Free Throw Situation Strategies

by Brett Ayers, and Steve Jordan,

This is a "tag team" article written by Brett Ayers and Steve Jordan. Coach Ayers' information appears first, followed by Coach Jordan's. The authors wrote their sections individually so as not to influence each other. For that reason, some information may be repeated, but the intent is to give the reader a couple flavors on this important situation.

Coach Ayers writes...

I am going to break it down from both the offensive and defensive perspectives. 

Offensively - When your team is the one shooting the free throw, I can not say I am a big fan of Coach Chaney's concept of taking everyone off the free throw line. I really think there are a lot of ways to approach these situations and score more points or procure another foul against the other team. 

Here is how I would line up. I would put my three and four men down for the free throw, my 1 man would be up a few feet off the top of the key, my 2 man at half court and my five man all the way back under the basket. 

You put your 3 and 4 men in for the rebound for a couple of reasons. The first one is that unless you have a very mobile center who does not have trouble getting back, you will automatically be creating a possibility for numbers if the opposition's five man can really out run him. The second reason is when it comes to getting offensive boards off of missed free throws, usually quickness and leaping ability will give you a better chance than size. The same thing generally always applies to offensive rebounding in general, well, unless you are Shaq. 

Also, with this alignment you also can use your point guard to do one of two things (or both). He can either look to steal a poorly thrown outlet pass on a rebound or from the inbounds, or he can also come up and, if only for a moment, apply a bit of pressure to the opposition's point guard giving his fellow defenders a chance to get back. This maneuver may also throw off any plans on either a break or a delayed break the other team may try. Now, this does not mean he has to guard the other point all the way back, it all depends upon what kind of defender he is and just how good the point guard is he is guarding. 

Now, when looking to gain the advantage offensively for the rebound, there are a couple of different thoughts on this. There is the classic "X'ing" that players do by having the guys figure out before the ball is shot who will cross in front first, going to the opposite side and getting in front of the defensive player while the second player crosses behind and does the same thing with the defensive player opposite of him. 

Another thought on offensive rebounding from the free throw line is to use the step in and spin method. An offensive player does this by positioning himself up as high as he can in the block, thus maximizing the space between him and the defensive player trying to block him out. In fact, in all things related to trying to get an offensive rebound, the offensive player should position himself up as high as he can in the box. When the ball is shot, in this second method of offensive rebounding off of the free throw line, the offensive player takes a step into the lane with his inside leg creating contact with just that one leg with the inside defender. He then spins back baseline over the top of the defender who has taken that step into the lane to counter the offensive players step into the lane. 

A third method of attempting to secure an offensive rebound is to either step up into the men above you on the lane creating space for the ball to come if the inside guys get themselves in too deep. This is something you can do once or twice a game on the lane if you have been battling the defense hard on the lane during free throws. You might find they have a knee jerk reaction to some of the other things you have done. 

The last method of claiming that all important offensive rebound off of a free throw is to simply have a player who is designated take a very big, two-foot leap into the middle of the lane. This move creates space for himself and creates a need for the two bottom defensive men to be caught up in blocking him out. In effect, he's running a decoy while the second offensive man simply files in behind him looking for that long board off the rim. 

With all of these things you need communication on the court. These strategies need to be done both as a dry run and run live in practiced game situations to perfect them. One of the last things to remember to teach your kids when they are on the lane is to keep their hands up. I can not count how many times I have seen guys miss rebounds because they had to bring their hands from their sides. I also see on occasion a kid get called for a foul because instead of having his hand up at a 90 degree bend around his shoulders he has them down in a defensive player's back.

Defensively - Now, when it comes to defensive rebounding from a free throw situation, there also needs to be absolute communication and understanding of who is going to do what. One of the things that is often forgotten in rebounding the ball from a defensive vantage on the free throw line is just where the offense places their players. I have seen teams who are shooting take two kids and put them outside the arc, and then run them in on the shot. Defensively, you need to be aware of this. 

