Basketball Offenses

By Dr. James Gels, From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Basketball offense is simply a strategy of how to attack the defense and score. Many different offenses have evolved over the years. Some offenses are based on quickness and an early attack, while others may be a more deliberate slow-down, ball control type offense. Some are patterned offenses, where players follow certain prescribed movements. Others are more of a free-lance style (motion offenses) that, while being free-lance, do follow certain rules and defensive reads. There are set offenses that start in a specific formation (e.g. 1-4, horns, box sets). And there are zone offenses used for attacking zone defenses.

Many of these basketball offenses are presented and linked below. Don't try to use all of these basketball offenses for your team. Select an offense(s) and plays that would best fit your team's personnel, size, quickness, and strengths. For a man-to-man offense, you can choose a free-lance motion offense, or a more structured set offense or patterned offense like the Flex, Swing, Shuffle or High Low Triangle offenses. The Triangle Offense has features of both patterned and motion offenses.

You must also have a zone offense, especially for attacking the 2-3 zone, which is the most common zone defense you will see. You'll need a press offense for attacking press defenses. Add a couple half-court plays and a couple out-of-bounds plays and you are ready to go. Teach and establish your main offenses first. You can add additional set plays as the season progresses. See "Teaching Basketball by Progression".

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Basketball Offense - the Triangle Offense

The Triangle Offense, so important to the success of the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, is an offense that features a "sideline triangle" and a weakside "two-man game", and is effective against man-to-man defense.

The offensive players always try to fill the five spots, and in this sense is similar somewhat to a patterned offense. There are however, unlimited options and, similar to a motion offense, players "read and react" to the defense.

The offense stretches the defense with good spacing, creating problems for the helpside defense and trapping. Cutting and good passing are important keys. This offense takes a fair amount of practice time to learn, and you need "basketball-smart" players to run it effectively.

Youth teams could perhaps use parts of it, as the offense does help players learn to read and react to the defenders, which is a good thing for kids to learn.

Triangle Offense

Basketball Offense - the High Low Triangle Offense

The High Low Triangle Offense, is presented by Coach Lason Perkins. The High-Low Triangle incorporates concepts from the famous Tex Winter Triple-Post offense, commonly known as the Triangle offense; the Flex offense; and the Shuffle-Cut offense.

It provides constant movement, screening and good floor spacing, and offers a variety of options that allow you to take advantage of your talented players. Because the High-Low Triangle is effective against both man-to-man defenses and zone defenses, it provides tremendous flexibility with multiple entries and options.

Whether you have a great outside shooting team or a dominant inside presence- or neither- this is a powerful offense at any level of play.

High Low Triangle Offense

Basketball Offense - the Princeton Offense

The Princeton Offense is an offense developed by Pete Carril at Princeton. The hallmarks of the offense are the spread offense and spacing, constant motion, the back-door cut and lay-up, hitting open 3-point shots, flare screens and screens away from the ball.

The basic set can be 4-out with 1-in (either at the high post, or low post), a 2-3 high set, or a 1-2-2 (5-out) set. A smart post player with good passing skills is important. It requires players with a high basketball IQ and good perimeter skills... passing, dribbling, shooting, cutting, etc.

Can be used vs man-to-man or zone. Probably too difficult for youth teams. See:

Pete Carril's Princeton Offense... detailed, definitive.

Princeton Offense... a more general discussion.

7 Basic Actions of the Princeton Offense... the 7 basic actions of the Princeton offense.

Princeton Offense Plays

Basketball Offense - the Pick and Roll Offense

The Pick and Roll Offense is an offense that utilizes the pick and roll as the basic weapon for getting open shots. Greater emphasis is being placed on the open or spread offense, dribble penetration, and the ability to draw and kick to three-point shooters.

The pick-and-roll (ball screen) is one of the oldest plays in basketball, but it is now being used more than ever.

The pick-and-roll has become popular as a method for gaining dribble penetration and then drawing and kicking-either kicking in to a player near the basket or kicking out to a three-point shooter.

Contributor Hal Wissel describes several pick and roll plays, and several plays that can be used as part of an early offense in transition.

Continuity Ball-screen Offense is man-to-man offense that features ball-screens (pick and roll) and side to side continuity. Two offenses are presented.

Pick and Roll Offense

High Pick and Roll Set

Continuity Ball-screen Offense

Basketball Offense - John Wooden's UCLA Offense

The UCLA Offense is an offense used against man-to-man defenses. It was developed by legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, "the Wizard of Westwood", whose teams won ten NCAA championships in his last twelve years of coaching during the 1960's and early 1970's.

This timeless offense is still a good one and is popular at the college level. It uses a 2-3 high set (two-guard front). This high set, like the 1-4 high set, takes defenders away from the hoop. There is less pressure on your point guard, as the offense can be run to either side.

UCLA Offense

Basketball Offense - Grinnell Offense

Developed by coach Dave Arseneault, this is a fast-paced, high-scoring "system" with his teams averaging 116 points per game.

It's a "run and gun" offense with offensive possessions often lasting only five seconds in duration (12 seconds at the most), usually resulting in a 3-point shot. Many players will get playing time and no-one plays the entire game. You need two or three good point-guards who can score.

Grinnell Offense

Basketball Offense - Cherry Picking Offense

"Cherry picking" is a concept that has been around for many years but you rarely see it anymore. The idea is to get the rebound and quickly make the long throw down-court to your "cherry-picker" for an easy lay-up. Coach Tyler Whitcomb has a more detailed Cherry Picking Offensive system.
Cherry Picking Offense

Basketball Offense - Delay, Tempo-Controlling Offenses

Sometimes you need an offense to slow things down, to delay the game and control the tempo, or to simply run the clock out at the end of a half or the end of the game (when you have the lead). With the advent of the shot clock, these offenses are less used nowadays. Here are several "delay" offenses.

4-Corners Delay Offense

Delay/Spread Offense

Open-Post Double-Up Offense

In summary, your offense can be as simple or as complicated as you want.

Youth teams would be best served by keeping things as simple as possible, stressing learning fundamentals more than learning plays and sets. A simple man-to-man offense, a simple zone offense and a couple out-of-bounds plays is all you need, and all you will have time to practice.

High school teams that practice every day can develop more detailed and multiple offenses, with options and plays. But again, simplicity is often the best.

Complete List of Offenses