Let's look at three late-game options for when you are up, your opponent is applying full-court pressure, and you must safely inbound the basketball.
The offseason is a great time to take a deep dive into how you approach special situations. Whether it is adding something new to your approach or dissecting your current approach this could be the difference between a win and a loss next season. In this post, we are going to take a look at a high-stress moment in the game, inbounding the basketball versus extreme full-court pressure. Specifically, we are talking about safely inbounding late in the game in order to secure free throw attempts (or a win).
As someone who tends to be more comfortable with simple approaches to late game scenarios, I do not think we need an infinite amount of concepts to draw from. I believe that we should have one basic concept that we teach thoroughly to our players, and then perhaps an alternative approach we've touched on just in case. In this post, we are going to dig into three possible approaches to a very specific scenario. The scenario that we are imagining goes something like this:
We are Ahead
They Need to Steal or Foul
Full Court Pressure is Being Applied
After a Score or Dead Ball
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Concept #1 - Four Fly Comeback -
This is a concept that I have used virtually my entire coaching career. We actually used this action when I was a player in college, and I have always been a fan of its simplicity. The main idea behind this concept is that we want to use the defense's aggressiveness against them. As the referee gives the basketball to our inbounder we are asking all four of our players to sprint towards the opposite end of the floor. In the timeout huddle, we are going to designate one player to stop in his tracks and sprint back to get the basketball. Presumably, this is our most trusted free throw shooter.
Diagram Breakdown -
The alignment of the action will be in a "Four Across" formation - approximately at the free-throw line extended line.
We are typically going to assign our "3" or "4" player to inbounds the basketball.
All four players are going to "fly" towards the other end of the floor.
Given that the defense is in a denial mindset we want them reacting to our movement.
We are typically going to ask our PG to be the one to sprint back to the basketball after taking 1-2 steps towards our basket. Ideally, we want this person to be one of our best free-throw shooters - so we do not have to pigeonhole ourselves into the PG scenario.
In the case that the defense does a nice job denying our PG on his return to the ball we will ask him to stop short of the baseline & post up. With his outside hand raised, we are going to ask our inbounder to lob the ball up to him to safely inbound it.
Concept #2 - Passing to an Out-of-Bounds Player -
As a fan, passes along the baseline to a teammate who out-of-bounds always looks like a masterstroke. In reality, that is well beyond my risk/reward tolerance, especially in a tight game. Perhaps if the lead is north of ten points and we are inbounding after a timeout this is something we might consider. Despite my own conservative nature in these scenarios I wanted to include something a bit more out of the box for this post.
Diagram Explanation -
The formation is a bit more unconventional, but we are going to position one man close to the block, another near half court, and the last two over the half-court.
The goal here would be to stretch the defense and provide a moment of uncertainty with a quick pass to a teammate along the baseline.
The primary look here would be for the inbounder. Ideally, we would put our best free throw shooter in this position.
New Inbounder Runs the Baseline
The Original Inbounder now makes a Sharp Cut to get open
Just in case the ball can't be inbounded to our primary look, we are running a second cutter towards the opposite corner of the backcourt.
Concept #3 - Open Space, Cut to Space -
This is another commonly used concept by coaches at all levels. With 1-2 players we are opening up an area of the court, and then we are filling that space with a cut from our best free-throw shooter. This can be an especially effective concept if we are using the same formation for all of our high-pressure entries. To pair with Four Fly Comeback, this is an action we have used in the past as well. Just recently, the 2021 NCAA Champion Baylor Bears executed this concept late in their first-round tournament victory as well.
Diagram Breakdown -
Players lined up in the Four Across formation at the foul line extended. In this scenario they had their PG serve as their inbounder.
I personally like keeping the alignment of the players the same regardless of the concept, but in this case, they used their two weaker free throw shooters (4,5) to make the clear cuts.
We want to run our best free throw shooter into the open space that was created by our cutters. In this case, it is into that ball-side corner.
If the ball can not be entered to the ball side corner we are keeping a player on the free-throw line extended. That player needs to time his break towards the ball perfectly in order to avoid a five-second violation.
Concluding Thoughts -
The offseason is the best possible time to research and prepare for these scenarios. Without the stress of games, we can assess our current approach, and research new ones. I generally find that there is so much to juggle during the season that special situations can easily get ignored. In an effort to make sure that doesn't happen we should try to iron out our strategy while we have the time. Personally, I believe the best approach to this situation is to have one concept that we can execute really well. On the occasions where that concept is taken away, we should have a counter that plays off the tendencies of our main approach.
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