There are Five Fundamental Offensive Plays

These plays can be combined and repeated to create an offense pattern as elaborate as you wish, but simplicity is usually the best policy. Only two players are needed, so the plays apply to situations from the driveway to the Forum. Players that master these basic plays will be able to fit in most organized programs as well as any pickup situations they encounter. Unfortunately, most young basketball players are exposed to these fundamental plays and think they know them when in fact they perform them poorly. You can ask experienced high school players to run a pick and roll and discover a week's worth of practice material. Fortunate are the players that master the basic plays. They will consistently get good results with ordinary effort.

Looking for easy half court plays you can run? Click here.

El Solo Mio

OK, so this doesn't really require two players (except one to throw the ball in-bounds and one to catch it). The most basic play in basketball is to give the ball to your best scorer and get out of the way. A few players are good enough to single-handedly ignite a rally or make a huge impact at some point in a game. In the final seconds of a very close contest, the simplest and wisest decision is often to give the ball to such a player and hope the shot is made. Using one player reduces the odds of a turnover and the odds are pretty good you'll get a shot of some kind.

Coaching would be easy if you just had a star player that could conquer all. There are two significant victims if the Solo Mio approach is used as a primary offense - team morale and consistency.

A player feels heroic if he/she single-handedly scores and the other team was powerless to do anything about it. There is a feeling of superiority. The crowd acknowledges they are seeing a great player. There is glory to be had. But, if the glory of success isn't shared by the team, then the competition turns inward and players vie with one another instead of the opponent. Other players may feel they could be a hero, too, if they could just get more shots or more playing time. A player's goal becomes one of looking for his or her shot, not the best shot for the team. If responsibility for failure isn't shared by the team, then blame is passed from one individual to another. Team morale degenerates and the team becomes dysfunctional.

If a team uses one player at time to attack a defense, the odds are against them - literally. A skilled offensive player may consistently beat a single defender, but in a basketball game there are 5 defenders. When one players drives into the heart of the defense to try and shoot - or rushes a long shot with no rebounding help, the shot will be missed most of the time. Its similar to charging a bunker one soldier at a time, or like a football line backer trying to advance with no blocking assistance. Sure, sometimes you succeed and feel like a hero, but did you win the game?

When a team breaks down at the end of a frustrating game and becomes desperate, it is very common for the players to abandon their offensive plan and for individuals to try and and "step up" and save the team. Its a basic human response to rely on our body and not our brain in a crisis. When the game falls apart, its usually because the team panicked. A coach usually will not be able to reverse this situation late in the game. It is very frustrating for the coaches, players and fans.

Counterpoint: If you are coaching against a team that is becoming desperate, slow the game down. Your opponent will panic further if it cannot get the ball and time winds down. They will take increasingly higher risks and subsequently suffer the consequences. Use a conservative defense. Don't gamble for steals. Don't foul. If a player drives in at a crazy angle, let him miss the shot and concentrate on the rebound. The opponent's only hope is that you, too, will panic, give them the ball more often and allow easy shot attempts.

What a coach can do is build a foundation that the players will believe in. If the players know their plays will work and they can depend on one another to perform as rehearsed; and if the players know that the coaches will support (not criticize) them when times are tough for earnestly struggling to implement the game plan, then they will have the courage to use their heads as well as their hearts. Each successful play and every victory builds the faith the players need to have in the program.

So, use your star when the time is right. But build up everyone on the team throughout the season. Hopefully, should fate throw the ball to an unintended player, you will have the pleasure of meeting a new hero.

Give and Go

Player A passes the ball to Player B. Player A then cuts to the basket (or an open area to shoot) and receives the pass back from Player B. So simple. So effective. Easy to practice. Why doesn't it work more often in games? Do 2:2 drills in practice and watch for the following faults.

  1. Player A passes, but doesn't go anywhere. Player A doesn't get open because the defense did not need to move.
  2. Player A passes and moves, but movement is not challenging. The offense has the advantage of first strike. Player A should pass, go somewhere to make the defender move, then employ an element of surprise with a sudden change in speed or direction. The reactive defender is disadvantage and there will be a small window of recovery.
  3. Poor passing execution. Its difficult to shoot after receiving a pass that is hard to catch. If player that cannot pass, cannot play. Stop the drill and practice passing.
  4. Give and Go plays can repeat. Once Player A receives the ball again, Player B may cut and be open for a pass.

Back Door

The reactive defensive may tire of being disadvantaged and attempt to take the initiative. For the defense to be proactive, it must guess what the offense is about to do and then try to steal the ball. If the offense is running a recognizable, repeating pattern, the defense will soon learn where the opportunities are. But the defense NEVER has the advantage because it doesn't have the ball. It can only prey on offensive mistakes or inattention. An intelligent offense, seeing that the defense is becoming overly aggressive, looks for the defense to make a gamble. If the gambling defender misses his opportunity, the defensive team is seriously compromised because one member is out of position and one offensive player is unguarded. Other defenders will shift to recover, but each shift only leaves another offensive player open. If the defense is spread out widely, this play creates a lay-up.

  1. Player A has been passing to a certain spot/player consistently, and notices Player B's defense is overplaying.
  2. Player B has been receiving the pass from Player A, and notices the his defensive player overplaying
  3. Player A fakes the pass. Player B's defender lunges to intercept.
  4. Player B suddenly reverses direction and heads to the basket. The defender is caught off-guard and is no longer in position to be able to defend Player B.
  5. Player A passes to Player B for an easy shot or subsequent pass if defense shifts quickly enough.

Why doesn't it work?