Here is how I would line up my guys. I would put my four and five men on the bottom blocks. Next, I would put my two and three men in the spaces above the offensive players. Now, I would determine who my best rebounder on the defensive end is. Now, that does not mean necessarily the guy who gets the most boards, but the man who you have that seals off, and moves back his man the best. You take that guy amongst your3, 4 and 5 men and put him on whichever side they put their best offensive rebounder. Once again, constant communication is needed between players on the court. You then need to take and put the guy who is not blocking out the shooter on that side as well so that he can pinch down when the ball is shot, effectively creating a two man block out team.

When lining up on the free throw line defensively, each bottom guy should be as high up in his box as he can be and the guy who is pinching down from the position above the offensive player should be as low as he can be in his box.

The guy blocking out the shooter should be as high up in his box as he can be. Now, if the opposing team takes and puts two players outside of the arc, you then put two of your defensive players outside the arc face-guarding these offensive players in order to keep them from diving to the basket after the shot is released.

Just like on offense, when blocking out on defense, keeping hands and arms up are a must unless you want to incur unwarranted, useless fouls. Now, if there are two guards off the lane face-guarding the two offensive players outside of the arch, then that means that the two bottom guys are going to be one on one in boxing out the bottom offensive players.

One of the key things for the defensive bottom guys to remember when boxing out is to step into the offensive player, sit down and move backwards with your butt. A big no-no is reaching back with your hands and trying to hold the offensive player. That's because a good offensive player will spin out of that and a good official will call that the holding foul it is. Just like clearing for the boards, it is about creating space with your arse, not by trying to clear with your arms or upper body. 

One of my favorite ways to describe this position, the position that the game has to be played out of at almost all times, is "sitting down". You don't move your head forward, lean back or just simply bend at the knees. No, you drop your butt straight back like you are sitting down while keeping your head over your feet and maintaining proper balance. Once the ball is shot, you hold until it has hit the rim and is then on its way off the rim, of course, depending upon a players jumping ability. Too often I see kids release too early and jump too early. I would prefer that they create the space and let the darn ball hit the ground first. All the time that this is going on, keep your hands up, bent at the 90 degree angle.

Having your hands relaxed and ready is a must. I also see a lot of defensive rebounds that are not secured because a kid has to get his arms up from his sides, and then mis-times and or simply misses the ball as it comes off of the rim.

Some ideas and thoughts on free throw line strategy and technique.

Coach Jordan writes...

Similar to when the ball is presented in an "Out of Bounds" situation, free throws are a predictable, recurring event. They happen every game. The procedure is the same. Why not practice for this event so your team will have an edge every time a free throw is attempted? The advantage for the coach is that you can practice specific plays or defenses based on the free throw taking place. Unlike most basketball situations, you can be assured that certain players will be in certain spots at a known time. We are not going to talk about how to shoot free throws. Instead, we are presenting strategic tips and techniques that will give your team an advantage whether the free throw is made or not. This section will deal with the basic free throw rules you must know, free throw rebounding and blocking techniques, a strategic line-up around the key, a fast break offense to run off a made or missed free throw and a press defense that can be set up while your player is shooting a free throw.

Basic Free Throw Rules

If you do not have a rule book, go get one. Make sure you know what you are talking about before you instruct your kids or talk with an official. You can get the National Federation of High School Associations 2002 rule book at a sporting goods store or often from your youth basketball organization. The rules listed here are the basic things you need to know:

  1. Each of the end spaces next to the baseline must be occupied by an opponent of the person shooting the free throw. A teammate of the free thrower is entitled to the next adjacent space. It doesn't matter who gets there first. If your opponent takes your spot, politely take it back. The ref should back you up. Only one player may reside in a marked space.
  2. If the intended free throw shooter is injured, a substitute may shoot instead.
  3. Once given the ball, the shooter has ten seconds to attempt a shot. No player is allowed to heckle or distract the shooter. The shooter is not allowed to fake a shot to make the opponents commit a violation.
  4. Players along the free throw lane may not enter the lane until the ball hits the rim or backboard. Players not in a lane space must remain away from the basket, beyond the free throw line extended

