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Playing Through the Trailer

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

When the Pitch Ahead Pass or Attack the Middle Third phases do not produce a shot we look to the last option in our transition attack, The Trailer.

The goal of a transition opportunity is to create a high-efficiency shot before the defense can get set. Theoretically, we want players to take the path of least resistance to get that shot. So in teaching our transition system we want to give players simple reads that allow them to make decisions quickly. The decision that will look at in this post comes when a Pitch Ahead Pass is not available and a player's Attack of the Middle Third does not create a shot. At this point, we are flowing into the last layer of transition offense, playing through The Trailer.

The trailer serves the dual purpose of taking advantage of a collapsed defense and being the trigger to flow from transition to half-court offense. Against a collapsed defense the trailer is often presented with open catch and shoot threes or chances to attack long closeouts. If those Attack opportunities are available then we would encourage the trailer to take them. If no scoring opportunities present themselves for the trailer he simply completes the next action that triggers our half-court offense.

Establishing the Trailer -

One teaching point that can be helpful to transition design is establishing defined roles for players. If players know exactly what they are responsible for in transition we can hopefully increase the speed at which we operate. Determining how the ball will be inbounded on made shots, which players will Rim Run or sprint to the sidelines, and who becomes the trailer are all aspects we could choose to define for our players. In preparation for this post, I put this question out to Twitter to see how other coaches establish their trailer.

Trailer Design -

There are many ways to determine who becomes the trailer in transition. What I have taught over the last four years could be called a combination "Two Man Trailer" system. On the vast majority of possessions, it will either be the 4 or 5 man that arrives in the trailer position. We are not going to micromanage every transition opportunity, but we want to have a few simple rules that help our 4/5 men know who should be the Rim Runner and who should be the Trailer. In a back and forth game like basketball, we are not going to be able to perfectly control every possession, but if we establish a few clear principles we can make our decision making on the floor cleaner.

Establishing the Trailer -

On Made Shots:

If a shot is made or if there is a dead ball we have a predetermined role for all five players.

Roles & Responsibility -

  • 4 is the Inbounder

  • 5 is the Rim Runner

  • 1 is the Outlet

  • 2/3 run the Sideline

On Missed Shots:

If a shot is missed or if there is a live ball turnover then we have to be more flexible with our responsibility.

The main difference on missed shots is that we are asking whoever is ahead of the ball to become the Rim Runner. This means the 4 or the 5 can take on that responsibility.

Roles & Responsibility -

  • First to Cross Hafl Court (4/5) is the Rim Runner

  • Second to Cross Half Court (4/5) is the Trailer

  • 1 is the Outlet

  • 2/3 run the Sidelines

The Trailer as an Attacker

There are a number of scoring opportunities that present themselves to trailers in transition. Assuming that the defense has been collapsed as a result of our initial transition push the trailer will be presented with chances to get open catch and shoot threes or chances to attack long closeout off the dribble. In my experience, the skills and aggressiveness of your trailer determine how effective this layer of transition can be. If I have a choice I would generally prefer to have a more skilled player in the Trailer position so we can take advantage of collapsed defenses.

Trailer - Attack -

Collapsed Defense:

Often times when a player has Attacked the Middle Third with aggression we are going to get a collapsed defense.

On occasions where our defender has moved to help guard the basketball, we should be preparing ourselves to catch & shoot.

Attacking Long Closeouts:

If your trailer is not a confident shooter or if the defender closes out aggressively on the ball then we should be looking to attack.

Players who are positioned off the ball should be reacting to the attack with our Drive & Space rules. At this point, we would not be looking to get into any half-court action, but simply trying to leverage the small advantage created by the drive into a big advantage shot.

The Trailer as a Trigger into Half Court Offense -

I prefer a more conceptual style of offense where the players have more control over what takes place possession by possession. Because of that the Trailer generally has a lot of decision-making power. Ultimately it will be up to him to decide whether he will attack off the catch or whether he will make the next pass that triggers our half-court action. We are actively trying to avoid the "set it up" moment in the half-court, so that pass to the trailer is our uncalled signal that we are now into our half-court offense.

