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How to Develop a Basketball Primary Break Attack -
(continued from previous page)

Once the middle man gets the ball in the center position, he maintains control of the ball with a dribble all the way down the floor until he gets into penetrating area at which time he must decide what he should do with it - whether to continue on to the basket or whether to pass to a lane man. The pass he makes must, in theory, lead directly to a score. If he passes to either of the lane positions or to a trailer position, he must try to make the play so that the man who receives the ball does not have to put the ball to the floor before he takes the shot.

If a big man is in the lane position or in the trailer position, giving him the ball a bit too early and forcing him to take even one dribble increases the margin of error. The entire thinking on the fast break should be geared to cutting down errors, or the opportunity for errors whenever possible.

Players must get the ball to the middle man behind the mid-court line as quickly as possible. If the middle man receives the outlet pass, he simply dribbles into the middle of the court if there is no defensive pressure. If he is not the man who receives the outlet, he must come to the ball as quickly as possible, taking a route determined by where the defense is stationed. If there is a defensive man between him and the ball, he has to move laterally toward the other guard, who has received the outlet pass, staying between the defense and the ball so there is no question of an interception. If there is no defensive pressure and the defensive men are getting back down court quickly, he can move in more a diagonal path down court. Thus, he can receive the secondary pass, or the pass into the middle, so that it always leads him into a position where he doesn't have to be concerned about defensive pressure or anyone stealing the ball. He is the one, once the first outlet pass has been made, who is going to make, or break, the fast break.

To develop the play properly, an alert middle man must be aware of who the lane men are, who his trailer man is, if possible, and what is the defensive deployment in front of him. As he approaches the head of the offensive key and the beginning of the penetrating area, he must be under complete control, thinking about how he is going to develop the break, how he is going to move the defense, and what lane he is going to go to with the pass. If a slower defensive man has taken a position against him in a three-on-two situation and is attempting to delay the advancement of the ball, the middle man can usually get around him very quickly. If they are matched off or the opponent is quicker, the middle man should release the ball to one of the wing men, even at a half-court position, thus developing a two-on-one situation by taking himself more or less out of the play rather than delaying the continuation of the fast break. He should also consider getting the ball up a bit earlier if the wing man who is the best shooter has a step or two on his defender and if a lay-up situation can develop before he reaches the foul-line area.

Middle Man's Tactics

A number of alternatives are open to the middle man when he reaches a position within a radius of about 15 feet from the basket. In unbalanced situations, he may, depending on the defensive adjustment, continue to the basket himself for a shot, pass to his right wing, or his left wing in the classic three-on-two situation, or execute a trailer play if the trailer man (usually a big man) is in position.

If the defense is balanced off, he again has the option of trying to effect the shot by passing to either wing and screening for the opposite wing, or may dribble the ball toward either wing and simply set a lateral screen for a short jumper over his screen after a hand-off to that wing man.

In theory, if an overbalanced situation is present at the end of the court, the middle man, a wing man, or the trailer should be able to make a driving lay-up - the last two without dribbling. Sometimes both defenders may face back, guarding both wing men as the middle man picks up his dribble. If he can penetrate to the foul line, he may shoot. Actually, this result will depend on two factors:

  1. The middle man's timing in moving the defense and releasing the ball must be such that the receiver never has to dribble.
  2. Once the receiver (a wing man) gets the ball, he must continue directly toward the basket. If the low defensive man on that side picks him up, he may have to pass back to the middle man, who must remain at the foul line for this purpose. If the wing man drives for the basket himself, in spite of the guard, he may make a three-point play.

When the overbalance situation is not present, the middle man must immediately take alternative steps to effect a shot without slowing down the fast-break momentum. He should go into the three-on-three or two-on-two situation, either screening for a teammate or passing to one wing and screening for the opposite wing.

The third alternative, the trailer play, is normally initiated by one of the two forwards or the center who is not involved in the initial fast break. He beats his man down the floor, alerting the middle man to his presence by calling out "right" or "left," indicating the side to which he is coming. This is an excellent alternative to exercise if your middle man is mobile. The middle man moves the defense to one side so that the trailer can come through. If the ball is given to the trailer at the proper time, it is almost impossible for the defense to adjust back in time to stop him. A three-point play will probably result.

