This basketball article was written by Basketball HQ co-founder and skill development coach Kyle Ohman.
Ball Movement in Basketball: Developing a Fluid Offense
When it comes to running a high-level offense in basketball, it is all about putting players in positions where they can be successful. This means that players need spacing and timing to take advantage of the skills they have. Without space and timing, even an elite basketball scorer is limited in what they can do. Lack of space, timing, and ball movement in basketball turns into one on one isolation, and the result is low percentage shots, which plays right into the defense’s game plan.
The other part of ball movement in basketball is what it does to the defense. The more the ball can quickly move from player to player, the more the defense will have to communicate, rotate, etc., and that means more potential breakdowns. Quality ball movement not only makes things easier for the offense, but it also makes things much more difficult for the defense. This means that a premium must be placed on ball movement in basketball.
This offensive basketball coaching article will focus on ball movement, and it will use the San Antonio Spurs as a prime example of how it should be done. Year after year, they can move the ball and create quality scoring opportunities regardless of who is in the lineup. This article will provide eight different ball movement keys that teams like the Spurs use for a fluid offense. So make sure that you take advantage of all of these different ball movement keys and the basketball training videos at the bottom of the article.
8 Keys to Ball Movement in Basketball:
1. Ball Reversals
The best time to attack the defense in basketball is when they are shifting from one side of the floor to the other. The only way this happens, though, is with quick ball reversals. If players catch and hold the ball each time, the defense can adjust and cover the small distance without a problem. However, if the ball quickly moves around the perimeter, the defenders that were in the help must now cover a much longer distance. This is what will allow for an open shot, drive for a finish at the basket, or a drive and kick for a teammate.
This only happens, though, if players are quickly reversing the ball. Players need to be already thinking and anticipating what they will do with the ball before they get it. Before the ball comes to them, they should be reading the defense and determining whether they will shoot the basketball, drive the over closeout, or swing the ball to a teammate. Yes, there will be some last-second decisions depending on the defender closing out, but a good offensive player should already have a pretty good idea of what they will do before they get the ball.
- Make the Defense Move
- Don’t Catch and Hold the Ball
- Be thinking one play ahead and be decisive with your moves.
- Don’t waste your dribbles.
- Either drive the closeout, shoot the basketball, or move the ball.
2. Player Movement
It is hard, or even pointless sometimes, to move the ball without also having excellent player movement in basketball. Passing the ball aimlessly around the perimeter to stagnant players isn’t going to accomplish very much. On the flip side, though, if you have players that are cutting hard, using screens, spacing, filling, etc., it is a whole new ball game. Not only does this open up possibilities for penetrating passes, but it also forces the defense to shift and rotate, which, as mentioned in the previous defensive key, opens up opportunities for defensive breakdowns.
A big part of player movement is not being robotic and also being a threat to score on every cut. Players must first read the defense to determine what type of cut they should use and when they should cut. This will depend on where the ball is and how the defense is guarding them. When they do finally decide to cut, players must be actively looking to get the ball. Too many players cut and are not really looking to get the ball when they do. If a player’s cut is not a scoring threat, the defense doesn’t have to respect it or shift to help.
Even if a player doesn’t get the ball on a cut, they need to be cutting hard and forcing the defense to respect their cut. If all five players on the floor are doing this, it will eventually open up a shot for someone. Players must buy into cutting their hardest even if they know that they may not get the ball.
- Don’t Stand
- Players that stand are easy to guard and force one on one offense.
- Sometimes you may need to space, but most of the time, you should always be moving.
- Hard Cuts
- Read your defender and make the appropriate cut.
- Back cut
- Face cut
- Make decisive cuts.
- Set up your defender before cutting.
- Slow to fast.
- Look to score on every cut.
- Your cut may open up a scoring chance for a teammate.
- Read your defender and make the appropriate cut.
The goal of setting screens in basketball is to put the defense at a disadvantage. A well-executed screen will force the defense to communicate and work together to prevent an offensive advantage. Defending screens in basketball are one of the hardest things for a defense to do, especially when there are multiple screening actions in a row. Maybe it is a screen the screener basketball play where a defender must help on a screen and then immediately fight through a screen, or perhaps it is multiple ball screens in a row. Whatever type of screening action it is, if it is done well, the defense will have to work extra hard to cover.
A big part of screening in basketball and putting the defense in a tough situation is the spacing away from the screen. The more quality spacing a basketball offense can have when setting screens, the less the defense will be able to help. Also, a screening action off of the ball may not even get the ball, but it will open up space for a drive on the other side of the floor. A good off-ball screen can force the defense not to sit in the help, which means open drives to the basket.
