Putting the FAST into your Fast Break

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at sjordan@alaskalife.net.

How many games have you watched where, after a basket is scored, the defenders hang their heads and take their time getting ready to throw the ball back into play? Its like they need to show their remorse for allowing the opponent to score. Meanwhile the other team is back in position, all set and raring to go, ready to anticipate your next mistake and score again.

There is a better way.

One road to success is to be the master of transition. The competitor who can handle change the quickest will usually win the contest whether its in business or basketball. Like a turnover, the after-basket exchange is just another transition from defense to offense. Its one of basketball's few predictable, recurring events, and in most games there are a lot of after-basket exchanges. So, why not master this repeating transitional situation? It could occur 50 times in one game. If your team is the best at this particular event, it will add up to something significant.



The Setup

The yellow team is your opponent and they have the ball. They shoot and the shot goes in. This diagram is intended to give a representative look at where your blue players will probably be when the shot is taken. It is important to rehearse the players in all the positions. If player 5 only knows what the blue 5 dot does, then what happens when he is out where the blue 1 dot is in the diagram? After all, the offense dictates where your defenders are, more or less, so your kids need to be flexible and know what to do based on where they are when the shot goes up. Otherwise, they will take so long getting into position that a fast break is impossible.

One way to learn the break is to just run it when the opponent shoots a free throw. In that case, you can predict where all your players will be.



The First Step

You should score easily as I have removed all the defenders for the sake of clarity! Here are the key points:

  1. The player nearest the basket takes the out of bounds as player 4 did here.
  2. The ball should be "pulled" out of the net as quickly as possible and taken out of bounds.
  3. Don't stand behind the backboard!
  4. Right-handers should take the ball out as shown. Left-handers should set up on the other side of the basket to maximize their view and clearance.
  5. Make the longest, safe pass.
  6. Pass to player 5 as a last resort.

Remember, we are striving for every edge we can get to reduce the time required to get the ball back on the floor!

One fundamental open court rule of thumb is that the ball should be moving to the middle of the floor and players without the ball should be moving in the outside lanes. Make this a habit with your players.

Notice how 2 and 3 went right to the outside lanes. They should be calling for the ball. 1 is going long and he is in the outside lane. This gives the inbounder three good looks down court. He should make the longest pass that is both safe and controlled. The kids will eager to throw long passes, but they must be aware that throwing the ball away is a complete waste of their possession. Their opponent just scored and we answered with a turnover. However, the players must dare to take calculated risks to win. The risks can be minimized if they keep the long passes low. A long, one-bounce pass is very effective with no danger of going over the receiver's head and out of bounds. Take time in practice to test their strength and accuracy and learn their range. Also, be careful that they don't over throw as the baseball pass is hard on the shoulder. The ball should be thrown at about 75% effort and thrown so that the spin is vertical. Basketballs that spin from side to side curve like crazy and the twisted motion is hard on the players' arms.



First Pass Options

Once the opponent knows you're a running team, they will try to cover the quick, easy pass down court, but that doesn't mean you can't run your fast break any more. If players 2 and 3 notice that the pass didn't come immediately, they should stop and cut back toward the ball. This quick change of direction will shake a tight defender and place the receiver in a good position moving to the ball.

Player 1 stays the course but should pause near the three point line. An option is to continue through to the opposite corner.

Player 5 stays in the outside line. He should hustle. His motivation is that he may be a finisher on each break.


Second Pass Options

Players 2 and 3 have mirror roles. In this example, 3 received the pass from 4. Maybe 1 will be open, but usually 2 will as he cuts to the middle of the floor. Remember, the ball moves to the center, players move to the outside lanes.

Player 4 has a special job. He is the safety. It is much better to abort the fast break than to force a turnover. Player 4 provides that safety valve. The defense may do an excellent job of covering the breakers and its nice to have an option to safely call the fast break off.

Note: Anytime the ball is thrown backwards, the break is over. Its time to be methodical.

Player 5 continues down court. At the free throw line extended he looks to cut to the basket.


Third Pass Options

We're pretty deep into the fast break now. If we still haven't found a quick basket, we are hoping that with continued, coordinated pressure we can create an easy basket while the defense is still trying to adjust. You can see that 5 has moved to the right low post. If he didn't get a pass for a lay-up on the way, that's OK, he is in excellent position to work with the wing players on that side.

Player 2 should look first for 5, but if 5 is not open, go to 3. Players 1, 3 and 5 have a triangle going. A pass to 5 and a cut to the basket - lots of possibilities here.

Player 4 is still in that safety role. If he gets the ball, its time to relax and set up your regular offense. Its a natural move for 4 to go to the high post area.

Remember how I said 2 and 3 are mirror positions? It could be that 2 gets the first pass and throws to 3 breaking to the middle of the floor. That would change my diagram a little. The thing the big guys need to keep in mind is balance. Player 5, once he's down low, just needs to assume the low post position on the ball side. Player 4, the last one up the floor, just needs to respect the balance and stay on the weak side.

Obviously, you won't get a easy fast break basket all the time. But, if you keep trying and keep the pace up, the easy scores will come. Teams are particularly vulnerable after they score because they tend to celebrate and let up for a second or two. That's all the opening you need.

This style of play can easily adapt to every transition including rebounds and recovered turnovers. The main things to establish are:

  1. A sense of urgency. Everybody must react as quickly as possible
  2. Outside lanes. If you don't have the ball, go to the outside lane. Players who run down the floor are surrounded by defenders. Figure it out.
  3. Don't dribble. Pass to the ball down court as far as you can do so quickly, safely and accurately.
  4. Play fast, but don't rush. If the break is over, its over. Recognize when it is time to slow down and run your offense.

Defensive Counter Measures

Here are some things a good team will do to slow you down. When you practice your fast breaks, practice defending them, too. Not only will you learn to defeat the defensive counter measures, you will become more adept at defending the teams that want to fast break against you!

  1. Harass the inbounder. If the inbounder hesitates or can't see the receivers, the break is lost. Remember, after the basket, the inbounder can run the entire baseline if needed. He can also back up behind the baseline to get more distance from the defender.
  2. Cover the outlet passes to players 2 and 3. That quick outlet pass is the most common start to a break. Interrupt that passing lane to cause hesitation. If the outlet receivers are forced to double back to get the pass, the break is significantly slowed. What the offense should remember is that when the defense begins to anticipate too much, they can be manipulated by head fakes and fake passes to where they are way out of position.
  3. Close off the outlets. If the pass does get to out to a receiver, herd the ballhandler to the side line until he runs out of room, then trap him. If the ballhandler chooses to reverse the ball or pass back to a safety, the break is over. To offset this ploy, the offense should avoid dribbling. Dribbling is slow, anyway. Pass as soon as possible and the defense will never catch up.
  4. Prevent the mid court pass. Almost every press breaker has the ball go to the middle of the floor. That's no big secret. So, why not designate a player to disrupt that very pass or even intercept it? The advantage for the offense, though, is that if a player is guarding part of the floor, he is not guarding a man - who is open?
  5. Keep the point guard back. Usually, the point guard is furthest from the basket when the shot goes up. If not, one of the wings should rotate to the top to take his place. The advantage is that somebody is back to prevent an uncontested fast break lay-up. If the big guys hustle, though, they may have a size mismatch at the finish.