Contributed by Brett Ayers. Email the author at email@example.com
If there was ever one thing that has changed about the game in the past 10 to 15 years it has been the inability of players to either move without the ball and or when they do move understand why they are moving in the manner they are moving or why perhaps they should or should not be moving the way they are.
I think the most frustrating thing is to hear a kid say after the fact when asked why he did something, "I don't know." I can not stand hearing that out of a player.
One of the great lessons I learned playing college ball came not from my coach, though he taught me many valuable things, but instead came from a group of middle aged Greek players. It was during a summer I was staying up at school and a bunch of guys who were friends with one of my teammates who happened to be Greek, came down to the gym to play. We had about seven or eight of us from the team there. Some very good players. This group of Greek guys, no younger than about 32 or 33 and the oldest was about 42 or 43 basically ran us off the court five straight games. They just back doored and cut on us until we could not see straight.
The two aspects of off the ball movement, to me anyways, that should be second nature and understood by any and all players is first the back door and then of course the cut to the basket.
The back door can take place anywhere on the court. It is not something that only happens when the ball is trying to be passed to the wing. I think this is where so many players make the mistake in thinking it can only happen on either wing coming up to that free throw line extended area and because of that mindset they end up standing still after making one or two moves to get open at the point and or along the baseline. There is never a bad spot for a backdoor as long as a player is aware of the other offensive players in regards to spacing.
There are three keys to a back door. First one is selling the initial move to get open. I see a lot of players just give it this half arsed attempt that is pathetic and could not fool a blind man. The offensive player really needs to lean out there with that target hand out, even maybe giving a call for the ball. Along with that fake, the guy with the ball, if he can, needs to give a pass fake. All it takes is that defender being even with the offensive player and he should be beat.
The next part of the successful back door is being able to come low, underneath the defender almost, dipping your shoulder and bringing your arm underneath the defender. Almost like an up and under move that a defensive lineman might put on an offensive player. Now some guys will teach to bring that inside arm over the top like a swim move, but that can, because of the oddness of the movement make the ref blow the whistle on the offensive player. In coming underneath teams like Duke and Michigan State that like to play grab and hold on the wing will have a tough time either not fouling and or not getting beat. The foul will become a lot more apparent when coming underneath the defender. The offensive player stands up, it is over and he is done.
The last part of the back door is when coming underneath, the offensive player can not, and I repeat, CAN NOT, banana cut back and around the defender. You see a lot of guys that sort of do that banana arc cut around the defender allowing him to easily reposition himself and never create any space between himself and his defender. Instead, the man going back door needs to make his first step a long one angled right into the direct back of the defender if he were going back the other way so that the defender will be directly behind you and the only way he can get to you is to foul you going through you. I even have seen guys who will bring that arm low and underneath and put their off hand on the defenders back calf, holding him there just a second before coming through with his other leg. Something you can get away with a bit more on the college level.
The next crucial move to have mastered when moving without the ball is the cut. I see a lot of kids who cut and cut and cut and are never open. This is usually a function of two things. The first one being that they have not set their man up in anyway shape or form. The second is that they are not reading their defender and have made up their mind that they are cutting come he*l or high water. Both lead to futile movements that can often clog up an offense and or take away something another player's) might be setting up on another part of the floor. I think it is never good to discourage kids from cutting from the standpoint that it is a good sign of offensive aggressiveness, which I always prefer to offensive passiveness.
One of the keys to cutting is knowing when to cut. One of the biggest tip offs of when to cut is if the guy defending you does not jump towards the ball when you pass it. If he just stays stationary when you pass the ball, either a quick cut right over the top of him in the direction you just passed the ball and or taking him away a step or two and then coming over the top in the direction you passed the ball for perhaps a better angle is what should be done.
One thing that a lot of players at all levels do when they actually do either go back door and or cut, regardless of whether or not they are open and or get the ball is they immediately turn their head away from the ball after the first three to five steps towards the hoop. Never do this.
When cutting either on the back door and or to the hoop from the top of the key area and or the wings and or corner always open up back towards the ball keeping your eyes on the ball moving through. A lot of times the defense will think it has stopped the initial cut and or backdoor and turn his head away from the ball and have no idea where the ball has gone or if it is coming from the wing on a pass and if the guy with the ball is a good passer he might be able to get a pass right off the ear of the defender who has turned his head. You see Princeton doing a lot of this.
One of the last aspects to moving without the ball successfully is this; don't stand up when cutting and or moving. I see a lot of guys who cut and or go back door and get open but then right prior to that or even on the cut they have stood up to straight up and down and are not ready to do anything with the ball once they get it. Most of today's players sort of just meander around the court these days like someone has taken a stick and shoved up their arse and are not ready to score at all times. Heck, half of scoring is being ready to score at all times. Hands ready, legs ready, body ready. Way to many of today's players do not know what to do with themselves off the ball and only get into "basketball position" once they get the ball. Just think of the precious time they waste cutting, getting the ball then getting their butt down to make a move or take a shot. Advantage; the defense.