- Set GREAT Legal Screens
- Use Screens to Get Open
- Be on the Same Page
- The player using the screen and the player(s) setting the screen must work together.
- Must have excellent timing and spacing when executing a screen.
- Use handoffs similar to ball screens to help teammates get open.
- If your defender is cheating the handoff, fake it and then make a move.
4. Dribble Penetration
When dribble penetration is mentioned, it sometimes comes with a negative connotation, especially when talking about ball movement in basketball. It is usually equated to a player over dribbling before finally getting a slight driving advantage for a low percentage shot. When used the right way, though, dribble penetration can be a considerable advantage for the offense and an advocate of ball movement.
Remember up in our ball reversal key how we talked about players needing to quickly decide whether they are going to shoot, drive, or swing the ball? This is the dribble penetration that we are primarily talking about here. Yes, there will be times when you have a quicker player than their defender or a player who gets a favorable matchup and can create for themselves or a teammate. The best time for penetration is still going to be off of a ball reversal or another drive and kick.
This will allow the driver to take advantage of their defender closing out, and it will also allow for space as the defense has not been able to set up in the help yet. When it comes to ball movement in basketball, dribble penetration with the purpose of being unselfish can be an excellent tool.
- Drive and Kick
- Quality penetration forces the defense to suck in and help, which opens up the kick-out pass.
- Get your shoulders to the basket before making the kick-out pass.
- This sells that you are attacking the basket and makes the defense sink in.
- The receiver needs to be down ready to either shoot, drive, or swing the ball. Don’t catch and hold!
- If you catch and hold, the defense can recover, and the ball movement is dead.
- Stay Under Control
- Don’t leave your feet and open yourself up to charges and wild passes.
- Don’t over-penetrate into trouble.
- If you get too deep into the defense, there are too many hands to deflect your pass.
Resources: Two Ball Drive and Kick Shooting Drill
5. Passing Lanes
To move the ball quickly from player to player, there needs to be clear passing lanes. This means that the receiver will sometimes need to shift, space, or fill up to create a passing lane for the passer. If the passer has to throw over the top of the defense, there will be potential turnovers, but it is also going to take extra time to get to the receiver. By the time the ball gets to the receiver on a looping pass, the defense will have been able to recover. So players off the ball must be aware of what is going on and make a conscious effort to create passing lanes.
- Receiver Needs to Create Passing Lanes
- Don’t stand and watch on penetration.
- Either slide up or down to create a passing lane.
- A great time to move is once your defender turns their head to watch the ball.
- Find the passer’s eyes, especially when the ball goes into the post.
- Down Ready
- Don’t catch the ball standing straight up and down.
- Anticipate what you will do with the ball by how the defender is guarding you; shoot, drive, or swing pass.
6. Inside Out Post Play
In the previous ball movement keys, hard cuts and dribble penetration were already mentioned as ways to play inside out offense. Another great way to play inside out, though, is with quality basketball post play. Whether it is a traditional post player or a bigger guard, getting the ball into the post and then playing out of it can end up in some excellent ball movement in basketball.
Once the ball is entered into the post, if you can have players cutting hard and screening for each other, there will be a lot of scoring chances. It may even be as simple as a post feed and relocate for a shot. Whatever it may be, the better the action is away from the post up, the more space a skilled post player will have to work in the post. Any time you can play inside out on offense, you will give yourself a chance to get a quality shot.
- Post Play
- Get the ball into the post and then look for kick-outs when the defense helps.
- Find the post player’s eyes and create passing lanes by moving up or down.
- Hard cuts on the weak side will be open with a great post passer.
- Pass Fakes Out of the Post
- Being unselfish opens up opportunities for pass fakes and keeps.
- This works well with fake handoffs in the high post area.
- Must sell the pass.
- Use your body to shield the ball from the view of the defender.
Resources: Fake Hand Off Basketball Shooting Drill
7. Designed Basketball Plays
As a basketball coach, you want your players to think the game and be able to move the ball regardless of what offense you are running. At the same time, though, if you have specific basketball plays that require ball movement, you will really be able to help your team out. This is especially going to be helpful if you feel like your team is getting stagnant. Make sure that you have a playbook of plays that you can go to when you need to get the ball moving or run a play for a specific type of shot or a player.
- Executing Offense
- Use set basketball plays to help establish ball movement and player movement.
- It can be a set play or a motion offense.
