The Complete Guide to a Scoring Offense
Time to read 30 min
Written by: Chris Hungerford
Time to read 30 min
The winner of a basketball game is determined by which team scores the most points. No matter how many turnovers you create or steals you come up with - if your team can’t score the ball then you aren’t in a great position to succeed.
You may need to think of a new offense to use with your team. An offense is your method to score baskets and get open shots against your opponent. Most coaches think of their offense to be a continuous motion or a set play that can be run repeatedly which is considered your primary offense.
Additionally, coaches will have a collection of set plays ready to use over the course of a game. Set plays are usually just run once and are considered your secondary offense. If your set play doesn’t create a scoring opportunity then you go straight into your primary offense to attack the defense. Most set plays are used when your coach has found a way to exploit the defense or if your offense is standing and sluggish.
In this article, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about playing Offense in basketball. We will cover the role and responsibilities, concepts and structure, and basic skills and how to improve your fundamentals. By the time you finish reading this article, you should have a solid understanding of what it takes to create a successful Offense in basketball.
The team with the basketball is on offense. The offense is your method to score baskets and get open shots against your opponent. An offense is a series of cuts, passes, screens, and reads that are designed to create an open shot. When your team is on offense, you have three main goals: maintain possession of the basketball, keep the basketball moving, and to score points in your basket.
We need Offense because it provides organization and a single, common goal amongst the players. Most coaches think of their offense to be a continuous motion or a set play that can be run repeatedly which is considered your primary offense. Examples of primary offenses are the 4-Out-1-In Motion Offense or the Flex Offense.
Along with primary offense, coaches will have a collection of set plays ready to use over the course of a game. Set plays are usually just run once and are considered your secondary offense. If your set play doesn’t create a scoring opportunity then you go straight into your primary offense to attack the defense.
Most set plays are designed specifically for your team. They are used when your coach has found a way to exploit the defense, if your offense is standing and sluggish, or if your team is in a special situation where you need the best chance to score like at the end of a close game.
Regardless of the primary or secondary offense, every offense has to have an objective. You should not run your “#4” play without teaching your team the objective of the play. For example, the #4 play’s objective is to get the ball to the Center on the block. You might think that this is quite obvious given the diagram of the play, but it is not always that obvious to your players.
As the Coach, develop the play and teach your players to see the big picture instead of living to pass to pass. If they know the objective then they will work to achieve it which means your play has a greater chance of being successful.
The offense is important in basketball for the most obvious reason - you either score points and win or you miss those scoring opportunities and lose.
But there are other reasons why offense is important in basketball.
First, developing an offense for a team is arguably the most visible part of a Head Coach’s job. After all, if the object of the game is to put the ball in the basket then it is a top priority for a Head Coach to have the right offense in place for their team.
Second, offense is a way for players to be involved in the team concept and feel valued. Players should have a clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish on the offensive end. When they are able to execute the play call by Coach then they buy into the offense philosophy and game plan. Not to mention, they can immediately see their value to the team.
Think about players you run a few plays for and watch them score. Does their level of play rise afterward? Now think about players you never call a play for and only use in a small capacity. Are they struggling to find where they fit in? The point is - the offense plays a huge role in how the team functions and works together towards their common goal.
An offense is designed to get players open for easy shots, while making it very difficult for the opponent to get help defense. Developing and executing an offense involves coordinating the positioning and movements of the players so they have the best opportunities to use their offensive skill sets and score.
Your players have to know what they are expected to do within the offense and what their abilities and talents can bring to the team. This is an area coaches often fail to address and the biggest reason why some teams never reach their level of potential on the offensive end. For example, if you do not want your Center to shoot three-pointers especially when your Shooter is the next pass then sit down and tell them.
Now let's dive deeper into each role and their responsibilities...
The Point Guard is supposed to be excellent at dribbling the ball and transcendent at passing so that they can generate opportunities for their teammates to score some baskets.
Bringing the ball up the court
Controlling the pace
Driving to the basket
The Forward position is a crucial role to any team. They’re going to get offensive rebounds, knock down easy points and mid-range jumpers, and set screens to get teammates open.
