Hunting Pitch Ahead Passes

Updated: Apr 2

From the moment that a defense gains possession of the basketball the hunt for a pitch ahead pass begins.

To start this deep dive into transition offense we are going to first look at the pitch ahead pass. We believe that the pitch ahead represents the best chance for the basketball to beat the defense down the floor. From the second that the basketball has been secured the player with the basketball should have his eyes up the floor hunting for a pitch ahead opportunity. With players sprinting on the ball side sideline, opposite sideline, and the rim those pitch-ahead opportunities will present themselves in a number of ways.

In this post, we will focus mostly on the scoring options that exist off of pitch ahead passes, but it is worth noting that there are a number of other benefits that come from consistently pushing the ball up the floor. We find that teams who are willing to consistently pitch the ball ahead will result in players that are more eager to sprint the floor knowing they will be rewarded. Ideally, this habit will have a domino-like effect on the other layers of transition offense. In later installments of our transition deep dive, we will examine how an increased willingness of players to sprint the floor will result in more opportunities for ball handlers to attack the middle third and for trailers to take advantage of collapsed defenses.

Teaching Points -

As a general principle, I think it is important to keep our teaching points to a minimum. In order for our players to be able to problem solve quickly and accurately, we want them to react and not overthink. This is especially true in transition due to the speed at which decisions need to be made. A good offseason best practice could be to undergo the process of narrowing down our teaching points to only the essentials. With that being said, when it comes to asking players to consistently pitch the basketball ahead there are a few things teaching points that we want to emphasize on the practice floor and in-game.

  1. Sprinting the First Three Steps

  2. No Backwards Passes: Long Outlets or Bust out Dribbles

  3. Make Eye Contact before Pitching Ahead

  4. Avoid Late Pitch Ahead Passes

1 - Sprinting the First Three Steps:

Those first three steps once we gain possession of the basketball are critical in creating separation from your defender. Since pitch ahead passes depend on this separation it becomes a crucial point of emphasis to make sure players are "sprinting out of the gate". As possession is gained we are expecting that:

  • Our 4 or 5 Man to Sprint to the Rim

  • Our Wing Players to Sprint to the Sidelines

After sprinting those critical first three steps players should be looking back over their inside shoulder expecting the pitch ahead pass.

2 - No Backwards Passes:

As soon as we secure possession of the basketball we want to be attacking towards our opponent's basket. In a live ball scenario, any pass that goes back towards the baseline will only negate the advantage the other players gained by sprinting those first three steps. We want rebounders to get in the habit of looking for Long Outlet Passes or simply advancing the ball with a Bust Out Dribble.

3 - Make Eye Contact before Pitching Ahead:

The passer needs to make eye contact with the sideline runner before he makes the pass. Since we are asking the sideline runner to turn and sprint their first three steps, the player with the basketball must make eye contact first before delivering that pitch ahead pass. This will help us avoid turnovers in this phase.

4 - Avoid Late Pitch Ahead Passes:

One aspect of pitching ahead that should be avoided is the Late Pitch Ahead. We are generally using the half-court line as our guideline for what is considered a late pitch ahead. There are a number of negatives that can occur with these passes:

  • They don't create advantages because of shorter closeouts

  • It can potentially Side the Basketball vs a Pressure Defense

As we'll talk about in our next installment, if we approach half-court and still have not made the pitch ahead pass then we would prefer to attack the middle third with the dribble rather than pitching ahead late.

Eyes Towards the Rim -

We really want to encourage the player with the basketball to check the rim as soon as possible. Hitting the Rim Runner with a pitch ahead pass is almost always an automatic layup attempt but the window to hit him in stride generally closes quickly. Finding a way to get the basketball pitched ahead to the Rim Runner 2-3 times a game with long-term benefits for the rest of your transition offense. Just the threat of him potentially getting the basketball can wreak havoc on transition defenses by pulling help defenders to the baseline.

Rim Runner Options -

4/5 Rim Run:

The way we are going to typically teach the Rim Run is that either our 4 or 5 Man should be sprinting to the rim and the other should be trailing the play.

Whichever player is ahead of the basketball should be sprinting to the rim, and whoever is second trails the play.

Teaching Points:

  • First 3 Steps!

  • Make Contact & Seal the X5

  • Hold Your Position