- Read the Defense
- Players must not be a robot to the play.
- If the defense is cheating the play, players must make them pay.
8. Unselfish Plays
If you look at any team with excellent ball movement in basketball, you will quickly realize that they are unselfish when it comes to who gets the shot. They are looking for the best shot for the team, that is all. And, while this isn’t something that just happens naturally, it can be achieved with your basketball team if you are willing to put in the time preaching this regularly.
When you are preaching this unselfishness to your players, make sure that you emphasize that this is actually going to help increase scoring averages. Players won’t lose out on shots; they are simply trading poor percentage shots for high percentage shots. If all five players are playing unselfishly, there will be plenty of shots to go around, and they are all going to be higher percentage shots. This means that not only will players get as many shooting opportunities as they did before (or more), but also that each chance will be a higher percentage shot.
As a basketball coach, this needs to be a must for any offense that wants to be successful. It is important to note, though, that players still need to be aggressive and are not being overly passive. If a player is open for a good shot, they need to take it. Also, the same shot is not a high percentage shot for all the players on your team. At certain points in the game, your best players need to have the freedom to take a difficult shot if your team needs a big bucket. They need to have your confidence behind them and know that you trust their judgment.
- Extra Pass
- Turn down an okay shot for a great shot.
- This type of play will be contagious and lead to better shots for everyone.
- Set Up Teammates
- Make a move with the specific purpose of setting up another teammate for an easy shot.
- Not just the point guards responsibility.
- Celebrate Winning Plays
- Get excited when a teammate makes an unselfish play.
- It must be all about the team.
San Antonio Spurs Ball Movement
If you look at any of the great offensive teams in basketball like the San Antonio Spurs, you will quickly realize that ball movement is a big part of why they are so successful. The ball movement opens up high-percentage looks for all five players on the floor. Instead of shooting isolated and contested shots, they are getting the defense moving, taking advantage of poor closeouts, and getting the ball to wide-open players.
This all comes from five players on the floor being unselfish and being willing to turn down a good shot for a great shot. It also has a lot to do with having players that understand what goes into great ball movement in basketball. This is why it is so vital to develop your player’s basketball IQ. It may take a little bit longer, but once you do, your offense will flow, and you will find that you are getting the high percentage shots that you used to only dream about. Be willing to spend the time in practice doing basketball drills that are going to highlight ball movement, and then continue to preach it daily.
Ball Movement Basketball Drills
Down Screens and Baseline Drive Shell Basketball Drill
A shell basketball drill can be used to work on a variety of different offensive and defensive situations. You can set it up so that the offense has different rules like penetrating, screening away, down screens, etc. This specific shell basketball drill is going to work on down screens and baseline penetration. It will be a great team basketball drill for working on both ball movement and the defense’s ability to guard the action and rotate out of it.
Drill Name: Down Screens and Baseline Drive Shell Basketball Drill
Similar Drills: Basic and Cutters Shell Basketball Drill
Drill Goal: Work on ball movement, screening, and being able to guard both of these situations on defense.
Equipment Needed: 8+ players, a coach, and a ball.
- Communication between the defensive players is a must.
- Defensive players must be aware of their man but also everything else that is going on around them.
- Offensive players must set good screens and take a good angle to each screen.
- After screening, the player must open up and be a threat to score, even if they don’t get the ball.
- The offensive players are going to start on the perimeter in the corners and the wings.
- The defensive players will begin to spread out on the baseline.
- To start the drill, the coach will pass the basketball out to one of the offensive players.
- When this happens, the defense must closeout accordingly (on the ball, in the gap, or in the help).
- From here, the offense is going to move the ball around the perimeter, and the defense must adjust on each pass.
Down Screens Scenario:
- Every time the ball is passed from guard to guard at the top two spots, the player who just made the pass will down screen away.
- The defensive players must navigate this screening action while also still being in the help.
- This action will continue until the coach calls out “live,” and at this point, the offense can do whatever they want to try and score.
Baseline Drive Scenario:
- The formation and start of the drill are the same, but this time, when the ball goes to the corner, the defender will allow the ball handler to drive baseline.
- As this is happening, the weak side defender must rotate over and cut off the baseline penetration outside of the paint.
- The other two defenders will zone up in the paint and look to take away any easy pass.
- When the ball is passed out of the baseline trap, the defenders must recover and get matched up again.
- The offense will continue to swing and move the ball until another baseline penetration is available and then repeat the baseline penetration help and recovery.
- The coach can call out live whenever they would like to, and at this point, the offense is allowed to do whatever they want to in trying to score.