Rebound to create more possessions on offense
Score second-chance points
Knock down open jump shots
Set strong screens to get a teammate open
Make the extra pass
The Shooting Guard is basically known as a scoring position. This player’s #1 job is to knock down shots - from the three-point line to pulling up for a mid-range jump shot or driving all the way to the basket and finishing at the rim.
Knocking down shots consistently
Getting open by using screens
Strong ball-handling skills
Driving to the basket
Dependable free throw shooter
The Center can be dominant on the offensive end of the court by scoring in the paint. Your team has a definite advantage if you have a dominant Center. Everything they bring to the table on offense can be the thing that helps you win basketball games.
Rebound to create more possessions on offense
Post up and score
Knockdown easy, second-chance points, and short jump shots
Set strong screens to get a teammate open
Make the extra pass
Teaching new concepts in basketball is no different than teaching any other subject. The process is the same whether an individual is teaching offense, defense, inbounds plays, etc. When teaching new concepts, there are three rules to follow:
The KISS Principle
The KISS Principle - Keep It Simple Stupid - is very important in teaching. A skilled teacher excels at breaking down a complex subject so that it can be taught and learned very simply. The ability to break down a basketball offense into its most basic components so it can be taught gradually, simply, and in detail is a learned skill.
Players learn more quickly if everything is simple. They should start out having only a few choices. Once those aspects are learned, other options can be learned. Eventually, the players will understand a complex subject, but they learned it one small part at a time.
Teaching an Offense
Teaching an Offense is probably the most complex subject a coach can teach. You have to incorporate five players using all aspects of their individual offensive skills into a smooth-functioning offense in which they instinctively know when and where to go in all situations. Teaching a complex concept such as an offense requires teaching new concepts simply and in a systematic manner.
The best way to teach a new offense is by teaching in stages and building upon what the players learn. According to James Brooks in "Developing a Successful Basketball Program", here is the Sequence of Teaching an Offense:
Fundamentals - teach options and keys:
There are several different types of offenses and it is imperative that the type you choose is not only appropriate for your personnel, but something you are comfortable with teaching in practice and coaching in the game.
Most successful teams are able to perform a variety of offenses well. As a result, they are relatively well-prepared for any type of defense. Teams should be capable of running both up-tempo and half-court offenses.
A fast-break offense after a missed shot or a turnover will discourage the other team from trying to set up a full-court press defense. Teams must also be prepared to handle a variety of special situations, such as end-line, sideline, and last-second plays.
Here are the types of offenses that can be run:
Transition Offense happens after a turnover or defensive rebound. The primary purpose of the Transition Offense is to create open shots that the offense would normally work for in a Half-Court Offense. The Transition Offense is an early offense that begins the instant the defense gains possession of the ball.
The success of the transition offense is determined by how quickly and accurately the players initiate the offense. The goal is to reach the offensive operating areas before all of the defenders can retreat into the frontcourt area. No time exists to look around and decide what to do after a rebound or turnovers. A delay will allow the defense time to recover and get back.
By advancing the ball without any delay, the defenders are most often spread out, giving you the best chance for scoring opportunities. For example, getting into offense before the defense can establish player mismatches for the offense to take advantage of and score.
If the transition offense does not create a good shot or advantage it is important to move right into an offensive flow without allowing the defense to set up.
Fast-Break Offense happens against a press defense after a basket when there’s no stoppage of play. No stoppage of play means you can immediately inbound the basketball without any delay such as the referee handing you the ball.
The best way to break a press after a made basket is to not give the defense time to get set up. The Fast-Break Offense is another early offense and a way to avoid the press defense because the primary step in executing a Fast-Break Offense is to inbound the ball before the defenders can get set in their defensive positions.
A press defense only works when all the players are in the right positions which means the offense should not give the defense any time to get set up. The best way to do this is by having the closest player to the basket catch the ball after a made basket and step out of bounds to start the Fast-Break Offense. Don’t even let the ball hit the floor; grab the ball after a made basket and step out of bounds to start looking for your outlet options to get the Fast-Break Offense started.
The Fast-Break Offense should involve a quick series of reads and options for the inbounds pass. Here’s how the Fast-Break Offense should be run:
Much like the Transition Offense, The Fast-Break Offense depends on advancing the ball quickly. By doing this, the defenders are most often spread out, giving you the best chance for scoring opportunities. For example, getting into offense before the defense can establish player mismatches for the offense to take advantage of and score.
