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How to Coach and Teach The Basketball Stack Offense

I have often written of the need to disguise your half-court offense. The double stacked basketball offense is a good choice of a set to use in this manner. It allows you to immediately get into your real attack while attacking.

This type of offense is an oldie, but still works in this era of the 3-pointer. I have no idea who used it first, but Bob Cousy got a lot of miles out of it while guiding Boston College to many successful seasons.

To use this offense you better have a good ball-handling point guard who is capable of running the show. This is most important because he handles the ball most of the time and generally signals plays from out front.

The "Stack" has many advantages. Most of all it reduces errors because your best ball handler, depicted as #1 in all the diagrams, handles the ball most of the time. He pushes  the ball down-court. Once the ball is in the offensive set position, the only person who is required to dribble the ball is #1, whose dribbling movement keys the offense. His observations of the defenders dictates which play to use in a given situation.

Against a person-to-person defense, he can call the plays by number. One or two short passes, this offense will usually get your team a good shot at the basket, either a high percentage medium jump shot or a shot from the low post area.

Other advantages of the Stack Offense are as follows:

  • The stack tends to neutralize any defense forcing it to play you person-to-person.
  • Double teaming a star becomes difficult as the open player is in position for a close shot near the basket.
  • As the coach, you can easily arrange mismatches by altering the starting position of players, except for player #1.
  • The stack is difficult to defend. The offense can go left or right quickly from the starting position. The one player front is the most difficult offense to press person-to-person.
  • Most teams practice defense against the normal set systems.
  • It is an excellent offense for rebounding. Once a shot is taken, all the bigger players jam the offensive boards for a second and third attempt at the basket. If you have two tall players, not adaptable to a perimeter position, you can use this offense effectively by keeping them in their best rebounding and shooting positions with a minimum of movement.
  • The stack is not tiring, fun to play, and its simple patterns are easily understood.
  • If properly timed and executed, it is impossible to keep this offense from getting a good shot.

The Stack Offense in not without faults, either. A few are:

  • This offense is susceptible to fast-breaking teams if the ball is stolen from the outside man, or if the team can not control the offensive board consistently.
  • The stack is not as effective if used as the only half-court offense for an entire game. In my opinion, all teams should have more than one offense. I prefer to use a fast-break offense at all times, penetrating against the defense whenever possible, even if the defense has three players back against our three players. I like the stack as a primary set half-court offense after the fast-break and secondary break fails to obtain a desired shot.
  • If the entire team does not move together on the outside man's keys, this offense will fail. Timing and surprise are essential to this type of offense.

Player Qualifications

Player #1 is the quarterback, the best dribbler, best ball handler, play-maker with quickness, and a 3-point threat. He must be able to take defensive pressure and must always be able to get back on defense quickly.

Player #2 should be a big, strong, tough offensive player, probably the best scorer among your bigger players. This person should be able to work well at the low post position using the body to seal-off the opponent. This player should always jump toward the ball, catching it with both feet in the air, and landing on both feet at the same time. This allows either foot to become the pivot foot which makes him, or her, harder to defend. Player #2 should master the drop-step, hook shot and shot fake and duck-under move. If double-teamed, he, or she should pass-off to Player #5 on the weak side if 5's defender leaves to form the double team.

Player #3 is the best shooter facing the basket. This person should be an excellent short-to-medium jump shooter and a good feeder from the wing or corner into the pivot. #3 should be capable of playing 2 on 2 basketball with Player #2, and should be able to move 1 on 1 from his, or her, side position. #3's position is good for a left-handed shooter.

Player #4 is usually a smaller player than #3. Player #4 should be an excellent jump shooter from the medium shooting area. #4's position is good for a right-handed jump shooter or for the second guard if there is a good shooting forward to play in the #3 position.

Player #5 is usually the second tallest player and should be a strong rebounder who can block out well. This player must be alert of all movement when away from the ball because he, or she, will be open frequently because his, or her, defender is often called to help a teammate toward the ball.

