Basketball Plays

Scritto da: Chris Hungerford



Tempo di lettura 14 min

Coaching your team's basketball plays can sometimes be an overwhelming experience.

As a coach, there are so many different types of plays you can run to get your team high-percentage shots.

Every coach and team needs a variety of basketball plays to get high-percentage shots and scoring opportunities for their players. One of the beautiful things about basketball is there are a variety of ways to get good shots - using a pick and roll or ball screen play, screen the screener plays, plays from a box set, plays for a post player or a point guard, plays against a zone defense, low post plays, cross screenplays, and more.

You can run plays from a box formation or the high post. You can put players on the weak side of the court or the ball side corner. You can run a play for a 3-point shot, a 2-point jump shot, or a shot in the post. You can even run plays in an attempt to get to the free-throw line.

As you can see, coaching a team and teaching them basketball plays can present a coach and team with a lot of options.

It is a coach's dream to draw up a set play that is executed perfectly, called at the right time, or even wins a game for their team.

Before you can draw up that dream play for a winning shot, though, you must have a firm grasp and understanding of the different types of basketball offensive plays to choose from.

In this article, we'll cover types of basketball plays, how to diagram plays, plays for youth basketball teams, common basketball actions, situational plays, and much more!

basketball play

Types of Basketball Plays

There are several types of basketball plays: half court offensive sets, baseline and sideline out of bounds sets, motion offenses, press breaks, and zone offenses.

Half-Court Offensive Sets

An offensive set in the half-court is any time your team has the ball, calls a play, and has to run it against a set defense.

With these sets, you'll be looking for scoring opportunities and an open shot against a man's defense. These are also referred to as quick hitters.

These plays are often designed to get specific actions like pick and roll, ball screen, dribble handoffs, cross screens for post players, or backdoor cuts.

They are also used to get specific players the ball in scoring areas.

For example, if you have a great shooter, you might run a play to spring them free with multiple screens.

If you have a good ball handler or point guard, you might run more pick-and-roll type plays.

If you have a dominant post player, you will want to run plays that get them touches inside and near the paint or in the low post.

The best times to use a half-court offensive set play are after timeouts, to stop a run, to get your best players good shots, or when your team just needs a boost.

When players run a play they are confident in, it can really boost the morale and motivation of your team!

Motion Offense

A motion offense can be implemented in a few ways to present scoring opportunities as well.

Some coaches prefer motion offense that follows a continual pattern - these coaches run offenses like flex, Princeton, pass and screen away, the Swing Offense, and more.

Other coaches prefer to run motion offense from a certain alignment like 5-out or 4-out and give their players certain rules to follow, reads to react to, and principles to respond to. 

These coaches prefer to coach concepts and let their players make decisions rather than run a set play.

basketball play

Zone Offense

Zone offense is just like Man Offense in a lot of ways.

When coaching, you can run set plays that screen the zone defenders.

Or you can run a motion-based offense against a zone.

You can even ball screen a zone defense.

The most common zone defense is the 2-3 zone, but there are different types of plays you can run against different types of zones as well.

Whatever you decide to run on zone offense, the popular and effective ways to attack it are by getting the ball in the high post or low post for post players to score inside or kicking out to your shooters for high-percentage scoring opportunities.

basketball play

Baseline Out of Bounds Play

Coaches should have options when they are throwing the ball in under their own basket.

Each team should have baseline out-of-bounds options against a zone or man defense.

These types of basketball plays can be run out of different formations - common ones include a box formation or box set, screen the screener plays (setting a screen for the player who just set a screen), and trying to get a shot on the block.

As a coach, you could also decide to not worry about scoring on the baseline out of bounds plays and just focus on getting the ball into your offensive players without turning the ball over.

basketball play

Sideline Out of Bounds Play

Most coaches elect to simply get the ball inbounded without turning it over when they throw it in from the sideline. They will sometimes start the play in a box formation or a line formation.

Some coaches, however, prefer to run a play from this location as well.

Coaches could also throw the ball into their point guard and flow right into their basketball plays in the half-court (whatever it is they run on offense).

Press Break

Just like when using a half-court offense and inbounds offense, coaches should have a press break that works against zone press and a press break that works against full-court man-to-man.

Against a zone press, the best way to attack is by throwing the ball to the middle.

Most teams will have a post-player flash middle and then look opposite to break the press.

The best tactic when going against a man's press defense is to get the ball into the point guard, have the other players clear out, and have your point guard bring the ball up the floor.

Coaches could also elect to try and beat the press defense with a long pass down the floor.

basketball play

Situational Basketball Plays

In addition to basic plays running in the half-court, coaches would be wise to have plays available to run in special situations.

These situations would primarily revolve around the time and score of the game.

