Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mens_Rea Teaches You Things About Basketball pt. 5 - Read and React Systems


Last time we looked at two categories of offensive systems - set and patterned. Those systems relied upon heavy instruction of its players on where, when, and how to move to create offensive opportunities. Today we'll look at another category of offensive systems called read and react. Read and react systems stress spacing and letting the defense inform the offense on how to move within the space. The first of these systems we're going to look at is the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. Second, we'll look at the Princeton Offense. Finally, we're going to try to apply everything we've learned so far and spend considerable time looking at the Triangle Offense.

Let's get started.

Dribble Drive Motion Offense

The Dribble Drive Motion Offense is an offensive system that usually surrounds a pick and roll with other offensive threats and movement is keyed by the movement of the ballhandler in the pick and roll.

The offense has four distinct zones that trigger movement of the offense.

In the white rectangular space above the 3pt arc we have the breakdown zone. This is where the ballhandler will try to break down his defender and get past him into the lane by either isolation or a pick and roll. After the ballhandler gets past his defender he will try to get as far into the lane as possible. Where the ballhandler eventually gets in the lane determines how the offense will move and the offense has three trigger areas. The red area is called the drop zone, the gray area is called the drag zone, and the green area is called the rack zone.

If the ballhandler gets past his defender and is only able to get to the drop zone it will usually trigger the perimeter big to drop down to receive the pass and the perimeter players to rotate upward to provide additional safe passing lanes.

Drop Zone

If the ballhandler makes it to the drag zone, the interior big will clear out to create space and open up a duck-in or baseline shot opportunity. The perimeter big will rotate behind the drive and the other perimeter players will rotate upward. The perimeter big serves as a means of rotating the ball around the perimeter.

Drag Zone
If the ballhandler makes it to the rack zone he should attempt a layup.

This offense is usually reserved for guards that are effective at blowing past their defender and forcing the defense to constrict into the lane. This forces the defense into the difficult position of leaving their man to protect the paint and hoping the ballhandler can't make the right decision to take advantage. This system can be very difficult to run because it requires the ballhandler to find the open man quickly and find a passing angle while moving at a high speed toward the basket. If the players don't recognize the positioning of the ballhandler correctly and rotate accordingly there is a high likelihood of a turnover.

Let's look at a couple video clips to see how this operates.

In this clip the ballhandler makes it to the drop zone off the pick by the C. He reads how the defense prevented his drive and reacted by finding the open man on the weak side. This read and react process is the theme we will see throughout the systems in this part.

Once again the ballhandler makes it to the drop zone and reads how the defense is playing his drive to the basket. The defending C hedges toward the lane to protect the drive and the ballhandler finds a passing angle to the C.

Here the ballhandler reaches the drop zone and finds the driving C who makes a high-low pass to the PF.

The Dribble Drive Motion Offense's rules will vary based on the strengths and weaknesses of the roster but the main framework of interior spacing with movement triggered by the ballhandler remains constant.

Princeton Offense

Where the Dribble Drive focused on a single player finding a way into the lane to trigger the offense, the Princeton Offense is much more team oriented in triggering the offense. The offense is usually structured in a 4-out-1-in formation.

Princeton also stresses interior spacing and players attempt to use back cuts to the basket to create offensive opportunities.

The inside man will usually aid the offense by screening for perimeter players or by passing to cutters.

Perimeter players will also screen for each other to help open up driving lanes to the basket.

Princeton also includes two major series of plays - chin and low. Princeton Chin is a series of plays designed to create transition offense or a quick pick and roll off a high screen by the inside man.

Here the inside man sets a high screen for the PG then the C and the offense tries to maintain interior spacing to cuts to the basket.

In this chin play the high screen is for the SG for a lob option. If the lob isn't available, the SG screens for the C for a second lob option.

In Princeton Low, the inside man is set down in the low post instead of the high post.

Princeton low
Princeton low is used to aid in low post shot opportunities. By rotating players along the perimeter the offense can alternate low post positions and players.

This play swings the ball to the opposite post and gives the PF a shot opportunity by rotating the perimeter players and popping the C back out of the post. However, the Princeton principles still remain and the low post player should watch for cutters.

Triangle Offense

We're now at the last offensive system we're going to cover and probably the most complex. Since I want to cover at least one system in greater depth to impress upon you the level of complexity in each of these systems and apply all of what we've learned while introducing more advanced concepts I'm going to cover this system in much more detail. Hopefully this will spurn your interest in looking into some of our other systems in greater detail.

Grab a drink, this is going to be a long one.

