Alaska Play

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

This set is a different way of running plays. Typically, players are directed from point A to B to C. Sometimes the process is simple, sometimes complex. A common problem with a structured process is that the players get too involved in the method and do not recognize all the shot openings that are created along the way. Another problem is that it takes a while for a team to memorize patterns and sequences and then perform them under game pressure.

The Alaska Play is built on a few simple rules. It doesn't matter who has the ball or where the ball is. The ball handler's action dictates what everyone will do next. This provides a series of simple, basic plays. The offense will know exactly what to expect when the ballhandler passes the ball. An observer, thinking in more linear terms, will believe they are watching a complex process at work. A big advantage is that offensive players must take action following a pass, not just stand around and wait for the ball to come back to them.

Starting Setup: There are three perimeter players and two post players. The perimeter players maintain a balanced position near the three point line. One post player plays high, near the free throw line, and the other stays low, on the opposite side of the key from the high post. An important point is that the high post always lines up so that there is a straight line from the ball, through the high post, to the basket. The high post player maintains that alignment as the ball is rotated around the perimeter. The low post stays near the baseline, following the ball from side to side.

Look below for additional explanations generated by emailed questions from other coaches.

Here are the rules:

1. If you pass to a wing, you pick away. So when the point passes right, he picks to his left. That pick allows the left wing to make a cut to the basket or to the ball.

2. If you pass to a post, cut to the basket. If you don't get the ball, go to the weak side wing spot. The perimeter players adjust to make room.

3. If you pass to the point, reset. Keep spacing balanced.

4. If the perimeter player doesn't pass, that's the signal for the high post to come out little and run a pick and roll.

Notes: Perimeter players and post players don't switch places. If a post passes to a wing, he picks away, but he picks for the other post player (its his only choice). If a post passes to a post, he cuts to the basket then returns to his position on the other side of the key. That way, balance is maintained. Following are examples of what can happen.

Ak1.gif (1269 bytes) Point passes right then picks away. Note the placement of the pick and style of the cut to enable a drive to the basket. #4 will be out of the way because he is moving right to follow the ball.
Player 3 decided to pass to a post. He cuts to the basket hoping for a give and go. Note that player 4 is giving a little help on the way to the basket. Not getting the ball, #3 continues to the weak side wing. 1 and 2 have adjusted to make room.
Ak3.gif (1178 bytes) Player 5 elects not to pass to 3 or to shoot. Instead he passes to a wing (player 2) which dictates that 5 picks away. The only person he can pick for is the other post, so he does so. There is a large open area near the basket. 4 hopes to get the ball there.
Ak4.gif (1166 bytes) Player 4 doesn't get the ball. Darn. So Player 2 hits the new high post, Player #5, and because #2 passed to a post, #2 cuts to the basket. Notice the nice path created to the basket. If 5 doesn't hand off to 2, he'll probably pass out to 1 who should be shifting in to the vacated wing position. Because 5 passes to a wing he... you guessed it, picks away for Player 4 who then has a chance to return to the high post. The possibilities are endless, yet simple to anticipate.

Alaska Play - Additional Explanation

The Alaska Play is still maturing. We are not initiating any movement when the ball goes out to the point. When that happens, we just reset. I was hoping to keep the rules to an absolute minimum so the kids would learn it faster, but it looks like the pass to point should be listed as a rule to reset. If the point is open for a clean three, though, we'll shoot it.

The set:

3 out and 2 in (high and low) to start. Insist on balanced spacing. High post follows the ball to maintain alignment of ball - post - basket. Low post plays opposite side of high post or goes to ball-side corner.

The rules:

  1. If you pass to point, reset
  2. If you pass to a post, cut to basket
  3. If you pass to a wing, pick away. Posts pick away only for other post, guards pick away for other guards.
  4. If no pass, and the defense is extended, the point or wing may maintain dribble - our signal for the high post to step out a little to initiate a pick and roll. (This is the first tendency for my players because they are pick/roll oriented and they like to dribble. I am trying to teach them to trust the other options because they can get better looks on the cuts).

What is the role of the high post? The high post's main job is to follow the ball and maintain a ball - post - basket alignment. If he receives a pass, the passer will always cut past him looking for a hand-off. If the wing passes to the corner post, then cuts, the high post can help with a screen.

If the high post has no shot, and must pass, he follows the same rules as everyone else:

  1. pass to the point, reset.
  2. pass to the post and cut to the basket
  3. pass to a wing, pick away (for the other post). Sometimes this simply exchanges the positioning of the high and low post players.

What is the role of the low post? The low post has two options as the ball moves around the perimeter:

  1. When the ball goes to a wing (who should wait a couple seconds for the weak-side (point to wing) pick to develop - I've had problems with the wings being impatient), the low post can move out to that corner. Notice that with the post in the corner, we're in a 4 out, 1 in set, and we have established a definite strong-side. That gives the wing three good passing options:
    1) to the point which means reset,
    2) to the high post which means cut to the basket,
    3) or to the low post which means cut to the basket.
    If the wing passes to the post, and hustles on the cut to the basket, then V cuts to the wing, the ball can be rotated around the perimeter for a nice weak-side shot.

