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Basketball: 5-Player Schemes Promote Winning Ideals

When one equates the strategies used in football with those used in basketball one can conjure up a better approach to the game. In football, every player has a function and when carried out properly, you have positive results. Lineman block protecting the passer or open holes for the running back. Receivers and tight ends block down field or run pass patterns seeking space and separation. All these assignments are diligently synchronized for optimum results. And if the timing is perfect, a trap-block becomes a big gain or a well-timed break by a receiver becomes a first down reception.

In basketball, such diligence is sadly lacking. It’s a mish-mash of ideas, each player skimming alone, not knowing the intentions of his teammates. What would happen if each player knew what the other four players were going to do, where they were going to be at any moment in the play? What would be the result? What’s more, how could this be done.

To understand my apotheosis, let’s look at the various aspects of the game. In basketball, the objective is to score more points than your opponent. To do this requires having a higher shooting percentage, and/or much better rebounding stats, and/or lesser numbers in the turnover department. A major factor in these numbers is how well a team creates space. Space is how a team establishes passing, shooting and driving lanes. When there’s space, passing is on target and shooting rhythms result in higher percentages. Space also allows for a more controlled shooting stance which also ups percentages. When faulty, turnovers result and shooting percentages go down. Creating space should be the objective of every player on the team whether they are directly involved in the play or not.

To create space, several factors need to be put into play, namely movement, balanced offensive threats and dictating defensive alignment. When there is movement, the defense is more focused on guarding their man rather than helping teammates. This movement stretches the defense enough to where space is created. Even fake movement or the threat of movement keeps the defense preoccupied negating a sagging defense and rebounding opportunities.

If only a few players are offensive threats, the defense hones in on these players stifling their effectiveness. Thus, it is imperative to have a balanced offensive strategy that involves all five players. When all five players act as integral participants in passing, rebounding, screens, shooting and drives to the basket, then the defense must guard against multiple threats, not just a few. Likewise, such a strategy allows less skilled shooting players to perform specific functions at which they can excel. They feel they have purpose.

Any offensive strategy has a counter defensive strategy. It could be man-to-man, switching man-to-man, or various zone alignments. By implementing various offensive strategies, especially when successful, one can dictate how the defense counters it. Such manipulation can offer advantages in things such as match ups, better shooting and rebounding opportunities as well as reducing turnovers.

Creating space can also be done by inhibiting or impeding the opponent’s movements. Screens are a common method of restricting coverage by a defender. Space can also be accomplished by creating confusion in the opponent’s defensive alinements. When they switch on defense, there are minute opportunities to gain an advantage. For instance, in a pick-and-roll situation, the screener can peel off toward the basket creating not only a scoring opportunity, but also mismatches. These might be tall over short, fast over slow, competent over insecure.

Impeding or inhibiting an opponent can also be accomplished by creating traffic congestion. When opponents have to avoid their own teammates to get into the proper defensive positions, it generates momentary shooting, passing, and driving opportunities. This can be accomplished by congregating offensive players in a small area then suddenly dispersing. And if the dispersion is done in a way that creates confusion or switching, then congestion can result and opportunistic space generated

Another way of creating traffic congestion is to incorporate two or three-man screens. If the screeners disburse in multiple directions, the defenders have little time to react and communicate thus not only creating confusion but also court congestion. This allows offensive players to momentarily separate from defenders and with a separation of four to six feet, this is more than enough to safely catch a pass, shoot a basket or drive for a layup. In zone defensives, such screens can negate coverage and likewise open up space.

Another offensive ploy is to stretch the defensive by making them guard more closely. In this way the defensive is not able to sag and help out other defenders. Being a scoring threat is one way. But there are also passing threats, driving threats, and rebounding threats. Keeping your defender preoccupied with these threats either by illusions (fakes) or realistic movements helps the team effort. For instance, jumping, reaching up for a fake pass creates a momentary defensive commitment, one that creates an offensive advantage. Likewise, moving your defender to an uncomfortable area where you have an advantage, let’s say for driving or rebounding is another strategy.

Rebounding, especially on offensive, is not given its due importance. Rebounds not only give the offense another chance to score, they also mess with the opponent’s alignment. Defenders are out of position and not on their man. This can also result in mismatches all of which allow easy scoring opportunities.

While shooting percentages sit at the top of the stats, one statistic often overlooked is the points scored per possession. A team shooting in the med forties can beat a team shooting over fifty percent if they have an advantage in points scored per possession. Elite teams average around 1.2 points per possession because they are more efficient with the ball, they take good shots, avoid turnovers and get a goodly share of rebounds-thus more possessions. Such a strategy promotes a winning season.