Dribble Handoff Basketball Drill
Similar to dribble penetration, a dribble handoff can be a great way to create a driving angle for a teammate. If the ball handler can get deeper penetration and then use their body to screen their teammate’s defender on the handoff, there will be some favorable advantages. This basketball drill will allow for a lot of quality repetitions at the handoff action.
Drill Name: Dribble Hand Off Basketball Drill
Drill Goal: Work on quality dribble penetration handoffs
Equipment Needed: 1 basketball and 4 players.
- On the penetration, you must make the defense think you are penetrating to the basket so that they will help.
- Make sure that you execute a good handoff every time.
- Set up the imaginary defender every time before receiving the handoff.
- Players will start on either wing and corner.
- The ball will start with the player on the right-wing.
- The player with the ball will dribble drive to the right, and handoff to the player filling up from the corner.
- The player filling up that just got the handoff will turn the corner and attack the paint.
- They will jump stop, and then kick the ball out to the wing on the opposite side of the floor.
- After the pass, they will reset to the wing position on their side of the court.
- The player on the left wing will catch the ball and then repeat the same action that the right side just did.
- This pattern can continue back and forth for the desired amount of time or repetitions.
Game Situation Ball Screen Slip Basketball Drill
A big part of screening in basketball is being able to read the defense. This means that at times you will need to make them pay for cheating the screen. If you don’t make them pay, they will continue to cheat screens and render your screening actions ineffective. A great way to make a defense pay for cheating a screen is by slipping the screen. As the screener is coming to the screen, they will feel that their defender is out of position, and they will slip hard to the basket. This will open up a finish at the basket for them, or it will force another defender to help, which will open up a shot for a teammate.
Drill Name: Game Situation Ball Screen Slip Basketball Drill
Similar Drills: Game Situation Pitch Ahead 3 Point Basketball Shooting Drill
Drill Goal: Work on slipping ball screens and then finishing at the basket.
Equipment Needed: 1 basketball and a partner.
- Take a good angle to the ball screen so that you have space to slip.
- Visualize the defender on you and time up your slip.
- Don’t be predictable; mix up the time and speed of your slips.
- When you go to slip, don’t hesitate and take a straight line to the basket.
- Catch the ball under control so that you can navigate any help defenders that come at you in a game.
- The player will start with a basketball, and the coach will be out on the 3 point line (you can work on this from pretty much anywhere).
- The player will pass the ball to the coach and then follow the pass to set a ball screen.
- As the player is filling up to set the screen, they will break it off and slip hard to the basket at their discretion.
- As they are slipping to the basket, the coach will lead them to the basket with a pass.
- The player will catch the pass and then finish at the basket.
Game Situation Post Skip Pass Basketball Shooting Drill
As mentioned in the above ball movement keys, players need to create passing angles to receive the ball, especially when the ball is in the post. This basketball shooting drill will work on sliding up or down to create a passing angle for a skip pass out of the post. It will not only allow for a lot of quality shots, but it will allow the shooter to work on developing the much-needed habit of helping to create a passing window for post players.
Drill Name: Game Situation Post Skip Pass Basketball Shooting Drill
Drill Goal: Work on relocating to open up a skip pass shot out of the post.
Equipment Needed: 2 basketballs and 2 partners.
- Visualize the defense and moving into an open passing lane.
- Don’t hesitate when you catch the ball, be down ready, and shoot the ball on the catch.
- If the pass is slightly off, don’t reach for the ball, but adjust your body behind it.
- The ball is going to start with the passer on the block.
- The shooter will be on the opposite wing in an athletic stance, ready to shoot.
- When the passer takes a dribble, the shooter on the opposite wing will either slide up or down to create an open passing lane.
- The passer will make a cross-court skip pass, and the player will catch and shoot the ball.
- This completes one time through the drill.
- You can also work on shot fakes or a rip through move out of the skip pass.
Ball Movement in Basketball Conclusion
Good ball movement in basketball can make an offense look unguardable. While on the flip side, the lack of ball movement can make the same offense look like they cannot buy a bucket. That is why it is so important to get your players to buy into these different ball movement keys. The better they can master each area, the better you will look as a basketball coach, and the better they will look as players.
And, yes, there is no argument that, at times, isolation plays are needed, but if you continue to draw from that well over and over again, it will run dry, and you will be playing right into the defense’s hands. So spend the needed time with your basketball team learning and mastering these ball movement principles, and you will find that your offense is open to a whole new world of possibilities.