If the transition offense does not create a good shot or advantage it is important to move right into an offensive flow without allowing the defense to set up.
The Fast-Break Offense is different than the offense most coaches run where the post players get up-court and a specific guard or wing inbounds the ball to another guard. The reason the Fast-Break Offense doesn't work for that type of offense is that guards play farther from the basket on defense, which means it takes time for them to get out of bounds to inbound the ball. This delay could give the defense time to set up for their press.
The Press Offense happens against a press after a basket and stoppage of play. If there is a stoppage of play, the defense has time to set up their press defense. This may be a full-court press or half-court press. Regardless, the offense needs to implement its Press Offense.
There are a number of presses a defense can throw at you, but the key to breaking every single one of them comes down to the execution of fundamentals and making game-time decisions.
The type of press defense being used will determine the Press Offense used, but the key to any successful press offense is these four factors:
Coach Chris shows you how to beat a full-court press every time by talking about the concept of breaking the press.
Half Court Offense
Half-Court Offense is your man-to-man or zone offense in the half-court. If a fast break or transition offensive opportunity isn’t possible, the point guard should set up the half-court offense.
The Half-Court Offense is going to be your primary and secondary offense used to score baskets and get open shots against your opponent. There are a number of factors that go into deciding what Half-Court Offense to use:
All Half-Court Offenses must be flexible to meet various types of defensive pressure. They must also have counter options that take advantage of any defensive overplays and traps. Half-Court Offenses can be categorized into Motion, Continuity, Set, and Zone.
Motion offenses are focused on constant player movement, ball movement, and floor spacing. It typically has rules to follow as opposed to plays or patterns. Everything is based on defensive reads rather than a set action like other half-court offenses. This makes it difficult for opponents to scout and defend because there are unlimited counter options for the offense which makes it unpredictable.
To be successful in the Motion Offense players have to work together as a single unit with clearly defined player roles such as who is the shooter, who attacks the rim, who sets the screen, etc. They need to be unselfish and work together to create open-shot opportunities for their teammates. And they have to do both of those things while being patient in attacking the defense.
Legendary Coach Bob Hurley Sr. from St. Anthony's High School explains Motion Offense concepts.
Continuity offenses are focused on following a pattern over and over again without having to stop or reset it. This gives the Coach a little more control than a Motion Offense because they know what the next decision in the offense should be. At the same time, this makes it easier for your opponent as well. They can scout your offense game plan easily because all they have to do is learn the offensive pattern and figure out how to stop it.
To be successful in the Continuity Offense players have to be patient to wear down the defense and get the open shot. Players have specific skills to be performed in specific areas and that’s all that needs to be done until the offense gets the shot they want. For example, a post player may step out to reverse the ball; their only concern is to pass the ball, they do not need to worry about shooting the ball or creating a play.
Set offenses are generally used for a single play throughout the game. A Set can be an elaborate play where there are multiple scoring options or it can be a few passes looking to get a shot quickly.
Sets are called by the Coach for many different reasons. A Set can be called when there is a mismatch a certain play can exploit for a scoring opportunity; a Set can be called in times when the offense is struggling to create a scoring opportunity through their primary offense; or a Set can be called in a special situation where a score is critical such as the end of a close game.
To be successful with a Set, players must know the plays. Not just their position, but every position on the court will be doing. If players do not know the Sets, they will not be very effective. On top of this, players have to be flawless in their execution - strong screens, crisp passes, quick cuts. All of these things will play a role if the Set will create a scoring opportunity or not.
Set offenses will be determined by coaching style and personnel. If the Set does not result in a scoring opportunity then teams will most likely go into another offense such as Motion or Continuity. Take a look through our Set Play DVDs to find tons of plays that may work for your team.
Zone Offenses are crucial to have in your offensive arsenal. Any time a defense switches to a zone, your players need to know the best way to attack. The only time you will use your Zone Offense will be when the defense makes the change, which means you most likely won’t use your Zone very often, but it’s still important for your team to know what it takes to exploit this defense.