So, in drawing up a scheme, rebounding should be an integral component. By having players positioned for rebounds, either moving through the lane or in it, ups the possibility of getting the rebound. In addition, when shooting opportunities are in sync with rebounding advantage, the point per possession will go up. When such a scheme becomes successful, opponents will counter by placing more emphasis on rebounding thus leaving holes in their defense.

Another factor in rebounding depends on the shooter’s touch and the analytics where the ball might fall. With most shooters, missed shots fall in a certain pattern, either close to the rim or further out, either beyond or in front of basket. This analytic is important on 3-point attempts where misses occur 60-70% of the time. Knowing where the ball is likely to land for a given shooter provides the team a decided advantage. Including this factor into rebounding schemes ups the points per possession.

Another component of any offensive scheme is how well the team transitions to defense. A certain number of players should be responsible for down court defense. However, this responsibility can shift depending on the play’s parameters. While normally this is the duty of the two guards, certain schemes may have them under the basket. Thus, all five players should be schooled in this transition process and know exactly when and where their responsibility begins. There will always be the gamble whether to crash the boards or play it safe and retreat.

The offense is most vulnerable when there’s a defensive rebound or a sudden turnover. Usually a rapid retreat is in order, however, when the opponent’s advance is momentarily delayed by blocking passing lanes or forcing a backward dribble, the rest of the team can get back and set the defense. So periodically teams should implement this delaying strategy.

Being aware of the aspects of time and timing is another factor that determines the success of a team. A college team is allotted a 30-second shot clock while the pros get only 24-second. In college, a team is given 10-second to avoid a back-court violation while the pros are given 8-seconds. Both are given 5-seconds to make a out of bounds throw-in. Both have a 3-second lane violation rule. Working within these time restrictions become part of offensive strategies. Taking too long hurries the setup while shooting too early may overlook weaknesses in the defense.

Timing is an aspect reflecting how well players and their strategies mesh together. In football, it the dominate factor in the success of a play. A defensive lineman need only be delayed a fraction of a second to help the running back break free. The same goes for passing plays where the timing between the quarterback and the receiver must be precise. Such timing is set by the structure of the play. In football, there are also option reads that restructure the play based on opponent’s coverage.

In basketball, such precision is rare. Timing is induced only after teammates become uses to each other’s tendencies. This could take a good part of the season, especially if it is not induced through well-timed structured plays. As I mentioned earlier, if every team member knew where his teammates would be at any given moment and where they were headed, positive results would occur. Likewise, when each player knows what his function or responsibility is then there’s a collective effort that supports the objectives of the team.

These functions or responsibilities include the following.

  1. Establishing passing, shooting and dribbling lanes
  2. Inhibiting defensive movement
  3. Stretching the defensive
  4. Creating rebounding opportunities
  5. Maintaining defensive transitions
  6. Optimizing use of time and timing

How does one establish this precision where all five players are moving in concert? In football, the play and snap count are called in the huddle. The snap count sets up the timing as to when the play is to commence. Football plays have numerous options and are flexible to counter defensive schemes. For instance, the blocking back has the option to block the first defender breaking through or he can run out in the flat and act as a safety valve receiver. Another example, on passing plays, if the defender is on the inside, the pass is thrown to the outside. If the defender plays way back, its set up for a buttonhook short pass with the receiver coming back for the ball. The quarterback reads the opposition and selects the best option.

In basketball, similar play calling strategies can be applied. Each player serves a function, which can and does change as the play unfolds. A shooter can become the one that lures a defender out of position. Later he can become a screener, then switches to becoming a rebounder. Still later he might take on defensive responsibilities. In this strategy, each of the five players has an ever-changing function, one which promotes optimum basketball analytics. Mainly a higher point average per possession.

So how does one get the players synchronized putting the play in motion. In football, the quarterback communicates the snap count. In could be on hut, or hut-hut, or some other pre-determined signal. In basketball, some other means must be established to signal the start of the play. Vocal calls are impractical because of the court distance and crowd noise. Likewise, hand signals are not viable as they can be picked up by the opposition.

There is a snap count device on the court that could be used. It’s visual, highly precise and can be observed from any place on the floor. This device is the shot clock. It college ball it’s expires at 30-seconds and in professional ball, at 24-seconds. The snap count could be predetermined by a signal from the bench or by some other means, such as hand signals or code names. Whatever the means, all five players would know the play and at what time it should start.

