Basketball Offense: Motion Vs. Set Plays

by : Coach DeForest

Basketball Offense: Motion vs. Set Plays

What is the difference between Motion Offense and a Set Play Offense? Motion offense is the most simple offense to run, but it is also the most difficult to teach well. Bobby Knight believes in his ability to teach players how to play the game and therefore during his entire 992 wins, he taught a pure motion offense. This requires a coach that is willing to "let go" in terms of play calling and teach the players the difference between a good or bad shot. By nature motion offense is a disciplined form of offense that involves all five players screening and cutting to get the best shot available. There are NO predetermined reads in a "pure" motion offense. That means that if your teammate is setting a down screen, as a cutter you are to make the read based on what the defense is doing. If he is playing you tight, you make a curl cut into the lane, and if the defender has beat you to the screen, then you make a backdoor cut. Motion offense allows an offensive player to make the correct read based on what the defender is doing. This takes a great understanding of the game of basketball, but it is difficult to scout and improves as the year progresses.

On the other hand, coaches such as Tom Izzo and Greg McDermott believe in the value of running set plays. In fact, adhering to his football mentality, Coach Izzo often "scripts" his first 6-7 plays of the game. Set plays allow a coach to determine who is going to shoot and where the shot is going to be taken from. Obviously, this control over the offense is suitable to some coaches. For example, with a talented point guard, a coach would have several ball screen sets designed or with a good post player, a coach would have plays designed to screen them into a good post position. A typical NBA team has over 150 sets to choose from with counters! However, the downside of this type of offense is the limited flexibility and what Gene Smithson calls "playing like robots." Each player has a designated job to do and there aren't many reads to be made. This can be simple for the players to learn, but you have to remember that it can be simple for the other coach to learn as well. Set plays are good for inexperienced teams or coaches that want to fine-tune their offense based on the talent they have available.

Motion Offense

&bullDifficult to scout&bullDifficult to teach well
&bullPrepares team for tournament play - half court game&bullReliance on skills of all 5 offensive players
&bullShot selection determined by the coach&bullCan be difficult to create shots for best players
&bullAssigns each player a role&bullCan be difficult to execute in time/score situations
&bullFocused on execution - how you do it, not what you do&bullSteep learning curve for players
&bullMaximizes practice time - work on offense/defense at same time
&bullTeaches players how to play the game of basketball
&bullCelebrates individual sacrifice and teamwork
&bullFocused on screening and cutting

Set Play Offense

&bullCoach determines the action ie. Ball screen, post up, flex, etc.&bullUsually easier to scout
&bullExcellent for time/score situations because of control of coach&bullPlayers must execute their responsibility
&bullAllows coach to create opportunities for best options in best areas&bullTeaches a limited understanding of the game of basketball (ie. Screen here, cut there, post...)
&bullEasier to learn for most players&bullPlayers can be confused if they play a spot they haven't practiced
&bullAbility to hide weaker offensive players away from the action&bullDoes not develop players as well as other types of offense
&bullScouting allows coach to attack how they defend (ball screens, etc.)&bullTypically not a tournament style offensive system
&bullEasier to make adjustments during the game
&bullPosition players where they can most likely succeed
&bullPrepare your team for the opponent has difficulty defending

Which offensive style is better?
This is all based on your coaching philosophy. Are you a motion offense coach like Bobby Knight or are you an NBA coach like Pat Riley? The first thing a coach must do is determine what they feel most comfortable teaching. After that, determine what is the better choice for your team. Do you have a shot clock? If so, then set plays might be the easiest way to go and if not, you can execute until you get the shot you want in your motion offense. Another question to answer would be, how experienced is my team? If you are coaching a youth team then it might be a good idea to run a few sets whereas if you have an experienced group, motion would be an option. Again, this is all dependent on your philosophy of coach, the level you are coaching, and the talent/experience of your players. Choose wisely.
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