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Conceptual Offense Pt. 2 Implementation

This post is geared toward the actual installation and implementation of a conceptual offense. The previous blog post outlined the guiding principles and more specific actions within our offense.

How We Teach

When implementing our offense or specific pieces of our offense, we subscribe to the Whole-Part-Whole Method. We start with the whole where we will introduce our spacing, terminology, and certain concepts through video clips or 5 v 0 skeleton offense. There isn’t a ton of time spent in the initial “whole” phase, it’s mostly an introduction to paint a picture and allow players to see how the concepts fit into an actual game. After we’ve introduced a piece of our offense through the whole, we start small-sided games to teach and reinforce the concept. The advantage of small-sided games is that players are able to get more repetitions and we are able to create conditions that are similar to the context of an actual game. After players have started to demonstrate a clear understanding of the concepts, we come back to the whole, which will consist of 5 v 5 scrimmage variations. Depending on what we are implementing, we will use scripted actions, constraints, or a modified scoring system to elicit the actions we are looking for in both small-sided games and scrimmage variations.

Phases of Implementation

Phase 1: Overview of Offense 

The first phase in implementing our offense is showing video clips of ideal offensive possessions. To us, that means that we were able to create an advantage in the possession (number advantage, closeout, mismatch, etc.) that led to a high value shot. The on-court work in Phase 1 is introducing our basic half-court & transition spacing & terminology via 5 v 0.

Phase 2: Attacking w/ the Advantage (Blender or Dominoes)

Many times coaches will start teaching and implementing their offense by walking through their set plays. While that can be effective for some, we start by teaching our players how we want to play when an advantage has been created. We call this “Blender” or “Dominoes”. This is taught through small-sided games w/ an advantage in the half-court or in transition. Concepts such as racing to space, pitch-aheads, 0.5 rule, exit cuts, and penetration reaction are all things we are emphasizing. If we feel that we need to decrease complexity, we will use 2 v 0 or 3 v 0 Conceptual Drills to teach these concepts relating to playing with an advantage. The bottom line and main reason we start here in our implementation is that a play or an action is going to yield different things- many times it won’t be a score, but many times it will be a small advantage. We want our players to be able to take the advantage that was created and understand how to create a shot we are looking for.

Phase 3: Attacking a Neutral Defense- Space & Attack

Once our players have an understanding of when an advantage has been created and how we want to use it to create a high-value shot, we need to move into attacking a neutral defense. The better the opponent, the more likely it is that our team will have to use action to create advantages- meaning we are not just going to be able to out-run every team we play and get a basket in transition each possession. Our basic spacing and movement template that we start with is Space & Attack. This is our default offense when there is no call or we are just “flowing and playing”. Space & Attack has players passing, cutting, spacing and potentially posting. We teach players a slice cut, through cut, shallow cut, or post cut. The type of cut they perform can depend on where they are on the floor and the matchup they or a teammate has.

A game we play frequently early on when implementing Space & Attack is Wildcat 3 v 3 (Brian McCormick). In Wildcat 3 v 3, there are no screens and each catch has to be made behind the 3-point line unless it’s a direct cut to the rim. This teaches our players to create gaps through cutting, recognize when there is a gap, and then attack gaps w/ a downhill drive. Additionally, we can reinforce spacing and penetration reaction on a drive, which we will have covered in “Blender” or “Dominoes”. Also in Space & Attack, we begin teaching how we want to play out of the post. We will go 3 v 3 beginning w/ a post entry and perform a post cut or post split. Space & Attack gives us a foundation of spacing as well as ball and player movement. It connects our players to a base structure that they can fall back onto in the chaos of a game without any calls.

Phase 4: 5 v 5 

In Phase 4, we want to bring the “whole” back through 5 v 5 play working on our Space & Attack Offense. To emphasize and reinforce pace, we use a shot clock (10-15 seconds). Our players know that there are no screens unless the ball is entered to the post. We are looking to create our advantages in transition, through the drive, and through the post. Space, pace, and flow seamlessly into Space & Attack until we get an advantage and are into Blender or Dominoes.

