The Ultimate Guide to Fast Break Basketball

Scritto da: Chris Hungerford



Tempo di lettura 13 min

Transition offense refers to the process of shifting from the defense into offense. Transition offense can be slow-paced because some of the coaches like to build up the offense through offensive setups, like all of the LeBron teams where he likes to walk up to the offensive half-court, to scan the floor, and spot up his options, then to decide where he wants to go and what options he likes to have.

On the opposite side is this year's Sacramento Kings, who just played "seven seconds or less" basketball. If you watched their games this year, they just kept firing up from every position as soon as they are in range. This manifested with all of the players having worst shooting % than the last year, but if we take a look at open shot opportunities, the numbers are the same. This kind of basketball can wear down the opponents, so even when they trailed up to 15 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, they managed to win because opposing teams ran out of gas at the end.

And, we have balanced transitions, where coaches are teaching players to take good shots and not to force anything if there is an opportunity to play a secondary transition which is likely to create better shots. Each coach has to determine which velocity is best for his team and his group. The decisions are made by analyzing your own team, so there is little to no chance that you are going to play an up-tempo fast game and your big guys can dominate on the low post nor you are going to go slow and organized with players that are bad with the handles or the whole team is undersized.

Table of Content

  • Advantages of a Good Transition Offense
  • Transition Offensive Basics
  • Running the primary fast break
  • Starting the transition
  • Special Situations
  • Secondary Fast Break
  • Drills
  • Conclusion

Advantages of a Good Transition Offense

  1. Forcing transition can create some easy buckets.

  2. Forcing the ball up the floor instantly puts the defense under pressure, and whatever they do they will be constantly bothered by the thought of getting back on defense. This can reflect on the less aggressive approach toward getting offensive rebounds and putting pressure on the glass and might keep their point guard from making dribble penetrations (thinking he has to stay back to stop the counters).

  3. An aggressive team approach on offense will often reflect the team's defense and rebounding.

  4. An up-tempo game will honor the team that is better conditioned. A badly conditioned team will "run out of juice" by the fourth quarter.

  5. Less likely for the opponents to try and play some press defense.

  6. A unit that plays up-tempo is more likely to have a bigger rotation, so the bench players are going to play and they are going to have a more important role. This oftentimes produces good team unity with multiple players getting playing time. An up-tempo game is going to favor the team with a "deep bench", and all of those players are going to have an impact.

  7. The players and fans are going to enjoy these kinds of games with many points and dunks, rather than stressing out with slow, tactical favored games with iron defenses and many free throws (like Game 1 in Huston - Golden State series).

  8. Zone defense is not going to work against the well-executed transition-heavy offenses.

Transition Offensive Basics

The most essential habit to teach your players mindsets is to at all times keep the transition under control. Running counter attacks creates a momentum that can pull in a player into warp so their decision making can be based upon what might happen. In a full sprint, a player can scan the floor and see an opening that in the next moment can lead to turnover. You don't want your fast-breaking method to end in turnovers and missed opportunities to score. 


Your players have to master the art to identify when to launch the break, and when to slow down and stay under control. They need to learn not to force inadequate passes.

Young players must be thought of the ways of how to transform from defense to offense. They need to know what are their roles in every sequence of the defense, and they need to know how to act when the ball is caught and which lane they need to cover. And here we touched one of the first things that you need to teach your players. The court can be divided into 5 corridors, 5 transition lanes.

Transition offense corridors

The middle lane (3) is reserved for a center or the trailing player that made the defensive rebound, the ones closest to the central corridor (2 and 4) are reserved for the ball handler, and the sideline corridors are reserved for the shooters (1 and 5).

In the beginning, the ball must be passed to the player that is in the nearest lane (from 2 to 3 or from 2 to 1), and in the development process the exceptions can be made and a pass can be thrown from one side to the other. This rule must be applied to young players because they can't risk a long pass for two reasons:

  1. They are not strong enough to throw a long and accurate pass
  2. They are not experienced to be able to read the floor right so they can make some bad decisions

One of the first things that need to be done when practicing transition offense, is how to receive the ball after the rebound and what is the right sequence of plays that are going to serve your offense the best way possible.

  1. Rebounder has to be thought to secure the ball and to turn around and to look for the point guard. Unless your big guys are gifted like Nikola Jokic from the Denver Nuggets, they shouldn't try to throw that touch-down passes. If you have such talents as the Joker, then everything should be allowed.