Basic Free Throw Line Techniques

  1. If you have the inside position - you are the closest player to the basket - you first move once the ball hits the rim, is to step in front of your opponent and move back until you feel contact. You want to create as much space as you can. Then, squat down a bit (or sit on his/her leg) to hold the opponent in place.
  2. Keep your legs bent. That way you will be flexed and in position to jump. Also, the bent legs lower your center of gravity and make it harder to move you. Players who stand straight up and gawk up at the ball are easily pushed under the basket into an ineffective position.
  3. Keep your hands high! With the new rule of waiting until the ball hits the rim or backboard, there is little time to jockey for position. If the shot is short, the person with their hands closest to the ball will have the best chance of recovery. This rule gives the offense a much better chance to get the board.
  4. If an opposing player attempts to put an arm in front of you, don't push the arm down or away. It looks like you're fouling. Instead, bring your arms straight up, like you're being robbed, raising your opponent's arm, with them. That way, the opponent's arms are over yours and the appearance of fouling is his/hers.
  5. If you are an offensive rebounder in the second spot from the basket, once the ball hits the rim, you can try to walk the inside rebounder under the rim. Don't push with your arms. Just start walking a step or two and hold your position. If the inside rebounder is too close to the basket, they can be sealed inside and prevented from reaching most rebounds. In fact, the only time they'll touch the basketball is if it goes through!
  6. If you are one of the two players who are third from the basket (defensive rebounders) there are three jobs to do. One of you must jump in front of the shooter to prevent him from getting a rebound, the other can break outside towards the baseline for a rebound in that direction. Both should be ready for a quick outlet pass if the basket is made.
  7. If you are the free throw shooter, you will have the best idea where a miss will bounce. Don't enter the lane to soon, but try to evade the person blocking you out and get the rebound. A quick put back is a great morale booster for your team.


Basic Free Throw Strategies

  1. Place your better rebounders close to the basket. This advice seems so simple, but sometimes you see some strange alignments when folks aren't paying attention. Your big people should take initiative in the game if a smaller teammate grabs a spot on the block and move them out.
  2. Place a defender near the shooter. As soon as the shot hits the rim or backboard, this player should move in front of the shooter (red arrow), boxing out, to prevent the shooter from getting a rebound.
  3. If the other team makes the free throw, pull the ball out of the net, step out of bounds and inbound it as fast as possible. Most team use the offensive free throw as a convenient break in the action to setup their press. If you inbound quickly, you can nullify that advantage.
  4. If you are shooting a free throw and the situation is desperate, it may pay to miss the shot intentionally. To do this, in a natural way, shoot the ball short so it hits the front of the rim. If your big people have their hands up, they may get a quick put-back. If your free throw shooter is accurate, you can miss to the left or right depending on who you want to get the rebound.
  5. Use this opportunity to check matchups or even change plays. The team is all together waiting for the free throw, the clock is stopped, so use the time to your best advantage.


Offensive Transition from the Free Throw
  1. Assuming the free throw is made, the players underneath should have already decided who will take the ball out of bounds. Usually the player on the right side will, especially if he's right handed. KEY POINT: Don't turn your back on the play as you take the ball out of bounds - keep your face towards your teammates. Watch what's going on to see openings as soon as possible!
  2. The other player underneath breaks down court. Use the outside lane.
  3. The next two players up the key either break to get open for a pass or go down court. Have the players communicate before the shot to avoid mix-ups. 
  4. The player in the safety position breaks forward to get the inbound pass.
  5. Once the ball is received, advance up the court looking for the fast break.
Defensive Transition from the Free Throw

The rules do not require the offense to be on the lane. Why not set up in your favorite press pattern?

  1. The shooter automatically takes point position for the press.
  2. Two players assume trap positions.
  3. The last two players assume interceptor positions.
  4. You can fall right in to 1211, 221, 311 or even half court configurations.

Remember to stay behind the free throw line extended (dotted line).