Phase 5: Introduce Actions & Sets (Repeat Whole-Part-Whole Method)

When our base Space & Attack principles have been established, we want to introduce other quick actions as an alternative method to create advantages. The better an opponent is defensively, the more action outside of Space & Attack we may have to run to create our advantages. To start, each of these actions will flow directly from the same spacing as our Space & Attack- this creates seamless flow. Players do not have to be in specific spots on the floor to execute the action. As discussed above, we will usually show the action 5 v 0 to give players a handle on the broader picture of the action and the options within an action. We then move into small-sided games where we script the particular action 2 v 2, 3 v 3, or 4 v 4. Finally we come back to 5 v 5 scrimmages. If players are struggling to understand their options, we can lessen complexity by using Conceptual Drills or going back to 5 v 0 and 5 v 5 guided offense.

To learn more about drills and small-sided games we use, please feel free to reach out to me at: performancemaxllc@gmail.com. I am also currently scheduling clinics for youth and high school coaches and teams looking to implement these offensive concepts this winter.

Conceptual Offense Pt. 1 Philosophy & Overview

The guiding philosophy of our offense is:

Develop Players. Give them Space. Play with Pace. Seamlessly Flow. 

The better our players, the better our offense. The better our offense, the better our players. Player development connects w/ offense. Many times these items are seen as separate. When we are working on our offense, we are also developing our players skills. Just as when we are emphasizing a particular skill, we are working on and ultimately enhancing our offense.

All coaches want skilled players. We strive to develop versatile, offensive-minded players who thrive in the chaos of a game. Versatile means that we have players on the floor, regardless of size, who have the ability to shoot, pass, handle, finish, pivot, accelerate & decelerate. Offensive-minded means they have the confidence to attack space when it’s presented and ultimately make the “right play” given the interactions and decisions present on the floor. Lastly, to thrive in the chaos of a game, skills cannot be viewed and evaluated solely from an isolated perspective. They must be evaluated, and ultimately developed in conjunction with the decisions that occur within a game. Technique is important to a degree, but it is often over-valued & over-coached. Adaptability, vision, and feel are more important. Here are some clips that illustrate versatile, offensive-minded players using skills in the chaos of the game:

 

 

We are constantly fighting for our spacing- it’s a crucial ingredient to any offense. We call our base offense and spacing template Space & Attack. It’s predominately a 5-out system (but can be adapted to be a 4-out as well) where initial action can vary from team to team. We generally start with ball movement and cutting to introduce the offense. There is a huge emphasis on players being higher and wider with their positioning. Penetration reaction is something we frequently work on within conceptual shooting drills- players must understand how to maintain the integrity of our spacing when a teammate penetrates. When initial spacing along w/ gap recognition is established and understood, we will also begin to utilize backside pins and incorporate post cuts to give ourselves other options to create small advantages within our Space & Attack. Additionally, and once again connecting back to player development, spacing isn’t just player positioning on the floor, it’s also predicated on player “gravity”. Having multiple shooters on the floor that the defense must stay connected to opens up more space to attack.

 

 

Playing with pace doesn’t mean that we rush up and down the floor without any sense of valuing a possession. Pace is sprinting to our spacing when we secure possession and probing for an early advantage before the defense gets set. This can be off of a made or missed shot by our opponent. On a rebound, we give freedom and want the player who rebounded the ball to initiate our early offense. If we aren’t able to get an early advantage via transition, we move the ball and our players w/ pace. Playing with pace certainly involves our ability to attack early in a possession, but it also involves the energy of the ball and the intention of our players cuts as a possession extends longer.

 

 

Flow ties together our offense. On a made or missed shot by an opponent, we race to space to probe for an early advantage. If we aren’t able to create an advantage early in the possession, we are organized w/ our spacing to seamlessly flow into offense. We do not need to reset our spacing or call a set each time down the floor- we have the ability to flow and play without interruption. Whether it be a pass & cut, drag screen, post-up, snap, or center action- the action connects w/ our spacing. The goal is to constantly be on the attack. If an action creates an advantage, we use or transfer the advantage until we create a high-value shot. When an action doesn’t create an advantage, we re-space and move right into our next action without lag or delay.

