Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mens_Rea Teaches You Things About Basketball pt. 1 - Movement and Mechanics

Mens_Rea Teaches You Things About Basketball pt. 1 - Movement


In its most simplest terms offense has only one goal - put the ball in the basket. Achieving that goal is a much more complex matter. Since the game involves five players on each team on the floor at the same time, it's not a matter of simply breaking down a defender one on one and scoring. There's a team element that adds many layers of complexity to such a simple goal. For that reason, it's very important to understand how all the players interact each other and can influence each other on the court. We're going to begin this series by understanding this relationship between the movement of one player to another and what tools each player has available to them to become an active part of the offense. Likewise, we'll gain an understanding of how the defense can neutralize or minimize the movement of the offense.

Let's start by looking at some basic movement and how our movement can affect the game's mechanics.

Basic Movement - Cuts

Offensive movement on the court is an attempt to further our ultimate goal - score points. We're going to isolate movement by removing some of the variables and then adding some complexity once we understand the isolated movements.

This is what a one on one match up would look like:

Our scoring options are very limited here. Our ballhandler could attempt to drive past the defender, post up the defender, or shoot over the defender. Since there are no passing options, our ballhandler is also limited to one sequence of dribbles. Although many players are very good at breaking down a single defender, it is also true that there are many very good individual defenders.

Let's see what happens when we add a second set of players.

By adding only one more set of players the level of complexity has increased dramatically. Now our ballhandler has someone to pass to who has the same options our ballhandler has plus the ability to get in position to move off the ball to get in favorable scoring position. 

But how does he do that? We're going to look at some movement and add some names to them.

Front cut
A front cut is a movement by an offensive player where the defender is shielded from the ball allowing an open pass to the cutter.

Back cut
A back cut, as the name suggests, is a cut by an offensive player behind the defender, usually in an attempt to catch them by surprise and gain separation based on the slower reaction time.
V cut
A V cut is usually used to gain separation from a defender that is playing closely to the off-ball player. The quick cut back out to the perimeter gains momentary separation, usually enough to receive a pass.
L cut
An L cut operates similar to a V cut but is a cut down (or up) the lane followed by a perpendicular cut out to the wing.
Curl cut
A curl cut is movement that is circular or rounded in motion.
Flash cut
A flash cut is usually made by a post player that is a quick movement from the high post to the low post or vice versa.

Cross cut
A cross cut is a cut across the lane, usually to gain separation to receive the ball in the post.

Banana cut
A banana cut is often used by players that are skilled corner 3pt shooters.

Let's see if we can identify what we've seen so far with the following animation.

So what did you see? You should have identified a V cut by 2 to receive the ball, an L cut by 1, a front cut by 2, then a banana cut by 1.

As you can see, there are many types of cuts available for players to free themselves of their defenders even without the use of a screen.

Let's continue to add some more complexity and add a third set of players.

Basic Movement - Screens

One again, we've increased the complexity dramatically. Not only does our third player have all the options we had with just our one on one scenario (once he has the ball of course), but he also has all the off-ball movement available to our two on two scenario. Something we have so far ignored is the role of screening and our third set of players will help demonstrate.

Let's focus on our curl animation.

What happens if the defender guarding 2 is just too fast for our offensive 2? He would be able to keep up with our offensive player and wouldn't get open to receive the pass.
One way to prevent this is to screen for our cutting players.
By placing our third player in the path of 2's defender, we've slowed down his ability to keep pace with our player and he now has separation to receive the ball and potentially shoot the ball after receiving it.

Just like there are many different kinds of cuts, there are many different kinds of screens.
Ball screen
A ball screen is a screen for the ballhandler, this is also known as a pick.
Back screen
A back screen is a screen set behind a defender where he can't see him. Generally, the rules require a distance of one step between the screener and the defender being screener in order to be a legal screen.
Down screen
A down screen, sometimes called a pin down screen, is a screen where the screener is facing the baseline, usually set down low to allow a player to gain separation on a flash cut.
Cross screen
A cross screen is a screen to gain separation on a cross cut.

Now that we have added names to the types of cuts and screens available to us, let's look at some common movement on the court that I will call signature movement.

Basic Movement - Signature Movement

Some combination of movement has become so common that it is identified by a particular name - let's show some examples of signature movement.
UCLA cut
A UCLA cut is a cut by a player around another player on occupying the high post. The cut is named after the highly successful John Wooden's UCLA team that used this cut heavily in their offense. This cut allows a give and go from the high post (passing the ball to one player only to receive it back again after cutting to the basket) or if the post player is never given the ball is simply an up screen (opposite of our down screen mentioned above) from the high post.

Shuffle cut
A shuffle cut is similar to the UCLA cut but occurs at an angle. This cut is commonly found in the Shuffle Offense.

Flex cut
A flex cut is named after the Flex Offense which commonly uses this cut to free up players from the corners. By adding a fourth player we can see the usefulness of this cut.
Flex cut - receiving the ball off the cut

As we can see, basketball can become a complex game by means of simple movement around the court. The trick is chaining together the right combination of movement to make our goal - scoring  points - easier. So far we're able to identify and describe the kinds of cuts our players can make, identify and describe the kinds of screens our players can make, and identify and describe some of the signature combinations of movements that our players can make.

We'll continue in part 2 with how players negotiate these cuts and screens in combination to maximize separation and scoring potential. We'll also further chain together our movements to look at full plays.

I'm going to end this post with an animation of a play, see how much of the action you can describe using our terms from above. I'll help identify the movement to start part 2.


  1. Thank you so much - I have been looking for exactly this kind of resource. One typo, I think. When you say: "So what did you see? You should have identified a V cut by 2 to receive the ball, a curl cut by 1, a front cut by 2, then a banana cut by 1." - isn't the curl cut actually an L cut?

    1. Yes, you're absolutely right. It looks like a forgot a frame in that animation to round the cut. Thank you and I'll change it.

  2. This so incredibly helpful and informative. I can't wait to see the rest of the series!

  3. Dude you're a fucking legend. Thank you so much!

  4. looking forward for part 2

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


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