Hoops 101

Fran Fraschilla

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Tuesday, February 25
The many 'motions' of offense

By Fran Fraschilla
Special to ESPN.com

As a young assistant coach in the mid-1980's, I was on a recruiting trip to a junior college in northeastern Oklahoma. At practice that Saturday morning was another young coach and the legendary Henry Iba. Long since retired, the Hall of Fame coach.from Oklahoma A&M liked to travel around when he could to watch his former players, coaches and close friends.

Interested in the X's and O's of college basketball, but don't understand the terminology? Read ESPN's Fran Fraschilla's introduction to Hoops 101 on ESPN.com for a crash course in the basics of basketball.

While we were watching the practice, the other young coach asked Coach Iba if he had ever used the "motion offense" when he was coaching. Iba looked at him incredulously and said, "Used it? Heck, I invented it."

All of us who have coached, if honest, would admit that we have "borrowed" most of the offensive and defensive ideas we have from coaches we have played for, worked for, or have admired. In this day and age, very little in basketball is invented.

However, no one offensive concept has been passed down from "teacher" to "pupil" like Henry Iba's motion offense. If you don't believe, ask some of his students like Bob Knight, Eddie Sutton, and Don Haskins.

So, what is "motion offense"?

While some people would describe "motion" as a freelance offense, I'd prefer to describe it as an offense with no predetermined sequence of movement by the players or the basketball. Because there are no set patterns, the players are taught, instead, to pass, screen and cut with the "recognition" of how the defense is playing them -- and, then, react accordingly.

There are various types of "motion offense." From the variety that implements mostly cutting ,with little screening, at one end of the spectrum, to those that use more screening at the other end. Some teams will spread the floor to create driving opportunities in their version of the offense.

For this week's lesson, we will concentrate on what coaches call the "screening game". It is the type of "motion offense" most familiar with Bob Knight's teams at Indiana and now, successfully, at Texas Tech.

Why "motion offense"?

Motion is effective for a variety of reasons:

1. Because there is no predetermined order of movement, it is difficult for opponents to prepare for and scout.
2. Constant screening, cutting and movement, as well as the interchangeable nature of the offense, makes it very difficult for defenses to guard.
3. Its flexibility makes adaptable it to your team's personnel. You can be a "power" team or a 3-point shooting team.
4. It promotes good team play because you are reliant on your team mates to get you open.

The Basics

The "motion offense" has three key areas: 1. Cutting
2. Screening
3. Passing

Cutting: The most important aspect to any "motion offense" is to put together smart movement in the form of cuts and/or screens in order to get great shots.

It is important, for example, to not make two consecutive cuts in the same direction. If both the off guard (2) and small forward (3) cut to the corner, it creates congestion and poor court spacing.

Instead, once the small forward (3) cuts to the corner, the off guard, or shooting guard, (2) might move to the baseline and replace the small foward so that, in "reading" the defense, the point guard (1) is able to see the small forward coming off the power forward's (4) screen and the post man (5) screens down for the shooting guard (2).

Another essential element of offensive balance is to keep about 15 to 18 feet of spacing on the perimeter. This promotes good screening opportunities, as well as good driving opportunities. Here, the point guard (1) creates a good screening angle that allows the shooting guard (2) to get open. Meanwhile, the small forward (3) has room to drive, as well.

Types of Cuts

Basket Cut: The point guard's (1) defender does not move toward the ball on pass to the shooting guard (2). So, the point guard (1) makes basket cut, as the shooting guard (2) passes to him.

V-Cut: In order to get open against good defensive pressure, the shooting guard (2) takes his man away from the ball and "V-Cuts" to get open.

Back Cut/Replace Cut: As the shooting guard (2) starts to use the point guard's (1) screen, the shooting guard's defender (X2) tends to "cheat" to get over the top of the screen. It's up to the shooting guard (2) to see this and go opposite, by "back-cutting" to the basket. In order to maintain good spacing in the offense, the point guard (1) makes a "replace cut" or replaces himself.

