A Motion Offense for Man or Zone

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



There are many ways to teach a motion offense. That's because there are a multitude of ways to run one. The appeal of the motion is that you can configure it to your team. It can be a very free style, read and react approach or just limited to a few things that your team has had time to work on. Now, the ofense shown below is really just the latest in the evolution of the motion offense that I have developed over the last 14 years. If you have a very young and/or inexperienced team, read the article, Easy Offensive Sets. It has simple patterns that lay a good foundation for learning a basic motion. If your team is past that stage, try Coach Jordan's Motion Offense, which is what my teams have run for the past few seasons. If you want just a little more, read on.

The play pattern below is what I am planning to implement this coming season. With its strong-side, weak-side concepts, I expect to use it against both m2m and zone defenses. If your team could use a semi-structured pattern that creates a steady stream of read and react opportunities, then it may work well for you.

Before you can run a motion offense, though, you will need to break this offense down into each and every component. I firmly believe in working on the elements separately. Training your players to run around in an organized fashion will not help you. They may look good as they go from point A to point B, but they won't be scoring any points. In fact, once an opponent figures out your pattern, they will disrupt it. Without rehearsing the basic elements and understanding the various counters to defensive adjustments, your motion offense will be stuck and motionLESS.


Here is a list of team and individual skills your players must know to run this offense. Even if you believe your players have these skills, drill them often, even more than you practice running the offense itself. TIP: Put a post player in all your layups drills. Instead of just running two lines and making layups, have the shooting line pass to a post who feeds the ball back as the shooter cuts to basket.

  1. Getting the wings open for a pass
  2. Passing to a post; receiving a pass from the wing
  3. Give and go between a wing and a post player
  4. Pick and roll
  5. Backdoor cuts
  6. Setting screens
  7. Low and High Post moves to the basket
  8. Perimeter players able to use screens to get shots

Strong-Side, Weak-Side

They key to this offense is establishing a strong side. In diagram 1, it is obvious that one side of the floor is "over-loaded" with four players on the right half of the floor. The immediate advantage to this is that the zone defense will be outnumbered on the right half of the court. If the opponent is playing m2m, you already have an offensive player on the weak side isolated for 1:1 opportunities.

Notice how the point guard, B1, is biased to the right. B1 is aligned with B4 and B5 (in the green oval). This spacing emphasizes the overload. It also gives more room for your weak side player, B3. You'll see later on how we will use the open area.

During the offensive movement, if the patter breaks down, you can reset by returning the ball to the point. The posts align with the point to recreate the strong side. Its an easy reset strategy.


Establish a strong side and align the posts.


Post Movement

Its a good idea to study the movement of the post players for a moment. The post players must strictly adhere to a few rules to maintain floor balance. Both posts players play high and low depending on where the ball is passed. The pattern shown here will greatly reduce the distance they move. This is important as they need to keep up with the ball movement.

Here are the post rules:

  1. Posts always follow the ball side to side
  2. Each post has his own block and never uses the other post's block. In diagram 2, B5 uses the right low block. His only options are to go up and over or to the corner. Basically, he is responsible for the right half of the floor.
  3. The diagonal cut from the free throw line to the low block is a shortcut to be used only when it is urgent to get to either place.
  4. If the ball is passed to the point for a reset, the post align vertically to establish the strong side.
  5. The high post should follow the ball in such a way as to create a direct line from the ball, through her, to the basket.


B5's path following the ball.


More Post Movement

Now, let's look at the other post player, B4. The movements are exactly the same but as seen in a mirror. When the ball comes the left side of the floor, B4 becomes the primary post player. All the post rules are the same for both B4 and B5.


B4's path following the ball.


Starting the Strong Side Pattern

I will try to show the various options as we work through the pattern. The pattern itself is very simple, but at every stage there are all the basic give and go, pick and roll, and backdoor cuts available if the defense decides to get proactive. At first, just teach the pattern and allow no shots. The players will quickly get comfortable with the movement and then they can start to concentrate on the details that make it effective.

In diagram 4, The point passes to the strong side wing. If you are playing against a zone, this is definitely the best way to start the play. whenever a point passes to a wing - ALWAYS - ALWAYS - ALWAYS - she sets a screen away for the weak side wing, B3. I must emphasize strongly that whenever your perimeter players pass, they MUST MOVE! If they pass and then stand, your motion becomes motionless and it will not work.

Once B2 has the ball, there are four pass options:

  1. Watch for B3 coming off the screen set by B1. You may have a nice jumper at the free throw line.
  2. The best choices are the passes to either B4 or B5 in the post positions. If you can get the ball to a post, pass then cut to either the basket or to an nearby open area. The post will have the choice of returning the ball or making a move to the basket himself.
  3. If a pass from B2 to B3 or to either post isn't safe, B5 pops out to the corner on the ball side. This is the safest pass and it allows for the motion to continue.
  4. If none of the above is available, the defense is really doing a good job. Return the ball to the point and reset. The point can simply dribble to the left side of the floor. Then, by the post rules, the posts must follow and now you have an overload on the left side.


The offense doesn't start until the ball is passed to a wing.


The Basic Pass and Cut

The easiest (and therefore most common) play is the pass from the wing to the corner post. B3 cuts to the basket and then to the weakside wing if she doesn't get the pass from the corner post. Make sure the players make sharp changes in directions when they cut. If their path is a lazy curve, they will never be open, The key is to make sudden changes that give you a momentary advantage over the defender.