  2. The ball handler should get open for a pass, or if there is a slight hesitation because of the defensive positions, then the point guard should run to the center and receive a hand-off.

Getting into the right position to receive the ball from the rebounder is a thing that should be thought and practiced and it is often overlooked by the coaches who assume that the kids know where to stand and how to act.

1. Simple pass situation where Point Guard is sliding down the court to receive the pass. It is ideal if he can get it in the level of the free throw line, but if not, he needs to open the passing lane by running towards the baseline/ball.

A simple pass from the rebounder to ball handler and the lines that others should run

2. If the defense is making pressure on the first pass, then Point Guard should get to the rebounder and receive the hand-off and then bring the ball to the front court (red line).

Covering the transition lanes when the ball handler needs to go and pick up the ball from the rebounder

Also, players who are playing in the post should be thought how to run the floor and how to make opportunities for some easy buckets. If you are coaching a youth team, make your "bigs" switch on to guards on the perimeter, and make them contest all the shots. And, if we assume that the other team's bigs are inside the paint trying to get offensive rebound, which only means that your tall player has the opportunity to run the floor and get inside the paint against the guards who are bound to defend the transition.

Running the primary fast break

There are several ways of running the transition offense, but most schemes use the concept of loading three lanes coming up the floor, a trailer covering the middle corridor, and a "counter" person.

Some of the coaches believe that it doesn't matter which player is running in which lane, but just want from their team to load each lane as swiftly as possible and just go forward. Other coaches coach that the outlet pass constantly needs to go to the point guard or the team's best ball handler and every other lane needs to be covered specifically by the assigned role. Every player knows his lane and he needs to stick to the plan.

After the ball handler receives the pass, he needs to bring the ball up in a sprint and as he approaches the center he needs to scan the floor and make two decisions: 

  1. See the player that is in the best position to score and stick to a plan (it is hard for the young players to keep their focus on multiple targets on the floor so it is essential to stick with the simple plan at first) or
  2. Decides to organize the offense in the half-court because the first plan didn't work . This kind of thinking is going to prevent turnovers and the self-esteem is not going to drop because of the bad decisions.

Some of the coaches like to bring the ball through the center of the court because they like to give both sides the same chance for an easy layup. And, prior to that, they like the ball handler to bring the ball to the free throw line. I do not think that this is a good idea for several reasons (if there is more than 1 defender on the fast break):

  1. The first pass to the players that are running is not giving much of an advantage if that player is denied a finishing chance. The only player that he can pass the ball to is the player in the center
  2. The secondary break is going to have a bad geometry because the screener is going to come from the side, so the ball handler is going to go towards the baseline, and practically away from the basket.
  3. If the defense is letting the ball handler is dared to shoot, that shot is going to be taken from the position in which he is not going to be able to use the backboard. Whoever played basketball knows that it is easier to use the glass if the preparation for the shot comes from a full sprint and in high puls.

Old school transition offense scheme


It used to be the rule that the ball handler needs to make an immediate pass to one side. As we can see, the lower defensive player then covers the ball and the other player is sliding from the arc toward the heart of the paint.

The only available option if the defense is playing it the right way

If the player that received the ball on the wing can not finish with the layup, his only other option is to make the return pass to the middle. Passing to the other side is not an option on any level of basketball.

This era of basketball is favoring the corner 3 point shot as something that is the most desirable point attempt in today's game. That pass to is easier to make if the ball is traveling from near corridors then if it is flying from the center toward the corner.

Modern basketball demands a dribble penetration on the side


The new era of basketball demands that the ball is brought from the side corridor and it is a must that the first defender is attacked with the dribble drive. The benefits of this geometry are that the defense has to be moved from the middle of the paint, and it has to focus on the drive. 


The first defender now has to be aggressive on the ball and the second defender cant leave the penetration lane. This way, the player with the ball is tying both defenders and setting the tone for the offense.

Binding two defenders leaves more options for an open shot


With the two hard dribbles toward the basket, we can see how the geometry of the offense is changing and how it is bringing more options to our attack. We have a corner 3 pt shot on the strong side of the action and we have 2 opportunities on the weak side depending on how the defense will react. 


