Been going through a number of coaching clinic videos and DVDs recently and one of the common concepts that keeps coming up breaking presses and traps is the idea of having 3 passes available at all times -- sideline, middle, and behind.

You can use any number of sets, 1-3-1, 1-4 across, 1-2-2, but the idea is to always make sure you have those three passes available at all times, with one of the players cutting diagonally to become the new middle player and everyone else cutting and replacing. In Bruce Weber's Press Break DVD, he calls this "pistons",

The idea translates to attacking half-court traps as well. The idea is you always want to present 3 pass options -- sideline (O3), middle (O4), and behind (O2). Lason Perkin's talks about it briefly in his Euro Ball Screen Offense,

Note above that the 4th player (O5) is always opposite the ball. This is for spacing as once the pass is made to one of the 3 options, you want to have a player on the weakside who is open for a quick reversal and layup.

In addition to this schematic concept of sideline-middle-behind, players need to know how to square up so that they can see the 3 passes and not throw the ball to a defender, and learn other concepts such as the crab dribble for pressure release which I've talked about earlier.

Anyways, hope everyone is enjoying watching basketball at the olympics. A devastating opening loss from the Team Canada Women's team against Russia, but they will come back today against England.

I've written about the Triangle and 2 defense before and since Kansas used it to great effect this past NCAA tournament, most notably in their win over North Carolina, I thought I would revisit it and add some thoughts to what I had written previously especially since I used it off and on during this past season.

As Rick Majerus says in his Triangle and 2 defense Clinic DVD, the triangle and 2 should not be used as a staple of your defensive system. I agree completely with that statement, and Majerus goes on to say that the most important aspect of running the defense is knowing when to go to it, and when to go out of it. The perfect example is the way Bill Self used it with his Kansas team against Purdue and North Carolina, late in the 2nd half when they needed to cool down a hot shooter, and to slow the relentless Carolina fast break. I also agree with Bill Self's decision not to use it against Kentucky, if the other team has 4 good players/shooters on the floor, the triangle and 2 is not the defense to be in.

The key to running a good triangle and 2 defense is finding a player to put on their 3rd best player. That defender will play the point at the top of the triangle in the zone, but is also responsible mostly for the 3rd best player on the floor. That is where your best overall defender should play, not against any of the 2 top scorers. In fact, you probably want to put 2 of your more mediocre defenders (but must be quick) on the 2 top scorers, they are in all out denial (butt to the ball, belly to the man), and they are forcing those 2 players to go backdoor.

Yes, I said that correctly, you want to force the 2 top scorers to go backdoor into triangle zone where they will be met by the 3 defenders. Dribble penetration is encouraged, again because they will most likely be dribbling right into the zone.

Back to the 3rd best scorer on the floor. Your point man in the triangle has the toughest job because he must help on any dribble penetration by the 2 top scorers, but also closeout on the 3rd best scorer. The 3rd best scorer must not be allowed to take a catch and shoot open 3-pointer, instead we want to force the 3rd best scorer to dribble into a shot.

The 2 post defenders must play good post defense. There are some differing opinions on whether to half-front, full-front, or play behind. Majerus likes the full-front, others like to play behind for better rebounding position. I think it depends on your scouting report, if the team has capable back to the basket post players, you probably want to play some form of front. The key for the post-players is that if they are forced to play anybody on the perimeter or in the corner, they do what is called a fake and fade. They stay square to the ball with high hands to entice a dribble drive with a hop forward, then an immediate hop back. In this way, they attempt to level off any dribble drive and force the dribbler to go around the defender where help will eventually be there.

Based on past experience, what hurts the triangle and 2 the most is when the offense uses screens (off-ball and on-ball) between the 2 scorers and the 3rd scorer. The 2 scorers can play a little 2 man game and screen for each other in a pick and roll to get open. It is therefore critical that you have a plan to deal with those screens, whether you plan to trap, hard show, go under, or switch. My experience has been switching has been most effective. Another offensive tatic that is particularly effective is to put the point defender on the triangle in conflict by:

- dribble drive at the point defender and kickout to the 3rd best scorer for a 3-point shot
- wide pin down screen for one of the 2 top scorers backside forcing the point defender to defend the curl
- slip screen the 3rd best scorer and force the 2 post defenders to rotate

Finally, in transition defense, the point defender cannot be an offensive rebounder. His job after a shot goes up is to immediately sprint back to the defend the basket. The 2 deny defenders find their checks immediately to deny, and the 2 post defenders get back as soon as they can.

Like all defenses, the triangle and 2 is a defense in which all players must constantly communicate. Everyone must know where the 3rd best scorer is, and be ready to help on any dribble drive or backdoor cuts.

This past season in the second round of a tournament against a top team, we used the triangle and 2 after getting slaughtered in the first half 30-10, we ended up losing the game 42-37. We came out of halftime and the other team was completely stymied, they went scoreless for 8 straight minutes, their players were heard going to the bench during a timeout saying "we don't know what they're running, it's like a zone but not a zone". The other team ended up hitting a 3 pointer late to give them the lead and we tried playing the fouling game but just couldn't overcome the deficit. The team ended up going on to win the tournament.

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.

Auto Post-up

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.

Wide Pin-Down

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.

A great video from the Duke Blue Planet themed "Always Home". There's an old saying -- tradition never graduates. You get that sense of tradition when you watch and hear the former players talk about coming back home to Duke.

Anyways, I've been reading lots and watching a bunch of coaching DVD's, some good X's and O's content to come now that summer is upon us...

Team Canada is in

Congrats to the entire Senior Women's National Team for playing their win into the London Summer Olympics this past week at the qualifying tournament. It always starts with having high expectations and this group is hungry for Gold. Here is a nice video done up by Basketball Canada featuring this year's team in their lead up to the Olympics, it is aptly titled "Win the Day"...