Player #1 will always be back as the defensive safety in all plays except those in which he moves to the basket. On those occasions, either #3 or #4, depending upon the movements, will assume #1's defensive position. #2, #4, and #5, the three best rebounders, are normally in a triangle arrangement moving to the board whenever a shot is taken, with #3 the intermediate rebounder in most situations. After the initial movement to the left, or right,  #1 is in position to pass to #2, #3, #4, or #5 from either side off the dribble, depending on the defensive alignment and position.
Diagram 1 - Player Set Alignment

Player #1 is outside with the ball. #2 and #3 are along the right side and facing the foul lane with #3's left foot behind #2's right foot which is farthest from the lane. In other words #2 is facing the basket.

#4 and #5 are along the left foul lane with #4's right foot behind #5's left foot.

These positions are adjustable out toward the free throw line or toward the basket, depending upon the defensive alignments of the opponent. #2's position determines the distance from the baseline. Player #2 will pivot counterclockwise on his right foot after initial movement to his side to assume a low-pivot position with his back to the basket.

Once #2 has found a low pivot position he prefers he will always set up where he can make the pivot into this position. Everyone else sets up accordingly.

It is possible to be farther to the foul line than the positions indicate, say anywhere from 1 to 4 feet farther back from the foul lane if the offense works better that way. The position varies slightly, but normally #2's left foot will be about even with the broken line of the lower half of the free-throw circle.

Diagram 2 - Basic Movement

Player #1 keys the offense by a penetrating dribble to his right. #3 moves out at a 45 degree angle to receive a pass from #1

After passing #1 sets a screen for #4 coming around teammate #5 and cutting off #1's screen to look for a pass from #3 into the high post.

After #4 cuts by, #1 rotates back outside in a defensive position.

#3's options after receiving the pass from #1 is to shoot, if open, pass inside to #2 at the low post, pass to the #4 as he comes around #1 at the high post, or pass back outside to #1

Diagram 3 - Clear Side for Play #1 for player #1, a penetrating drive by #1

#1 calls out "One!" and dribbles left, crossovers back right as teammates #3 and #2 clear-out to the opposite side, leaving the right side open to a penetrating drive by #1.

#4 makes his normal move to the high post position and #5 adjusts himself along the lane, while #3 assumes the defensive position.

#1 has the options to drive in for a layup, take a jump shot, or dish off to #5, #4, #2 or #3.

Diagram 4 - Give-and-Go Play #2, a penetrating cut by #1

If #1 or #2's positions are being overplayed, this opens up the old give-and-go as illustrated by this diagram.

#1 dribbles as if to start the offense and #3 cuts out at a sharper angle and farther outside than usual. #2 sets a screen at the right elbow of the free throw line.

#1 fakes a cut to the outside, then cuts to the inside off the screen expecting a return pass from #3.

Players #4 and #5 make their normal moves.

Diagram 5 - Pick-and-Roll Play #3, a penetrating pick-and-roll by #1 and #2

#1 calls out, "Three!" and once he starts his dribble, #2 sets a screen in the path of #1's defender at approximately the free throw line extended as #3 fakes toward the right perimeter, but clears-out to the opposite side of the floor.

#1 dribbles off #2's screen. #2 makes an offensive roll toward the basket after #1 dribbles off his screen and on to the basket if best or pass off to #2 on his roll as illustrated in this diagram.

#4 makes his normal cut to above the free throw line and is the backcourt defender if a shot is taken. #5 adjusts his position along the left foul line.

Diagram 6 - Counter Play, Backdoor Cut

Teams will often overplay #3 in his cut outside. Here is how to counteract to this pressure.

My old coach Arad McCutchan used this play a lot. #1 signaled this play by faking a pass to #3 at the wing. His fake told #3 to cut backdoor. If #3 was open, a bounce pass was made to him as he cut for the basket. Otherwise, he could pass off to #2 who could relay the ball to #3 who continues to cut behind the double screen of #4 and #5.

#4 and #5 make their normal moves.

Diagram 7 - The Split Play, a countermove

Some teams will try playing a defender in front of #2 to guard #3 and in front of #5 to guard #4. To counter this defense, #1 at the point recognizing this calls, "Split!" then dribbles to his left, the opposite of #3, the player he intends to pass the ball.

In this diagram X3 is guarding #3 and X4 is guarding #4. #5 breaks to the high post, taking X5 with him. #4 breaks outside left, his defender, X4, going with him.

