5 Simple Basketball Plays for Youth Teams

Written by: Chris Hungerford



Time to read 16 min

Basketball, like life, is all about taking baby steps at first. But with the slight difference-baby steps in life can be perfected but they are not going to give you excellence. On the other hand, simple stuff in basketball can be more than enough to make you a Hall of Fame caliber player. We all know who Tim Duncan is and what he has achieved in his carrier without fancy moves and advanced stuff. The man played a simple basketball, he was always at the right place at the right time. Simple basketball plays are those offensive setups where we have no more than 3 actions/movements on the active side, and, no more than 1 action on the passive side of the action.

As the internet is overflown with some really weird, unusable, and confusing plays which are by the way declared as simple, we here are going to declare our goals, explain our guidelines, and make a plan that everything we present to you is going to be a start or a part of a basketball play that is going to be upgradable into something we often see in senior basketball.

So, our goals for this article are:

1. The offensive set must be short but meaningful

2. The offensive set can have 3 mini moves max on the active side and 1 mini move on the weak side of the action

3. The offensive set must be a small part of a play that is often used even on the highest levels of basketball

4. The offensive set needs to be all about fundamentals

5. The offensive set must use simple basketball moves

6. The goal of the offensive set is to put your players in a position where they must think about how to recognize and exploit the miss-match. Do not create plays to leave your players open under the basket and alone. Yes, these plays can work while they are small kids, but later on, those things are not going to work and if they are just used to this stuff, they'll have a hard time adapting to a real basketball.

7. Do not mind the efficiency, mind the execution. Focus on your players executing the plays rather than getting buckets. Tell them to back down a smaller opponent or to drive past the slow ones.

If you search the internet for simple basketball plays, you are about to unleash Pandora's box. If you are searching for this stuff elsewhere, that just means that you are a young and inexperienced coach looking for some help. 

You want the best for your kids, and you want to help them, but all you find are some complicated stuff that you can find only on these basketball web pages and nowhere else.

  • High Pick and Roll
  • Diamond
  • Box
  • 1 low and screen
  • 2 and 5 horns

Pick and Roll

“The pick and roll is the most effective action in basketball. This is true from youth basketball all the way up to the NBA level.”

But there’s one, or should I say, many problems regarding the pick and roll action.

Many coaches are dropping out essential details when they teach this particular play to their players. These details are the key if the pick and roll are high, mediocre, or not efficient at all.

It is essential that pick and roll action should be thought of first in any basketball development program just because it is both simple basketball play and the most used action in the basketball world.

What is Pick and Roll?

The pick and roll is a simple basketball play (additionally recognized as the screen and roll or on-ball screen and ball screen) that includes an offensive player who is setting a screen for a teammate that has the ball in his hands.

Pick and Roll Basics

  1. A player without a basketball is going to set a screen for the player with the ball.
  2. The player that has the ball needs to use the screen in a manner that he needs to lure his defender in a way that he is going to hit the screen.
  3. After the screen, the screener needs to roll toward the basket while trying to keep himself open for a pass from the player that is dribbling the ball.

That’s as simple as it can be explained. But, in every step of this action, there are so many variables that are going to determine the quality of this simple basketball play.

As this is not an article about pick and roll, we are going to emphasize this simple play because of its importance to a player development program.

How to Run the Perfect Pick and Roll?

There are 8 unique but easy-to-understand steps in developing the perfect pick-and-roll action.

The first three steps focus on the preparation for the screen which is the most important part of the pick and roll. If this isn’t done properly, there’s very little chance the pick and roll will be successful.

1. Dribbler needs to create separation

The first step of this simple basketball play is the creation of some space between the dribbler and his direct-on-ball defender. If the player that has the ball is passive and he is just protecting the ball while the defender is really close and active, there will be no space for a good screen angle and there will be no running momentum needed to make the screen effective. The close defender is just going to lock on the ball handler and he is going to trail around the screen easily so the play is going to be ineffective.

Your players can create the separation in 2 ways:

1. If they are holding the ball and not dribbling, they can do a jab step away from the screen
2. If they are already dribbling the ball, they can go two hard dribbles away from the screen, make a roll or any other move to change the direction, and then dribble toward the screen.

Aggressive on ball defense


If the on-ball defender is close the there is no space for a good screen action because he is more likely to deny the screen or to slip over it.

How to create separation?


To create separation you need to get the defender to move towards the baseline, and you have to go the opposite way.

2. Screener needs to create separation

The second step to this effective bust simple basketball play called pick and roll is the creation of separation between the screener and his defender.

This is particularly important because if we have a trailing defender of the screen then there will be more space for our ball-handler to operate.

By producing separation before the screen is set, we limit the screener’s defender’s capacity to produce help on the player that is dribbling the ball.

