Options for a Personnel-Based Offensive System

It’s hard to believe that the 2020-2021 season will be my 7th year at the helm of a varsity program. I have had stops at West Central, Jac-Cen-Del and now at Randolph Southern.  In those 6 years my Varsity teams have run a variety of different offenses.  Including: 4 out, 5 out, mover blocker, Princeton chin series, and continuity ball screen.  All of these offenses worked well in some aspects and some were more successful than others.  Why all these different offenses I’m sure you ask?  The reason is simple..they fit my personnel.  I always have disliked the question, “what is your offensive system” while you are in the interview process.  My answer is simple, there is no wrong or right way to play the game of basketball, but there are wrong ways to play with your personnel.  At that point, I would explain how I will build an offense that is based on our players strengths and implement that system into our program and that could change yearly.  I’m not sure if that’s the answer people are looking for but that is ultimately my philosophy when it comes to offense.  

I was fortunate to play for Coach Chris Benedict while he was at Columbia City and currently at Bluffton.  Starting in the 7th grade we learned 41 (4 out 1 in) and ran it all throughout my high school career.  So it was only fitting that a 4 out motion offense was my identity as a coach when I first got my program at West Central. I used a lot of the same principles and a few different wrinkles that I had learned throughout the years as an assistant for our offense.  Luckily for me, 4 out fit my personnel those years.  I think back and ask myself “what if it didn’t, would I still have run it?”  Ultimately, I hope I would have adapted and changed but at that time, I thought I knew everything so I may have been too stubborn to adapt and change.  

Like many coaches what we stress offensively is the following:

  • Spacing– Basketball is spacing and spacing is basketball
  • Ball Movement– Don’t let the ball stick.  Move it quickly with a pass, or dribble but use it wisely.  The ball has air in it.  Don’t be an air checker.  
  • Player Movement- After you don’t have the ball, what do you need to be doing?  If you don’t have the ball, what should you be doing?  Setting your man up to come off a screen, moving to screen, spotted up and ready to shoot etc.
  • Shot Selection- We don’t want good shots we want great shots!  Make players understand the better shooters will get more shots.  If a player wants more shots, become a better shooter!

If you have all four of those listed above during a possession more often than not you will get the best shot and possession that you are striving for.

My last year at Jac-Cen-Del I thought the personnel we had needed to have more “structure”.  We were a really young team that had a lot of skilled players that could handle it, pass it, and shoot it but we lacked players that could create for themselves.  For the first time in my career, I thought to myself how about a continuity? Now, my thoughts were exactly the thoughts that I’m certain a lot of coaches have when it comes to continuity offenses.  My biggest 3 concerns were the following.

  • Do we want our kids to be robots?
  • How easy will this be to scout?
  • Will our kids make the read if what I tell them is taken away?
  • Will our kids not like having “freedom”?

Well that year, we implemented the Princeton Chin series and ran it as a continuity.  I was lucky to have a 5 man that was 6’5 who could attack the rim from the top of the key if he popped off of the flare screen and we curled.  If he didn’t attack we dribbled away and the player on the wing made a read, he either back cut or came off a dribble hand off and the process started over.  (I apologize I don’t have my fast draw to show you this as it’s on my school desktop.)  We ran this offense with a lot of success.  My main focus that year was spacing.  We drilled spacing and I’m sure our players were tired of me blowing the whistle and asking “where do you need to be?” 

COACHES TIP: In my short tenure as a coach, I have learned you don’t need to ask a kid “what are you doing?”  You’re going to get an answer you most likely don’t want to hear.  Instead, I now ask them “what should you be doing.”  A majority of the time they know the answer.  I feel this method is a much better way to get your point across and you don’t get a defensive response for your player. 

I really enjoyed what we ran at JCD and the Princeton system.  When coming to Randolph Southern, I was hoping I could implement that system, but  it didn’t fit our personnel at all.  So, I asked myself again what is the best offense to fit this personnel?  I went back to the continuity route and we ran what we called flow or what most coaches call Continuity Ball Screen or European Ball Screen.  This offense gave us spacing, ball movement, and player movement. It also allowed our guards freedom to be in a 2 or 3 man game on one side on the floor with shooters spaced on the other side.  I have attached some clips of our ball screen offense at that bottom of this article for you to check out.

So now that I have run more continuities the last two seasons the question is “Motion vs Continuity?”  My answer remains the same.  Run the offense that fits your personnel.  But for those coaches who are anti continuity, I promise you there are a lot of positives that you can get from a continuity.  My biggest takeaways from running a continuity as opposed to motion are as follows:

