Basketball Offense: Motion Vs. Set Plays

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

Strengths Weaknesses
• Difficult to scout • Difficult to teach well
• Prepares team for tournament play – half court game • Reliance on skills of all 5 offensive players
• Shot selection determined by the coach • Can be difficult to create shots for best players
• Assigns each player a role • Can be difficult to execute in time/score situations
• Focused on execution – how you do it, not what you do • Steep learning curve for players
• Maximizes practice time – work on offense/defense at same time
• Teaches players how to play the game of basketball
• Celebrates individual sacrifice and teamwork
• Focused on screening and cutting

Set Play Offense

Strengths Weaknesses
• Coach determines the action ie. Ball screen, post up, flex, etc. • Usually easier to scout
• Excellent for time/score situations because of control of coach • Players must execute their responsibility
• Allows coach to create opportunities for best options in best areas • Teaches a limited understanding of the game of basketball (ie. Screen here, cut there, post…)
• Easier to learn for most players • Players can be confused if they play a spot they haven’t practiced
• Ability to hide weaker offensive players away from the action • Does not develop players as well as other types of offense
• Scouting allows coach to attack how they defend (ball screens, etc.) • Typically not a tournament style offensive system
• Easier to make adjustments during the game
• Position players where they can most likely succeed
• Prepare 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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