Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mens_Rea Teaches You Things About Basketball pt. 4 - Set and Patterned Offensive Systems


Today we're going to start looking at different offensive systems. Due to the wide variety of systems out there I'm going to have to limit this section to the systems most commonly found in the NBA. Even then, there are so many systems that I've decided to break this discussion into three categories - set, patterned, and read and react systems. Set systems run their offense through a specific formation of the offense called a set. Patterned systems carry a signature pattern of movement or cuts to them. Read and react systems typically stress a particular spacing and decision making.

In this post, we're going to look at two set offenses, Horns and UCLA, and two patterned offenses, Flex and Shuffle. Next time, we'll look at three read and react systems, the Triangle, Princeton, and Dribble Drive.

Let's get started.

Set Offense

As mentioned above, set offensive systems run through a particular formation of the players on the court called a set. Let's look at some illustrations to see what that means and how we can identify a set.

Pictured above is an example of a set. The players are positioned on the court to form a specific formation. In our example, this set is called a 1-2-2 (or box and 1). Why that name? Well let's look at the formation on the court.

Counting from the top of the 3pt line down toward the basket we have 1 player up top, 2 players at the wings or elbow, and 2 players in the low post. In short, 1-2-2 (this particular set is also sometimes called "box and 1" because the of the box shape formed around the key).

Let's look at another set.

As you probably have already figured out, this is a 3-2 set. You've probably asked yourself why we've decided this isn't a 1-2-2 also since we have one player up top, two players on the wings, and 2 players in the low post. I wish there was a better answer to this but unfortunately you'll have to be satisfied with simple tradition. The function of the players at the wings is more traditionally aligned with perimeter play rather than post play and thus is likely characterized as 3-2 rather than some version of 1-2-2.

Hopefully, you're getting a hold of how to identify the different types of sets at this point. We'll step through some variations to be sure.

Can you guess what we would call this set? If you guessed 1-4, then you're partially correct. Sometimes sets can be more accurately described to differentiate them from other common versions. For example, the set above can more accurately be described as a 1-4 low set because the 4 players are positioned lower to the basket.

Compare the 1-4 low to the picture above. This set is called a 1-4 high. That brings us to our first set offense, the UCLA High Post Offense.

UCLA High Post Offense

When analysts refer to the UCLA offense, they are usually using shorthand for the UCLA High Post Offense. Sometimes the name can be interchangeable with other offensive systems that are based around a simple UCLA cut but generally this is what they're referring to. As a point of review, you may remember from part 1 we mentioned the UCLA cut. The UCLA cut is animated below.

Let's add some context to this cut and place it in our 1-4 high set.

Unsurprisingly, the UCLA cut is the signature cut of the UCLA offense. By inserting this movement into our 1-4 high set we have created the most basic play in the UCLA High Post Offense. Voluminous tomes could be written on the options that arise out of this particular set paired with this cut. As a primer we'll look at a few of them and your creativity can lead you the rest of the way.

In this variation, our PG passes to the wing rather than the high post. The result is a modified passing angle and could be useful if the high post defender is fronting to try to deny the pass. Remember from part 2, when the defense takes something away it should be prepared to give something up. Here, the defense took away the post pass but gave up a passing angle from the wing.

This is a good place to also add some terms to our basketball vocabulary. The basic play we saw above where the PG passed to the post is called a "post entry". The reasoning is probably pretty obvious, the play was initiated by passing to the post (high post in this case). The second play was initiated by a pass to the wing and thus is called a "wing entry". If we wanted to describe our first play we might say it's a "post entry UCLA High Post play". Likewise, we could describe our second play as a "wing entry UCLA High Post play".

This time we try to get some high-low action (pass from the high post to the low post) out of our offense. By using some of the terms we've just learned, we can describe this play as a weak side post entry UCLA High Post play. If you're wondering why I added the "weak side" portion, the weak side is the side of the court that does not have the ball. Since the PG moved to the right side of the court and made a post entry pass to the left side of the court, the play is described as coming from the weak side.

Let's add some complexity to show what this offense is capable of.

Rather than passing to the wing or post, the PG opts to call for a screen from the C. As opposed to our post entry or wing entry plays, this is a "dribble entry" initiation of the offense. At the same time, the SG performs a V cut from the wing to the corner looking for a pass for a layup or perimeter shot depending on how his defender is playing him. The PG feels he doesn't have a good lane to the basket and the SG's defender is playing to prevent the layup. The C reacts to the closed lane by clearing some space for the SF who has received a screen from the PF. The SF cuts to the basket off the screen and the PG finds him for the open layup. All of this is the result of playing the options out of the UCLA High Post Offense.

One of the strengths of set offense is you can design the type of movements your players make to take advantage of their strengths while operating out of a structure. For example, let's say the SG and SF are excellent perimeter shoots while the PG is good at driving to the basket off the dribble.

