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How to Develop a Basketball Primary Fast Break Attack

Unless talent dictates otherwise, the fast break should be the first option in any offense. I like to call this my primary break. This primary break should be used under the following situations:

  1. After a steal.
  2. After a rebound.
  3. After a blocked shot.
  4. After a successful shot

The fast break is the ultimate offensive weapon. It affords maximum penetration on many occasions and penetration to within a fifteen-foot radius of the basket on all occasions. In a two-on-one, three-on-two or a four-on-three situation the tactic often results in a lay-up shot.

Advantages of the Primary Break

Personally, I like to stress this running style of play for twelve reasons:

  1. The fast break is the best method to create easy scoring opportunities.
  2. The fast break allows you to control the tempo of the game.
  3. The fast break is the first and most effective way to beating full, three-quarter, or half-court pressure defenses.
  4. The fast break is very effective against zone defenses providing your players push the ball up-court quickly enough to get a scoring opportunity before the zone has time to organize.
  5. Running a fast break combats the numerous changes in defense that one sees, today. Few high school or college teams have players who can adjust quickly enough to a different defense on three or four occasions and who know immediately what offense to employ. They might call for time out to get instructions from the coach. This is not a practical solution. It is better to get down floor quickly to eliminate the necessity of worrying about what particular defense the opposing team is using at the moment.
  6. Running an effective fast break puts extreme pressure on the opponents, affecting their offensive tempo and causing their coach to have to adjust his defenses. The break may force the defenders to play a slow and deliberate style of basketball that will affect their own game adversely.
  7. Through a fear of being caught up floor, rebounders may drop off the offensive backboard too soon, to the advantage of the fast-breaking team. Conversely, they may stay too long, in an effort to slow down a break.
  8. Another positive psychological factor is that running the fast break effectively invariably leads to better defense on the part of the fast- breaking team. A successful break stimulates the players' aggressive defensive play so that they come up with many more loose balls' violations, and aggressive rebounds.
  9. If a team is known for its fast break, the opponents (unless they feel they have a decided advantage and do not have to change strategy before the game) will do everything possible to get the team to play a slowdown or deliberate game rather than the other way around, so the fast break team will attempt to get the opponents to accelerate their attack as much as possible. If the fast break is being run properly - if the defensive board is being controlled and the men are getting down floor quickly the majority of times - it will make the opponents play more of a running game - eventually a wide-open game.
  10. Kids shoot well today. In order to capitalize on this talent, the offense should get down floor more quickly than the defense. If the best ball handler gets down court quickly, before the defense sets up, with a minimum of ball handling, he can achieve with one pass and a fifteen-foot jump shot or a lay-up shot what it would take three, four, five, or more passes to achieve in any kind of pattern situation.
  11. Another important advantage of the fast break is that it makes every player a potential scorer. The mediocre scorer, who would get no more than half a dozen scoring opportunities a game when running patterns, can pick up two, three, or four easy baskets a game if he hustles on the fast break.

Player Positions for the Primary Break

Laning the basketball fast break1Diagram #1 Primary Break Lanes.

The placement of numbers may differ among coaches, depending upon talent or individual preferences; however, the lanes should remain the same as shown in this illustration.

Player #1, (best ball handler), fills the middle lane. Players #2, (shooting guard) and #3, (quick forward), fill the outside lanes and run the court within one foot of the sideline. (NOTE: Too many players fail to do this and the team does not benefit from the spread (floor spacing) needed for a successful primary break. Coaches should always stress and insist their players abide by this rule.)

Player #3, (the non rebounder and power forward), trailing the play. should continue downcourt to follow any attempted shots by #1, #2, or #3.

Player #5, (the rebounder in this illustration and center), unless told otherwise by the coach, should follow their own lane every time the come downcourt serving as "safety" should there be a sudden change of possession.

I'd like to stress two points: First, some systems require #2 and #3 stop at the free-throw line extended. Second, the Sideline Fast Break does not follow the lanes shown here.
When used in a selective manner, the fast break takes advantage of the varied skills of players on the team. The players should be in the positions in which they function to the best of their ability. The middle position should be occupied by the best ball handler, best dribbler, and quickest squad member.

The lanemen - the best shooters - have the most speed and know how to penetrate on a movement to the basket. Normally, the guard who makes the pass to the middle man (or the other guard who is defensively stationed in the front-court area) is in the best position to fill the second lane.

The opposite forward is usually the man who fills the third lane. In order to have a successful fast break, these men have to get into their positions as quickly as possible, taking the shortest path down floor. Instant transition from the defensive posture to an offensive posture is essential.

The fourth player is the first defender back down floor. He trails the play and follows and shot that may be taken by players #1, #2, or #3. The fifth player down the floor fills the trailer position (Safety).

This system allows all the players more freedom to free-lance at the end of the fast break, capitalizing on individual initiative, and makes it a lot more fun for the players, instead of putting them in a completely patterned, disciplined situation. I feel that we should strike a happy medium, offensively, in that if the fast break opportunity shows itself, the players are able to take it and exercise their initiative. If it does not show itself, they continue in a disciplined pattern.

To run an effective fast break, a team has to exert extreme and aggressive defensive pressure - getting into position quickly, forcing the opponents to violation, stealing the ball, etc. The fast break allows for the close-in baskets - the lay-up baskets - cheap baskets compared to the ones that require a lot of work in a pattern.

Early in the season you should convince your players the must abide by the rules that make your primary break effective.