If the lower defender decides to extend the defense towards the corner, there is a layup option, and if he decided to stay on the penetration lane, then we have an open 3 situation from the top of the arc.

If we want to analyze the Trailer, it is important that he comes through the middle corridor for several reasons:

  1. It is better to have a pick and roll action in which the ball handler is dribbling to the center of the court because the geometry is then better to execute pick and roll/pop or to send a ball into the corner.
  2. If he receives the pass in the middle and he is running full speed and the lane is denied and he has to pass, he is going to have some easier opportunities from this position.
  3. It is a "peanut butter and jelly" situation if he can position himself in the middle of the paint for the inside pass because that is the best position for any big man.
Pick and roll offense in transition as an option for a secondary attack including trailer

If we take a look at the diagram, in which we have a trailer coming and one more defender, if the ball is on the side the geometry of offense is going to give your team some good finishing opportunities with a simple pick and roll action.

Starting the transition

Coaches disagree on how to start the break off a defensive rebound. Some favor the exit pass to a guard out on the wing (free throw line spread). This guard has the option than to either make a pass to the other guard who is pulling the center lane, or dribble immediately and fill the lane between the center and the wing himself.

Other coaches practice getting the outlet pass straight to the point guard who needs to position more toward the center of the floor. If your team can pull off this pass through, it is certainly going to fasten up your transition with the thought that this way your ball handler can be the first man in front running the transition.

A successful transition offense highly depends on:

  1. Seizing the defensive rebound.
  2. A safe, smart and fast outlet pass.
  3. Loading the lanes the right way.
  4. Keeping control.
  5. Identification. Don't push the break or pass if there is a big risk of making a turnover.

Special Situations

  • 2-on-1 Break

Teach your players that if they find themselves in a 2-on-1 situation when attacking the basket, their first idea should be to score or to get fouled. The ball handler should position himself in a manner for him to be able to tack at a 45-degree angle, and the other player should be on the opposite side. The dribbling should be kept alive all the way through until the defensive player decides to attack him or he decides to go for a layup.

  • 3-on-2 Break

In this circumstance, there are two defenders defending the basket and the attack has the central and two wing corridors filled with players. The defense is positioned in a line with the first player attacking the ball and the lower player attacking the pass.

If you take a look at the diagrams, you are going to see that the geometry of the offense is not that good when the player brings the ball through the center, but it is better when it comes from the side just because the defense has to lean toward the strong side of the action.

Secondary Fast Break

When the initial fast break is not probable your team has to run a secondary break. In a normal offensive set, we coaches are trying to make handicaps and play 4 on 3 situations that are going to transform eventually into 2-on-1 situations in some part of the court. Owning a good secondary break plan is oftentimes helpful in making quick buckets in transition before the defense can get down the floor. Also, a solid secondary break can continue directly into a quality half-court offense.


In my mind, there really are two realistic options. They are a fast pick-and-roll/pop action and get our big man under the basket as fast as they can. Those two actions are fast enough to be considered a secondary fast break. Everything else, some double screens and a hand-off or wide pins on the side are just taking much longer to develop into some good shot opportunities.

Pick and Pop action on a secondary break

Simple pick and roll/pop action is going to give you some options.

Diving trailer as an option for a secondary transition offense

The trailer can dive into the heart of the paint and tie some defenders or receive a ball on a miss-match.


1. 3 on 2.5 Advantage Drill


Drill to work on defensive rotations and nuetralizing an advantage. Offense is working on decision making, scoring quickly and keeping an advantage.




Divide into two teams.




Teams are at opposite sides of half court




3 players start out on offense from a team at half-court.




2 players from the opposing team on defense.

fast break

As soon as the BALL crosses half-court a defensive player runs on. The defensive player must touch one foot inside the center circle before going on defense.

fast break

If the offense scores or gets stopped. The defensive team goes down on offense against the opposing team waiting.



An additional defensive player runs on as soon as the ball crosses half-court.

fast break


In this article, we tried to cover the fundamental of a good transition offense that is used in a new era of basketball. As we are trying to prepare our players for the basketball of today, we need to practice the art in that spirit. If you favor the old ways, your players are going to develop skills that are not going to help them play today's game.


We coaches have to improve every day so we can keep up with the game that is always changing. If you do not know where to look for some good basketball stuff, visit us at Hoopsking by clicking on the link below.


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