Early Offense and Patience – Can you Coach Both?

Sammy GerlandFor our friends who play with a shot clock, it probably isn’t surprising that their teams are generally most efficient when they get shot in the first third of the shot clock, second most efficient in the middle third of the shot clock and least efficient in the last third.

There are exceptions, of course, but getting a good look before the defense gets set usually pays high dividends.  If you play with the 30 second clock, try charting your offensive success (why not defense also?) when you get a shot Very Early (23-28 seconds left)), Early (17-22), Average (11-16), Late (5-10), Very Late (0-4).  Odds are your success is in somewhat of an inverse proportion to when you get your shot.

For teams that don’t play with a shot clock, I would venture to say that most good shots occur in the first 20 seconds of a possession, either in transition or as a result of a good player’s effort or a good play/set.  The only way to know that, of course, is to go back and chart last season’s games. What better time than the off-season for that project?

Then there is the Golden St. Warriors’ expressed goal of 30 assists/300 passes a game.  If you’ve watched either the Spurs or Warriors or a number of other NBA and NCAA teams, you’ve likely noticed the zealous passing trend.  Obviously, these teams aren’t passing the ball just for the sake of accumulating a high number of passes. Most of these passes have a purpose.  Neither are these teams avoiding the break to pass the ball a lot. These great passing teams all run first.

So, the real question becomes, “Can you coach both effectively?”  I would contend the answer is “Why Not?” Many very good teams are efficient in both transition offense and in rapid ball-movement half-court offense.  

In a perfect world, if there were 80 possessions in a game, who wouldn’t want to play against non-set defenses 80 times?  Obviously, we all would take that deal in a minute but the reality is we’re fortunate to beat the defense getting set 15% of the time.

So, it’s incumbent on our set offenses-especially with a shot clock-to get an edge early in the set/play and then beat the defense with brisk passing as they try to help and recover.  The most obvious conclusion when you play with a clock is there is little time to waste in attacking and searching for a good shot.

How then does that explain the recent success of programs like Wisconsin and Virginia that play at slower paces, seem to spend half the possession moving the defense around and then end up getting good shots in the last third of the shot clock?  Good coaching is the short answer because one can coach any style effectively. More specifically, these teams control tempo and make teams play at an uncomfortable pace with reduced possessions. Often, these teams don’t have to score as much because they don’t give up much.

However, if one is playing the odds, beating the defense down the floor AND catching a set defense rotating and beating it with a number of good quick passes has always been a two-prong recipe for offensive success.  The difference today is that counting passes is a barometer for good ball movement in the half-court.


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