    What happens when the wing passes the ball to the low post in the corner? The wing cuts to the basket, hoping for a give and go. After the wing cuts through, the high post player follows the ball-basket alignment and now resides on the ball-side block. If there was no pass to the cutting wing, the "corner post" has the ball and can then...
    • shoot
    • pass to wing, which dictates he picks away for the other post. At first this option was awkward. The solution so far is for the corner post's pick to be set to allow the original high post (now on the block) to make a cut towards the free throw line where he may be open. The corner post, now down low, should seal his man and hope for a pass and shot. In any case the high - low post balance is maintained.
    • pass to high post who has followed the ball alignment and is now on the ball-side block, which dictates the corner post cut to the basket (give and go). Now, if the corner post doesn't get a pass on this cut to the basket, he must maintain balance in the set. The best place he can go is to the weak-side elbow. Now the corner post has become the high post.

    • In the case above, the pass was to the original high post who is now on the block. He is now the designated low post because his partner is in the high post area. So, if the post on the block passes out to a wing, he would pick away for the post at the elbow. This creates a great opportunity. Either the new high post will be open on his roll to the basket, or by sealing his man out, the screener is now open. Watch out for a 3 second call, though, when the posts are screening for each other.
  2. If the low post decides not to go out to the corner, then he should stay on the opposite side of the key from the high post as he follows the ball. The point is to maintain balance and minimize the number of defenders near the ball. If both posts are on the same side of the key, its too crowded and hard to pass to either and there is no room to cut through.

    Lets say that now the ball is passed to the high post and the low post has retreated to the weak-side block area instead of going out to the ball-side corner. The high post has these options:
    • Pass out to the point, reset
    • Pass out to wing, pick away. This pick is on the low post's man, and brings the low post cutting to the ball.
    • Pass to post, cut to basket - unlikely opportunity

What if the point guard, instead of passing, dribbles to either wing position?

Why dribble there? Is it just the path of least resistance or is the point creating something? Many times I see kids drive wide to the wing area then stop and try to figure out what to do. It would be more productive to pass the ball and let the wing work his magic. However, let's just assume the point dribbles to wing. The original wing is displaced and it is important for him to get out of there and take his defense with him. Otherwise the point risks being trapped. I see three ways for the wing to move away.

  1. The wing could pick for the point as you suggested. The result may be a quick shot for point coming off the screen. Probably the defense, being that far from the basket, would roll around or through the pick. Then its a long way to go to set a pick for the opposite wing.
  2. Another way to move away would be for the wing to do a shallow cut to the top of the key. They essentially switch places. If the defense decides to trap/double team, you might get a pass to an open man.
  3. Maybe the best option would be for the displaced wing to cut to the basket and let the weak-side wing rotate to point. Then balance is maintained. The original point (now at wing) has the normal options of high post, corner post or reset.

Does the Alaska Offense work against a zone?

It can, if defense will come out and aggressively play the ball side. Since the play uses pass and screen away/pick and roll the screens are kind of awkward if the defense plays an area and not a man – sometimes there is no logical defender to put a screen on. However, because you have savvy kids that like a freelance style, you could move the PG to the strong side lane line instead of the middle of the court. With that four man overload, you could get more creative when the PG passes to the wing and screens away as your weak side wing is more isolated. Also, when your strong side wing passes to a post and cuts through, he should replace the weak side wing and you can reverse the ball to him. The posts could then follow the ball to set up a new strong side. That way you get an overload and a reversal working against that zone.

If the point (1) pass to a wing (3) how do you replace the point in the set?

1 screens for 2. 2 becomes the new pg and 1 is now the weak side wing. 3 still has the ball in his original position.

Does the wing (3) dribble back to the point and reset with the original wing cutter (2) replacing the wing (3)?

No. That’s not part of the play. But if 3 decides to dribble to the point, 2 should cut away from the ball and then replace 3 to restore balance.

What you really want is 3 having these options:

  1. Look at 2 cutting off of 1’s screen
  2. Look inside for a pass to the post. If he does that, 3 cuts to the basket then to the weak side wing. That forces 1 to go back to the point and 2 to go to 3’s original position. This perimeter movement is helpful in that it maintains balance and it gives the post with the ball a target as he now has a guard moving into the open area 3 vacated.
  3. Bring the post out for a pick and roll
  4. Pass the ball to the new point (2) to reset the offense

Problems we have encountered so far:

  1. Players making good cuts, but not expecting the ball and the pass surprises them. This will fix itself with practice.
  2. Players passing then just standing there instead of picking or cutting. This is a life-long habit that must be broken anyway. Keep reminding them.
  3. Pass execution. Players are too obvious when passing to the post and the passes are deflected. With familiarity and practice, players will become less deliberate and more deceptive. Weakness in passing to the posts has been exposed and now we can fix it.