Coming from one of the better defensive minds in coaching, Jim Larranaga, according to Larranaga, he claims that transition defense is the most important and hardest thing to teach in basketball. If we take him at his word, then considering the importance of "getting back on D", one would expect its antithesis -- the early offense -- to be a fairly well-developed area of coaching. However, in my opinion, it is quite the opposite. As an area of coaching, early offense is quite a bit undeveloped as compared to its cousin, the half-court offense. (Just so we're clear, I'm not referring to a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 situation, which is universally termed as the fast-break). So if you think about the major theories on early offense (or secondary break as it is often termed), they range either from the very unstructured "just lob it up there" to the many structured versions such as Roy Williams' Carolina break or D'Antoni's 7 seconds or less offense. But what you don't see at all is anything in between the two.
What I mean by that is for example in half-court offensive theory, you have something referred to as the motion offense. The motion offense lies somewhere in between 5 guys playing pickup running random cuts and screens, and a highly structured system like the Flex or the Triple Post. A motion offense isn't a continuity, in that players don't follow a preset pattern, but it is instead a set of rules that govern what the players do based on what the defense is doing -- in the half court.
In search of the elusive "motion-styled early offense", I found myself going through Billy Donovan's DVD on the Unstoppable Transition Offense, where he talks specifically about this idea, a concept-based early offense. Not a patterned secondary break, nor just a bunch of guys running down the floor randomly. Instead, Donovan talks about transition offense concepts which I've briefly outlined below.
There will be 2 wings, 2 forwards, and 1 primary ball handler. The 4 man is the guy that will usually inbound the ball. The wings will run out wide, Donovan doesn't have a preference if it is the 2 or 3, they just go out wide. The forward who doesn't inbound rim runs, and gets to the ballside low post block. The ball handler will attempt to advance the ball up either wing if the pass is open.
If O5 has busted his butt to get down the floor and is open for a quick post-up, that is always the first look. An early post-up is always a favorable matchup in transition because the post-entry pass is usually not contested nearly as much as once your are set in the half-court and by hitting the early post-up you virtually eliminate the possibility of the double-team on the post,
As O3 is looking for O5 for the quick post-entry. O1 who made the initial pass up the court, will cut through the lane to the opposite corner. O4, the trailer, will start down the middle of the lane.
Pick and Roll
If O5 is late getting down the floor or if for some reason the post entry just isn't there, then there are secondary options. O5 will clear to the weakside if he does not get the ball. The first option is the pick and roll. What we're looking at here is the gap between O4 and his defender X4. If X4 has gotten back on defense, for example, to help out on an early post-entry into O5, then as O4, the trailer, comes down the floor, he should immediately take an angle into the side pick and roll with O3 on the ball.
In any ball screen situation, you want to have separation from the defender. The reason for this is because you want to create a temporary 2-on-1 situation (which we have here because of the separation between O4 and X4). Because X4 is not in a position to really defend the ballscreen, the offense has a number of options, dribble into the lane for a drive or a shot, or hit O4 rolling to the basket after the screen, or shoot the open 3-pointer if X3 goes under the screen.
Second option if O3 chooses not to go into a pick and roll, for example if O4's man is playing right on him, we can run the wide pin-down. O3 will reverse the ball to other side of the floor,
O2 can look for the post-entry again with O5 who has attempted to seal his man on the low block. On the weakside, O3 and O4 and playing a little 2-man game with O4 setting a downscreen. O3 will setup the screen by going to the short corner.
O3 has any number of things he can do depending on how the defense plays the downscreen. He can curl and O2 can hit him in the lane for the quick layin or baby hook. He can come up to the elbow or 3-point line to shoot the open jumper. If the defense overcommits to O3, O4 can roll to the basket for a lob pass,
Middle Ball Screen
All of the above is predicated on O1 making the advance pass up the court to O3 or O2. If O1 does not, then it is an automatic middle ball screen by the trailer O4. O1 should attempt to use the screen and get into the lane for a quick score, or dump off to O5 if X5 helps,
So the idea here is to give your players a framework of how to play fast and score quickly in the secondary break with some semblance of organization and to do it with a certain purpose to attack the defense given a certain set of parameters. Principally, the objective is to take advantage of certain situations that present themselves, situations that are most present when teams are attempting to "get back", opportunities from an offensive perspective to take advantage of a slow big man to defend the post-up, the over-helping trailer defender, the unprepared ballscreen defender, helpside defenders caught in a downscreen away from the ball. In watching some old footage of the Gators in both their back-to-back titles and in most recent games from this past season, you can definitely see the early ball screens, and even the odd wide pin-down as well. And since their primary half-court offense is the spread pick and roll, they transition from early offense to half-court offense rather seamlessly.
Or.... you could just tell your players to run like mad down the floor and throw over top of the defense. My personal experience is sometimes the simplest solution is the best. The last team I coached was an example of where my attempt at installing a secondary break resulted in confusion and indecision, throwing over the top was indeed the best way for us, but I digress.
But generally as offensive ideology goes, I do like the idea of a motion-styled secondary break. I strongly believe that a team full of smart basketball IQ players (ie. smart gym rats), could use these concepts along with a loose 4-out 1-in motion offense and easily be "unstoppable" as Donovan's DVD claims his system to be. Because your players are playing based on concepts, and not on some structured system that is easily scouted, analyzed, and broken down into easier-to-defend parts, it is much more difficult to stop if run properly. The keyword being "properly", in that players have to be smart enough to read how the defense is playing and then make the right read. The players are relying less on the coach to call certain plays to get them into advantageous situations but rather must rely on their intuition to make the right decision.