 

 

Our base offense establishes our spacing template and gives us a foundation to work off of.  The quick actions we install connect to that spacing template (flow). Every team takes on a slightly different identity based on the players that make up a roster. For example, some teams may use post cuts and rely more heavily on post entries as opposed to gap creating cuts for dribble penetration. It may fit a team to automatically flow into a drag screen if no transition advantage was available early. Each game, depending on an opponent, could also call for different wrinkles and actions as well.  Maybe an opponent is poor in handling off-ball screens and that game requires flowing into action w/ an off-ball screen. This is where coaching and adaptability is required. There were games when we needed to use quick actions with screening more and then other games teams couldn’t keep us in front so we could simply use cuts to open up gaps to create our advantages. Regardless, the goal of any action is to create an advantage that leads to a high value shot. Below is a PDF file that shows quick actions we use that directly connect w/ our spacing when we arrive in the half-court.

PMax Basketball Conceptual Offense Flow Actions

Part 2 will feature our approach on how we teach and implement the offense. Thanks for reading!

Individual Roles & Responsibilities on a Team

As the basketball season kicks into full gear, players have and will continue to take on different roles and responsibilities within a team. Whether or not we agree with a given role or the responsibilities we have been assigned, learning opportunities are always present. On a personal level, I have been the best player on teams, a starter while being a 3rd or 4th option, a guy who both plays coming off the bench or was on the fringe of a rotation. I’ve also been someone who didn’t see the floor unless it was a blow-out. Each role taught me something different and has given me incredible perspective and empathy as a coach.

Many strive to be the best player on a team, but often don’t understand what comes with that. External expectations are higher and you’re constantly being watched, critiqued, and analyzed. Your daily habits are crucial and your bad performances are often magnified at a higher level than someone else’s. It’s easy to start making excuses and pointing the finger at other people, but it must be understood that to whom much is given, much is expected. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in a position where you don’t see the floor, you quickly understand that it’s not about you (it never is, but even more so in this position). My freshman year of college this was me. I came to realize that I needed to be the best practice player I could be so my teammates in front me were challenged each day. That role wasn’t what I expected nor what I wanted at the time, but in reflection, it taught me what it actually means to be a great teammate. In other situations where I was on the fringe of a rotation (some games I played a lot, others very little), I learned to always stay ready- that when an opportunity comes you had better be prepared.

It’s easy for players and parents to lose perspective over the course of a season. Players who don’t currently have the role they desire are often clouded with a poor mindset and given bad messages outside of their teams. Growth opportunities and bigger lessons go out the window. On top of that, no role increases without first being a star in your current role. If you’re a person who isn’t seeing playing time but wants to, then every practice had better be your Super Bowl. Self-pity, lackluster effort, and a selfish mentality has never caught anyone’s attention in a positive manner. We have to look past short-term frustration and shift our focus onto where we can improve, what we can be learned, and ultimately how we can be our best in the situation we are in!

Change of Pace

To make your fast faster, make your slow slower. I say this to kids in basketball workouts to emphasize change of pace. The best players in the game of basketball aren’t always sprinting around the court or performing every movement at full speed. Great players understand that going slow & changing tempos can make a quick or full speed burst that much more effective. This is a concept that has meaning in everyday life too.

The urge and way of life for most of us is to always be on the go. We believe there’s no time for slow- busyness & activity consumes our society, but just like in basketball, if we never slow down our “fast” isn’t nearly as effective. If, however, we have the ability to change speeds, and take the time to slow down and really make our slow slower, we can make our fast that much faster and more effective.

