Coaching Basketball: Improving Your Half Court Offense

This post contains some of my takeaways from Texas A&M Women’s Assistant Bob Starkey’s series “Thoughts on Half Court Offense.” He posts almost every day on his Hoop Thoughts Blog. Sometimes it is just a short quote or thought and sometimes it is a detailed series like this one. Whatever it is, it is always worth taking a look at.

You can read his entire series on half court offense at this link: Thoughts on Half Court Offense

Do you have a method of flowing into half-court offense out of your fast break? Out of your press offense? Out of your special situations? Do you practice flowing? We are big believers in that all half-court offense in the whole method should be concluded with at least one conversion. This allows the work you need to execute how you will flow as well as work on your transition defense.

Do you chart your half-court offense? Or do you just chart your offense overall? Of course you can look at the stat sheet after a game and see that you shot 46% from the floor, shot 18 free throws and turned it over 14 times. But what was your stat line in just half-court offense? If you eliminated transition, press offense and special situations then what did your team shoot from the floor? How many free throws? How many turnovers?

Be careful not to fall into a lull by just reading overall stats. You might play a team that is poor in transition so your stats get padded by your fast break but your half-court offense was not efficient.

Certainly there are coaches out there with the philosophy that “we are fast break team” and they well may be excellent in transition. But here are some numbers to think about that come from a book by Bob Liguori titled “Building A Championship Offense.” I’ll preface these numbers by letting you know the book is more than a decade old so the numbers he gives could be outdated — but I’ll follow that up with my thoughts afterwards. In Bob’s book he found the following:

Regardless of your desire to run, remember 3 keys:

1. Seventy-five percent of all field goals come in half-court situations

2. The better your opponent, the lesser number of transition opportunities.

3. Transition baskets decrease on the road.

I think those numbers hold close today. I also strongly believe that those numbers hold true in post-season basketball. Players may be a little more hesitent to run — at least early in a play-off game — not wanting to make mistakes. As you advance in the playoffs, you will obviously play better teams and part of them being better will most always include good transition defense. Even coaches tend to get a little more conservative in the post-season.

As you go through the season, and you are scouting or just watching a game on television, pay attention to some of these trends. After reading Bob’s book, I’ve found that in the majority of most “big games” (games played by two excellent teams), scoring is almost always down. Of course part of this is because of good defensive play…but that again goes to the need to execute in the half-court against good defensive teams.

If you want to be consistently effective in offense…if you want to advance in post-season play…work daily to become a good half-court offensive team.

Today we are going to talk about components of good half-court offense and hopefully give you some things to consider when your are putting together your offensive system of play. The components, or characteristics of good half-court offense are certainly debatable based on your philosophy but ever successful half-court offense will have their own particular elements in which they will base their play around.

I have always believe in the importance of getting to the free throw line. Again, this is my philosophy and that does not make it right or wrong. If getting to the free throw line is part of what you want your offense to be, than that will guide you to answer a few other questions along the way. Earlier this year I blogged about getting to the free throw line — it’s importance and considerations for getting there. You can read that post at:

Components of Good Half Court Offense

1. Spacing
Chuck Daly said it best, “Spacing of offense and offense is spacing.” Regardless of whether you run motion, continuity, patterns or quick hitters you should include elements of spacing. Obviously in regard to quick hitters you may not have good spacing in the beginning but it should be part of the flow of your offense. So much good stuff comes about because of spacing including the ability to feed the post, drive to the basket, and open up penetrating cuts. It helps neutralize the help of the defense as well as spread the defense to put more pressure on them.

2. Initial Alignment
Regardless of what you are doing offensively, how you initially begin in your set should be of importance. The placement of the players can first distort the defense as well as help you maximize your entry options. Just because you run Triple Post doesn’t mean if you have to start in the basic set that most teams do. Take a look at your personal and take advantage of your own team with the alignment.

3. Entry Options
All offenses need the ability to have the ball entered. Obviously on of the more common entry passes is the guard-to-wing. Give thought to how you are going to enter the ball to get your offense started — no matter why type of offense you run. And of course, you should have Entry Option #1, Entry Option #2 and Entry Option #3. Regardless of how important your initial entry option is, you must be prepared for it to not being open. I once read where pilots have to file a flight plan and that than they are to create a back up plan. Do the same with your entries.

4. Counters
This is especially important if you are running patterned or continuity offenses. As someone who enjoys the defensive side of the game, I take great pride in “disrupting” an opponent’s offense. Teams that run patterns and continuity all have a specific pass and particular receiver to keep the offense going. From the defensive standpoint, we would work hard to take the particular pass or reciever away fromt he offense. If the team has a counter for when that is denied, than they can continue to attack offensively. It is always easy to spot a team that may not rely on counters. You can see their need to hit the high post player at the top of the key to reverse the ball and when it is denied, she will step a step higher…and then a step higher — working hard to get open just to keep the offensive alive.