Roster Considerations

Let's step through the process that we learned in part 3 - is this the right system for our roster? Implementing the Triangle can usually be determined by answering ten questions:

1. Does the team have 3 different people that can fill the low post?
2. Can all three low post players play comfortably at the wing?
3. Can the players get to the basket quickly and attack the basket from the corners?
4. The Triangle usually sacrifices quick transition baskets for setting up the offense, does that fit the team's philosophy?
5. Does the team have players that can consistently hit the corner 3pt shot?
6. Is everyone on the floor skilled at passing the ball?
7. Do the players on the floor know how to vary their speed on cuts?
8. Does the team have an outstanding offensive rebounder?
9. Does the team have a point guard talented at penetrating the defense (if so, this might not be the right offense)?
10. The offense is predicated on cuts and the give and go over screening - is the team comfortable with this?

Once we've answered these questions and determined that our roster's abilities fit with the Triangle we can move on to implementing it.


Similar to the two systems we've just covered, the Triangle is based on a particular spacing and reacting to the defense within the space created. In this system the spacing is created by forming a triangle between the wing, corner, and post.

Players should be spaced between 15 and 18 ft apart to allow safe passing angles while giving players the space to create shots or take advantage of bad positioning by the defense. Also, when possible the offense should try to maintain defensive balance. Defensive balance is created by occupying the space at the top of the arc and places the offense in good positioning to run back on defense to limit transition offense by the opposing team.
Defensive balance area
The wing players should position themselves at the free throw line extended - the Triangle refers to this position as "Bulls' head" because it is aligned with the positioning of the Bulls' logo at the United Center.

Bulls' head at the United Center

The other locations players in the Triangle may occupy are the corners, elbows (called pinch posts in the Triangle), free throw line to help reverse the ball, and two additional defensive balance positions.

That leaves us with 12 valid positions on the floor to occupy in the Triangle.

For review, positions 1, 2, and 3 are defensive balance positions; 4 and 5 are Bulls' head positions; 6 and 7 are corner positions; 8 and 9 are pinch post positions; 10 is our middle reversal position; and 11 and 12 are low post positions.

Now that we know the different floor positions to occupy let's look at some movement players can take to create proper spacing.

Forming the Triangle and Keying Movement

The Triangle offense begins the moment the ball is inbounded. The Triangle uses the concept of the "lag principle" to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. The lag principle dictates that two players should bring the ball up the court with one player lagging slightly behind to alleviate ball pressure.

The use of a lag man makes it difficult to press the offense and if two defensive players pressure in the back court, the inbounder can also be used to alleviate ball pressure in the same way.

Once the ball reaches the hash marks just past half court (using the Bulls' court as a reference the hash marks are the two red lines off the sidelines) the offense begins a two step initialization process - the number 1 and number 2 passes. 

The hash marks extended create an imaginary line called the "moment of truth". When the ball reaches the moment of truth, the ballhandler must decide which side of the floor the play will begin on.

If the ballhandler decides to pass to a wing or post at the moment of truth, he has performed what is called a number 1 pass. The number 1 pass to the wing is called a wing pass entry, a number 1 pass to the post is called a post pass entry. Alternatively, the number 1 pass can be foregone by passing to the other guard (called a guard-to-guard pass) or simply dribbling to a valid position which would be considered a dribble entry. 

The triangle is then formed, usually by one of the guards filling a corner. If the guard fills the weak side corner, it's called a weak side fill. If the guard fills the strong side corner, it's called a strong side fill.

Meanwhile the post player fights for positioning that places the wing player, himself, and the basket in a straight line called the line of deployment. This positioning makes it easier for the wing player to decide which side of the post player is safest to pass to. For example, if the post player's defender is slightly hedging baseline, the wing player can pass to the opposite side.

Strong side fill and line of deployment

In our example above, the PG performed a guard-to-guard pass and the SG dribbled to the wing. Thus, there is no number 1 pass in this play. Instead we have a wing dribble entry by the SG to initiate the play.

The SG now must make the number 2 pass - the pass that initiates the movement of the triangle. The number 2 pass in this scenario has the following options.

Number 2 pass options
The first option is the post player, second is to reverse the ball by passing to defensive balance, the third option is a weak side cross cut to the elbow, and the last option is the corner. Let's continue our example by having the SG make the number 2 pass to defensive balance.

In this example, a number 2 pass to defensive balance keys three movements in the Triangle - a weak side flash to the pinch post, the strong side Bulls' head runs a rebound screen cut (a cut to the basket to screen someone then look for a rebound), and defensive balance performs a UCLA cut off the pinch post.

To review what we saw in our example play, the PG performed a guard-to-guard pass and the number 1 pass was skipped in favor of a wing dribble entry by the SG. The number 2 pass to defensive balance triggered a flash cut to the pinch post, rebound screen cut by the Bulls' head, and UCLA cut by defensive balance for high-low for a layup. 