One simple example could be taking 15 minutes in the AM and mapping out time blocks or setting specific intentions for your day. By “slowing down” for a brief moment to write out a plan, we inevitably end up having the ability to go faster as we are less likely to fall victim to distractions or procrastination. A coaching example is before I run a practice or a session I take the time to write out a plan, take deep breaths and remind myself of who I want to be as a coach. I’ve learned that when I don’t have a plan and my mind isn’t clear, I can lose patience and in turn, lose my ability to run an effective practice. In other instances, making our slow slower might be putting away our phone for an hour and going for a walk/ performing any type of exercise. It could be having a personal conversation with a loved one or going to bed an hour or two earlier.

The bottom line is when we rush and go through each day and moment of our life in a hurry and only “play at one speed”- we run ourselves thin and never operate with a clear mind. It causes us to be less effective and less productive in each activity we partake in. So if you feel like you’re going 1000 MPH but it’s not adding up to anything, remember: to make your fast faster, make your slow slower.

Balancing Hard & Smart Work

“When you’re not practicing someone else is getting better.”
“Open Gym= Optional, Skills Workouts= Optional, Playing Time Next Year= Optional.”
“___ % of high school players play college basketball, ___% make 500 shots a day.”

My social media timeline is constantly filled up with quotes similar to this by coaches trying to promote a culture of hard work within their programs. I get it and I’m more than aware that a culture of hard work is vital for team success. However, some of the stuff I often see is a poor attempt to motivate kids that is also factually incorrect. Sadly, the result of these type of tweets does little for a kid/athlete (good or bad), but instead a parent who may not be properly informed is the one who is now motivated to put their kids in more stuff. The basketball, and in general, the sports culture, has become obsessed with “grinding” and the idea of more always being better. There are a lot reasons why this message has proliferated, but a big part of it is that too many people w/ little background in coaching, training, & movement are posting wide-spread content without context. Parents and athletes don’t have a way to filter all of the information. Marketing and the fear of missing out pulls them in and runs them thin.

There isn’t an exact formula for every player, but as I have wrote and posted about before- it’s a blend of hard, smart, and consistent work. Putting in the time and effort- hard & consistent work- will always be an integral part of the formula for achieving something meaningful in our lives. These two are the components most often discussed by coaches or anyone else involved in sport. The part of the formula usually missing is smart. Players need a scheduled day of rest, they need to have time to sleep, vacation, and play another sport if they choose or even have the slightest desire to do so.

This isn’t to say that players use rest as a crutch and take a bunch of random days off when they don’t feel like working, but it is to say that parents, players, and coaches are intentional about building scheduled time off for athletes. Another item that we can help players become more conscious of are their eating habits. They don’t need to be flawless, but limiting soda, fast food, and increasing fruits and vegetables is a good start.

From a movement/ strength & conditioning perspective, the large majority of basketball players don’t need more “resisted-jumping workouts”, long distance running, and large doses of conditioning. If they are playing & practicing frequently, they get plenty of conditioning through sport. In the weight room, they don’t need to isolate their biceps, triceps, do sit-ups, or do multiple sets of bench press. Instead, every basketball player, and to generalize, every athlete, needs to learn how to squat, lunge, hinge, stabilize, & do more pull-ups. When looking into programs or facilities for athletic performance, ask the coaches what a typical program consists of. Ask if they have progressions and regressions for athletes to squat, lunge, and hinge. Ask how many sets of pulling vs. pushing they do in a typical week. These are crucial questions that anyone involved in this realm should be able to provide an answer to. If they can’t or look at you funny, don’t invest a dollar into what they’re selling.

Playing-wise, most players don’t need more time on the court or weekends in the gym- they need better time on the court. Practices in which each player gets ample touches and opportunities to compete, workouts w/ progressions, and individual workouts where players have a plan (and phone away). Almost no kid needs more exposure- ESPECIALLY before they even reach high school. Instead of traveling to 10-15 tournaments during an AAU (or youth) season- play 1 v 1, pickup, lift weights, and jump in a lake as a replacement for a couple of the weekends.

