3 Phases Of Offense When Playing With A Shot Clock

PHOTO CREDIT: USA Today – Claudio Cricca

I just returned from Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), directing our Point Guard Academy (now Point Guard College) and the Canadian girls U15 and U17 Nationals. Both were a lot of fun to participate in and I learned a lot along the way.

Being at Nationals gave me an opportunity to see the calibre of young female basketball players across Canada. After serving as the head coach of the Ontario Centre For Performance for so many years, it was especially interesting to be able to compare the calibre of women’s athletes in the rest of Canada. Congrats to both the U15 and U17 Ontario teams for bringing home gold! Well done.

As for our Canadian point guard basketball camps, they have always had a special place in my heart since co-directing them starting back in 2001. The program has grown in leaps and bounds since then. And, at the direction of Mano Watsa, has visited provinces across the country and attracted athletes from all over the world (e.g. Spain, Peru, UAE, Iran, etc.).

Our British Columbia sessions have always been special as we typically have several graduates of the program come back to pop in and visit. What a wonderful legacy effect.

Last week at PGC was fantastic!  The athletes embraced the challenges put in front of them as I was secretly experimenting with many new ideas and concepts for player development using a lot of discovery-approach, games-approach and socratic (questioning) debriefs.

One of the key variables that guided much of what we did was based on the FIBA international game; specifically, learning how to play the “three games” within a 24-sec shot clock.  I picked up this idea from Nelson Isley, FIBA-IOC Instructor, who I had the pleasure of meeting, though briefly, a few years ago.  (Here’s a FIBA video on Coach Isley as he talks about how the game has changed.)

Phases of Offensive Play

Each possession within a 24-second shot clock game can be broken down into three (3) phases (or ‘games’ as I like to call them)…

(1) 1st Game = Early Clock (6-secs)

  • attack phase
  • athlete-directed… players must advance the ball north-south rapidly
  • opportunity-break against a disorganized defense
  • must have multiple ways to initiate the break in this phase… if your team is reliant on one player (e.g. the point guard) to lead the break, your team will be in trouble with a good scout when playing with a shortened shot clock

(2) 2nd Game = Mid Clock (12-secs)

  • control phase
  • coach-directed… this is the “coach’s time” to run their stuff (i.e. plays, sets, continuity, system, etc.)

(3) 3rd Game = Late Clock (6-secs)

  • attack phase
  • athlete-directed… multi skilled players must find a shot using 1on1 skills or from “picking game”

The best teams, and you could see this at the age group world championships, flow *seamlessly* between each phase. They eliminate disruptions.

Ball Freezers Will Kill Your Team’s Success

At the PGC, we officiate creatively using different “rules.” I utilize a games approach to teaching skills quite often.

One violation that we added recently week, was that of a disruptor (or ball freezer).  We explained it in our classroom sessions and showed video of using NBA, NCAA and international game footage.  From there, we simply referred to the violation as “bad basketball.”  [SB: Come up with your own name.]

It proved to be very effective as it brought the player’s awareness when they were disrupting their team’s flow (between the different offensive phases).

You see, in the FIBA game (or short shot clock), team’s just don’t have enough time with a 24-sec shot clock to have players catch, then read, then attack.  They must be taught to change that cadence to: read, catch, attack.

When officiating using these modified rules, it’s important to honour the decisions the athletes make.  How, you ask?  Simply by asking effective questions during quick debriefs.  For example:

  • “What did you see (that caused you to make that decision)?”
  • “How were you being defended?”
  • “What does your team need right now?”
  • “Where’s your team’s advantage?”
  • “How did the ball get to you (e.g. off penetration, from a ball-stopper, skip pass, etc.)
  • “What ‘game’ are you in now?

For many coaches, utilizing questioning will be a stretch from their current coaching communication style. However, by asking effective questions you heighten learning and open the door for dialogue with players helping them begin to think the game differently. Most importantly, it draws a player’s awareness to how their decisions need to be based on reads (or vision) of the defense based on their skills (i.e. advantage versus their opponent or how being defended, team strategy and/or time and score).

This all seems like it would take a long time. It does. Anything new, does require some leg work.

For me, in the PGC session it took 15-20 seconds per debreif at the start of the week.  Time well spent, to me, to retrain vision and decision making. Within 2-3 days, the athletes could verbalize what they saw.  By then, it took only 2-3 seconds to debrief and we were on our way.

We made A LOT of progress over the course of the week and had these kids playing some good basketball. I’m talking utilizing what I call the “pass-cut-fill game” (i.e. diagonal-pass-diagonal-cut, horizontal-pass-vertical-cut; in-outs and up-downs when off-ball), “penetration game” (i.e. penetration-pass-pass, push/pull cuts off penetration) and even introduced some “picking game” concepts (e.g. accept, reject, slip).  All that, combined with good spacing resulted in a lot of “Yeah!” plays.  It was both exciting and rewarding.

For me, one of the most powerful moments came when a college athlete finally had her “AHA!” moment.  She’s quite athletic and able to blow by most players.  However, her decisions were predetermined and because of her athleticism could get away despite making the wrong read.

This is where good can be the enemy of great.  And, we as coaches must not allow these bad habits to persist—especially when playing with a shot clock.

Finally, 3 1/2 days into the basketball camp, I called on her to intervene, again. Upon hearing her name, she eagerly retorted: “Coach…  I know, I know now.  I saw it… I saw it!  I should have… because the D was defending me…”  (Whoa!  Awesome.  If only you could have heard the exasperated sigh I let out at that moment… Her words were music to my ears. Shot got it!)

My job was done.

The why and when, for me, is far more important than the what and how.  What/How is the easy stuff.  I can leave that to her college coaches.

All in, there was so much more that I wanted to cover at the during that PGC session. But, as a advisor-friend once told me: teach ’em where ever they are. I had a plan going in, but remained open to letting the athlete’s understanding guide how much we were able to cover.  Athlete-led learning.

Coach creatively.


Food For Thought: There are about 214 basketball playing countries in the world (I’m told), two of which do not play using FIBA rules: USA and Canada.  The Canucks have begun the process of changing their rules toward FIBA over the coming years.  It will be exciting to see how style of play evolves as the rules speed up the game.  

[UPDATE 01/2012: With the exception of Ontario (Canada), the remainder of Canada has now transitioned to FIBA rules. That leaves the US as the standalone country not playing with international rules.]