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NCAA Tournament Trends: Ghost Screens and Gap Creation

Watch the full episode of #HoopsForum: NCAA Tournament Xs & Os Trends

Looking for ideas to improve your basketball playbook? This year’s NCAA Tournament teams offered a variety of ideas to help your half court offense, zone offense, and special situations.

Ghost Screens

The darling of this year’s tournament wasn’t in fact a team. It was the ghost screen.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, ghost screens are modified ball screens. However, instead of actually setting a screen for the ball-handler, the screener sprints away from the ball-handler. One of two things usually happens – either a gap is created for the ballhandler to drive or the screener’s defender helps on the ball-handler, leaving the screener open for a shot.

Gap creation off the Ghost Screen

The Gonzaga Bulldogs took things a set further by following the ghost screen with a ball screen to create further confusion for the defense.

Gonzaga’s ghost screen followed by a ball screen

Gap Creation

The late Chuck Daly once said, “Spacing is offense and offense is spacing.” Teams are are starting to truly understand what it means to manipulate space in order to exploit defenses.

Whether it’s a double gap or a triple game, teams are creating one-on-one situations and then forcing help defenders to choose whether to give help or let their teammate attempt to stop the ball handler from scoring.

A triple gap for 2 forces x3 to choose whether to help or stay on a corner shooter

Check out the full episode of #HoopsForum (scroll up) for more plays from this year’s March Madness. And be sure to watch live episodes of #HoopsForum, streaming every Friday on YouTube and Twitter.

Other Resources

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Inverted Offense

Flip the traditional setup – Inverted Offense posts up a guard, running actions above to create huge advantages and tough covers.

While attending the NABC Coaches Convention a few years back, I was intrigued when I saw the session titled, “The Analytical Edge: Underutilized Strategies to Increase Win Percentage,” presented by Frank Dehel of Dribble Handoff.

As I listened to his presentation, one of his main topics in particular got my attention – Inverted Offense.

While the term may not be familiar to you, you’ve seen the base action done for years. Look familiar…?

Reasons To Invert Your Offense

In order for your inverted action to be effective, Dehel tells us a couple things need to happen:

  1. Your guards must win 1-on-1 matchups. Ask most coaches, and they’ll tell you they don’t spend much time having their guards, especially their point guard, practice post defense. A point guard with the moves and ability to dribble, pass, and score in the post is immediately at a huge advantage.
  2. Height and weight differential matters. According to Dehel, his analysis showed that guards who were at least 6’3” tended to have the most success. Even if you don’t have tall guards, your guard may have a weight/strength advantage. There might be times during a game where you can create a mismatch for that guard against a smaller and/or weaker guard.

Some of you are thinking, “Ok, so what? The post up PPP (points per possession) still doesn’t make it worth for us to try any inverted actions.” You’re right – the numbers say shots in the paint off post ups are typically inefficient. However, Dehl’s research found FGAs coming from a pass out of the post yield a +.25 PPP than a FGA in the post. As a matter of fact, shots from a post pass yielded an even higher PPP than a couple of our favorite types of shots.


Adjusted PPP
 YearShots off ScreensSpot-UpShot from Post Pass
20180.951.001.13
20170.941.001.14
20160.961.001.14
*Statistics from DribbleHandoff.com

Translation: You need more sets and strategies to get FGAs off post passes.

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Team USA – Horns Inverted Offense

Team USA horns inverted offense

This Horns set from Team USA’s women’s squad is the perfect example of an opportunity to post a guard, then make the defense pay when perimeter defenders are caught turning to find the ball. In today’s game, many teams are putting four or five shooters on the floor at a time. It only takes one defender turning to find the ball for an open 3PA (see Frame 3).

Villanova Wildcats – Fake Handoff to Inverted Offense

Villanova fake handoff to inverted offense

The Villanova Wildcats action above shows the “inverted” portion of the offense by not only posting Jalen Brunson but with the forward screening on the perimeter (something typically done along the baseline to get a guard open).

Utah Jazz – Inverted Offense

Jazz inverted offense

For years, we’ve seen offenses create mismatches in the post by using guard-to-forward screens. Two more possibilities:

  1. Use a forward-to-guard screen for the guard to get into the post.
  2. Use that same guard-to-forward screening principle to get a perimeter shot for the forward (see Jazz play above).

Should I Invert My Offense?

Entirely? Of course not. You may not even feel you have the personnel to try posting any of your guards. But the numbers say passing out of the post for perimeter shot opportunities is advantageous enough to add to your playbook.

If you need more ideas, feel free to connect with me on Twitter @tonywmiller, and I’d be happy to help.

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Multiple Actions

There is incredible value in running sets with multiple actions, and the options are nearly endless – here’s a few to get you started.

For those who read the companion blog post on plays with consecutive actions, you may have already begun tweaking your playbook to include a few more of these types of sets. Before you get too far into finalizing things, here’s one more suggestion…

What are Multiple Actions?

When you first started reading about consecutive actions, you may have thought it was just another way of referring to multiple actions – two or more actions occurring on the floor at the same time.

Consecutive actions are actions that happen back to back, designed to force a few defenders into navigating a difficult sequence.