In summary:

Build a day of rest into schedules or a week (or two) of rest following a season. Sleep a minimum of eight hours a night. Encourage another sport (even if it is recreational). Limit fast food and soda. Less conditioning, running, and workouts that just make you tired as the goal- more workouts that emphasize better quality of movement. More pickup, free play, or organized small-sided games, less watered-down 5 v 5 tournaments w/ $15 admissions. Lastly, and as a bit of an aside from this article, sport is still about joy, keep the enjoyment in the game and in the journey!

We can still work really hard & yet be smart about it.

Essential Skills Video

In the video below we provide visual of some of the skills and concepts that we emphasize in our player development program. This is certainly not an all inclusive list, but some of the skills and concepts you will see in the video include “catching to shoot”, a variety of finishing solutions both off one and two feet, passing w/ one and two hands, change of pace, and an example of a “push crossover”. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to performancemaxllc@gmail.com.

Offensive Style of Play

The primary goal of any offense is to score. Great offenses will create advantages that lead to high-value shots for their players. An offensive advantage can occur when the defense is in rotation, out of position, has a numbers disadvantage, or is mismatched (size or quickness). The offense is in a neutral state when the defense is matched up, in position, and set. We like to say that their “shell” is intact. An offense can be at a disadvantage when the ball is being trapped. 

When the offense has an advantage, players make decisive passes or drives until a high value shot has been created. When the offense is neutral, they use an action (cut, screen, penetration, post entry) to “crack the shell” & hopefully create an advantage. If the offense is at a disadvantage, they find the open player to move toward an advantage state. 

Some coaches prefer a high volume of sets and/or scripted patterns to generate the shots they want. Our offense is more conceptual in nature where we try to give players core principles, equip them with skills and then empower them to make decisions within the chaos of a game. When players learn to make decisions based on what the defense gives them, offense becomes unpredictable and hard to guard. Every action the defense performs, the offense has a counter. 

Key foundations within our conceptual offense include: 

  • Player Development: There isn’t a more important component of offensive basketball than player development. Without skilled players, regardless of offensive scheme, you’ll always be facing an uphill battle. Every practice we spend a large portion of time developing our players’ skill sets. The overarching mission is to help develop versatile, offensive-minded players who thrive in the chaos of a game. We want players to excel at the things they do a lot (sounds simple, but so much modern player development is spent on things that don’t happen frequently over the course of a game). We also talk about and emphasize being a “joy to play with” frequently. A question we want our players to ask themselves is: “Do other players on the team enjoy playing with me?” 
  • Space: Having players that are skilled, decisive, and spaced will force tough, “no-win” decisions from the defense. When spacing is lost, the defense is able to guard two people with one defender. A phrase we use often is, “When in doubt, space out!” To us, this means stretching the court higher (toward half-court), wider (toward the sideline), and further away from other teammates.  
  • Pace: We love to play in transition. Ideally, we are attacking the defense before they get a chance to get set up on every possession. Pace also means that the ball moves quickly (Spurs 0.5 Rule) and that we execute our cuts and movements at a tempo that never allows the defense to relax. A misconception with pace is that we automatically take the first available shot each time down the floor. Again, we want to attack before the defense gets set up, but if the defense is back and in position, we have the ability to flow into continued action to create an advantage. 
  • Flow: The connection of an offensive possession. Flow is our players’ ability to play without resets or frequent coach interference. Each segment within our offense can seamlessly transition into the next without stoppages. For example, we can flow from transition or a “quick” directly into spacing and attacking through dribble penetration. 

Additional Items: 

  • A “quick” is an action that we perform as we are crossing half-court, usually after a make or a dead ball when the defense has their shell intact. It can be a called or it can happen by players initiating the action w/ their movements/decisions. Quicks are designed to be executed with pace to create an advantage that we can attack from. 
  • Our primary transition offense as well as the offense we flow into is mostly predicated around quick ball movement coupled w/ spacing principles to create defensive closeouts. When we need a change of pace or need to offer a different look to the defense, we do so by  playing through the post (or running a “quick”). Generally speaking, fewer and fewer teams work on defending the post & coinciding actions that go along with it. When we enter to the post or we are looking to enter it to the post, the ball slows down- our cuts & actions away from the ball, however, do not. At times, we will get post touches organically through a player cutting & holding their position on a mismatch. Other times we call “Power” and look to isolate a player four around one. 

