Here is the hypothetical:

Team A is considerably less-skilled.

Team B is considerably more-skilled.

Every coach goes into any season, and on a micro-level into every game, gauging how their program will fare against the opposition based on their own personnel’s ability, aptitude, and capacity to compete. Yet, there seems to be a depreciation of scheme offensively to offset the possible competitive imbalance.

Does the scheme matter if the opponent is simply more talented? All else being equal, results tend to be a law of averages. The hypothetical is to challenge our thinking of how we can shrink the competitive imbalance with what little influence style of play can have on a game’s outcome. Other questions to consider:

  • Is there a growing trend of a universal style of play?
  • And does this growing trend of conceptual style of play lean heavily upon our coaching ability to teach decision-making over script?

For consistency, scheme will be used interchangeably with continuity offense despite understanding within any continuity there are read-and-react components. Consider any Princeton offense using split cuts and backdoors. Traditional motion offense will install a variety of rules to collectively coordinate scoring options. Even, every coach’s fall-back plan of ball-screen continuity (BSC) embeds some semblance of versatility based on the 2-man and 3-man sides. These are all different types of schemes and from my experience, these different offenses would branch into entries, counters, and quick-hitters. Intentions of scheme here are to provide clarity of roles and scoring actions to recognize. Correct me if I am wrong, but that coaching ideology has started to fade from a comprehensive style of play to a piece-mealed conceptual structure.

By my own definition, a conceptual offense is a skeleton structure (e.g. 5-out or 4-out/1-in) with a couple of rules to create movement and possible 2-man action. Likely taking from traditionally styled offenses concepts to create off-ball screening action or on-ball screen flow into a focus of spacing allow skill to create scramble situations. There is a proclivity to keep the offense simplified to increase freedom of play to create, as opposed to perceived complexities with teaching an entire offense. This starts in the breaks likely encouraging a higher pace of play to put the pressure on the defense early in the possession. A continuity offense likely picks their spots when to be opportunistic in transition. The rationale suggests teaching decision-making over the memorization of plays for fear that it limits creativity.

Let’s not confuse conceptual coaching with ignoring the value of reading a screen offensively. Nor is a coach depending upon scheme dismissing closeout recognition to identify the best way to attack scoring opportunities. The challenge is the balance between narrowing the scoring options by script of scheme versus providing freedom of play for talent to create disadvantages. But, if we are all leaning towards one style of play are we putting our players in the best possible situation to be most competitive?

This is all preface to the hypothetical.

Let’s take a look at a variety of conceptual offense versus continuity.

Villanova men’s basketball seems like the quintessential conceptual offense (Great content via Radius Athletics).  A base 4-out / 1-in motion offense that is simplified in pass and space opposite with sparing ballscreens to create attacking advantages. This offense leans heavily on fundamentals and skill. There is a lot of reliance on having playmakers to penetrate the defense creating collapsing decisions from help-defenders with the threat of capable shooters on the perimeter to stretch. The disadvantage of this style of play comes from the inability to puncture a defense. The spacing is null and void if the defense is never forced to collapse. The ballscreens become problematic offensively if ballhandlers are not capable of either stretching hedge defenders or reading weakside tags. Conceptual offense benefits Team B with the superior skill-set to emphasize spacing for driving gaps and increased distance to read close-outs: shoot it – drive it – move it.

This is the “Spread Offense” popularized by Dana Altman of Oregon and Brad Underwood of Stephen F. Austin, now the University of Illinois (Highlights by Zak Boisvert – Must see A continuity that has weakside shuffle action with 2-man play from the elbow reminiscent of Tex Winter/Phil Jackson triangle offense. The benefit to the continuity is two-fold:

  • Off-ball cuts/screens putting pressure on the rim
  • Pick poisons based on strengths (e.g. slashers find angles, shooters read screens, and playmakers can attack)

The patterned movement can limit isolation opportunities or open (double/triple) gaps with constant cutters. Without counters and pressure-releases the continuity can be vulnerable to pressure defense. This is the consideration with coaches when implementing more scheme over concept. Players will become reliant on particular scoring opportunities as opposed to making plays on their own; the worst-case scenario is when personnel becomes robotic.

The hypothetical comes to the central component of putting personnel in the best situation to be competitive. With limited playmakers talent will take over against a conceptual offense. It is difficult to depend upon spacing when ballhandlers can beat their on-ball defender one-v-one. It is difficult for shooters to find room-and-rhythm when there is little separation from gap to on-the-ball. A continuity can provide comfort and confidence of when, where, and how programs look to score. But, without a plan in place for high-pressure defense or wrinkles (i.e. run-and-jump or full-court pressure to force tempo), a continuity can paralyze an offense.

So, what’s the answer to the hypothetical?

Law of averages. Talent likely wins, but I think a style of play that is comprehensive in scheme with embedded concepts to find the freedom for all roles to thrive is the best offense.


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