Slip Cut: This time, on the screen away for the small forward (3), the point guard's (1) man cheats up to help the small forward's defender (X3). The point guard (1) reconnizes this and "slips" the screen to the basket.

A Primer on Screening
It is crucial in "motion offense" to create a "partnership of screening." Hard, legal screens on the defender's body are the biggest determinant in creating defensive breakdowns and great shot opportunities for teammates.

Also, some players who are not effective offensive players can still be very valuable to the offense by screening to get good shooters and scorers open.

Reading the Down Screen: On a down screen away from the ball, the shooting guard's defender (X2) can go under the screen (ball side) or over the screen (man side). The shooting guard's concern is not the basketball, but the defender, so he can make his cut accordingly.

There are four things that the shooting guard (2) can to to create a shot opportunity off the screen by the power forward (4). First, as the shooting guard's defender (X2) "cheats" over the top of the screen, the shooting guard (2) back cuts to the basket.

If the shooting guard's defender (X2) goes man side of the screen, the shooting guard (2) can "tight curl" into the lane.

The shooting guard (2) can "long curl'" for the jump shot if his defender goes man side of the screen.

Finally, if the shooting guard's defender (X2) goes under the screen, the shooting guard (2) will fade cut behind the power forward's (4) screen to create separation from his defender.

Involving the Post Man with Back Screens: Here, the power forward (4) takes his screen to the shooting guard's (2) man with a wide physical screen, as the shooting guard (2) cuts to the basket. The power forward (4) should never back screen outside his shooting range. If he sets a quality screen and his defender (X4) has to back off him to help on the shooting guard's (2) cut, the power forward (4) can step back to get his jump shot.

Motion Alignments
Four Out, One In: This alignment creates good spacing on the perimeter around an effective post player by making it difficult for perimeter defenders to double-team him. The post can also step out and set back screens.

Three Out, Two In: In this offense, we separate into three perimeter players and two post men.

This is a good alignment from which to create a "high-low" for the post men to operate in.

Five Man Motion: This is a common set when we do not use a definite post man and all five players can play on the perimeter.

Finally, a word about passing and shooting in the "motion offense." Being able to pass and catch the ball are crucial to getting the ball into position to get great shots. The quality of your team's shots is related to the quality of your passing. And, a player who doesn't understand what his shooting range -- where he can make 50 percent of his shots or more -- really hurts his team.

Every coach who uses the "motion offense" will be able to establish rules within the offense that fit their own personnel. From year to year, while the personnel may change, the basic philosophy remains the same. However, the beauty of this offense is that it is flexible enough to adjust to the changing strengths of the team.

The coach must define roles for each player in motion offense if it is to be successful. Bob Knight said a long time ago that offense is not "equal opportunity". So, while everyone may touch the ball in this offense, not everyone gets to shoot it.

Q & A with Fran Fraschilla

Send in your Hoops 101 questions. Fran Fraschilla will answer a few each week as the season continues.

"Hey coach,
It seems the two 'hot' offenses right now are the Triangle and the Princeton offenses. Both rely on spacing and cutting. They seem to deliberately get away from screening. The dominant offenses of the last 25 years were the flex and motion offenses that are both built on heavy screening. My question is why does there seem to be this trend away from screening? Is there something in the game causing this or did we just go too far and screen too much?"
Gregg Anderson,
Fayetteville, N.C.

Thanks for your interesting question. I think that the offenses you have mentioned: the Flex, Motion (this week's column), Princeton (next week's column) and Triangle are all various forms of "motion offense". All rely on the movement and cutting of your players and the spacing to use the entire 50 feet of the halfcourt to spread the defense.

In pure "freelance" motion offense, there are "rules" that each coach emphasizes, but no predetermined order of movement. Some coaches like Rick Majerus and Bob Knight place a premium on great screening, while Coach K's motion offense at Duke places a greater emphasis on dribble penetration.