Out of the same set we've created a double high screen play for our PG to allow him to make a play. As you can see, there are numerous possibilities out of the offense and that can force difficult decisions on the defense.

Let's look at how this offense differs from Horns.


Horns has become increasingly popular over the past few years and maybe you'll be able to identify some reasons why. Horns operates out of a 1-2-2 set that is commonly called the A-set because the players set low are also set wide in the shape of an "A".

Horns has some of the same options available as our UCLA High Post Offense because the top of the arc and the elbows are occupied similar to our 1-4 high set. Since many of the UCLA options exist in Horns, we won't delve too deep into this system. However, let's look at some variations that differ this system from our last one.

Since our SG and SF are positioned in the corners, we can use our high post players to screen for them and create some offense around the baseline rather than from the wings.

Horns with flex cuts
This play demonstrates how our corner players can read the screens to create layup opportunities. Notice that the cuts created in this play are actually flex cuts which we were able to easily integrate because of the initial positioning of the perimeter players in the corners.

In this clip we see a Horns play using a Flex cut to free up a layup.

Patterned Offense

Patterned offense attempts to create shot opportunities by having each player run a cycle of movements and pass the ball when an opening becomes available. There are no standard sets and sometimes patterned offenses can have multiple patterns based on the various sets used. Usually, patterned offense is based around a single type of cut or series of cuts. Let's look at some examples.

Flex Offense

Perhaps the most prevalent patterned offense in the NBA, Flex Offense is centered around the flex cut. You may remember the flex cut from part 1.

Flex cut
The flex cut is a screen set for the corner on the baseline. Notice the options that are available from this screen. The corner player can either go above or below the screen for a layup opportunity, he can flare out to the perimeter for a shot, the screener can seal for a low post opportunity, or pop out to the elbow for a jump shot. When we add some more movement around this cut we can create the continuity of the patterned offense.

Here we have one cycle of the flex offense. This particular animation is of the 1-4 low variant of the offense. When the play started, the SF was in the strong side corner and received a screen for the flex cut by the C. At the end of the play, the SG was in the weak side corner and the PF was in the low post. This allows us to continue our pattern until a shot is available. Let's watch an entire sequence.

Our flex pattern constantly returns to the default position of filling the corners, elbows, and a low post spot to perform flex cuts. The numerous screens around the baseline and key put a lot of pressure on the defense to defend the interior. 

Let's look at the 2-3 variant of the offense to get an idea of how we can accomplish the same task out of another set.

In our 2-3 variation the floor is spread a little more in the back court to provide more interior space and provide more perimeter shooting options.

Shuffle Offense

The Shuffle Offense is centered around the shuffle cut, a cut we have yet to cover. A shuffle cut is a cross-court cut from the wing or elbow to the low post.

Shuffle cut
Here the PG performs a shuffle cut off the SG's back screen. The shuffle cut from the wing is usually for perimeter players to open up layup opportunities while shuffle cuts from the elbows are typically to help post players gain favorable low post positioning.

Let's look at the pattern of the Shuffle.

Our animation shows three cycles of the offense. The offense starts angled from the wing and the PG performs a shuffle cut off a backscreen by the SF. Screening around the weakside wing open up several other scoring options and the offense is reset on the opposite side of the court. The same pattern is then performed to return to the original positioning.


We've finally put together the pieces we learned in the first three parts to gain a basic understanding of some full offensive systems. If we look back to part 3 and think about what considerations a coaching staff must keep in mind when designing and applying an offensive system we can compare our roster's strengths and weaknesses to the offensive opportunities that each system presents to select the right system.

I decided to begin with these two categories of systems because they're more structured and hopefully easier to understand than the ones we'll look at next time. We're going to look at some read and react systems beginning with the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, then we'll look at the Princeton Offense and I'm going to attempt to apply everything we've learned so far in a detailed explanation of the Triangle Offense.

As usual we'll end by looking at our last exercise and introducing a new one. I saw a lot of very good answers but I'll put forth my own with an explanation.

The exercise asked us to attempt to create a layup opportunity by altering a given play. What I did in my animation was have the SF set a back screen for the SG which would give him a lane to the basket for a potential layup. I then have the SG setting a screen for the C if the pass isn't available to create another layup opportunity. If neither option is available I have my SG fill the corner and try to clear him some room to attack his defender. If executed correctly, I have three potential layup opportunities.

There were numerous ways to effectively respond to the exercise and my hope is that you kept in mind the importance of primary, secondary, and even tertiary options.

Now for a new exercise. We've looked at two categories of offensive systems - set and patterned.

If you saw the play above in a game would you categorize it as a play from a set or patterned offense? How specifically can you identify the play? Can you give it a descriptive name similar to the ones above that would give others a mental image of what one could expect from this system? Look at it carefully and remember the characteristics of each system.

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