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Maintaining Offensive Advantage in Basketball

Let’s begin by defining what an offensive advantage looks like. I use the following terminology to help players at all levels from youth to pro understand what an advantage looks like. 

What Does an Advantage Look Like?

A positional advantage is when the defender’s positioning leads to an advantage opportunity. This could be a smaller advantage such as the defender on the offensive player’s shoulder or a small distance away, or a bigger advantage with the defender a sizeable gap away from the offensive player. Positional advantage opportunities are most typically seen in close-out situations, or if the defender is moving at speed and not completely chest-to-chest (neutral). 

An individual advantage could be a match-up advantage such as a big being guarded by a small in the low post (mouse) or a small being guarded by a big on the perimeter (some teams call this “elephant” in the NBA, but I use Zico Coronel’s “turtle” phrasing). While these could lead to obvious static 1 on 1 opportunities to convert the advantage, any size advantage the offensive player possesses over their check leads to more opportunities to take shots which may not normally be possible.

A numerical advantage is situations such as a 1v0, 2v1, 3v2 etc. While these are most common in transition, some coverages can lead to temporary numerical advantages being created. For instance, a 2 on 1 is created in a Pick and Roll while playing vs a drop coverage, while a 3 on 2 or 4 on 3 could be created playing against a hedge if the ball handler passes the ball into the screener on a short roll. 

A spacial advantage is situations where the offense has lots of space such as 1v1 in transition. Even though the defender may be in more neutral positioning (chest-to-chest), the increased space the offense has through the lack of other players could put them at a slight advantage. 

Dominoes

Dominoes can be defined as the moment an advantage appears and we drive and kick or move the ball to get a great shot.

Ross McMains’ brilliant dominoes concept serves as a fun and fresh analogy for helping players understand offensive advantage. Using the term dominoes helps players understand that the aim of offense is to convert the advantage once it appears by keeping the dominoes falling until the sequence ends. While the goal is to get the last domino to fall in a positive manner by taking a great shot (I use the ROB framework of Range, Open, Balance), less desirable endings could occur from poor shot selection or a turn-over.  Other dominoes dangers include the opposite of Ross’ dominoes rules. These would be taking poor first touch decisions, spacing which allows 1 defender to guard 2, and clogging the paint after a drive.

Ending Dominoes Possessions

From my experience coaching in different countries across Europe, advantage can be a difficult word to understand. The word for dominoes in each country is often very close to the English and something in particular which resonates with kids. I don’t distinguish between a small advantage and big advantage anymore. I find that giving the aim of ending every dominoes possession with a ROB shot helps players understand these concepts enough. It’s also important to remember that ROB is different for every player, as not everyone needs to shoot big advantage shots. For a good shooter even at U16’s, shooting when in a small advantage state where the defense cannot alter the shot is a satisfactory outcome.

One way I help players understand this is for them to picture a set of dominoes, with the last domino to fall being called “ROB.” This means it makes no difference whether we get a long dominoes possession with several drive, kick, extra sequences or a short possession with a trigger and one pass. Sometimes the shorter possessions can be most effective if it ends in the ROB shot.

Even if the outcome is a miss, it is important to encourage the behaviour and the effort of the team in being able to consistently produce ROB shots. In addition to ROB, the shot threshold and quality of the FG attempt also needs to be discussed with the team to determine what type of shot a GREAT shot really is.

Find out more about Dominoes in this podcast with Ross McMains:

Stages of the Game

Three stages exist for the offense within any particular possession: 

Advantage (Dominoes): the four types as defined above: positional, individual, numerical or spatial.

Neutral: none of the four types of advantage exist. I.e. the defense are matched up with even numbers, like for like personnel, and the on-ball defender in a chest-to-chest relationship not giving up an obvious driving route.

Disadvantage: some coaches consider two defenders on the ball to be an advantage (e.g. a trap). I do consider this to actually be a disadvantage: it only becomes an advantage if the ball leaves the offensive player’s hands and is successfully passed to a teammate creating a 4 on 3 situation. Note that a dead ball against a particularly aggressive defender could also be a disadvantage state. 

In these different states the offense is always working to create advantages while the defense is trying to keep the offense neutralised. Watch the video below to see how we define advantage at Basketball Immersion:

Why is Dominoes Important?

Something which surprises me is how often players of all levels from U14 to pro are not clear with what the purpose of offense is. This can even be seen in games at the NCAA and certain pro levels with players running actions and sets without attempting to hunt an advantage through beating the coverage. If coaches use the dominoes framework understand the aim of offense, it helps players from as young as 13 years old grasp offensive concepts which will stay with them for their whole careers, regardless of what offensive system their coach runs. The aim of offense could therefore be succinctly described as “working together to start and convert multiple dominoes sequences as often as possible.” Note that this could mean shooting on the first pass if a ROB shot exists from this action. So often I hear coaches deem good offense as being when the ball enters the paint or changes sides but these are merely indicators, NOT determining factors. If we get a ROB shot without one of these two things happening does it mean it was a ‘bad’ offensive possession? 

It is critical for more youth players and coaches to be aware of what dominoes looks like and the importance of constantly referring back to these reference points. Fortunately more and more coaches are now doing a great job at understanding and emphasising the importance of finding and creating an advantage, but what about teaching it?

Advantage Starts

Within the traditional skills training industry, static 1 on 1 is extremely popular. In reality, there are only a few special players even at the highest levels of the NBA and WNBA who can consistently create dominoes sequences doing this. Typically this means using quick two and three person actions known as triggers to create dominoes situations unless there is a situation playing against a team featuring a player who is an extreme defensive liability. 

For younger players and beginners, it is critical to give them an advantage because it allows players to have a great deal of success as well as creating decisions. Their skill level is simply not good enough to create from neutral consistently and they will likely not have fun if spending a lot of time in this state because the success rate is limited. Playing with a numerical advantage such as a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 enables players to develop critical skills and enjoy the game, or using static or dynamic starts which lead to positional advantages to drive and attack.

On Immersion, we have lots of different ideas for small sided games you can use with your players on the above. On this trend, we do have to be careful when we go too far the other way. Some trends I am seeing frequently these days include:

  • Coaches spending too much time playing with advantage (I know this because I used to do it!)
  • Always using static starts which are unrealistic (I also used to do this)
  • Not encouraging players to create their own advantages in full-court activities (guilty of this one too). 

In part 2 of this blog, titled “Advantage = Disadvantage”, we will unpack these more and offer some solutions for avoiding these pitfalls.

See more examples of how we created Dominoes situations with our program College Prep:

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