If the middle man cannot make the play himself when he hears the trailer's call, he may pass to the opposite wing man and clear to the other side; in theory, opening up the middle. The wing man must then pass to the trailer. The problem with this alternative is that it necessitates two passes, raising the margin of error. I prefer the middle man keep the ball, knife off to his right or left as he reaches the middle, hopefully drawing the defensive man with him, and pass off to the trailer. The pass would either be a backward flip as he veers to the side without turning to look at the trailer or a two-hand underhand pass after he pivots quickly and protectively back toward the middle.

Coaches differ in their beliefs on what the wing men should do if they reach the basket area and have not received a pass from the middle man. Some coaches have their men go completely under the basket; others have them step aside. I advocate they button-hook and come back to the ball in case the middle man has been delayed or prevented from making the pass. However, if the trailer is following the wing man in, the wing man should not buttonhook back. He must continue under the basket to the opposite side in order to lure his guard along with him, leaving the lane wide open for the trailer. If the guard does not go with him, this wing will be free under the basket. The opposite wing man must be mentally alert for this alternative and decoy his defender. If the defender retreats, the opposite wing man should stop quickly, opening himself for a short jumper.

The middle man may have to waste some time around the middle area if one wing is a little behind the other. He should use lateral movement and a lot of movement toward the basket to make the defense think he is going into the basket himself, so the pass to the wing will be more effective.

He should also attempt to pass, whenever possible, with the outside hand. If the passer is right handed and he wishes to go to his left lane, he is going to be passing across the defender if he uses his right hand. To cut down the chances of a deflection, or an interception, he should strengthen his other hand. If he doesn't have the power in his left hand to make this play, he must use a two-handed pass and step toward the receiver, keeping his body between the defender and the ball. When the middle man gets into the 15 foot area, the best pass to use 90% of the time is the bounce pass, because an aggressive bounce pass is almost impossible to intercept; even if it is deflected, it can get through the hands of a deflector and still reach its target.

If the wing man cannot take the shot himself, he should pass back to the middle man, not to the opposite wing. The wing man may seem to be clear, but his defender has only about 8 to 10 feet to get back into position to deflect or intercept the ball.

Two-on-Two and Five-on-Four Situations

I have explained the principles of the classic three-on-two and trailer (four-on-three) situations that develop most of the time in the fast break. Most of these principles also apply in a two-on-one situation. It is obviously a more simplified situation. The two offensive men must keep spread as much as possible in the front court while moving in to the basket. I do not advocate passing the ball back and forth. If the ball is in the hands of a guard, he should drive into the basket, looking for the lay-up shot and forcing the lone defender to jump to try to block the anticipated shot. The guard must dribble all the way into the basket. If he stops prematurely, he will not force the defender to commit himself, and that commitment is essential. If the driver feels he has the advantage when the defender jumps, he can attempt the lay-up. If not, he can drop the ball back down to the remaining man.

The five-on-four situation is really a trailer situation in that the fifth man must hang on the periphery of the action, possibly 15 or so feet from the basket on the side away from the trailer, where he can receive a pass if his defensive man switches to the trailer. If the fifth man draws his defensive man with him, the trailer man will be clear for a pass. Depending on the reactions of the defensive man, the middle man can pass to the trailer or the fourth man.

Secondary Break - Options Prior to a Half-Court Offense

Even when the defense has evened off when the fast break reaches the penetration area, the offense should carry this opportunity one or two steps further while making a transition into their half-court offense. This action takes advantage of the fact that although the defense has gotten down the floor, they are not completely set.

If no shot is possible, coach Don Meyer of little David Lipscomb College has a very effective method. His attack goes like this:

  1. his big man runs down the floor fast as possible, (trying to beat his defender down court), every time his team gains possession of the ball.
  2. the big man posts up low on the ball side, sealing his defender on his back.
  3. if his defender is playing him on the high side, the big man pushes him higher with his seal.
  4. while holding his seal, he calls for the ball, takes a pass from his wing man, drop steps, and sticks the ball in the hole, or if his defender is on his back, on the low side, he motions the wing man to pass back out to the trailer (Safety) back at the top of the key. As the pass is being made, the big man continues to hold his seal, pushing his defender lower, takes a pass from the trailer, and shoots a short jumper.
  5. should the trailer be unable to get the pass safely into the big man, or make a penetrating move, he reverses the ball passing to the opposite wing, and cuts to the basket executing the give-and-go. If nothing happens, both big men are down under, and the three smaller players are on the perimeter. Now, you are in perfect position to run a half-court offense from any set that fits your personnel.

This is a tried and true way of establishing an inside game. Also, it puts extreme pressure on any defense the opponent may use. If you want to get your opponents' pivot defender in foul trouble, make this an integral part of your offensive structure.

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