Teaching Your Team Motion Offense
By Bruce Brown, Former Head Boys Coach, Uniontown Lake High School, Uniontown, Ohio
Over my 25 years of coaching high school and college basketball, I observed a multitude of offensive trends. During that span —which ran through parts of four decades—of offensive basketball, our teams utilized what we felt were the best aspects of several styles. The one constant thread, however, which ran through those years was a fascination with “motion” offensive concepts in the half-court.
It is a perfect offense to run with your club-basketball team because it keeps players moving, eliminates stagnation in your offense, teaches players about using the flow of the game and can be easily learned by most age groups.
When coaches examine the “whys” of their methods, it is important to understand what pathway they’ve traveled and grasp the process that influences their offensive thinking. This first part of this article focuses on how motion offense has evolved through the years, and then we’ll dive deep into how to implement motion into your offense.
Motion And The 3-Point Shot
Into the early 1990s, the 3-point line became a lightening rod for many offensive styles as quick-hitter sets became popular. Freeing up a designated shooter or two became a high priority and coaches needed to know from whom and from where those shots were going to occur.
In the mid-’90s, Dick Bennett re-tooled the hibernating motion offense with his version; he called this concept the “Mover-Blocker Offense.” While at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay and then with the University of Wisconsin, Bennett took motion principles and focused upon the roles of various offensive players.
Within each set of on-court players, individuals were designated as primarily screeners (called “blockers”) while others were primarily cutters and reacted to defensive coverage (dubbed “movers”). What Bennett’s teams produced was, in many ways, the very heart of true team-oriented offense: Put each player in a role or position that not only optimized their individual talent but also created a deliberate, yet unscripted attack which relied upon each player’s sacrificing for the good of the team.
Don Meyer (who at the time, was the head coach at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tenn.) was also a proponent of a mover-blocker offensive style and he helped to educate coaches through his popular teaching video.
Using Drills To Teach Motion
Going into the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dan Hipsher (University of Akron) helped pull together a great deal of what we currently use for motion offense. He began taking the best parts of offensive “role playing” and combined them with the sequential teaching of daily skill drills specifically geared toward building a fundamentally strong motion offense.
From this offensive evolution, we had come across an offensive system that could meet the multiple needs of our team. The primary goal of this version of a motion offense was to:
General Motion Concepts
Our offense is designed to flow from and into all offensive situations. The offensive style must always focus on attacking the defense.
Sometimes, you may choose to be more or less conservative in this attack, depending on the quality of the defense you’re facing. For example, we may choose to take earlier shots in the possession if we have a numbers or height advantage. In other situations, we may choose to take 20 to 30 seconds each possession in exploring the defense.
Rarely do we ever tell our players to “take no shots.” In situations where we wanted to be more selective, we might specify, “layups only” or “open shots after 20 seconds,” etc.
An important teaching point with youth- to high-school-level offenses is to keep the type of offensive attack as consistent as possible. We’ve observed—on many occasions—a team that would switch its offensive tempo to adjust to game situations. An example of this would be setting up wide and spreading the defense during a late-game situation where a team is trying to hold a lead.
Changing the game’s tempo and understanding time-and-score situations are critical to winning games. This should be done, however, with minimal variation from the offensive pattern or alignment.
If we’ve been playing motion offense and the objective suddenly becomes to spread the defense, and become extremely selective with our shots, we’d make an adjustment and call for the offense to be run higher and wider in the half-court, maintaining good spacing and making several changes of side by reversing the ball.
Hall of Fame coach, Pete Newell, called this concept “false offense.” False offense occurs when a team runs the offense that the players are confident in, and then switches to force the defense to cover all of the same cuts and options without the players thinking that they’re running a different offense.
Many games have been lost when a team has changed its offensive tempo by going to a special delay or “deep- freeze” offense. The lesson learned? Run your same offense but at different speeds and with spacing.
Players Roles Within The Offense
Although each player should be skilled at setting sound screens and running strong cuts, players (especially youth and high-school players) need to understand and accept their roles as primarily one or the other. Ultimately, the success of the offense will be in direct relationship to the ability of individual players buying into his or her role.
With respect to motion offense, building true team attitudes is dependent upon the development and performance of roles. This singular coaching skill greatly impacts any success of the offense.