How The Shot Clock Improves Player Development


One of the things that I enjoy about FIBA basketball is how skilled the players are. Since beginning to study and learn more about international basketball, the differences in style of play, rules, and player development structure, the one thing that jumps out is how the shot clock impacts how the game is taught, played and coached.

Let me expand on that…

The shortened 24-second shot clock AND the inability to interrupt a play by calling a timeout during live action makes the biggest difference in player development in the international basketball game. It forces basketball coaches using FIBA rules (or some close variant) to do two things:

  1. Develop the ‘global’ (multi-skilled) basketball players
  2. Do their coaching in advance (i.e. strategy, tactics, late-clock situations, pressure release, etc.)

Developing The ‘Global’ Athlete

For a basketball player to excel in FIBA basketball, they must be multi-skilled and versatile in their skillset. Players that can quickly read-decide-execute when to dribble, pass and/or shoot – from all positions – excel in the FIBA game.

Do Your Coaching In Advance

Let me explain this notion by making a parallel to another sport loved by so many… NFL football. Think back to that fateful moment in the 2010 NFC Championship Game when the Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback, Brett Favre, was staring down the defense of the New Orleans Saints [🎥 video]. Vikings ball… Tie game… 19 seconds left… 3rd and 15… Vikings with one timeout… On the snap, the Saints come with pressure flushing Favre out of the pocket. Favre sprints right. He’s looking… Coverage is tight and is about to commit a cardinal QB sin and throw back across the grain into tight space when… COACH CALLS TIME OUT!

What?! What’s wrong with that?

The coach sees that his star QB is about to make a fatal error and throw a pass that most likely will get picked off. It’s a game-deciding moment. Well, just call a timeout and reset things, right?

Football fans would be irate. Deservedly so.

Well, what takes place with the use of time-outs in a typical NCAA or US high school basketball game is analogous to this scenario. Based on the current rules, a coach can call a timeout on the fly when a turnover is about to occur… or, when they don’t like what they see… or, when the defense makes the ‘right call’ forcing tough decision-making moment at a crucial time.

Ultimately, the game is coach controlled. So much of the decision making that needs to take place at the athlete level (in FIBA rules), can still be manipulated by coaches in North America. Now, there are those that argue, that this dynamic is inherently okay. It’s the way it’s always been. The challenge that gets overlooked is the impact it has on player development and the improvement of in-game decision making by players.

This is what a FIBA coach understands that most North American coaches, who argue against a shot clock, have yet to realize (IMO).

All good coaches know that if they can get their best players to take the most shots from spots on the floor where s/he can shoot the highest percentage, they’ll have a good chance of scoring. And, without a shot clock, a team can take as long as it wants to do this.

With a shot clock, on the other hand, a team has to get the best shot available within any given possession. This might not always be a team’s best scorer; which is especially true in the shorter FIBA 24-second shot clock. The net effect for the FIBA coach is that their team cannot waste time to advance the ball up the court to initiate offense.

IMPACT: More players have to be able to initiate offensive transition through the use of breakout dribbles or develop vision and passing skills to advance the ball to create or use an advantage for their team.

This is why Lamar Odom, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, etc. prove so valuable in the FIBA game for USA Basketball. Each is multi-skilled and can initiate offense with the dribble or pass effectively. (There are other reasons, I know.)

Here’s another thing to consider… In a shortened shot clock basketball game, more late clock scenarios will arise where your best scorer will not be the only one with the ball in their hands.

IMPACT: More players have to have the skills to initiate scoring; either by creating for themselves or for a teammate.

As a friend and mentor of mine, Mike MacKay, once wrote: “If at the end of a clock you: [a] always run continuity, [b] have to yell set up, or [c] rely on same size screens you may need to reconsider what you do late in the clock [in the FIBA game]. Your players need to DEVELOP THE SKILLS TO MAKE PLAYS, NOT RUN PLAYS.”

Here’s more from Coach MacKay…

PLAYERS MUST DEVELOP A SHOT CLOCK, TIME-AND-SCORE MENTALITY. The speed of the game and types of shots available to you will be the biggest difference within this style of play. FIBA coaches are forced to develop a time-and-score mentality in their players. Players must catch the ball “shot ready” or in the least with a mindset to be opportunistic and to create or maintain advantage situations for their team.

The ‘Shot Clock Game’ requires:

  1. Ability to execute skills at a higher rate of speed
  2. Athletes to know how to make late clock decisions and have an awareness of time-and-score
  3. Development of multi-skilled athletes
In 2010, Butler’s Shelvin Mack, an accomplished NCAA player, struggled to redefine himself on USA Basketball’s 2010 Men’s Select Team:

“Mack [was] yelled at by U.S. select team coach Jay Wright once during the scrimmages in New York — for not taking enough shots. Because they were working with a 24-second clock against a long-armed NBA zone, Wright pulled Mack to the bench to remind him that if he passed up one open shot, he might never get another one.” [ref: Sports Illustrated]

You see, in a coach controlled game (i.e. high school, AAU and NCAA), one of the subtleties of the game gets smothered: The development basketball IQ in players.