The Flex is a very structured form of motion offense, where screening is important. The Triangle involves great spacing, a strong emphasis on cutting, and opportunities for 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 basketball. Finally, the Princeton offense is an amalgamation of great spacing, cutting, screening, and, most importantly, "reading" what the defense takes away and go against their pressure.

If there is one common denominator among the most successful offenses, it is the ability to counter what the defense wants to take away. When your players can react to the defense and move accordingly, instead of having to think about where to move, your offense, regardless of what kind it is, has a chance to be successful. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat.

"I wonder whether depth is overrated during game play? With the long media time outs, does anyone really NEED to go more than about 8 deep? Barring injuries or extreme foul trouble, do players 9 and 10 on the depth chart matter much these days?"
Washington D.C.

Good question. Depth in college basketball is a two-edged sword. On a team that can have 13 scholarship players, somewhere between 7 and 10 players in the rotation is optimum. There are different factors, however, that come into play.

First of all, the style of play can dictate how many guys can get quality minutes. To me, that would be 10 minutes or more. Louisville is able to get a lot of people on the court because they play an up-tempo style.

Another factor is the type of players you have. Outside of T.J. Ford and James Thomas, the Texas Longhorns have lot of players equal in ability. Rick Barnes is able to run people in and out of the game and create a "war of attrition". Having seen them three times this year, I've been impressed by the fact that they have no ego problems and really put the team first. But, that is rare in college basketball, especially when players are highly recruited.

Missouri, on the other hand, has a tight seven-man rotation where everyone gets a lot of minutes and a lot of scoring opportunities, which, thereby, keeps everyone happy. The danger in this "short" rotation is that a key injury -- Ricky Clemons, their exciting point guard has just broken his wrist -- can place a great burden on your team.

What I like about having a 9- or 10-man rotation is that you can create great competition in practice, which, in turn, creates great intensity in the games. If you can keep big egos in check, you have a chance to develop good team chemistry and develop young players for the future, as well.

"Coach Fraschilla,
I've always been intrigued by the apparent effectiveness of Temple's match-up zone. What are the keys for the Owls to continually shut down their opposition? (What makes Coach Chaney's defense so difficult to exploit?). What are areas of weakness for this particular defense and how would you go about attacking it?"
Jacob Gunden,
Wichita, Kan.

As you know, a "match-up" zone is a defense that shows a zone alignment, but within that alignment, matches up man-to-man. Since some zone offenses are stationary, the "match-up" allows a team to play man defense against a team with little movement in their offense.

There are a number of reasons for Temple's effectiveness with this defense. First of all, they practice this defense every day. Most teams use the zone defense or the "match-up" as a "change of pace" defense. But, for the Owls, it is their primary defense.

Secondly, Temple does a great job of disguising their "looks". If you attack the Owls' 2-3 alignment with a 1-3-1 offense, they will subtlety switch to 1-3-1 alignment and are, in effect, playing man-to-man against your zone offense.

Thirdly, because most teams don't see this defense often during the season and can't simulate it in practice -- unless you play 5-on-6 or 5-on-7 -- it is a difficult defense to decifer.

Finally, what has made this a great defense for Temple in the past has been veteran players with the experience and excellent communication with each other to have covered all different kinds of offensive attacks thrown their way.

Tying it all together is the Hall of Fame coach, John Chaney, a Philadelphia icon. He comes out of a city legendary for great zone coaches like Harry Litwack and Don Casey of Temple and Jack Kraft of Villanova, among others.

Fran Fraschilla spent 23 years on the sidelines as a college basketball coach before joining ESPN this season as an broadcast analyst. He guided both Manhattan (1993, 1995) and St. John's (1998) to the NCAA Tournament in his nine seasons as a Division I head coach, leaving New Mexico following the end of the 2001-02 season.

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