When it comes to the offensive end of the basketball game, there are so many differing opinions on the best way to attack your opponent and disorganize the defense. Some coaches like sets, others love continuity, and others love a true motion. Each of these offensive systems has their own merit, and it has been proven at all levels that each system can win. Regardless of how you play in regard to style, no system will stand without a foundation of fundamentals and execution.
Personally, I am a big motion offense fan, as I feel that this puts your team in the best position to succeed from a long-term perspective. That being said, I feel strongly that it is imperative to have set plays in your back pocket to use at various points of the game. Although the list below is far from comprehensive, here are some various benefits to having some sets for your team:
- Allows the coach to directly and immediately influence shot selection.
- Allows the coach to directly and immediately influence the tempo of the game.
- Allows the coach to hide less skilled offensive players.
- Allows the coach to specifically and immediately take advantage of how the defense is defending.
All of the above reasons make having sets a valuable aspect of your offense. What is most important, however, is that you teach your players how to read and react within the set play in order to create and use the advantage that they gain over the defense as a result of the actions. The following points will serve as a guide to help you select new set plays, or adapt and examine the ones that you already use.
Factor #1: Does 1 Player Dominate The Ball?
Set plays that feature the ball being stuck in the hands of a single player are hard to run and easy to guard in my opinion. In my experience, it is too easy for the defense to dictate and disrupt the offense when one player is stuck with the ball while other action is occurring on the floor. For the defense to disrupt this play, they simply need to disrupt the vision/passing angle of the ball handler or steer the ball away from where the action will occur if the ball handler has a live dribble.
Here is a set that features some really good action with a single player dominating the ball. While I like the main action of this set, I would adapt how it begins so that one player does not dominate the ball:
The main two actions in this set are 1) screening the post player into a ball screen (ram action) and 2) the original screening filling behind the ball as his defender tags the roll man (single side bump). Below you will see an action that is very similar to the above play but features the ball changing hands prior to the main action.
I prefer the play from the Celtics as opposed to the play from North Dakota because it features multiple touches and a ball reversal prior to the single side bump action. Additionally, the screen and roll action occurs in the middle third of the floor, making it harder to guard because there is space to attack regardless of whether the ball handler uses or refuses the screen. The other aspect I like about the pick and roll is that it occurs off the catch, making it easier for the screener to make contact with the on-ball defender because they are not defending a live dribble. The big key for this set is for the ball screener to sprint to screen suddenly as his defender is staring at or helping on the slip from the first down screen. This will enable the single side bump action to be much more effective.
Factor #2: Does The Ball Change Sides?
It is common knowledge that the offensive team’s field goal percentage rises as the number of ball reversals per possession increases. That being said, having a set where the ball changes sides is an effective way to get the defense moving and guarding prior to the main action of the set. A set play where the ball is stuck on one side of the floor can be easily disrupted because space is limited and defensive help is increased because the ball is clear on one side of the floor.
As you can see from the Trailblazers ball screen and flare screen action (Ray action), keeping the ball on one side of the floor shrinks the space and options that the offense has to work with. The point guard has little space to utilize on the side, making it less imperative that the screener’s defender help and be late to the flare screen. Once the defender does recover, the ball handler is forced out of the action and to play in a crowd. Below you will see the same ball screen flare screen action, but this time, it is preceded by two screens and a side change. As a result, the screener’s defender as to cover more ground and is late to the cutter after the flare screen, causing a switch and a mismatch in favor of the cutter.
Factor #3: Can The Set Be Run From Multiple Formations?
Starting the same play from different formations can be a great way to increase how difficult it is to scout your team’s set plays. By being able to run a set from horns, 1-4 high, or flow our of your motion, it will become harder for your opponents to sniff out your actions before they start based on the formation that the play begins with. In the set below you will see how the Atlanta Hawks run the same single side bump action from multiple sets.
Factor #4: Does The Set Make 1 Defender Guard Multiple Actions?
A huge advantage of set plays is having the ability to attack a poor defender or free up your best scoring by forcing their man to guard multiple screening actions. One of the best actions that you can have in a set play is to use your best scorer as a screener. This is effective because it is unlikely that the defender guarding your best player will be apt to help, allowing for a clean screen and an easy shot. If the defender does give help on the screening action, your best player now has space to work with and can make a play. Below you will see a set from the Warriors where they use Curry as a screener and make his defender guard multiple actions.
As you can see above, using Curry as a screener allows Barnes to cut with no help and get an easy 2. In the clip below, you will see how Curry’s defender electing to help allows Curry to have extra space to work off the DHO following the screen.
Factor #5: Is There Ample Space For Players To Deviate If They Make A Read?
It is common knowledge that everyone knows everyone’s plays after December, and as a result it is vital that players are able to read how the defense is guarding them and have ample space to attack should the defense be over-aggressive. This is one of the main reasons that I am such a motion offense fan. If players are used to and well-versed in their ability to read and react to their defender, you become incredibly hard to guard. This same concept should apply within the framework of your set plays.
A great example of this concept is the motion weak action that is so common in the NBA. Below you will see 4 clips of various reads that can be made out of this simple action.
In this first clip, you will see the play run through to the main option, a post-up.
In the second clip, you can see the cutter who is supposed to make the post-up on the ball-side will deviate and read his man, electing to use the down screen rather than the block to block cross screen.
In the two clips that follow, we can see how the first cutter and second cutter are also options to receive the ball should they be over or under-pursued by their defender.
Factor #6: Who Is Responsible For Defensive Transition?
One of the critical factors to any set play is where players will end up once a shot is taken. It is imperative that you discuss defensive transition responsibilities in relation to your set plays so that all players are on the same page should a shot be missed. If you prefer to send your point guard back in transition, who is responsible for getting back if the point guard attacks the rim off of pick and roll? This is just one of many considerations that must be taken into account in regard to defensive transition and set plays.
Greg Popovich once said that “what wins is consistency and competitiveness”. This is essential to keep in mind in regard to using set plays or any offense for that matter. The offense is not magical and will not work if consistency in execution and a competitive spirit by the players is lacking. I strongly believe that set plays have their place, but more important the the X’s and O’s are the individual abilities of the player’s to make shots, make decisions, and read what the defense gives and consequently take advantage of how you are guarded. I hope that this article serves as a guide to help you think through the sets that you use. What are your thoughts? Fee free to continue the conversation with me on twitter.