  • Don’t make it obvious

By not making the defense alert, their reaction time is not going to be good so they are going to trail a bit. As our goal is to make the defender trail, we won the first part of our pick-and-roll action.

  • Fight for position

If the defenders are aware of the action then your player will need to fight for position. Teach your players to bump a bit his defender, or he can back him down a bit like he wants to receive the ball in a low post position, or make a back cut. All those moves are going to occupy the defender for a second and all of those moves are going to stop the momentum of a defender and to create a momentum for our screener.

  • Sprint toward the screen

Sprint sprint sprint. From creating the separation to the final screen position our screener needs to sprint. by jogging towards the screen you players are allowing their defenders to take a good position in order to defend the action.


How to create separation on low post?

3. Usage of a Ram Screen

The ‘ram screen’ is a fabulous basketball activity that requires a third offensive player to set a screen for the screener in order to make more deceiving actions and to make defenders work more on defense.

For our article about simple basketball plays this can be set as an independent play, but we are not going to separate it because it is a part of a pick-and-roll action.


How to use Ram screen.

4. The creation of a Correct Screening Angle

The screen angle, or to be more precise, the angle of the legs of the screener in the act of setting the screen is the most important part of the whole pick-and-roll action because it determines the angles of the penetration line of a ball handler and it determines how good opportunity will the screener have to get open after the screen.

What’s the best screening angle?

Players must set the screen that is going to land on the back hip of the on-ball defender, and screeners back have to face the corner of the opposing side.

This is going to force the on-ball defender to work his way over the screen and it is going to give our dribbler a better penetration lane toward the basket.

Most of the players that are screeners executing this simple basketball play are turning their back toward the sideline, which is not giving them the best opportunity to get open on the roll toward the basket.


This isn’t practical as it provides the on-ball defender to shift under the screen and reconnect with his man immediately.


The right screen angle.

5. Screener needs to Make Contact with the on-ball defender

The final part of the preparation of this simple basketball play is the fact that the screener needs to hold/bump/ram/lock the on-ball defender in order to stop his defense and to give space for the dribbler.

This challenges them to seek out the on-ball defender, concentrate on the accurate angle, and then make a connection as they set a tough screen.

As this screen is set, the screener needs to absorb contact and to stop the on-ball defender in front of him for a second or two, just to give the ball handler time to drag the switch player away from the screen. This way, by keeping the on-ball defender stuck on the screen and in front, the screener now has an open path toward the basket and some open space to receive the inside pass from his teammate.


How to make contact as a screener.

6. Dribbler Attacks Off the Screen

Once the screen has been set the right way, now it is up to the dribbler to use the screen and to make decisions.

When using the screen, the dribbler has to pass the screener in a shoulder-to-shoulder manner and to dribble the ball away from the screen.

The decisions have to be clear, and they have to be guided by the screener's movement, switchman actions, and personal quality awareness. For instance, if the screener has made a roll and the on-ball defender is left in front of him, it is logical that the assist has to be made for a layup. Or, if the ballhandler comes to a spot that he feels comfortable shooting, he needs to shoot the ball.

We really do not expect of a ball handler to dive to the rim and take jumpers all the time, we need to develop this attacking mindset in order to convince defense that our team is capable of getting buckets from any position.

If a simple pass or shot arrives sooner, players can and must take it. But in most circumstances, two dribbles are favored before making a decision.


Dribble off the screen.

7. Screener Rolls to the Rim

In time, the on-ball defender is going to make a decision on what to do, as our screener to is going to make his decision. The screener needs to roll to the basket, open a passing lane for the ball handler in order to get the ball, and to score an open layup.

We all know that there is a debate on which is the more effective, I say it is the situational thing and regarding a situation, the screener is going to use one of the two moves:

  • Reverse Pivot and Roll

This involves the screener doing a backward pivot with the upfront leg and then diving to the rim. This move is used when the screener has glued the on-ball defender and now he is doing the back pivot to leave him between the screen and the rim.

  • Dive to the Rim

The other option is for the screener to quickly dive to the basket without doing any additional moves or pivoting.

This version is used when the ball handler is fast and the on-ball defender has slipped the screen and in addition to that, we have a screen defender going for a switch.


8. Dribbler and the Decision Making

The last step of this simple basketball play is decision-making. The options are to attack the rim with the shot or a drive, to pass the ball to a rolling screener, or to the open man that is open. You as a coach need to work on the ethic of making the right play each and every time regardless of if the team is going to score or not. Implementing good habits in your players is going to help them later on in their careers because it is easier to teach and develop a better shooting percentage than to clear some bad habits.

The decisions in basketball are made upon the defense's reactions.


If the defense is backing down after the screen, then there is a good shot opportunity.


