Lionel Hollins has been coaching the Memphis Grizzlies since last February. He started his coaching career at his alma mater, Arizona State University, where he served as assistant coach for two seasons. After Arizona State, Hollins was an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns, Vancouver Grizzlies , Memphis Grizzlies, for whom he also served as interim head coach during the 2004/2005 season, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Coaches must adapt their offense to the rules of their team’s level of play-particularly to the rules of the clock because there’s a big difference between playing with the 24-second clock of the NBA and the WNBA, the 35-second clock of NCAA men’s basketball (30-second for women’s), and no shot clock in high school. In the NBA the time factor is crucial; the 24-second clock forces every team to create offensive options as quickly as possible. We don’t have the chances to create a continuity of offense as high school and college teams do; we must create plays that offer two or more options within a few seconds. In professional basketball we base play more on individual match-ups and one on one. We use plays to isolate our best offensive players, with fewer passes and players’ movements compared to high school and college basketball. No matter what level of play you’re coaching, you’re always looking to create the most and best opportunities to score. In this chapter we’ll look at high-percentage scoring plays that have worked with teams I’ve been associated with. You can adapt these plays as necessary for the rules of your team’s level of play and to best use the skills of your players.
I would like to describe some high-percentage offensive plays that our team has used effectively in the NBA -our offensive philosophy centers around a few simple principles. Conscious of the 24-second clock, we get the ball as quickly as possible to the man we want to run the play; this allows him time to survey the situation and make a play for himself or a teammate. In keeping with our quick-stricking emphasis, we strive to get to the shot with one or two passes to decrease the chance of a steal by our opponents. We frequently use screen-the-screener plays, where the player who makes the screen then receives a screen himself right away (which forces defenders into difficult recoveries).
We also use the staggered screen, a series of two or three screens in a row, which are very difficult for a defender to get through. With these screens, the defender must go through a maze of screens to cover his man. If he’s a poor defender or doesn’t like physical contact, he’ll never get through all the screens, and the shooter will get an open shot. Or, in some cases, another defender must help, which leaves another offensive player open. Like all NBA teams, we use pick-and-roll in many situations. We set high and middle screens, side screens, “elbow” screens (at the corners of the free-throw lane), and step-up screens. When you have a big defender who doesn’t like to leave the basket area or who isn’t mobile, the pick-and-roll is very effective. If you have a point guard who is a three-point shooter and a penetrator, it’s tough for the defense to decide how to play the screens. We also use any of our big men in the screens, and different ball handlers to take best advantage of whomever we wanted to exploit, such as a weak or slow defender. We call most of our plays in from the bench, but our point guard also has opportunities to call plays.
We want to have control of the game on offense, but we give our point freedom to alter the play when the defensive situation changes. We want to attack match-up advantages involving our two or three best offensive players. We also want to fast break after an opponent’s missed shot when we have the numeric advantage. If we lack that advantage, we flow into our early offensive set, a transitional set with different options read by our point guard.
As common sense dictates, if we have a player with a hot hand we want to milk or a matchup we want to exploit, we set up those plays after our opponent's made field goald or free throws.
These are the skills we looked for from our starting five:
- 1 is the point guard, with good court vision and passing and dribbling skills. He also need to be a good penetrator.
- 2 is a big guard, a good outside shooter, a good passer, and able to put the ball on the floor and post up smaller players.
- 3 is the small forward, our best shooter from the three-point range, a good post player, and our second best scorer.
- 4 is the power forward, who can score inside and is quick and agile enough to move outside for the shot or drive to the basket.
- 5 is our center, tall, aggressive on the boards and able to run to the floor.
We start the game with our “special 1” play for our top scorer. We want him to score the first basket of the game to build his confidence. We then run plays for our other scorers, mainly our 2 (off guard) and 3 (small forward), while trying to include solutions for every player on the court. We want to get everyone involved offensively as early as we could. We use a lot of isolation plays for our top scorer, as well as for the other four players on the court.
This is an excellent play to use at the start of a game, usually for your top scorer. Put 5 and 4 outside the three-second lane, 2 at the low post, and 3 at the wing below the free-throw line extended. 1 drives the ball on offense, dribbling to the left side of the court, where the top scorer is set. When 1 reaches the free-throw line extended, 2 makes a diagonal screen for 4, who cuts to the basket to receive the ball from 1. Usually once or twice a game 1 can make a lob pass to 4 when 4’s defender (X4) moves to the top of the screen and no defender can help on 4. If 4 can’t receive the ball off the screen, he sets up at the low post, where 1 hits him with a pass (diagr. 1). If there’s no pass open to 4, 5 screens for 2 (screen-the-screener action), who comes off the screen to receive from 1. Or 5 can roll and receive from 1.