Trailer - Action (Zone)

Whether we are playing man-to-man defense or zone defense we want to arrive in the half-court with the same four-out spacing. As we discussed above the trailer is looking for scoring opportunities when he is delivered the ball. If those don't emerge then we would like to make a quick swing pass and then enter into our half-court offense. Versus zone defenses, we typically like to flow into a 131 alignment and play in the gaps of the defense.

Trailer - Action (Zone) -

Flow into the Action:

Like our man-to-man offense, we should be able to flow right into our Zone Offense with a simple slot to slot pass.

We will arrive in four out spacing at least until the ball is moved through the Trailer.

Teaching Points:

Once the ball has been passed to the trailer he will have the option to attack or simply move the ball.

If he chooses to make a pass then he will slip to the interior of the defense giving up a traditional 131 look versus the zone.

Trailer - Action (Rose)

One of the offensive concepts that we have used successfully over the past three years is the slot-to-slot blur screen. Starting in 2017-18 we began to get really guard-heavy rosters and made the switch to more of a DDM style offensive system. We did not shift from the four-out alignment and Rim Runner break and so we maintained that slot-to-slot pass as our entry into half-court offense. With this concept, we would simply make the slot to slot pass and then get a 45 cut by the passer resulting in a double gap that we would attack with the dribble.

Trailer - Action (Blur):

Flow into the Action:

The goal of the Blur Screen Action is to open up a perimeter double gap that we can attack with the dribble.

We should be able to flow freely into this action with a simple slot to slot pass to the Trailer.

Teaching Points:

There are only a few simple teaching points to this action.

After making the slot-to-slot pass the passer should sprint his 45 Cut to the ball side corner, opening our double gap. From there the Trailer can Attack the Gap or pass the ball down to the next player.

Trailer - Action (Motion)

Over the course of the last four years, we have also used a number of Motion Offense Concepts that have generally been player-driven. A conceptual Motion Offense has always been my preferred style of offense and my use of it has evolved a bit over the years. In 2016-17 we had a dominant post player who made a living on the simple act of hitting the trailer and then entering the ball to the deep post area. Along with the Post Entry, we used quite a bit of single-down screening to provide our other players with scoring opportunities. During the 2019-20 season, we encountered quite a bit of face guarding versus our best perimeter player, so we made use of Motion Strong Action as a way to combat that defensive approach.

Trailer - Action (Motion) -

Post Entry:

Four Out spacing creates the maximum amount of space for the post player. Getting a deep post touch can be as easy as a Rim Run, Seal, & Entry from the Slot.

We would teach our Post Player to follow the basketball as it is passed from slot to slot.

Single Down Screen:

After the slot-to-slot pass, the passer was required to down screen for the corner player. From there the cutter had many scoring options, including:

  • Curls

  • Back Door Cuts

  • Straight Cuts

  • Out Cuts

Motion Strong Action:

Motion Strong Action is a unique action that we used in 2019-20 to combat our best player being face guarded all over the court. It is an action that uses a staggered screen and simultaneous post-up action as options in a motion offense system. We found it to be successful in helping our denied player get touches as well as find other players off the ball scoring opportunities.

Like our other Motion Offense options it would be initiated by that slot-to-slot pass, and then a 'one more' pass down to the wing.

Concluding Thoughts -

Using the Trailer as both a scoring threat and as a way to flow into half-court offense has become a staple in my own offensive philosophy. I believe you can really empower players by simply giving them simple transition concepts and letting them apply them to what they see in games. On those occasions where the defense has done its job and neutralized the transition threat, we can make that slot-to-slot pass simply flow into half-court offense. Regardless of the system, I believe that you can flow into virtually any offensive system with four-out spacing and the slot-to-slot entry pass.

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