Notice that the perimeter players B1 and B3 must move towards the ball and fill the vacancy left by B2. This method of filling holes to maintain court balance is an essential habit the all the players must own.


The most basic movements: pass to the post and cut and the wing players fill the holes.


Ball Reversal

Your players need to become great at this element of the offense. Before B2 has arrived at his new wing position, B5 needs to get the ball out to B3. B3 passes to B1 who passes to B2. B3 and B1 must not hesitate. If they stop the progress of the ball to look for a shot or pass to B4, the play is broken. The ball must get to B2 as quickly as possible. Many guards hate giving up ownership of the ball and they ruin the reversal by stopping the flow. If they do this, sit them down until they get the message. This is one of the biggest problems I have, so maybe you will see this tendency, too.

The reason the ball must get to B2 as quickly as possible is twofold. One, B2 will often be open for a shot. Two, and more importantly, is the defense is forced to shift from one side of the floor to the other. This defensive movement is exactly what a smart offensive team wants to create. The fundamental advantage is that the basketball can be passed faster than a person can move. Once you get the defense to shift right to left, repeat the pattern and make them shift left to right. Repeat it again and again. Usually, in just 3 or 4 iterations, the defense breaks down. One of your players may be unbelievably open.

The problem is that most teams are too impatient. They will do one reversal or two and then force something to happen. The key is to break the defense down and then take advantage. There is no need to force anything unless you have the clock working against you.


Reverse the ball as quickly as possible!


Closer Look at the Post Movement

The ball has just been reversed to the weak side. B4 follows the ball. B5 fills the hole. Now you have two high posts. There is a LOT of room for B2 and B4 to work together.

B2 can pass to B4 and cut for the basket. Should this happen, B4 can return the ball, make a move to the hole, or pass the ball to B1 who would be filling the space left by B2. In that event, the ball would be reversed again the new weak side on the right of the court.

However, as you look at diagram 7, it is practically screaming for a pick and roll. B4 can move out a bit, or stay right there, and let B2 bring her defender into the screen.


The posts players replace each other, too.

Critical Decision Point

Lets say that B2 can't get the ball to B4. B4 drops to the low post position and B5 fills the vacancy. B4 created a vacuum by moving down, so it may be an easy pass to B5 coming towards the ball. If the ball goes to B5, all the same options apply - B5 can shoot or pass to B2 who is cutting.

Remember, B5 can also kick the ball out to B1 who will be filling the hole left by B2 and reverses the ball to B3 and then to B2 who will then be on the weak side wing.


If no pass to B4, B5 comes across.


Maintaining Continuity

Here B2 has elected to make the safe pass. B4 gets the ball, B2 cuts for the weak side and B1 and B3 fill the holes.

As you can see, the strong side can be shifted left to right as often as needed. This is a very simple pattern that is very effective against zones and works against m2m, too.

Make sure the posts understand their paths. If you declare that one player is always low, then the poor kid must cover both corners as he follows the ball side to side. Its much easier and gives you a more versatile look if your post players can rotate high and low yet only cover half the court width.


Here's the basic cut again.


Post Follow the Ball, Stay Balanced

Make sure the posts understand their paths. If you declare that one player is always low, then the poor kid must cover both corners as he follows the ball side to side. Its much easier and gives you a more versatile look if your post players can rotate high and low yet only cover half the court width.

Movement is the same as Diagram 7, just reversed,



Exploiting the Weak Side

If you are facing a m2m defense, you may want to use the weakside to take advantage of that open floor space.

I like this option:

B1 passes to the weak side, and STARTS to pick away, but then changes direction and goes down the middle. Imagine that you're defending B1 and during the whole game to B1 has passed and picked away - over and over. A quick, unexpected change of direction and look who is open.

B4 provides a screen, if needed, for B1.

If B1 doesn't get the ball, she screens for B5, who comes toward the ball. This is a very promising option if your kids set their screens well. B5 will be open or have a mismatch against B1's switching defender.


B3 is isolated. He can go 1 on 1 or look for B1.


Exploiting the Weak Side More

If B5 doesn't get the ball, he keeps going and picks for B4.

The only problem here is that B3 is still holding the ball. B3 needs to make a quick decision and the screening action in the key needs to be hustled along or B3 will get tied up. B3 must use the dribble wisely. If she picks up her dribble too soon to look for an open person inside, she will be vigorously defended, making the pass difficult.

B2 can come to the ball side to help.


Posts help each other get open with screens.


Resetting the Weak Side

Its no big deal if the weak side option doen't work. B2 comes over to help. B4 and B5 move to ball side.  B1 is already over on the new weak side. You can see in diagram 13 that we now have vertical post alignment again. B3 just needs to pass to B2.

If you look at diagram 12 again, the isolation at B3 provides an opportunity for driving to the basket. The team must be aware that once a perimeter player drives inside, the pattern is broken and a reset will be necessary. That's OK. Just make sure your players drive when they know they will get a shot or a dish. Dribbling around to create a shot must be discouraged as it kills your offensive flow,


Reset if the option play doesn't work.


Alternative Motion Offense

If you'd like to see still another way to run the motion offense, try the Alaska Play. That offense follows four simple 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.

The Alaska Play doesn't follow any structured pattern, but the players who know the rules know what will happen next. If you are trying to scout this play as a point A to point B process, forget it.