  • Players play more confident– When a player knows exactly what they are supposed to do I feel they are more confident.  How many times when coaching motion do you hear a coach yell “MOVE!”?  Then they freeze and do a dance before actually making their move or cut.  I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it a hundred times.  Then the spacing is messed up and it breaks down it seems.  Though, it’s likely to happen in a continuity, I feel it happens much less.  I tell our kids you don’t have to be the best player on the floor, but everytime you take it you can act like you are.  Confidence makes a player.  
  • Roles are much easier to define- One of the hardest things in coaching and for a player to hear is their role.  In a continuity offense you can much easier define and tell players what they can and can’t do.  For instance in our ball screen offense we have players who are strictly rim runners after a screen, we have players who can pop or ghost, and we have players who read how their man guards it and can do both (this is rare btw).  I feel that in a continuity the players roles are more clearly defined and easier to let them know what their strengths are as a player.
  • Designed to your strengths- The game of basketball has so many different offenses and all have their pros and cons.  I have always said there is no wrong way to play the game of basketball, but there is a wrong way to play with your personnel.  You can find almost any type of continuity offense that will fit your personnel.  Whether it be flex, chin, continuity ball screen, kansas hi-low, swing etc..there is an offense out there that will fit what you’re trying to do and your personnel.  
  • Time commitment- Though both take time to master, I have found that motion offense takes a much longer approach to run it exactly how you want.  Teaching players reads of all different options is much longer than the 1 or 2 that they are being asked to do in a continuity.
  • Control and Structure- Basketball games a lot of times are lost by a team as opposed to won by the opposition.  I have adapted the “Keep it Simple Stangland” approach when it comes to coaching.  Sometimes easy is the best option.  You can run 50 different complex sets and offenses but if the learning curve is too hard you will struggle.  Yes we want our players to have freedom and not to play like robots.  But high school kids enjoy structure.  If your offense gets you the shots you want, does it matter what is run.  So at times simple is better.  
  • Spacing- A continuity offense was made to space the floor.  You don’t have to rely on your players to make the correct read in order to make the floor spaced exactly how you would like.  In a continuity, if ran properly the spacing should flow right where it needs to be.  Spacing is basketball and basketball is spacing.  I have always felt if you can space the floor properly any offense that you run will be successful and get you the shots you want.  
  • Sets that flow right into your offense- There are a multitude of different sets that you can run that will flow right into your offense if the set you run is taken away.  Are your players prepared for what will happen if the set breaks down or does not result in a shot?  I like our sets that flow right into our offense so that awkwardness of not knowing what to do is taken away.  

With anything that comes with this game, it’s not always perfect.  There are definitely cons to a continuity system.  The major ones that I feel are:

  • Scoutable- Yes, teams can scout it and know exactly what you are trying to do.  But it doesn’t matter if they know it or not.  Can they stop it?  Two totally different things and the latter is much more difficult.
  • Players must learn multiple positions- I’m sure other coaches hear it all the time.  “I don’t know that spot.” Some continuity offenses 5 players do the same thing, others have 4, and some have 3 etc.  Having players that can run all 5 spots can be a difficult thing.  When you are a team that lacks depth one injury can cause an offense to no longer be an option.  You have to have kids be able to run multiple spots if needed.
  • Freedom- In today’s society most players want freedom. They want space to create.  Does a motion offense allow more freedom?  Absolutely it does.  Does a continuity allow a kid to have freedom?  Yes.  We always tell our players to play basketball not the play.  Take what the defense gives you.  With our continuity ball screen offense, if you can reject the ball screen and get to the rim you better do it.  We will reject ball screens all day if the defense lets us.  
  • Aggressive Defenses- An aggressive and athletic defense can take you out of exactly what you’re trying to do.  You must have counters to take advantage if a defense is taking something away.

Suggestions and takeaways from running a continuity offense:  

  • Shooting drills that get you shots from your offense.  Switching to a ball screen offense I can’t ask a player to be able to pull up off a ball screen if he isn’t repping that shot hundreds of times during the week.  Find where you are getting your shots in your offense and run actions that get you that shot through the flow of your offense.  Be creative and come up with shooting drills that fit your offense.
  • 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 with the main actions that your offense will be running.  We started last fall in September and never played 5 on 5 until October.  We broke down every facet to the offense to make our kids as comfortable as possible.  
  • Details Matter- Every little detail matters.  Whether its spacing, over dribbling, or the ball not moving quick enough etc.  that detail matters.
  • STRESS BE A BASKETBALL PLAYER NOT A ROBOT.  Take what the defense gives you.  Just because a coach tells a player what to do that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Make your players believe the defense is always wrong  and it’s up to the player to take advantage of how the defense is guarding.   
  • It doesn’t have to be your base offense.  Use it when you want to control the clock in late game situations or at the end of the quarter holding for a last shot.  
  • Practice what you preach and stick to it.  Let your players know exactly what you are looking and not looking for.
  • We run 5 out motion in all of our feeder program.  Teach kids how to play, don’t teach plays at a young age.  Feeder programs are for two things: Making kids love the game, and how to play the game.  When they get older then teach them the WHY.  
  • It’s ok if they fail at first.  It’s going to happen and when it does accept it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day but it was built every day.  

I want to thank Feel for the Game for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic.  If you have any questions or want any sets that flow into the Princeton or continuity ball series or shooting drills from these offenses please feel free to contact me at stanglandt@rssc.k12.in.us or on twitter @RS_Rebel_Hoops.  I look forward to sharing and connecting the game with other coaches and feel beyond blessed to be able to teach and coach young men the game of life and basketball.

Below is a highlight video of our ball screen continuity offense from this past season.  

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