Below is a video that illustrates many of the concepts listed above. Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have: performancemaxllc@gmail.com.

“Quick Hitters” for Summer Workouts

  • Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The same principle applies to your summer workouts or even a general work-day. If you have an hour set aside to work on your game, take the first 10 minutes to create a plan to execute. Ten minutes of writing out a plan can have a HUGE effect on the quality & intensity of your workout.
  • Hard work does things for you. Smart work coupled with hard work does superior things for you. There will be a lot of messages regarding hard work all summer, and that’s important, but it’s smart work that will create improvement. Have a plan. Focus on not just doing a drill or a move, but executing that drill or move with great precision and detail.
  • Worry much less about taking 500 shots and worry much more on HOW you’re taking 100 shots.
  • Start w/ small changes in your habits. Make them sustainable. Turn your phone on silent before you go to bed. Replace soda, juice, or any sugar-filled drinks w/ water. Do one stretch for one minute before you go to bed. The main point being you don’t need to overhaul your life in one day. Start by making one or two small changes and keeping adding one or two small changes each week. Again, if repeated, it will add up over time.
  • Surround yourself with people who have the same vision and the same plan as you. If your current people aren’t on the same page as you, help bring them along or seek out people who have your same vision.

Referees

A couple weeks back I was coaching in an AAU tournament and shortly after our game, the official refereeing our game collapsed. When he collapsed, all the courts in the gym stopped. Kids, parents, and coaches who had been competing just seconds before all watched in deep concern as the official was being attended to by gym supervisors. Ambulances were called, the AED was used. It was a very humbling moment- one in which we were all hoping and praying for a fellow human. The paramedics arrived to the gym and took him to the hospital where thankfully, he would be okay. 

The night before, for our 9:00 PM game, the same official was refereeing our game. The next day, the day in which he collapsed, he was doing our 5:30 PM game; he’d been doing games all morning and afternoon for the second day straight. I wouldn’t call him the best official we’ve ever had, but knowing how many games in a row he’d done for this tournament, he was doing a fine job. I see these exact circumstances at almost every tournament I go to- a referee doing twelve straight games two days in a row. It never fails that in probably 9 out of the 12 games parents and coaches are razzing them the whole game and in some cases, using completely disrespectful names and words. Especially at younger ages. I see parents coming onto courts in the middle of the game and making threats to officials because their 5th grade kid got fouled and it wasn’t called. After every call that’s made, 75% of the teams’ parents are screaming, kicking the bleachers, or standing up with their arms out in disbelief. I could go on and on here about keeping a little perspective, but I’ll stay to the point. 

Not every referee is good and not every referee gives their best effort, but lets keep in mind that in many cases, they are working under circumstances given by tournament directors that are absolutely ridiculous. No matter how good of an official you are, if you do 20+ games in a weekend with people screaming at & harassing you the entire time, your job would suffer. Like us, these officials are human too. Which brings me back around to the official collapsing and the aftermath that surrounded it. Everyone hoped for the best for the man when he collapsed. You could feel everyone in the gym pulling for him & the respect being shown. Why does it take a moment like this for people to acknowledge and respect an official? Just because the guy is wearing a striped shirt and you don’t agree with his judgement doesn’t mean that he, like you and I, can’t fall victim to human moments. 

Again, I’m not giving a free pass and saying that officials don’t have to try and do a good job but in almost 90% of all cases (and I have seen a ton of games) they are working with what they know. They are trying. I am asking for all of us to keep some perspective and try to show some respect, decency, and to maybe try thanking an official after a a game- regardless of if you thought they did a good job or not, it’s a thankless, difficult job. A little appreciation could go along way for them- not just as officials, but as people.