To be successful with a Zone Offense, your offense needs to have a general understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of zone defense. This understanding will help them make a few adjustments to their offensive mindset. Instead of attacking players like you would against a man-to-man defense, you are going to be attacking areas.
Typically, you want to play a zone offense that puts your offensive players in the gaps of the defense. All your movements are going to be with one goal in mind: finding the gaps in the zone and getting the ball there which will create scoring opportunities.
Zone Offenses will be determined by what zone defense your opponent is using to stop you. Rent our basketball Zone Offense DVDs from the top coaches in the game and you will dominate your opponent.
Coach Chris shows you how to beat any zone defense with a simple continuity action that can be run at any level of play.
While the types of offense are very diverse, there are similar threads between all of them - and these similarities are what help offenses succeed.
Spacing. The biggest key to a successful offense is spacing. If your team can maintain the proper spacing then it gives your players plenty of room to operate on offense. Offensive moves such passing, screening, cutting, and attacking the rim are hard to do if all your players are in one area of the court. Not to mention, it makes your team easier to guard. Good spacing forces the defense to guard the entire floor. It also requires them to make decisions and adjustments to try to get a stop or create a turnover. These decisions and adjustments could create more opportunities for your offense because you can make your counter move that may lead to mismatches or no help defense.
Angles. Passing, screening, cutting, and driving all demand proper angles to create success on offense. A perfectly constructed play or offensive move may not work simply because the players did not make proper and efficient movements. Spend time in practice on teaching the importance of angles when it comes to these fundamental movements and how they will impact the outcome on the offensive end.
Timing. Timing is essential to offensive success. It involves the execution of a move, pass, cut, or screen at the proper time in order to get the easiest pass or shot possible. If the timing of the play is off, the floor spacing will be off, resulting in crowded areas. For example, a player coming off a screen before the screen has been set will not achieve its purpose to get the player open. Once players understand the timing of the offense, your offense will thrive.
Role Definition. Your players have to know what they are expected to do within your offense. What are their abilities they can bring to the offense to make it flourish? Address each players’ role and responsibilities on the offensive end. Do you want your Center playing outside the three-point line? Do you want your Point Guard going into the post? Make sure your players know their role and keep them accountable to it. This is one of the hardest areas for a Coach and a team because it requires tough conversation if a player is working outside of their role.
Objectives. Every offense has to have an objective, or goal. With every play you implement with your team, you should make sure they know the final objective. For example, if you want to run Play A, your team needs to know the goal is to get the ball to Steph on the wing for a three-pointer. They also need to know what to look for if Steph is not open. You might think this is obvious as you are teaching the play, but it is not. As the Coach, you need to develop your players to see the big picture. If they know the objective and what to look for on the court then they are more likely to find success.
Fundamentals. In the end, it comes down to fundamentals. Can your team dribble, pass, and shoot well? Do they make quick, smart decisions? Are you confident in their abilities to cut and screen? These are all the fundamentals that make up a winning offense. If your team can do these things well then you stand a good chance for a winning outcome. If your team struggles in a certain area then be sure to spend time practicing and developing that area.
Basic offensive basketball skills are essential to your success on the offensive end of the court.
Here are the basic skills you need to master on offense...
Shooting. One of the biggest ways to make an impact on the offensive end is being able to score the ball. In order to score the ball, you need to be able to shoot - and shoot consistently. The way to make this happen is to endlessly practice your shooting technique. You want your shot to be second nature every time you release the ball. Find different ways to practice your shot: different spots on the court, with defensive pressure, coming off screens, in transition, etc. If you want to make a splash on offense, shooting is a key skill. Check out our How to Shoot the Basketball Guide here.
Passing. If you can’t shoot the ball then you need to be able to pass the ball to your shooters. A great passer contributes to the team’s offensive success because they can make everyone else on the team better. What is a great passer? Someone who consistently delivers a catchable pass to the open teammate at the right time. Every passer should be enough of a scoring threat to cause the defense to commit to guarding them which opens up passing lanes. Check out our Passing Guide for more about how to become a great passer.