Encourage your players to take those shots every time they are left alone after the screen.

basketball play

If the defense is soppy or slow to react, or the defending 5 has bad footwork, teach your players to drive to the basket.

basketball play

If there is a switch, the ball handler should look to make the assist to a rolling screener. Teach your guards to reward the big man whenever they can.

basketball play

If there is help from the weak side then there is an open shooter on the wing.

basketball play

If you want to learn more about Pick and Roll offense, go to Hoopsking and choose a source from our DVD collection. Everything you need is just one click away:

Pick and Roll Rental DVD

Diamond Offense

This offensive play starts with the two ''big'' man standing on the edges of the paint, a player under the basket, a player on the free-throw line leveled with the player under the basket and a point guard on the center.


The play starts when the guard that is under the basket makes a move to one side, receives a screen along the way, and ask for a ball.

Basic diamond setup.

The guard that is on the free throw line is moving to the side away from the ball.

  1. Depending on the defense, the player that receives the screen has some options;
    If the defender is stuck on the screen there is an open shot opportunity from the elbow area.
  2. If the defender goes under the screen, then the offensive player can slip toward the corner for a lob pass
  3. If the defense played an OK defense and the offensive player received a ball without any significant advantage, then the first screener can go for a pick-and-roll action to try and get some primary pick-and-roll opportunities, or to pass the ball to a passive side of the action for a pass and extra pass.

Teach your players to be aware of the position of their defender in order to react and make a better position for themselves and the team. In this particular position, the defender got caught hard on the screen so there is an opportunity to turn the corner and get inside the paint.

basketball play

If the defender tries to read the offense and wants to go below the screen, the offensive player can go wide and receive the ball on the wing for a shot.

basketball play

If the screen is OK and there is just enough space to be open for an easy pass, the screener can climb up for a pick-and-roll action to open some new offensive opportunities.

basketball play


The first mini-action starts with the big slide down to the player that is on the baseline and making the screen for him. Regardless of how that screen goes, or should we say how the defender has fought the screen there will be offensive options for the player that received the screen. If there are defensive mistakes made by the guy guarding the screener then we have an inside pass opportunity at our hands.


Box setup.


If there are no great offensive opportunities after the first screen, the same action is going to be repeated on the other elbow. The two screens have to be timed in a manner that the second one has to start right after the first pass is made. Again we are looking for defensive mistakes that we can exploit and make a good pass for an easy bucket.

If we don't have better options, the ball should be swung to the second guard and now the final move can start.

As both screeners are on a low post position, the player that started the action now is going to run and use both screens (parallel with the baseline) and eventually receive the ball at the opposite side of the floor.


Two screens and the change of sides.

1 Low and Screen

This simple basketball play is all about creating a mismatch on the low post position.

The action starts in a traditional 1-2-2 formation. The point guard is going to choose a side by throwing a pass to another guard. The big from that same side is going to climb on the arc to an area above the elbow on that side, and he is going to set a soft screen for the Point Guard. Point Guard now cuts toward the rim and if he receives the ball he can go and try to finish or make a pass regardless of a defensive rotation made by the opponent.


A screen for a PG and a cut.

We want a soft screen in order to prevent a switch. If there is one, and 5 takes over 1 then the action becomes complicated for the youth level of basketball, and we do not want to confuse our little basketball players.

Now, if the Point Guard did not receive the ball on the cut, he must go and make the horizontal screen that is on the low post position of the opposite side of the paint. This way we are trying to create the best possible mismatch on the court. If the defense plays OK defense and we didn't get what we wanted, that big can run toward the player with the ball and play pick and roll action. This way, that horizontal screen has turned into the ram screen that we mentioned earlier in the article while talking about the pick-and-roll action.


1 screens for 4. A perfect miss-match.

2 and 5 Horns

As you can predict by reading the name of the action, we have the horns action but the screeners are the center and the guard.

The action always starts with the dribbler going for a pick-and-roll action with another guard (2), but instead of 2 rolling toward the basket, he is now opening wide in a way that he now receives the screen from 5 that immediately rolls to the rim. This way we have 2 options to make a pass, either wide to a guard for a shot or to a rolling man for an easy basket. This action is really going to make the defense move and make switches that can be used very well to create good scoring opportunities.

  • 1 goes over 2 just to keep defending 1 into Horns
  • 2 then goes over 5 to leave defending 1 on our 5 who is about to roll down into paint
basketball play


As our goal was to present to you some simple basketball plays, we also wanted to use most of the fundamental stuff that is going to be usable later on. As you can see, the majority of the article was used to explain every aspect of the pick-and-roll action because it is the one most used play in all of the basketball. Then, we came up with the plays that include all sorts of screens, cuts, missed match situations, and maybe the most important, all of the situations are going to put our players to make a decision based on defensive reactions. So, all the actions are going to teach our players basic tactical stuff and how to exploit defensive mistakes.

Let's just bring on the fact that all of the actions that we see here can be seen in major league basketball games.

If you want to learn more simple basketball games, go to Hoopsking and rent a DVD by clicking on the link below:



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