On this movement #3 fakes right but cuts left down low under the basket.

#1 times his dribble and pass to #3's cut. #3's defender, X3, cannot guard #3. Should X2 pick up #3, then #1 can make a quick lob pass to #2 who will have X3 on his back as he moves toward the basket.

Diagram 8 - #3 Play for Teammate #3 at the Wing

The pick and roll may be called by any player with the ball. In this illustration, #1 has made his penetrating dribble and passed the ball to #3. #3 looks at #2 and calls out, "Three!" telling #2 he wants a rear screen.

#3 dribbles off the screen and #3 rolls toward the basket. #3 can shoot or deliver a bounce pass to #2 on his roll, or pass to #4 who is making his normal movement off the stacked alignment.

Diagram 9 - Clear Side for Player #3, a one-on-one move by #3 (Play #1 of our Fundamental 8)

Player #1 dribbles and #3 moves out to receive the ball. #2 clears out to the other side of the floor, allowing #3 to take his defender one-on-one on a clear side of the floor.

Players #4 and #5 make their normal moves from the stacked set, #4 cutting off #5's screen and taking advantage of #1's screen near the left elbow.

The same play can be used with #2 popping out to receive the ball and #3 clearing out to the other side of the floor.

Diagram 10 - A Scissor Cut Play #5 (First Cutter - Second Cutter)

This diagram is an illustration of one way of using play #5 of our Fundamental 8 plays from a stacked set formation.

#1 dribbles to the right and passes to #3. #2 pivots to a best position to receive a pass from #3. After the pass #1 and #3 make their cuts around #2 as #4 makes his normal move to a defensive posture in the outer-half of the free throw circle.

#2 can hand off to either #1 or #2 as they pass by, pivot and take a shot himself, drop the ball off to one of the players underneath or pass back outside to #4.

Diagram 11 - Pick Opposite Play #6 from the stacked offense

This diagram illustrates one way you can use play #6 of our Fundamental 8 in a stacked offense.

Player #1 dribbles and passes the ball to #3. #2 moves across the lane next to #5. Teammate #4 cuts around this double screen set by #5 and #2 opposite the ball and drives down the lane toward the basket. #2 makes an offensive roll opening up to the ball should there is a switch. Player #3 passes to #4 if open, or #2 on his roll back toward the ball should the defense switch.

Diagram 12 - The old Indiana Weave Offense from a stacked set

As often expressed in my explanation of the "Equal Opportunity Offense" in the value of disguising your offense, this diagram shows how to get into the old-fashioned "Indiana Weave".

You can get into a tight three-man weave by players #1, #2, and #3 as illustrated here. On a "Weave!" call, #1 dribble penetrates in, #3 comes around #2 and behind #1, receiving a hand-off or flip-pass from #1, and dribbles across the free throw lane. Player #4, timing his movement with that of #1 and #3, comes around #5 and behind #3, receiving the hand-off from #3.

Both #1 and #3 buttonhook back to continue the weave if a good shooting opportunity has not surfaced. Players #2 and #5 normally will move into the basket for good offensive rebounding position.

Diagram 13 - Counter Move against the help-side defense

Sometimes the defenders on #4 and #5 will sink off to help-out on the ball-side.

This play counteracts that help-out defensive move. As #3 pops out to the wing position with #1's dribbling movement to the right, #4 starts his cut around the screen that #5 would normally set. At the same instant #5 cuts to the free throw circle as illustrated.

#1 quickly passes to #5. Player #4 reverses direction looking for a relay pass from #5



Learn from an NBA legend...
Our 10 Most Frequently Read Articles:
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  2. How to Play Basketball Offense -

  3. One-on-one basketball moves

  4. Basketball Coach's toolbox

  5. How to Teach the 8 Basic Fundamental Plays in Basketball

  6. How to Teach Players to Dribble a Basketball

  7. How to coach and teach the basketball pick-and-roll play

  8. How to Coach the Basketball Give and Go Play

  9. How to Coach the 1-3-1 Basketball Zone Pressure Defenses

  10. How to Coach and Teach the Wheel Man-to-Man Basketball Offense

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