“Last possession” plays are where a team is down by 1, 2 or 3 points and has possession of the ball and there is time for “one possession” –
up to 24 seconds. There are two different situations:

  1. There are literally only seconds left and a shot needs to be taken very quickly;
  2. There is more time and teams will often “run down” the shot clock until there is 5-7 seconds to go before shooting. This allows some time for an offensive rebound and second scoring opportunity.

Either situation can occur in general play (e.g. taking a defensive rebound and the new offensive team having the last possession) or with the ball to be inbound from either the baseline or sideline.

Whatever the situation, all players on the team need to know how the team is approaching the situation, whether that is a structured play or the application of a rule (e.g. dribble penetrate into the key).

In designing a structure for a team to use, or deciding what to do in a particular situation, coaches should take into consideration:

  • Have options for 2 point and 3 point shots. In each situation, make sure that every player knows what the game situation requires. When a team is three points down, the defence may “give up” a two point shot (to avoid fouling and giving the offence a possible “3 point play”);
  • Have more than one option to receive a pass;
  • Make sure options are realistic for the players that you have. Particularly with junior teams, do they have the physical strength to throw long passes? Will a lob pass be effective if players are not able to “play above the ring”;
  • Have options that are a realistic “catch and shoot” as well as having various elements (e.g. dribble penetrate and pass or reversing the ball). The amount of time left will dictate what options are realistic;
  • Choose who should be the passer based on your particular players, not what a particular “play” might say. Often a taller passer may have an advantage, particularly if the passer is defended by a taller player (a common tactic);
  • Be confident and believe you can score. The best way to practice that is to practice “time and score” situations.

These considerations are demonstrated in the following simple structure:

Initial Alignment

Players initially align in a “box”.

5 cuts hard to the perimeter and 1 cuts hard to the corner. If there is only time to “catch and shoot” for the two players in these positions to be able to shoot from the perimeter.

If the ball is passed to 5, 2 can sprint past for a hand-off from 5, looking to shoot off the dribble. Once they have the ball, 2 can also dribble off a screen from 3.

Alternatively, 2 can cut off 5 and a screen from 3, to receive a pass at the wing.

If the ball is not initially passed to either 5 or 1, 3 cut to the corner, off a staggered screen by 1 and 4.

After screening, 4 turns and steps toward the ball. 5 moves to the side.

3 should cut to where they want to shoot – it may be a 2 point shot or it may be a 3 point shot.

1 now comes off a staggered screen by 4 and 5.

After screening, 5 moves toward the ball and 4 moves to the opposite low post.

If the ball is passed to 1, they can come off a ball screen by 5, whilst 3 again cuts the baseline off a screen from 4.

2 steps into play and may receive a return pass for a shot.

How much time is left will determine to what extent the options shown are implemented. If there is little time, it may simply be that whoever catches the inbound pass needs to shoot.