  1. The defense is not gambling. If the defender maintains position between his man and the basket, he cannot be "backdoored".
  2. Passer is too deliberate. A little acting goes a long way to sucker the defender into making a critical mistake.
  3. The cutter moves too slowly. This is a demanding play requiring much movement. If the cutter doesn't change direction quickly, he loses the element of surprise.
  4. The cutter changes direction too soon and the defender isn't fooled.
  5. The passer is fooled by his cutter and makes a pass that is easily stolen. The passer must anticipate the possibility of a backdoor cut and not release the ball unless the receiver is certain.

Pick and Roll

This play offers many variations. Players who master it can beat the defense in a number of ways, depending on the decision made by the defenders as to how they will react to the imbalances the offensive imposes upon them. This play succeeds when the components are performed with care, exactitude and understanding. Coaches must break this play down the smallest details. Otherwise, is it too often performed in a sloppy, rushed fashion that hinders its effectiveness. When players may complain that the picks aren't working, the problem is offensive execution, not that the defense knows" the secret"  to defending a pick and roll.

  1. Player A has the ball and the dribble. Through signal or predetermination, indicates readiness.
  2. Player B sets a screen on Player A's defender.

Usually you can stop right there and talk about screens. Screeners only need to do these things: A) establish a position behind Player A's defender, but about a third to one side. The screen (or pick) must have a bias, left or right. B) Stand still. Do not run up and crash into the defender. Cross arms to protect chest or groin. Do not lean, push, stick out a knee ... just be there. The screener must establish position, not contact. Some distance between the defender and the screen is fine.

3. Player A drives to the same side that the screener has biased causing the defender to run into the screen.

The driver must cause the defender to move into screen. Two common faults are that the dribbler goes so wide around the screen that the defender follows without impediment or, the dribbler drives to the wrong direction - not to the side the screener set up - and again the defender follows the ball without impediment.

4. Once the defender makes contact with the stationary screener, the screener must pivot so that he is back to back with the defender, preventing the defender from following his man.

At this point the screener's defender will usually switch to guard the dribbler. If so, the offense has created an imbalance in its favor. The dribbler is now guarded sufficiently, but due to the switch the other defender has lost his basic position of being between the basket and the person he responsible to guard. The screener has a clear path to the basket.

5. Player B (the screener) cuts to the basket and receives pass from Player A.

Smart players will learn to take advantage of the many opportunities this play creates. For instance, if Player B's defender doesn't switch quickly, Player A will be open for a drive to the basket or an open shot. Defenders will often sabotage themselves trying to second guess the offense. The offense must practice this play frequently to recognize all the possibilities.

6. Early Help may negate advantage. Don't force the pick and roll. Pass the ball to  a teammate or backup and try again. The beauty iis that you can try, try again .

7. If the defender fights through the pick, all he gained is closing the outside drive. If 1 reverses direction, there will be an opening. If another defender steps up to help, his man will be open. Openings created usually have a ripple effect. Be patient, press the advantage, and you will get the good shot.


1 drives defender into screen

Switch gives 4 advantage

1 drives defender into screen

Early help is tough. Reset.

1 drives defender into screen

1's defender pushes through.\
1 reverses for open jumper

Fast Break

For this discussion, a fast break is defined as a transition situation in which the offense, after recovering the basketball, is able to advance to their goal ahead of the defensive players. The numeric advantage may vary. A long pass to a single player for a lay-up and a mid-court steal that results in a lay-up attempt are common examples. Sometimes the offense may have a 2:1 or a 3:2 advantage. These specific situations must be practiced thoroughly because they often result in 50% of the scoring opportunities. The ratio may be even higher for young teams or teams that employ a full court press for much of the game. A few missed lay-ups and bad passing in fastbreak situations can mean defeat.

How to use a 1:2 advantage:

  1. The player with the ball should go to the center lane to attack the basket. This will provide the maximum number of directional options.
  2. The player with the ball should drive directly to the basket, if possible, and make the lay-up. No other action should be considered unless the defensive player commits to stopping the dribbler.
  3. Once the sole defender is committed to the ball handler, the other offensive player will be entirely open for an uncontested shot. Sufficient spacing between the two offensive players is critical. If they are too close, the defender can guard both and have a good chance at deflecting a pass.

Why does this play fail?

  1. The ball handler did not force the defender to commit and as a result the defender shifted to guard the pass recipient.
  2. The offensive players were too close. The defender did not need to make a choice.
  3. The offense was careless in executing a dribble, pass or shot.

How to use a 3:2 advantage:

  1. This opportunity must be realized quickly because the numeric advantage will not last long.
  2. The player with the ball should drive directly to the basket, staying in the center lane. The other two players should fill lanes on either side. Spacing is important. Use as much floor area as possible to stress the defensive ability to cover the play.
  3. The ball handler keeps the ball until a defender is committed to the dribble. Once a defender is committed to the ball handler, there will be one defender for the two remaining offensive players.
  4. The back defender may commit to one offensive player, which makes the pass decision easy. The passer should remain at the top of the key to receive a pass back unless his defender leaves. In that case, he should cut to the basket. If the back defender stays near the basket, pass the ball to one side or the other. If the defender still does not commit, shoot. If the defender moves out to guard the shot, the remaining offensive player will be open.
  5. To reach the open player, the safest route is back to the top, then to the open man.
  6. Do not over pass. Take the first open shot. There is a temporary rebounding advantage while the three other defensive players are coming down the floor to help.

Why does this play fail?

  1. The ball handler did not force the defender to commit and as a result the defenders shifted to guard the pass recipients.
  2. The offensive players were too close. The defenders did not need to make a choice.
  3. The offense was careless in executing a dribble, pass or shot.
  4. The offense made too many passes and the rest of the defense arrived.
  5. The players first passed to the side, but then tried to pass parallel to the baseline to the open player. The problem is that both of the defenders have a chance to disrupt this passing lane.