Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Motion Strong Action is a commonly used offensive action that can be easily tweaked to help support your team's strengths and weaknesses.
Countless teams at all levels have used the Motion Strong concept as a staple of their offense. Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs have used the action throughout their Championship years, and in recent seasons the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and others have adopted their own unique versions of the action. At the College Level programs such as Davidson, Tennessee, and many other Bob McKillop influenced coaches have found success implementing their own version of the staggered screen and Motion Strong Action.
As I went into the 2019-20 offseason I had a few team-specific issues that I thought Motion Strong Action might help solve. The main two issues I was concerned about were:
The Constant Face Guarding of Our Best Scorer
Finding a Way to Get our 5 Man More Actively Involved
The version of Motion Strong that I was most interested in used 4 Out 1 In spacing and initiated the staggered screen when the ball was swung from slot to slot to wing. When it came to solving the first problem mentioned above I thought that using the staggered screening action would not only free up our best player from face guarding but open up more varied scoring opportunities for our other players as well. The second issue of getting our Post Player more involved would be solved by giving them post up and flare screening opportunities within the action.
The Straight Cut
The most common cut off of the staggered screen is the straight cut. The straight cut uses both of the staggered down screens and looks to get a touch at the top of the key. If there is no denial or switching from the defense then the cutter will make the straight cut and look to get a touch. On the catch, players will need to either use their advantage for a shot/drive decision or move the basketball to the backside.
Straight Cuts -
Shots & Drives:
The first thing that players are looking for on the catch is an opportunity to catch & shoot or drive to the rim.
The progression on the catch should be:
Small & Big Advantage:
A big advantage on the catch would typically result in a catch & shoot opportunity for the cutter.
A small advantage on the catch would usually elicit a drive to the basket or a pass to the backside of the action.
Roll Man & Backside -
If a straight cut results in a shot or drive then we will be looking to attack the offensive glass and clean up any missed shots. If there was no immediate shot or drive that occurred on the straight cut touch then the ball should be heading to the backside via the pass. We did not incorporate any type of continuity to the action once the ball gets to the backside of the action. Once the ball gets to the backside of the action players are going to using our drive and space concepts to get a shot.
Roll Man & Backside -
On a straight cut, the second screener in the stagger will automatically dive to the basket.
Roll Man Opportunities:
Hit for a Roll Pass Layup
Roller Stops & Posts Up
If the roll man is covered then the man with the ball will look to the player on the backside of the action.
Pass & Cut Option
Conduct a DHO
Curls & Backdoors -
One of the options that players have when coming off of the staggered screen is to make a cut towards the rim. Instead of making a straight cut, the player could curl around one of the screens or even stop on a dime and back door cut to the rim. We would teach these options in scenarios where the defense reacts aggressively to the staggered screen.
One common tactic we encountered was physical play against the cutter. To counter this we encouraged back door cuts whenever:
A Player was Denied a Straight Cut
A Perimeter Switch was Made
Working on these options allowed our cutters to make reads in the game based on how they are being defended.
Curls & Backdoors -
The cutter has decision-making ability in this scenario.
If he feels any denial pressure from the defense he should put his foot in the ground and cut towards the rim.
If his defender trails the cut he may curl to the rim.
The screener should always counter the cutter's movement.
If the Cutter cuts to the Rim, the Screener should Pop Out.
If the Cutter Straight Cuts, then the Screener should dive to the rim.
Wing Drives -
There are scoring opportunities that exist for players who are not involved in the staggered screen. One of those examples exists when the ball is swung from the slot to the wing. In theory, there are three defenders who are involved in defending the staggered screen, and on occasion, this presents a driving opportunity for the basketball. The ball handler can either Drive the Elbow or Drive the Baseline, additionally, both of these drives can present Drop Pass scoring opportunities for our 5 Man.
Wing Drives -
Attack the Elbow:
The player with the basketball is following our shot progression:
or Move It
If the player (3) decides to Drive the Basketball the 5 Man should sink the Drop Spot and anticipate a pass.
If the basketball (3) decides to drive the baseline we would initiate typical drive and space reactions.
In this case, the 5 Man would slide up the lane line looking for a Drop Pass.
Post Play -
Earlier I mentioned that one of the reasons I was interested in Motion Strong Action was that it gave our 5 Man a more active role in the offense. In previous seasons we had adopted more of a DDM approach with our 5 Man typically occupying the Drop Spot. I really wanted to find ways to occupy X5 by providing post up and screening opportunities within the action.
The two main ways in which we attempted to occupy the X5 within our Motion Strong Action were:
Posting Up as the ball is Initially Swung to the Wing
The Flare Screen & Roll off of a Straight Cut
Post Play - Entry -
The expectation for the 5 Man is to follow the basketball as it is swung from slot to slot to wing.
The 5 Man should be digging for a deep Post Touch as the ball is swung.
1 - Score First!
2 - Eyes on the Backside Second
On the backside, we should have two shooters (1,2 in the diagram), and the second screener diving to the rim.
Post Play - (Flare Screen) -
If there is a straight cut the expectation is that the 5 Man releases his Post Up and sets a Flare Screen for the passer.
1 - Catch & Shoot (3)
2 - Slip from Screener (5)
I will say what to do with the post player on a Straight Cut touch was one of the things that I debated the most in the offseason. I finally arrived at the mindset that the Flare Screen would provide scoring on occasion and at the very least occupy defenders if the ball went back to the backside.
Head Tap Option:
As we did not run this action as a continuity, and Massachusetts is a shot clock state, we embedded a call for the 5 Man to set a Spread Ball Screen if needed. So on-demand the 5 Man had to be prepared to sprint out and set a Ball Screen if other options had failed. I would caution coaches to be careful about implementing this option as we don't want to stray too far from what we are trying to get with this off the ball action - on occasion I had to remind our guys of this as well.
Our returning roster for the 2019-20 season was one that I thought was far better suited for a motion style system that would allow them to use screening and second cutting to create scoring opportunities rather than the dribble drive. We also had some unique issues like the face guarding and post play that I thought had to be addressed as well. To me, this 4 Out Motion Strong Action helped reinforce those team-specific needs. Numbers do not tell the entire story but our PPP, eFG%, 3FG%, and 3FGM all made significant increases from the previous season. Part of that is maturity and personnel-related, but I also think the scoring opportunities embedded into the action helped emphasize our players' strengths.
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Videos & Further Reading:
1. Davidson flow from Transition into Motion Strong - https://youtu.be/RJYKu1HKPMs
2. San Antonio Spurs Motion Strong - https://youtu.be/HKibI6nf1Ew
3. Five Out Motion Strong from Brooklyn Nets - https://youtu.be/ADzwOuz4kYY
4. Radius Athletics on the Milwaukee Bucks - https://youtu.be/sVXQOEZETeY
5. Half Court Hoops on 2013-16 Atlanta Hawks - https://youtu.be/JiQIq8uhk6g
6. Rick Barnes & Tennessee Volunteers Half Court Offense - https://youtu.be/jinJE85osSk
Radius Athletics FastModel Article:
Reddit thread on the Mike Budenholzer led Atlanta Hawks' Offense: