toward. If 2, for example, “sealed” and tried to receive a pass in the low post position, it would severely limit what 1, 4 and 5 could do.

The Puzzle Game can also be used with positions on the court that are more aligned to offensive positions on court.

Moving to the Ball

It is equally important that there are players moving to the ball and looking to receive the ball while they are moving. If offensive players cut and then stop, a pass will often be intercepted by a defender that continues to move.

Even though 2 is moving to the opposite corner, by cutting to the basket first, they are likely to get a defensive reaction.

4 then moves away, creating room for 5 to cut to the basket.

“Little-Big Screen“

Many teams will automatically switch screens on a baseline play. Having a guard set a screen for a “big” in this situation can create a mismatch.

2 screens for 5 and the defence switch. 5 cuts hard to the basket and looks to post against the smaller x2. 2 cuts to the perimeter, looking to isolate the bigger x5

Screening the Screener

A common technique in many baseline plays is to set a screen for a player that has just screened – hoping to create confusion amongst the defenders.

Here, 2 creates space moving up to screen for 2, who cuts toward the ball. At the same time, 1 steps toward the ball and then screens for 4 to cut to the basket.

After screening for 4, 1 cuts off a screen by 5.

The “Safety Catch”

In this simple action there have been there has been 3 screens, which will require excellent communication by the defensive team to defend.

Most importantly, offensive players must adjust to what the defenders do – for example, if the defenders focus on stopping 4’s cut to the basket, 5 may be able to cut straight to the basket.

There are three “safety” areas, where players may get open.  Defenders are usually most focused on guarding the key.

  • Safety 1 – the “deep” corner. This can be a very hard pass for juniors to make. If attempting the pass 3 should step back from the baseline as much as possible.
  • Safety 2 – is often thrown as a lob pass, which is again difficult for many juniors.
  • Safety 3 – is the easiest pass, although many defences will deny a pass to this area.

The cut to the perimeter by 1 in the movement shown above is an example of a “safety catch” – presenting an option away from the basket, which is relatively “non-threatening”.

Against a zone defence, an early corner cut can be very effective. If a pass is not denied, then the ball can be entered easily.

If the pass is denied (x3) this requires a rotation by the frontline (e.g. x5 moving to defend 4) and this can create an opportunity for 5 to cut to the basket.

Against “man to man” defence it is often effective for the cut to the near corner to happen a little later.

2 then cuts to the corner using a screen from 4.

Having both 4 and 5 in an attacking position near the basket (and they should look to receive a pass) can often draw the defence toward the basket, leaving the pass to the perimeter open.

If the defence usually switches on screens, then it can be effective to “clear the space” in the near corner and then have a guard cut into the area.

Initially, both 4 and 2 move away from the ball, creating a space in the near corner.

1 can then cut into this space while 5 can look to “seal” their defender to receive a lob pass.

1 could use a screen from 5, noting that 5 would need to find where x1 was - here x1 is at the foul line, not near 1.

Inbound Player Shooting

This is the final “piece of the puzzle” – determining what the inbound player will do.

It can often be effective to have them move to a shooting position, often on the “weak” side. In this example, 2 and 4 set screens, so that 3 could cut to either corner. 5 also pops out to assist with ball reversal.

See the discussion in the Section Skill Acquisition for Basketball for more information on the desirability of using broad instructions (e.g. “look for high percentage scoring opportunity) instead of narrowly worded instructions (e.g. “pass to Jane cutting off the screen at the elbow).