  • For example, what do you run when you're down by 3 and have the ball with 10 seconds to go?
  • What do you run when the opponent is playing a zone and you need a 3?
  • What do you run on offense when your team is winning by 7 points and there is a minute to go?

Each of these situations requires a certain type of play to give your team the best chance for success.

Popular Basketball Plays

When watching any level of basketball, some common and popular types of basketball plays will occur.

Here are a few examples:

Dribble Drive Motion

  • This type of offense focuses on using the dribble to get an advantage when getting to the basket.
  • Players are typically spread out to each corner, each slot, and with a post player always opposite of the ball. The post-player position allows them to be available for an easy pass if the help defense rotates to the ball and if there is a rebounding opportunity.
  • Players do not set screens in this offense - they only dribble, drive, and cut.

Continuity Ball Screen

  • This ball screen offense uses continuous ball screens (just like the name says).
  • Every time a post player sets a ball screen, they roll to the basket and the point guard tries to make a pass to them.
  • You can also make changes to this offense like incorporating slips to the rim, ghost screens, dribble handoffs, pick and pops, and more.

Princeton Offense

  • The Princeton Offense relies on different screen types - whether it's a back screen, cross-screen, or any other type of screen - to get offensive players open for scoring opportunities.
  • This offense relies on spacing, two players (the screener and cutter) making reads, and a player who can make the right pass.
  • The Princeton Offense can be like a motion offense or it can be a variety of set plays.

Some coaches even run one type of Princeton Offense play and add it to their offensive game plan.

Flex Offense

  • The Flex Offense is one of the oldest and most effective offensive concepts - it's been around for a long time.
  • The play starts with a cross-screen followed by a down screen or back screen.

This motion continues over and over until a player gets a high-percentage scoring opportunity - either in the low post, high post, or for a 3-point shot.


  • This play starts with the point guard having the ball in their hands at the top of the key.
  • The other players are at each elbow and in each corner.
  • The play can sometimes be started with a ball screen from one of the players on the elbow or with an entry pass to that player.
  • Then, the options a coach has are limitless.
  • You can design a play to go inside, set up 3-point shots, or just to get a shot for one of your best players.
  • This play formation has great spacing that makes it hard for the defense to cover all options.
basketball play

Simple Youth Basketball Plays

  • When coaching youth basketball teams, coaches should run a play/plays that are fairly simple and easy to understand.
  • It's easy to try and run too many plays that could end up confusing your players.
  • A lot of coaches will run basketball plays from a 5-out formation and teach players to pass and cut.
  • Basically, every time a player passes the ball, they must basket cut. Their teammates will fill the open slots. Then the same motion will continue until a player gets a chance to shoot, drive, or go backdoor for a layup.
  • With 5 out, you can also set screens.
  • For example, the play starts with a pass to the wing but instead of a basket cut, a player might screen away for a teammate.
  • Coaches could also run set plays with youth basketball teams.
  • One of the most common plays is a simple pass and screen away from 3 out.
  • The play starts with the point guard passing to a player on the wing.
  • When the player on the wing receives the pass, the point guard sets a screen away for the other guard on the opposite side of the floor.
  • At the same time, the low post player on the ball side sets a screen for the opposite low post player.
  • The player who has the ball can not pass to either of the cutters coming to the ball.

This simple play teaches basic things like how to cut, how to follow proper spacing, how to use a screen and how to set a screen, weak side action, and more. It also involves your post players in a cross-screen.

The offense for youth players should be very simple and focused on teaching good decision-making. Coaches could give their players certain rules and guidelines to follow on offense as well when they play in drills, scrimmages, and games.

A general rule, however, is that the fewer plays there are for youth basketball players, the better.

Teaching and Learning Basketball Plays

  • Teaching your players how to effectively run whatever plays you select is extremely important.
  • You must spend a lot of time running your plays against no defense and in scrimmage situations during practice or your players will not run the plays effectively during games.
  • A good idea is to run the play against no defense, including all the reads necessary, when first starting out. Once the players understand the timing, when to set screens, what type of screens to set, and everything else that comes with running an effective play, you can start to add defense.
  • If your basketball players can't run your plays on offense without any defense, they aren't ready for real defense yet.
  • Keep practicing the plays until they have them memorized and can run your offense smoothly.
  • Then introduce team defense, ball pressure, and man defense. You can even start by using two players or throwing in a third defender instead of all 5 defenders to start.

PopularTypes of Alignment in Basketball Plays

There are several formations that are common with offensive basketball plays.

5 Out

  • In 5 Out, players are in 5 spots around the perimeter (each corner, each wing, and the top of the key).

This is an effective offense if your players are of similar size and skill level. You can also run this basketball offense if you don't have a lot of players who can score on a defender in the post.