If all the new terms are confusing you don't worry too much about it, just make sure you understand the basic concept of initiating the offense by dribble entry or number 1 pass then triggering movement through the number 2 pass.

Let's look at a different initialization of the offense and hopefully the contrast will help better understand the way the offense is triggered.

This time at the moment of truth the PG makes a number 1 pass to the strong side Bulls' head - a wing pass entry. The PG then performs a strong side fill by cutting to the strong side corner. The SF makes the number 2 pass to the post which triggers the SF to make an action zone speed cut - a quick cut with no intention of looking to receive the pass across the lane. The PG makes a banana cut for a weak side fill, the PF uses the screen by the SF to curl into the lane, and the SG rotates from defensive balance to the strong side Bulls' head.

So how does the offense decide which pass to make and what cuts to make? As long as the players on the court are conscious of the 12 valid positions, are aware of the spacing they need to maintain, and understand the options from each position the players on the court have a great deal of flexibility on where they move. Players are also permitted to momentarily break from the rules of the offense as long as it is reasonably certain to create a shot.

Flexibility and Adaptability

One of the advantages of the Triangle is its flexibility and adaptability. Let's step through a few plays to see how we can adapt some concepts from other offensive systems into the framework of the Triangle.


Can you identify what happened in this play? The PG made the number 1 pass to the SF at the wing - a wing pass entry. The C flashed to the pinch post while the SG filled the weak side Bulls' head. The SF made the number 2 pass to the C and the PG made a UCLA cut to the basket.

You might wonder what happened to the formation of the triangle. Remember, the triangle allows us to break from our triangle if it is reasonably certain to lead to a basket. This play would probably be used in an attempt to break from pressure on our ballhandler or create a pick and roll opportunity.

Let's see what would happen if the pass to the PG wasn't available.

Notice that the PG's UCLA cut led to a weak side fill and formed the triangle on the weak side. This gave the C and SF a lot of space to work on a pick and roll. 

Let's look at video of this play.

This is a very common play in the Triangle. In the clip below, notice the slight variations that can occur by reading the defense and reacting accordingly.


In this play the PG initiates the offense by dribbling to defensive balance while the SG sets a down screen for the SF. The PG then makes the number 1 pass to the SF and the PF forms the triangle off of a flex cut created by the C's screen. The SF is now in position to make the number 2 pass.

Blind Pig

The animation above is a blind pig play. A blind pig play is a sudden flash to the ball at the top followed by a quick cut to the basket by the off-guard that is designed for a layup. In the Triangle, a blind pig play can seemlessly be integrated into the offense by making our number 1 pass to the pinch post rather than the wing - a pinch post pass entry. If the pass isn't available, the off-guard does a strong side fill, the PG flashes to middle reversal then fills Bulls' head. The PF sinks down to the low post to form the triangle on the weak side and the C crosses the lane.

We have now seen elements of set offense (UCLA), patterned offense (Flex), and a designed play (blind pig) created out of the Triangle's framework. The dynamic nature of this offensive system makes it very difficult for opposing teams to defend.


After looking at our offensive systems do you find you have a preference toward one philosophy over another? If you were coaching a team would you prefer to instruct your teams more and place them in a set or patterned system or would you defer to their abilities to read and react to the defense? In determining the answer to that question, don't you also have to determine how well your plays are able to make the right decisions on the fly - their basketball IQ? How do you scout for that and how reliably can you scout for that when a player comes from a set or patterned system? 

There are so many difficult factors to consider when deciding upon a system that it shouldn't be taken lightly when one judges the performance of a coaching staff or the particular system they've chosen for their team.

Let's review the exercise from last time.

If you'll recall, I gave you this animation:

I asked you to give this play a name and whether it was set or patterned offense. I think it's safe to say that this play more closely resembles patterned offense because the players are moving in such a way that the play is reset to a mirrored version of the initial set. In other words, the play begins with two players up top, one in the strong side corner, one at the strong side elbow, and one at the weak side low post. After a UCLA cut, the players rotate to reset to the initial formation but on the other side of the court. Since this action can continuously occur, it is patterned offense.

In fact, this formation is a similar layout to our Shuffle Offense but instead of using a shuffle cut, the cut is a UCLA cut. For that reason, I would try to name this offense based on the name of the cut to make it easy for others to identify. Therefore, I would probably call this a UCLA Patterned Offense.

Now for a new exercise.

Describe this play. Tell me what offensive system is being used and step me through it in as much detail as you can.

Looking forward, this might be the last part of this series. I might continue but as of right now I have no plans to. I hope this series has helped you get started on your path of understanding the game of basketball.

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