This article was written by Chris Capko, who is a part men's basketball coaching staff at the University of Southern California. Previously he coached at Georgia Southern University, Stetson University and also played at the University of South Florida.
Leading up to a game, teams will prepare for a variety of different things that they can expect to see from the opposing team’s offense. Coaches will spend hours upon hours breaking down how they will defend; ball screens, the post, off ball actions, defensive matchups, and discussing those opposing players strengths and weaknesses. This is all a necessity when preparing for a game and getting your defense is “SET.”
Well what about when your defense is not set, and it is forced instead to react to the offense? The match-ups are not correct, a guard is on a big, a big is guarding the ball, and the defense is in disarray. This is what early offense can do, it exploits the defense and keeps them from being able to get "set" in the half court.
Any basketball coach would tell you they would rather have their defense “set” before a possession begins, because players are in their assigned positions and roles. Early offense though, forces the defense to react to actions they are not as ready for, or prepared for. Most players can tell you how they will defend a ball screen on the guy they’re prepared to guard, but what about when they get matched up with a player position that they’re not as familiar with?
The same goes for a big man, They remembered exactly how they will play the ball screen when Player A is setting it and Player B is coming off it, but what about when they are guarding Player C because of a missed shot or scramble situation?
Early Offense: Ball Screens
Ball screens are a very effective form of early offense. The reason why, is because many times in transition big men are not attached to their man, and are not in position to help on the ball screen like the would when set in the half court. This leaves the guard defender out to dry on the ball screen, because he/she is expecting the post defender to be there to show/hedge, push up, etc.
In this clip, Utah’s big man goes to set a ball screen for the point guard, in which he ultimately re-angles or “twists” the screen. This forces the big guarding the screen to get out of position. Once Utah’s point guard throws it back to screener, Stanford as a team is forced to react, help does not come from the proper position and Utah finished with a layup. The action happened so early in the offense, that Stanford was never really able to get set, and was forced to react.
Utah: Ball Screen Offense
In this clip you see a similar outcome, but a different means to achieve it. The big from UNC sprints up to set an early flat ball screen. Jabari Parker, who is guarding the screen, is not able to contain the ball handler until his man gets back. The ball handler (Marcus Paige) ends up making a great individual move and finishing at the rim. Duke had prepared a game plan to guard North Carolina’s early ball screens, but this clip is not it. The early ball screen forced Duke to react and did not allow them to guard a ball screen the way they had prepared for it leading up to the game.
UNC: Ball Screen Offense
Early Offense: Off Ball Action
Off ball action works great in early offense as well, because the defense has yet established which players are in the help, and must do a great job communicating to figure it out. Most teams do not do a great job of communicating in semi-transition, and that means quality looks at the basket are there if you are able to execute your early offense at a high level.
Here is another set that many teams will run off misses, or makes. This provides offensive action early in the clock and within the game flow. The point guard (Kyle Anderson) passes the ball to wing player (Jordan Adams), and then sprints to the corner with pace. The ball then gets swung through the trailing post player, and finally reversed to the opposite wing (Norman Powell). The first wing player (Jordan Adams) then shuffle cuts off the big to the ball side block for a post up, and the point guard (Kyle Anderson) comes off of a double down screen for a shot. The pace at which UCLA executes this early offense causes the defense to have to react. The shuffle cut ends up being open, but the down screen action was also open, and all of this is because of getting into early offense with pace. The defense is not able to set up and play to their strength's, the are forced to react instead.
UCLA: Off Ball Offense
Early Offense: Pistol
This type of offense forces the wing defenders to communicate at a high level, and puts a strain on the help defense. However, most of the time in transition the defense is so concerned with their individual man, they are not paying attention to communicating and being in the help. That equals great scoring opportunities for the offense.
This action is a popular NBA action called “pistol.” This action can be be run off of misses or makes, and is often run early in a possession. This specific clip just happens to be one part of the action, but the pace with which it is run creates confusion amongst the defense, even though they are like sizes. This shows that early offense can also run against a set defense in some cases.
Utah: Pistol Offense
Early Offense: Conclusion
Early offense is a great way to attack your opponent and force them to react, as opposed to being organized and positioned to defend how they want to. There are a number of different early offense actions that you can run, but it is important that you find the ones best suited for the personnel that your team possesses. Figure out what makes your team go, and then start making the defense REACT!