Secondary Break (Offensive Transition)

The initial intent of a “fast break” is to get an open lay-up or a situation of advantage (such as 2v1 or 3v2) leading to a high percentage shot. A “secondary break” is how a team moves into half court offence if they were unable to create an initial shot.

The most famous “secondary break” may be the North Carolina Secondary Break which was introduced by coach Dean Smith and is still used by the University of North Carolina teams under coach Roy Williams. However, in designing or implementing any offensive system coaches must consider the limitation of the 24 second shot clock and also the skill level of their own players. Many well-known offensive structures were first designed with a shot clock of 30 seconds or longer (a 35 second shot clock applied in NCAA basketball when the Carolina Break was devised).

Numbered Fast Break

Many coaches will use a “numbered” fast break as a basic structure, which simply allocates different roles by number. When coaching a junior team it is important that each player understands all 5 roles and gets the opportunity to practice and play each role.

(English) The coach may designate the following roles:

  1. receive the ball and bring it up court. If a teammate is ahead of them they should pass the ball, otherwise dribble
  2. runs on one side of the court (“lane”). The coach may designate a specific side of the court (e.g. run the right lane). They should be as wide as possible, to make receiving a pass from 1 easier
  3. runs the other side of the court
  4. sprints to the basket
  5. is the outlet pass. Is last to move up the court as a “trailer”

(English) Passing the ball up the court will usually be quicker than dribbling and is more likely to create a 2v1 / 3 or 2 opportunity or to create an opportunity for 4 to receive a pass at the basket for a lay-up.

The wing players (2 and 3) should be below the free throw line while 4 runs to the basket, not the side of the key. 2 and 3 may “bounce off the baseline”, meaning that they run to the baseline and then lead back to the wing.

(English) The team can then move into an offensive structure (e.g. 4 Out, 1 In) and then play with whatever rules they wish (e.g. from this alignment the team could play Motion or Flex).

(English) With junior teams, coaches may prefer to play a 5 Out alignment and this can similarly be the end of the “numbered” break.

(English) The “numbered” break is easiest to use from an inbound pass, as players can move to their designated role. On a defensive rebound, this may be harder as it cannot be predicted where the player might be on the court.

To allow for this, the coach may regard the “4” and “5” roles as interchangeable and similarly the “2” and “3” roles as interchangeable. For example:

  • If 4 rebounds, 5 sprints to the basket.
  • 2 and 3 are to sprint on the side to which they are closest. If they are on the same side, then whoever is behind (shown as 3) moves to the other side of the court.


The importance of the “Trailer”

In most situations the player that rebounded the ball (or made the inbounds pass) will be the last offensive player up the court and accordingly is called the “trailer”. There are a number of roles that can be given to the “trailer”:

(English) Increasingly, the “trailer” will look to shoot from the perimeter after receiving a pass. This is often free because they do not have a designated defender at this stage.

With junior players it is important to “multi-skill” players because as at senior level the “trailer” is often a “big”, however will be proficient at shooting a 3 point shot.

(English) The “trailer” may also cut to the free throw line for a shooting opportunity.

(English) This position can also provide an excellent opportunity to pass from the high post to the low post position, particularly if the defender (x5) was in a position to deny a pass from the wing.

(English) Another role commonly played by the “trailer” is to set a screen, here shown as a screen for the opposite wing player. Importantly, the screen should be set relative to the defender.

For example, if x3 is playing “help line” the screen may be set as a “pin down” screen (shown in black). If x3 is playing closer to their opponent, a down screen may be more appropriate (shown in red.)

(English) The “trailer” can also set a ball screen – shown here on the wing.

(English) Equally, the screen could be set at the point position.


Structured Secondary Break

The structure of a secondary break is a decision for the coach. Many teams simply move into their normal offensive alignment, particularly if it is a “motion” style offence. Commonly a secondary break will involve:

  • “Ball reversal” – moving the ball from one side of the floor to the other;
  • Screening.

For the purposes of illustration a structure for secondary break is set out below, however coaches are encouraged to determine what will best work for the skill level, experience and attributes of their own team.

(English) The initial goal of the offence is to get the ball to “below the free throw line” as quickly as possible. 2 dribbles to try to get a better passing angle to 5.

1 and 4 move into position on the “strong” side of the floor, leaving 3 on the “weak side”.

(English) 3 cuts to the free throw line and from here their initial options are:

  1. Pass to 5
  2. Shoot
  3. Drive

(English) As 3 receives the ball, 4 moves across to the wing, and 1 replaces him at the point.

If 3 passes to 4, 5 sets a back screen for 2. This is an example of a “Flex” cut.

(English) After passing, 3 can either:

  • Screen for 5
  • Screen for 1

Setting a screen for 5 is part of traditional “flex action”, although the screen is coming from a slightly different position on the floor. If 3 screens for 5, 1 would move to receive a pass from 4.

If 3 screens for 1, 5 would move the perimeter.

(English) After screening for 1, 3 moves to the perimeter. If 3 had screened for 5, 1 would move to this position.

4 passes to 3 and sets a screen for 2.

(English) In this situation, teams will often reverse the ball again, for a shot from the perimeter. 1 can show strongly to receive a pass and then cut back door.

5 cuts “on the back” of that cut to the elbow.

(English) Coaches must be cognizant of the shot clock and how quickly their players can execute the “secondary break”.

By this time, the shot clock is likely to be under 10 seconds.

5 can set a ball screen for 3 as 1 moves to the perimeter.