4 Out, 1 In

  • In 4 Out, the coach has more flexibility.
  • Typically, there are 4 players around the perimeter positioned in each corner or a little higher and in each slot area.
  • The 5th player is either on the ball side block or the opposite side block.
  • This is a good offense to run if you have a post player who isn't skilled on the perimeter.
  • A coach could also move the inside post player up to the high post to pull their defender away from the basket.

3 Out, 2 In

  • In 3 Out, 2 In, the offense has 3 players on the perimeter (each wing and the top of the key) and 2 players on each block.
  • This offense doesn't offer great spacing, but it does allow your team to use bigger players and pound the ball inside.

How to Draw Up and Diagram Basketball Plays

Being able to draw up basketball plays in an accurate manner is an underrated coaching skill.

Here are a few key diagram concepts to keep in mind:

  • A pass is represented with a dotted line (- - - -).
  • A dribble is represented with a squiggly line.
  • A screen is represented with a line that has a horizontal end (think a long and skinny "t").
  • A cut is represented by a solid line.
  • Arrows are used to show direction.
  • Players are typically labeled by a number (1 through 5). Typically, the point guard is the 1, and low post players are 4 and 5.
  • The player with the ball typically has their number circled.
  • Defensive players are labeled with numbers as well, but have an "X" next to their number.

How To Choose The Right Plays

Now that you are equipped with so much information, it's time to decide what plays you're actually going to run with your team.

Unfortunately, you can't run every single quality play you see during a game or on the internet.

You have to go through the work of choosing which basketball plays are the most effective for your team.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your plays:

The age of the players you have

You simply can't run the same types of plays with your rec league team that you see the Golden State Warriors running. It won't work!

One of your jobs as a coach is to put the age of your players into consideration when designing your plays.

The types of players you have

  • You must consider the strengths and weaknesses of each player and their position.
  • It doesn't make sense to run an alley-oop play with a team that doesn't have anyone over 5'10''.
  • As a coach, it's your job to cater to your offense to give your players the most possible positive opportunities to be successful!

The types of teams you'll play during the season

  • If most of the teams you play press, you need to have a strong press break.
  • If most of the teams you play are going to play zone, you better have multiple zone offense options.
  • If the best teams you play overplay and deny the ball, you need to have plays that will counter that (think backdoor cuts).

Whatever it is that you'll see during the season from most teams (and the best teams) on your schedule on'll need to have a counter or two in place.

What you are good at teaching

  • If you know nothing about the Princeton Offense and your season is about to begin, you should probably stray away from running that particular offense.
  • Stick to what you know is best, what your personal coaching style is, and what you can get your team to believe in!
  • You should be playing to your strengths as a coach as much as you play to the strengths of your players.

Other Factors to Consider With Basketball Plays


  • Players must understand when each part of the play is taking place.
  • They can learn this from practicing against no defense, watching film, or observing their teammates play.
  • However, the best way to learn is to practice the plays against live competition.


  • The younger the player, the more difficult it can be to teach proper spacing.
  • Constantly stress for your players to get "higher and wider".
  • This forces the defense to guard a large area of the court and it gives your offense more open gaps and space to make winning basketball plays!

Teach your players to resist the urge to run to the basketball. Instead, teach them to be patient, maintain good spacing, and let the action come to them!

Role Identification

  • As a coach, it is vital to communicate to each player their role on the team.
  • Your shooters should be encouraged to shoot, your post players should be encouraged to rebound, and your point guards should be encouraged to run the offense and protect the ball.
  • If you have no role identification, you'll have the wrong people doing the wrong things!
  • You don't want your worst 3-point shooter thinking they have the green light.
  • You don't want your worst ball handlers running point guard.
  • You don't want your point guard who is 8 inches shorter than everyone else posting up!
  • You get the point - as a coach, you must clearly communicate each player's role and help them to see how their role benefits the team.

Decision Making and Reads

  • Skill in this area mostly comes with time and experience.
  • However, you can also run basketball drills to help your team with this.
  • Playing a lot of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 can be helpful with this as well.

Play Names and Play Calls

  • Finally, you'll want to choose simple and easy-to-call plays for your players.
  • You might even want to have hand signals or a numbering system so your players are clear on what plays are being called each time down the floor!


Hopefully, this article has been helpful in some capacity in teaching your team how to run basketball plays in an effective and optimal manner.

Each team and player are different - as a coach, you must do the work of analyzing your team, deciding what offense best fits your team, and motivating your team and players to buy into your vision for their success.

Take the information from this guide to help you make those winning decisions.

Our best advice? Design your offense around your players, their strengths and weaknesses, and with the intention of getting the right players the right shots at the right time.

Good luck!

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