Dribbling. Players with strong dribbling skills is crucial to any offense. A great dribbler must be able to control the ball well without having to look at their dribble so they can see the court and make a play. And they have to be able to do this while there is defense guarding them and applying pressure trying to force them into turning the ball over. This can be in situations where a player is bringing the ball up the court or when they are attacking the rim. If they are attacking the rim with their head down then they might not see the open teammate in scoring position. Read more about Dribbling Drills that can make you a great dribbler.
Offensive Rebounding. Sometimes offenses need more than one opportunity to score and the only way to create more scoring opportunities is to have solid offensive rebounding. A good rebounder is often overlooked, but their contributions are critical, especially on the offensive end. Without offensive rebounds, your team will only get one chance to score the ball and will undoubtedly play a role in the outcome of the game. To find out more Rebounding Tips, Drills, and Techniques, click here.
Getting Open. It takes time for players to understand that if they want the ball, they have to work hard to get open. You can’t stand around on offense and expect to easily catch a pass and shoot. Great offensive players are constantly moving to get open whether it’s to catch and shoot or to simply catch a pass and keep the offense in motion. If you can’t get open, help a teammate get open. Helping a teammate get open is a vital skill every offensive player should possess. Find out how to move without the basketball and get open like a Pro.
Screens. Screens are an integral part of any offense. The purpose of a screen is to free an offensive player from their defender which puts players in better positions to make a play. Players that understand how to set and use screens make it extremely hard for the defense. It’s difficult for the defense because you’re forced to make a decision on how to guard the screen. And most likely, the offense is ready to exploit you either way you try to defend. Read more on How to Use Screens.
Fakes. A fake is a movement that simulates another move, shot, or passes in an attempt to get the opponent slightly out of position. The effectiveness of a player can be greatly enhanced by their ability to fake. An offense that utilizes fakes will continue to keep the defense on its toes and can use this to its advantage to create scoring opportunities.
Moves. A move is a specific action the ball handler makes in order to beat their defender. A move consists of a combination of basketball skills and/or a change of direction and/or a change of speed intended to cause the defender to be out of position. If your offense excels at making moves and getting their defender out of position then your team is in a great position to find the open shot and score.
Take these tips with you as you’re working on your game and you’ll definitely see an improvement in your game.
These are the three magic words when it comes using drills to teach and improve your offense.
When you decide on the drills you are going to use in practice be certain they are relevant to your offense. Players will have to work to develop their skills needed for their position, but they also need to develop skills specific to your offense.
As players are developing their overall individual skills, you may them work on certain moves, shots, or techniques that will be needed later on in the offense. The best way to do this is to take pieces of your offense and turn them into drills. As the players do these drills, be sure to teach them as if you are teaching the offense. Everything that will be important to the offense should be emphasized.
Players may feel that they are just doing drills, but eventually they will understand they are learning the basic parts of the offense. This will make your players skills’ better and help them recognize situations in the game.
As you create the practice drills of your offense, consider organizing the drills into stages or progressions. Teach your players the overall concept of the offense then break it down into progressions that will be taught and drilled over the course of multiple practices.
The drills will focus on certain sections of the offense and allow your players to learn, get comfortable, and gain confidence. Once you can see your players understanding and mastering the details of this drill, move on to the next progression that teaches and develops the next part of your offense. Basically, you’ve broken your offense down into drills that will piece by piece teach your players how to execute. Before you know it, your players know how to run your offense successfully.
Once you have gone through every progression, it’s time to go through them again. You can never drill your offense too much. There’s always room for players to grow and get better. Add in variations and challenges that will force them to get better such as running the drill with no dribbles.
After adding variations and challenges, it’s time to add in defense. It’s good for your offense to know how the defense is going to try to make stops and create turnovers. Once you have gone through your drill multiple times, throw a defense on the court.
At first, the defense can just make rotations and play very lightly. They aren’t trying to get a steal or create a turnover. They are merely on the court moving around to give the offense light pressure while they’re going through the drill. Then, when the offense looks ready, intensify the defense by allowing them to add more pressure. Until, finally turning up the heat and going full-on defense against your offense.
With the skills learned from all the drills, your offense will be ready and prepared to succeed against the defense.
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This Complete Guide to a Scoring Offense should cover everything you need to know to find success on the offensive side of the basketball, but there's always room to grow. To learn more start browsing through our vast selection of DVDs right now.
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