A Look At The Numbers

Let’s look at the numbers and the deeper impact of the shot clock in athlete development:

Number of Possessions (by both teams)

  • High School-AAU (no shot clock) = (4) possessions minimum
  • NCAA men + women (30-second shot clock) = (80) possessions minimum
  • FIBA-WNBA (24-second shot clock) = (100) possessions minimum
  • NBA (24-second shot clock @ 48mins/game) = (120) possessions minimum

For some reason, when people see this, they think it’s absurd to suggest that a high school level basketball game could only have four possessions in this day-and-age. It seems archaic (circa the 1970s), right?

In 2015, Sports Illustrated reported that a high school basketball team won a game 2-0. Yep… you got it… only two points were scored—off of a total six possessions!

Brookwood’s coach decided to slow down. Slowing it down meant holding on to the ball for most of the first quarter (after the other team scored first); and, holding onto the ball the *entire* second quarter. It only gets worse from there…the other team, Bibb County, decided to play along. They held onto it in the third quarter since they were up. Didn’t need to shoot until the final seconds of that quarter. They missed that attempt. In the fourth, Brookwood sat on the ball until the final 30 seconds when they turned it over.

Still, think the minimum-4-possessions-in-a-high-school-game scenario is something cooked up out of the movie Hoosiers?

I challenge you to step into a stereotypical high school basketball game between [insert: big-city-athletic-team] versus [insert: small-town-less-than-athletic team] and observe for yourself. It happens all… the… time. Every year in “big-time” AAU tournaments and high school basketball games across the United States, one team realizes that they can’t outperform the other. So, the coaching strategy is to take the ‘air out of the ball.’ They slow it down to minimize the number of possessions to level the playing field.

Check this out…

(Note: I don’t have the original source/date for this clip anymore. If you know the where and when, please do share. I came across it ~2014 if my memory serves correct.)

Listen to the crowd laughing. I assume both out of amusement and bewilderment. Listen to the commentator: “I don’t know what that thing on the sideline is … I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Now, go back and look at the players on the floor. Ask yourself: Are the players on either team getting better? Are the players engaged and enjoying playing in this style of game?

Sure, without a shot clock the disadvantaged team might be able to keep the score close. They might even have a chance to win that 2-0 game in the final 30 seconds by hitting a hail-mary three-point shot at the buzzer. Yet, when we go beyond what the scoreboard says, there’s a much bigger problem…

No shot clock means fewer possessions. Fewer possessions mean more “Set it up! Set it up!” It means that one player on a team can ‘dominate’ – as my Euro coaching friends like to say – the ball for extended periods of time. It means that fewer players get touches. It means there are fewer moments where players have to act/react/initiate to find, use, or create advantages for their team.

Translation: It, ultimately, it means that the development of a broader base of skilled and intelligent basketball comes to a screeching halt.

In the ‘shot clock game’ with only 24 seconds, at a minimum, we’re looking at getting 100 possessions. That’s 100 opportunities where decisions have to be made… a minimum of 100 late clock situations… a minimum of 100… well, hopefully, you get my point.

IMPACT: Improved offensively skilled players.

By simply changing the rules within which we play, we could drastically improve the quality of basketball player that’s produced in North America. FIBA rules and a short(-er) shot clock alone would force us as coaches to teach more effectively .

Why is the rest of the world “catching up to the USA”?

Are FIBA coaches more capable coaches that those in North America? Nope.

Do international players innately have more basketball smarts? Nah.

A short(-er) shot clockno live ball timeouts

  • better game to practice ratios (combined with the fact most of their games mean something)…
  • less incentive to win in the short-term and more motivation to develop for the long-term (eg. sign a player as an underager and develop in an organization with the goal of eventually playing for the first division team…
  • increased exposure to watching basketball at the highest level (e.g. TV and digital broadcast NBA, WNBA, Basketball World Cup, Olympics, YouTube, social media, etc)…
  • increased opportunities to compete against the best in the world (e.g. U17/18/19 National Teams, FIBA 3×3 World Cup, Youth Olympics, NBA Academies, Nike Hoops Summit, NBA Global Games, import players competing globally, increased international coaching clinics, etc.)… all play a part.

There is no simple answer to complex challenges. Yet, there’s a lot of compelling evidence (now) demonstrating the powerful benefits to player development when coaches coach and players play within FIBA rules.


What do you see as the downside to FIBA game and the 24-second shot clock? Would it help or hurt player development?



  • Up until 2015-16 NCAA season, men’s basketball was played with a 35-second shot clock. At a minimum, there would have been only 68 possessions in a game. [per]
  • In many countries using FIBA rules, at the ~under-15 age group, the shot clock is modified to 30-seconds.
  • The 14-second reset on an offensive rebound utilized in FIBA and since adopted by the NBA and WNBA are also having an impact on strategy+tactics—as well as player development. And, there’s been a trickle down effect. In 2018-19, “in order to increase the number of team possessions and improve the flow of the game,” the NCAA moved to a 20-second (or time remaining on the shot clock) in certain situations in the front court.