5. Flow
If you are running a patterned or quick hitting offense, what are you going to “flow” into when it is over? If you have a shot clock to work with, you must be very effective at flowing into something to be successful in your half-court offense. Certainly some teams can and do pull the back out and yell “set it up” or call another play. If I could again refer back to my defensive philosophy, the offense setting up means our defense gets to reset as well. We tell our defense that anytime the offense pulls the ball back and yells “set-up” that we should take that as a sign that we have succeeded defensively. If you are going to flow into motion or a continuity, make sure you work on it in practice. And if you are going to pull it back out and call another play, you should work on that as well.

6. Paint Presence
This is certainly open to debate but I strongly believe that successful half-court teams are great at getting paint touches. Now please understand that this doesn’t necessarily have to be all low post feeds. But good offense knows how to score inside — even if they are primarily a 3-point shooting team. Maybe you don’t have a big team or an effective scorer at your post position. Ever tried posting up a guard? It is a very difficult thing for a defense to handle. Paint touches can also come from dribble penetration or flashes into the post. Very few things put more pressure on a defense than a team that can get the ball to the paint. I listened to Mike Krzyzewski a few back at a clinic talk about how Duke has worked hard to incorporate a 3-point shooter attack — and if you’ve watched them play you can certainly you can see the effect of the 3-point shot. Last year Duke was 34th in the nation with over 20 3-pointers a game. Yet they also managed to average 22 free throw attempts a game. It because they like to utilize dribble penetration or post feeds to set up their 3’s. At LSU, we refered to these as “Paint Touch 3’s” — you get the 3 (usually a little more open do to defensive collapse to the paint) while also pressuring the defense with the paint touch.

7. Shot Selection
This is again open to interpretation and philosophy but what I do think is important that you have it definded for your players individually and for your team as a unit. The whole goal of good offense is simply stated: get a good shot each time down the court. It is up to you to define what constitutes a good shot for your team. Do not leave it open to the imagination of your players. Be specific and make sure you are constantly reviewing with your team the type of shot you are expecting.

8. Valuing the Ball
All good offense is also about possession. Good offensive teams take care of the ball. A big part of this will be your ability to emphasize that to your team on a daily basis through practice, skill development and video. But you can also aid it by the structure of your offense. While at LSU, dribble usage was a big part of our offensive philsophy and here is how we viewed it: Again, this does not have to be your set of principles, but make sure you team understands what you expect. The same holds true in passing. By having some design thoughts on when, where, how and who to pass it, you can help your offense to better maintain possession of the basketball.

9. Floor Balance
This is a simple concept that some coaches don’t give a great deal of thought to — but it can great effect your team. There are two major thoughts in having good floor balance. The first if making sure that you have good board coverage. This obviously can be enhanced by having a set philosophy on shot selection — it is easier to rebound when you have a good idea of who is going to shoot and when and where they will shoot it. But having good floor balance can put your best offensive rebounders at the best spots on the floor to attack the glass. The other component of floor balance is defensive. Good floor balance certainly benefits your transition defense.

10. Ball Reversal
This is another one that could be question by a few coaches with various philosophies but I think a good half-court offense must be able to effectively reverse the basketball. The better the defense, the more difficult it will be to score on a first-side entry pass. Good defensive teams simply won’t allow it. So you have to work on options to reverse the basketball and how you will attack from that — especially with the thought that some defenses will work hard to prevent the ball reversal action.

In his book “Building A Championship Offense,” Bob Ligouri studied offense in great detail and came to this conclusion: “The most effective 1 on 1 situations came as a result of an off-the-ball screen and cut. One on one moves were much more efficient after 3 to 4 passes and 1 to 2 court reversals.”

I very much believe this to be true. In fact, one of my offensive mantras is that “everything is more effective off ball reversal.” I think you could take any offensive action and then work it into ball reversal and it will be more difficult for the defense because they must handle that action after a closeout. It will also often give better opportunities because of the ballside action being slow to get to help or not getting to help at all.

11. Patience
This could coincide with Ball Reversal and again philosophically some coaches might not agree with it making the list of elements necessary for a good half court offense. But again, we need to look at our half-court offense being effective against the best that we will play against and good defensive teams will make sure you don’t score early in a possession. The art with being effective while being patient is maintaining aggressiveness. Patient is not complacent. Patient is now slow. We talk to our teams along the lines of being “aggressively patient.”

I don’t think a coach has to demand that his offense is always patient but she/he needs to coach them so that they understand what patience means to her/his philosophy and be able to execute that when necessary.

Roy Williams thinks patience in offense is important because the longer you aggressively run your offense the more likely the defense will have a breakdown. In fact, good offensive patience could be defined as running your offense aggressively until you can take advantage of a defense breakdown.

Do you have a way to communicate patience? At LSU, we would hold up five fingers to indicate that we must have at least five passes before shooting a jump shot. We would also hold up a fist to indicate that the ball must touch the paint once before a jump shot. To maintain aggressiveness, we would always let our team that they could take a lay-up at any time. Regardless of what we called, if we have a drive to the rim or a cutter to the rim, the restriction is off.

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