If all five players commence play simultaneously, the defense will know it’s a set play and seek indicators on how to defend it. To disguise such an examination, players should vamp prior to the start with movement. Such movement helps in setting up the defense and probing for weaknesses. Such movement can also move defenders into a complacent state where they think the have the offence covered. Then boom, the offence does something different, in a faster and synchronize fashion, surprising the opponent. It’s then that you have the defense thinking, «What happened!»

As in football plays, there are numerous options to the play, however, in this basketball strategy, these options are predicated not on what the defense does, but on how your «read» teammate reacts to the defense. Each player is assigned «read teammate» whose actions dictate what option will be initiated. Let’s say on a given play the small forward «read» is the power forward. If the power forward moves baseline, the small forward’s assignment is to screen the shooting guard’s defender opposite the ball for a backdoor run. However, if the power forward holds for a pass from the point guard, then the small forward fakes a run toward the basket, then screens the defender of the shooting guard who then drives down the middle looking for a pass from the power forward. Other players would be given assignments based their «read’s» action.

This is a simplistic example, however, when all five players are involved in such a scheme, it promotes open shooting lanes, stretches the defense, positions rebounders, inhibites defensive movement and maintains defensive transitions. More importantly, it creates a synergy that promotes higher average points per possession. That’s because the team is more efficient with the ball, they setup good open shots, teamwork avoids turnovers, plus they get a higher share of rebounds-thus more possessions.

This game strategy promotes winning ideals where a mediocre team can compete with a strong opponent and win.

Such a strategy has several caveats. For one, basketball is a game of strong egos. From sandlot to hardwood, it has always been a game of one-on-one. For many players, out foxing, out shooting, out dribbling their defender overrides the team concept. This ego driven philosophy severally weakens the a 5-player strategy. It also weakens the spirit of players who become observers rather than involved participates. In this respect, if the game plan isn’t ego driven by all 5-players having a purpose, it’s doom to fail.

An additional problem, most players prefer the free-flowing serendipity type game where instincts overrule metrics and analytics. This is how they learned the game. This is how they were coached growing up, with little regard for team strategies. Coaches and training camps concentrate more on individual techniques rather than on team play

One must also consider the length of the play. In both college and pro ball, a possession will last 10 to 15-seconds max after crossing the half-court line and prior to a shot or the shot clock running out. This length requires constructing plays that bypass weak shooting opportunities to set up better ones. Plays this long might necessitate changing function from shooter to inhibitor, to enticer, to rebounder, to transitioning defender.

There is also the problem of interchangeability. When players get injured, have foul problems, or have a bad shooting night, this necessitate changes. This means players must learn multiple offensive positions.

Another problem is remembering an array of plays, assignments and options. This problem is exacerbated by the play’s ever-changing dynamics and how opponents defend. How does one memorize all of these moves, their options and implement them?

The answer to the above question is quite simple. You only memorize the moves dictated by your «read» teammate. Let’s say the power forward. the «read» for the small forward, fakes a screen on the point guard’s defender then peels off to the base line. This movement leaves the small forward with two options, either move down the lane awaiting a pass or move to screen the shooting guard’s defender. Other players would implement similar moves based on their «read» teammate.

The play’s objective is to create a strategically balanced offense, one that incorporates all five functions, with some players assigned to inhibiting defensive movement, others to enticing defenders out of position, and still others responsible for rebounding and transitioning to defensive. Such a strategy creates space for remaining players to pass, drive and shoot.

When implementing such plays, it’s a good idea to practice them in short segments, then add moves as earlier segments are perfected. Using consistent and memorable terminologies is also an important factor in teaching players this strategy. Shorthand terms work best. Likewise, ways of signaling the play and snap count should be addressed where both fake and real signals are incorporated. Having multiple people on the bench giving signals is one way to confuse opponents trying to pick up signs. You will find that each new play is a variation of an earlier play and that the primary changes will be the «read» teammate and option moves. While one play may prove highly successful, overuse may encourage viable defenses. Therefore, it’s good to change up plays to keep the opponent off guard or free style it for a possession or two.

Mapping out such plays can be done with software that incorporates video so that the various options can be seen, learned and implemented. Video makes teaching this complex strategy easier as players see the play evolve with regard to space and time. One such program, which is in 3-D is Other programs can be found online by searching for: Animated basketball video playbook software.

In conclusion, when all five players are involved in the offense, each performing a vital function, shooting percentages go up, rebounds increase, and turnovers diminish. More importantly, players become more proactive playing as a team, becoming facilitators rather than observers. In addition, the key analytic, points per possession, becomes a competitive metrics that wins more games, even over more talented opponents. This is a strategy that promotes winning ideals.

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