The Secret Weapon


       A good Fast Break starts with a sideline attack and takes that path as long and as often as it is available.  As discussed in my previous post, “5 Man Break”, the point guard takes the outlet and always looks to pitch the ball up the sideline first before dribbling. Defenders will adjust and anticipate sideline passes eventually, if not from the beginning.  This opens the Middle (Over the Top) opportunity to a streaking big man running the middle.  Again, this option can be stopped by a hustling post defender or other quick transitioning opponents.  In most fast break attacks that I observe, when those two options are covered, this is where the fast break attack breaks down.  The offensive point guard uses the situation as a signal to dribble the ball all the way up court.  Some choose to bring it up hard and penetrate as far as possible, looking to make a play.  Others have been instructed to shut down, bring it up slowly and get into the set offense.  Neither of these two reactions will lead to a consistent fast break attack because the pass-ahead philosophy has been abandoned far too early.  

       Recall that the first goal of a fast break is to score without having the ball touch the floor by way of sideline passing.  The second goal is to dribble toward the middle (one or two dribbles) and look Over the Top for the Middle Streaker.  But if neither option is there, the Point Guard still needs to look to pass (pitch) the ball ahead.  Remember, passing is faster than dribbling.  The Secret Move to a successful fast break attack is to look cross-court to the other sideline for the next pass opportunity.  This will be available on the second or third dribble after an outlet pass and sideline look, as long as the dribble is angled toward the opposite sideline.  When the outlet pass goes to the left sideline (Diagram #1), defenders will tend to transition to that side of the court.  By having the point guard dribble toward the middle (Diagram #2), he now has the option of Middle or Cross-Court to the right sideline off of his dribble.

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       The Cross-Court Pass Option on the break is what I call “Cross” for short and it is my Secret Weapon.  This term is the coaching reminder I use on point guards who fall back to the old habit of dribbling the ball up court when sideline passes are unavailable.  I remind them that their job is not to dribble the ball up court, but rather to find a way to “get the ball ahead” to teammates who are running hard every time we get possession.  The surest way to have players quit running is to have a point guard who dribbles the ball up and seldom passes ahead to his open teammates.  Dribbling the ball up court should be the fourth option and only used when the first three fast break options have been denied.

       Cross is the Secret Move that allows a team to fast break on almost every possession.  It gives a team a third lay-up opportunity, which will be the weak side wing flying down his lane.  And an extra plus is the option of the Streaker rolling to the weak side post area for a pass from the weak side wing.  While the defense transitions to defend the strong side of the court (where the outlet pass was made), the attack shifts to the weak side and less defended side of the court.  A study of my teams’ fast break opportunities over the final 8 years of my coaching career showed interesting results: Strong side pass ahead, ~30% of the time; Over the Top/Middle pass ~10%; Cross (changing sides) was ~60% of the time.  As noted (~), those numbers are all approximations, but the true numbers were very close to what I presented.  Some seasons had more strong side attacks than others, but the corresponding cross-courts had their bigger years too.  Each season was within 5% of the rounded-off results I have presented here.  These stats tell me that teams ignoring the Cross option of the break are missing out on more than half of the fast break opportunities available.  

       Cross can almost be called a delayed break action because it takes two or three dribbles as the point guard reads the defensive transition and his own teammates as they run the lanes.  Cross does not always result in a lay up, just like strong side doesn’t either.  But Cross does give a team the opportunity to attack with the drive, an outside open shot, or a feed and attack from the post, while the defenders are transitioning and then recovering to the weak side of the court.  This helps create many early offensive situations against defenders in a scattered, open court.  If you aren’t doing it yet, try the Cross and see how your fast break opportunities increase.  You’ll be glad you did.

       In a future blog, I will discuss the next phase of a Fast Break Attack, Early Offensive Specials, that get shots for the better scorers at the end of the initial thrust.

Key Teaching Points:

  • Always look Sideline, Middle, then Cross.  In that order.
  • A Point Guard is like a football quarterback reading options.
  • If someone is open ahead, pass them the ball.  If not open, don’t.
  • Point guards should vary their outlet sides to vary the attack.

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