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Attacking the Middle Third

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

Place the maximum amount of pressure on a transition defense by attacking the middle third of the court.

Transition is the aspect of the game where offensive efficiency reaches its peak. From a game model standpoint, this is a phase of the game that we would like to place a lot of emphasis on, mainly due to the incredible amount of high-value shots that can be found. One of our core transition principles in this phase is to put as much pressure on the rim as possible. Whether it is with our spacing, pitch ahead passing, or the dribble we would like to put stress on the defense as soon as we possess the basketball. We believe that by putting pressure on the rim we can create scoring chances for the basketball and kickout shots versus a collapsing defense.

In this blog post, we are going to take a look specifically at the concept of Attacking the Middle Third with the dribble. This option typically occurs when an outlet pass is received, or a guard makes a bust-out dribble, and no immediate pitch ahead option can be found. From that moment forward we would encourage the player with the basketball to Attack the Middle Third and put pressure on the rim. The decisions that the ball handler makes from here are entirely up to them, but the concept of putting pressure on the rim with the dribble is something we want to emphasize heavily.

Teaching the Read -

From the moment the ball handler receives an outlet pass, or makes his bust-out dribble, he should have his eyes up the court. At a minimum, there should be three other players without the basketball who are also putting pressure on the rim by either sprinting to the rim or the corners. It is the #1 priority for the ball handler to be hunting pitch ahead passing opportunities to these players. If none of those opportunities present themselves the player with the basketball should now Attack the Middle Third of the floor with his dribble.

When to Attack Middle -

In scenarios where no one is sprinting ahead of you, there is no reading involved, you are looking to Attack the Middle Third with the intent to score. Long rebounds or perimeter turnovers are common scenarios where this will occur. In most cases, however, there will be people sprinting ahead of the basketball and when that occurs we want to drive home a simple concept that will allow players to make a split-second decision. We are going to narrow down our teaching point to a simple If/Then statement:

  • If the pitch ahead pass is open, Then make the pass.

  • If the pitch ahead pass is not open, Then attack the middle third.

Advancing the Ball -

The first 3-4 seconds of a possession are crucial in creating a transition opportunity. In those first four seconds, a good team can get their entire defense back and in position to stop the ball. To avoid this we need to advance the basketball into the half-court as quickly as possible. There is no perfect way to do this, but invested practice time in developing this concept will pay dividends on game day. The two methods that we consistently drill in practice are the Bust Out Dribble and the Outlet Pass.

Outlet v Bust-Out Dribble -

Outlet Pass:

Anytime the basketball is rebounded close to the rim we should be looking to make an outlet pass to advance the ball.

We loosely define the "Outlet Box" as an area at about the free-throw line extended, and outside of the paint.

Running Lanes:

- Wings Sprint to Corners

- Forward to Upper Wing

- PG Gets Outlet

Bust-Out Dribble:

When the basketball is rebounded outside of the paint, or rebounded by a player who is confident with the ball in their hands, we would encourage that player to "be his own outlet" and push the basketball up the floor.

Running Lanes:

- Wings Sprint to the Corners

- Center Rim Runs

- Opposite Guard fills the High Wing

Decision Making in the Middle Third

Attacking the Middle Third of the court is really only half of the battle. The decision-making and finishing skill that will take place on your way to the rim is what will really increase the efficiency of your offense. As coaches, we are not going to be able to choose how the defense will react to our attack, so we have to drill habits and reactions to the most common defensive tactics. The first thought we want a player with the basketball in their hands has to ask is:

  • Can I get all the way to the rim?

If the answer to that is yes then we want our players attacking the middle trying to score.

Ride the Wave

On occasion, the player with the basketball may have to delay his drive in order to let the defenders in the middle third of the court clear out of the way. The process of attacking the rim while waiting for this traffic to clear is referred to as "Riding the Wave".

Here are some examples.

Reading the Help

If the player with the basketball in his hands determines that they can not get to the rim, then we need to create habits for those decisions. One of the things we don't want to happen is to allow the defense to neutralize the basketball and take away our transition opportunity. The next thought we want running through our players' heads is:

  • Where is the help coming from?

Once they have determined this they can make the appropriate pass and extend our advantage.

The two most common passes that tend to present themselves in this moment of the game are the drop pass and the quick pitch. The drop pass usually presents itself when the center slides over to stop the basketball, leaving his man open under the rim. The quick pitch will present itself when help comes from the corner. This opens up the player "holding the corner" for a catch and shoot opportunity.

Passes off of Help -

The two most common passes that will present themselves on the attack to the rim are drop pass and the quick pitch.

Quick Pitch:

The Quick Pitch will present itself when the help comes from another perimeter player's defender. This will open up an opportunity to extend the advantage for the open three point shot.

Teaching Points -

- "Hold the Corner"

- Be Ready to Shoot

- Slide to Open Window

- Make Shot/Drive Read

Drop Pass:

The Drop Pass will present itself when the help comes from the center's defender. This will open up a pass to the rim runner for a lay up.

Teaching Points -

- Center Slides Away from Drive

- Make Pass Early

- Be Prepared to Stop Cleanly

Concluding Thoughts

The ultimate goal in transition is to create an early advantage that we can then turn into a high-value shot attempt. When our preferred option of Pitching the Ball Ahead does not prevent itself we want to continue putting pressure on the rim by attacking it with the dribble. Making sure that our players are attacking the rim with the intent to score is vital will be key in forcing defenses to rally to the ball. When those defenses do rally to the ball we want our players to be able to react appropriately and extend those advantages.

Only when the defense has neutralized our advance do we begin the process of entering the ball to our trailer and initiating half-court offense. As coaches, it is on us to install those habits and drill those decision-making reads to maximize our transition opportunities. How well our players can do those things will determine how efficient our offenses can be.

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