Situational Plays

Teaching players fundamental personal basketball skills, covering team defensive plans and practicing half-court offensive sets will occupy an entire season's practice time and still not seem adequate. Yet, in a competitive environment, the team that has also rehearsed plans for certain, predictable events will  have a decided advantage. The following plays are designed to get the most out of specific situations that arise in every single game. These plays are simple and effective. There are a multitude of situational plays and some may favor your team more than these. The key is to learn a couple of them well. In fact, if your team can do just one out of bounds play well, it will mean a significant number of points over the course of the season. It will not be helpful to have several options if none of them work consistently.

Stalling to Win

I remember a game in my first year of coaching. Our team was made up of 5th graders. We had worked hard to get within 10 points with about 2 minutes left and thought we had chance to win. But, the opposing team went into a stall pattern. I realized with considerable dismay that this situation was one we hadn't practiced, and short of a miracle, we had just been mathematically eliminated from victory. (see Risk Management - Basketball Is Money) I resolved that my future teams would learn this tactic well.

The objective is to bring the defense away from the basket. They will readily comply when they are behind in the closing minutes. Most teams come out in a close, man to man defense. If they don't, and there is no shot clock, don't be afraid to just stand and dribble as the clock winds down. Every second is a second closer to victory.

Most youth game scores are relatively low (so are many high school games). Many leagues use a running clock or stop the clock only in the last minute. The point is that if points have been difficult to produce and have come at a slow rate, the ability to reduce the time available for the losing team to score is extremely powerful. Further, immature teams faced with the prospect of losing will often panic when they realize that they have less time than they thought to fight back. The result is often reckless gambles to steal the ball. With the defense so far from the basket, once a mistake is made, there is no protection against a successful backdoor or give and go. The more desperate the losing team becomes, the easier it is to score.

If the other team decides to foul you, don't make it easy for them. Don't stand there and take the foul. Move the ball and make them expend as much time as possible as they try to foul you. And, make your free throws. If you make 75% of your free throws, they will not be able to catch up (unless they make 100% of their threes!)

When is the best time to call for a spread? Generally it is effective up to four minutes (assuming your team takes care of the ball). After that, the defense anticipates your moves well, your players begin to tire and concentration falters. With the ball at halfcourt most of the time, a little carelessness can turn the stall into a rally. If you are up at least 10 points, you may consider stalling as long as four minutes. If the game differential is 6 - 10 points, consider stalling at the 2 minute mark. With a smaller lead, like 4-6 points, wait until the last minute. Don't stall using this pattern with a single basket lead. If something goes wrong, the other team will score easily and you will have lost your advantage.

A downside to consider is losing your offensive rhythm if you start to stall too soon. If the stall goes badly and the other team catches up, it may be hard to return to the original game pace. Try the stall pattern a little in each game early in the season. Use it at the end of the first half. The game experience will prove invaluable when you need it for real.

The Spread

Spread the players out to the four corners. Try and get the defense as far as possible from the basket, but avoid going all the way into the corner and getting trapped. The ball is controlled from the top. The top passes to either side, cuts to the basket and then to the side passed to.

The player receiving the ball drives to the top and is replaced by the player coming up from the bottom. To stall, keep the pace up, but avoid shots unless they are wide open lay-ups.
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To score, watch for the defense to overplay the pass. As they get desperate, they will attempt to intercept the pass to the side. The passer should fake a pass and the intended recipient pretends to move for the catch, but then reverse direction (backdoors) and goes to the basket. The signal of when to backdoor is the defender moving out of the "between the man and the basket" position in anticipation. Its OK to backdoor and not get a pass. Its not OK to for the passer to be fooled and throw the ball where the intended receiver was. Practice communication. If not intuitive, declare certain players to always backdoor, so there's no doubt.

The Spread - a Variation

This variation is safer because it creates a much easier pass from the top to the players on the side. The two players on the top sides go down low to set simultaneous screens for their respective teammates. Both low players break to the top sides. Usually both are reasonably open. The top passes to either and cuts to the basket, then goes low to the side passed to. As before, whoever gets the ball drives to the top to restart the play.
The downside is that this variation doesn't create many shots.
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An Annoying Stall Pattern

This is is a good stall if you need to safely kill some time and you do not have many good ball handlers. You can keep your big people in the game. You will need at least two players that can dribble and take care of the ball.

1. Your primary ball handler dribbles vs one defender making sure to avoid a 5 second "closely guarded" violation.
2. As needed, the secondary ball handler pops out of the line to receive a pass. The primary cuts towards the corner, then joins the line.
3. The big guys next to the secondary ball handler must close the door when he leaves, blocking out the secondary's defender.
4. If the defense elects to play in front of the line or double team the ball, the respective offensive player can drop from the line to the basket and look for a pass.