We took it from the Utah Jazz, who ran it for Karl Malone. Here 2 and 3 form a stack on the left side of the court, 5 is out at the top of the three-second lane extended, opposite to the stack, and 4 is just outside of the three-second lane, on the right side of the court. 1 drives the ball on the left side of the court, staying high, 2 curls around 3, and, as soon as 2 rubs around the shoulder of 3, 3 pops out of the lane to receive the ball from 1. 1 can also pass to 2 on the curl. If 2 doesn’t receive the ball on the curl, he continues the cut and screens for 4, who crosses near the baseline and receives the ball from 3. After screening for 4, if the defenders are cheating too much, 2 is vertically screened by 5 (screen the screener), and 1 holds the ball for a moment before passing to 2 (diagr. 2). Another solution for 3 is the pass to 5, who has rolled to the basket after setting the screen for 2.
You can run this play as described if your point guard draws a lot of defensive pressure and has a difficult time passing the ball to the low post. If we could get our 3 man free, you relieve the pressure on the point guard and get a bigger passer to the post.
We also run a variation to the Utah in which we triy to get the ball to 4. Here 4 sets up on the right corner of the freethrow area, 5 is at the top of the key, 2 and 3 form a stack on the left side of the court, and 1 dribbles on the left side. 2 rubs off the shoulder of 3, and 3 moves into the deep corner. 2 continues his cut and screens for 4, who receives a lob pass from 1. After setting the screen for 4, 2 is screened by 5 (screen the screener) (diagr. 3). 1 also has the option to pass to 2 or to 3 in the corner.
This is an excellent play, and we used it a lot. 2 sets up on the low post on the left side of the court, with 4 at the opposite side outside the three-second lane; 5 is at the corner of the free-throw area on the same side as 4; 3 is outside the top of the key. 1 dribbles to the left side of the free-throw line extended, which signals 2 to make a baseline screen for 4. 1 feeds 4 in the low post, and then 1 and 3 make a fake split -1 screens at the free-throw area for 3, who first fakes to cut to the screen before cutting backdoor to the basket. 1 pops back outside of the lane as a spot-up player in case the defense double-teams 4 (diagr. 4). If 3 doesn’t receive the ball, he comes out of the lane and moves to the corner. After setting the screen for 4, 2 receives a vertical screen from 5 (screen the screener) and pops out. 4 plays one on one or passes to 3, 2 , or 5, who has rolled to the basket after setting the screen (diagr. 5). You form a triangle on the weak side of the court, with 1 as the spot player on the strong side of the court. If 4 is double-teamed, he passes out of the double team to his teammates around the perimeter (1, 3, or 2) or to 5, near the basket. Note the good rebounding positions maintained by the offense.
Our defenders tend to bump and switch a lot on our best scorer to keep him away from the post, so we want to get him the ball while he is moving. We run this play out of our flex set.
4 is at the low post, 2 is in the corner, 5 is at the top of the key, and 3 is at the free-throw line extended. 1 dribbles on the right side and passes to 5, while 2 make a flex cut out of 4 (diagr. 6).
If 2 is open out of the flex cut, 5 gives him the ball; 5 can also hit 4, who has ducked into the three-second lane. If there’s no option, 5 dribbles back toward 1. 1 receives a handoff pass from 5 and dribbles to the center of the floor. In the meantime, 4 screens on 2, and, after the screen, opens up to the ball and receives from 1. Meanwhile, 2 continues his cut and receives a screen from 5. 1 can also hit 2 off the screen of 5, or 5, who has rolled to the ball (diagr. 7). We like to use this play for two purposes: to get our shooting guard’s jump shot or to get the ball to our power forward inside the lane while he is on the move.
This play is run for the 3 player in the post. He posts up in the low-post position on the right of the court. 4 is on the left corner of the free-throw lane; 5 is on the opposite side, outside the three-second lane; 2 is on the right side of the free-throw line extended; and 1, with the ball, is in the middle of the court. 1 passes to 4 and then goes in the opposite direction, spotting up outside the three-point line; 2 runs to the corner. As soon as 4 receives the ball from 1, 3 makes a flash cut to the lane. If he doesn’t receive the ball right away, he moves to the opposite low-post position, and 4 tries to get him the ball. After the pass, 4 dives opposite diagonally and replaces 3 at the right low post. 5 holds his position for a moment and then flashes to the left corner of the freethrow lane and, if his defender goes to double team 3, receives the ball to take a jump shot (diagr. 8). 3 has three options for where to start the play: on the right low post, on the left box, or on the left wing.
This is an excerpt from the book “NBA Coaches Playbook", 2008, edited by Giorgio Gandolfi and published by Human Kinetics (http://Basketball.HumanKinetics.com).