Multiple actions are actions that occur at the same exact time, designed to force every defender on the floor to guard something.

Multiple Action - Double Pin Downs - Powered by FastModel Sports

Most of you have coached multiple actions for years. A quick look through the FastModel playbank, and you’ll find hundreds of great plays with those types of actions – double back screensdouble cross screensmover-blocker offense, etc.

Coaching Multiple Actions

If used well, multiple actions force all five defenders to guard an action at the same time, which can create great scoring opportunities for the offense.

Typically, a multiple action will involve some sort of screen, so it’s important to prepare your offensive players to read two scenarios:

  • If the defense switches, you may end up with a mismatch somewhere on the floor.
  • If the screen defender shows, you may have a slip to the rim for an easy two.

Simple enough, but could it be possible to make multiple actions even harder to guard?

Next Level Multiple Actions (with Consecutive Actions)

A lot of coaches quit reading this article about 3 paragraphs ago because they already know about multiple actions. But because you stuck with it, I’m going to give you a tip that will give those coaches’ teams major problems.

Here it is: When possible, combine your multiple actions with consecutive actions.

Let’s look at two examples: (click on the diagram to download it to FastDraw or email to a coaching friend)

One of the reasons we love a stagger screen is because it’s actually a consecutive action (two screens back-to-back) that forces the defense to either switch, or show and recover. Pair it with a DHO (or in the example below, a fake DHO) and you take away all help defenders from guarding the strong side of the floor. The result? An uncontested layup at the rim.

Multiple Action - Horns - Powered by FastModel Sports

The combination of consecutive actions with multiple actions are great for OB situations. While a screen-rescreen is happening on one side of the floor with the 5 and 2, 4 is giving 3 a back screen on the opposite side of the floor. And there are even more scoring opportunities than just a shot for 2; 5 might be open on a slip to the basket, 3 could screen for 5 (as pictured) for a lob at the front of the rim, or 4 could be open for a short corner jumper if x4 shows on 3. If the defense switches everything, you should have mismatches all over the court!

Multiple Actions - BLOB - Powered by FastModel Sports

Just like with consecutive actions, the combinations for multiple actions are almost limitless. It’s just up to you to find the best actions to fit with your personnel and system.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or on Twitter about which consecutive actions have worked for your team!

Building Your Basketball Playbook: Consecutive Actions

String together consecutive actions to creates advantages by forcing the defense to make back-to-back quick decisions.

During my second year as a college assistant coach, we had a Division I point guard transfer into our small program. His skill in the pick and roll was quickly apparent, not just to our staff, but also to our opponents. In just the first few games, the typical high ball screen became less and less effective as teams would adjust their defense to force our ball handler to give up the basketball.

In an early season classic, I remember our head coach adding a Horns set for our stretch 4.

Bob Jones University - Double Screen to Flare Screen Horns - Powered by FastModel Sports

We ran that play in the invitational’s first game. It worked. (Though, we still lost the game. After all, you can’t run the same set every possession.) More importantly, we were on to something. I didn’t know the term “consecutive action” at the time, but that’s exactly what we had created with the Horns set – a play with back-to-back actions that created a brief advantage for the offense.

Consecutive actions aren’t new. You probably, right now, have a set or two in your playbook with some sort of consecutive action – a dribble handoff to a ball screen, a floppy set (stagger followed by a pin down), or maybe a flex action (cross screen to down screen).

So if this strategy isn’t new, and if everyone already runs consecutive actions, why do they seem to work so well?

Defending Consecutive Actions

  • Many defensive players fail to communicate.

Coaches understand how difficult it can be getting players to communicate with each other on the court. Talking though individual defensive assignments is tough enough. Having to talk through two actions back-to-back can be especially challenging, even for veteran teams.

  • Many teams practice defending only one action at a time.

The coach says, “Put three minutes on the clock. Let’s work on switching the DHO.” Once that three minutes is up, “Put three more up. Now ball screen defense.” Even coaches who use small-sided games typically don’t force their defenses to guard two actions in a row.

What does this mean for you as a coach? First, make sure you’re teaching your players what, when, and how to communicate on the defensive end. Second, purposefully incorporate more consecutive actions into your practice, especially into 3-on-3, 4-on-4, and 5-on-5.

Coaching Consecutive Actions

Even though your team will be guarding consecutive actions well now, it doesn’t mean your opponents will be. As you begin to design your plays to include more consecutive actions, here are some ideas to get you started.

A simple flex action (cross screen to a down screen) from the Indiana Pacers results in a potential open shot or drive from the wing.

Indiana Pacers - Flex Quick Hitter - Powered by FastModel Sports

Screening for screeners is a commonly used consecutive action. In this Wedge PNR from the Boston Celtics, a screen is set for Al Horford who immediately goes and sets a ball screen for Kyrie Irving.

Boston Celtics - Wedge PNR - Powered by FastModel Sports

The combinations for consecutive actions are almost limitless. It’s just up to you to find the best actions to fit with your personnel and system.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or on Twitter about which consecutive actions have worked for your team!

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Post Player Development with Jackie Carson, Furman Paladins

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John Wooden: The Person with Steve Lavin, UCLA Bruins

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