  1. Give the ball up: The more they give it up, the more they will get it back. Emphasize to your players that the pass that leads directly to the score is no more important than the pass that sets up the pass that leads to the score. Players too often focus on making the assist pass that leads directly to the basket, often forcing the ball to teammates who are not open to the pass. This, of course, leads to turnovers and missed scoring opportunities.
  2. Hit the open player: If a teammate is ahead on the break, pass the ball to him. If he is closer to the basket and open, give him the ball. Before you emphasize the importance of passing, make certain your players understand the meaning of a good pass. They should not try to get fancy or pass to a player in trouble.

Rules of the Primary Break

As with any offense, execution and finish is the key to any successful fast break. Here are the most important points you must teach your players:

  • Look up and see the whole floor.
  • pass ahead to any open player ahead of you
  • Run! Run! Run the floor!
  • Play under control.
  • Let the play develop itself.
  • Read the numbers... go to the spot where you will have the advantage.
  • Make the defense play you.
  • Stay wide to fill the lanes. (Within one foot of the sideline.)
  • Make the easy play.
  • When bringing the ball up the middle..... stop at the free-throw line to shoot or make your pass.
  • Use the chest pass on the break. The bounce pass is too hard to handle.
  • The last player down-court stops at the top of the free-throw circle serves as safety in case of a turnover.
  • Be a good receiver.
  • Communicate! Communicate!
  • Don't have your mind made up about what you want to do.
  • Don't overpass.
  • Jump to meet a pass with both feet off the floor.
  • Pass with both feet on the floor.
  • Don't pass to a player in trouble.
  • Take giant steps.
  • Settle for an open 12 footer instead of a contested 8 footer.

Starting the Primary Break

There are several ways to start the primary break. To implement a fast offense, possibly the most important thing is to get everyone on the team thinking fast break in the sense of an instantaneous transition from defense to offense. 

A pressure man-to-man defense lends itself to the starting of an immediate fast break, because all the players are in ready position, on their toes, and playing aggressive defense. This makes the mental, as well as the physical, transition to the offensive positions easier. Every player must be thinking fast break at all times. The player must be prepared to give the signal as soon as he gets possession of the ball. Most teams probably use the vocal signal "break" to indicate to four of the players, who possibly do not see the ball, that one of their teammates has it and they should get into position.

Most of the time, the fast break begins by the rebound being taken off the defensive board, and its success depends on how quickly the rebound can be cleared out. To execute a successful fast break it is necessary to have good positioning on the defensive backboard. The rebounders have to be certain of their responsibilities.

Before the game, the forwards should be told whether they are to go to the board strong to acquire the rebound, box and hold the man off the board without going for the rebound, or box and then go to the basket. The primary rebounder, perhaps the center, should also have explicit instructions. The chances are that he would be given the responsibility of making an attempt at the rebound almost every time, rather than boxing out his own man, assuming that he has the inside position and the quickness to get to the board before his defender.

The two outside men should also be given alternatives, depending on who they are guarding and what their men are doing. If one of the guards is guarding a good back-court rebounder who is in the habit of going to the basket, the coach may want the guard to box him out before clearing to the outlet area. Alternatively, he may allow the man to break to his basket to be ready for a long pass, knowing that the big men on his own team are closer to the basket and probably will get the rebound most of the time. The coach may prefer a third alternative - having the guards position themselves on a seventeen or eighteen foot radius of the basket. If the ball is tapped out, they have a good opportunity to gain control of the ball, because they are inside the opponent's small men and quicker than their big men. The middle man should be told to get to the side of the floor that the rebound will probably come off to.

When the defensive rebound is acquired, the rebounder should signal as quickly as possible so that the other four men know he has possession of the ball. He must guard against making the signal before the possession. If he anticipates possession and shouts "break," four men abandon their rebounding and defensive responsibilities and start down floor, while the offensive rebounder gets the ball or keeps it in play.

Of course, there is a split second to be gained on the fast break if players can react as soon as they are certain that a man on their team will get possession of the ball. Such knowledge comes with timing and getting accustomed to each other - knowing, for instance, who the primary rebounder is. If the best rebounder is going up clearly for a rebound with no aggressive pressure on his back, a wing man or even a guard may be able to start down on the break. However, it is most important that he does not leave too soon.

Ideally, the rebounder should release the ball to the outlet before he has even hit the ground; however, this move is too advanced for most high school players. Once the rebounder has the ball, he must try to pivot to his outside, on the same side the rebound came off, in order to make the outlet pass. Assuming that he is one of the bigger men, he should raise the ball over his head as quickly as possible and hits the outlet with a two-hand overhead pass.

Whenever possible, the best dribbler should get to the outlet position. If possible, this player should not have to box out when the ball goes up. He can try to position himself on the side where the rebound comes off, get out to the side where he is clear of pressure, and make his position known by calling, "outlet." If he can do this and receive the outlet pass, he can assume the middle position immediately, saving a little time and need for an additional pass. If the outlet pass comes to a guard the coach does not want in the middle, that guard will have to make a second pass to the opposite guard designated to be in the middle. The longer the rebounder holds the ball, the less chance the break has of being successful, or even getting started.

The rebounder should never dribble unless it is an extreme situation. If the ball is stolen here, it usually results in an easy two points for the opponent. The rebounder should protect the ball rather than dribble it. If he is getting a sense of pressure on the outside, however, the player can protect the ball along the baseline side, take one dribble to clear himself of the pressure. If he is being overplayed to that side to the point where a dribble will not do the job, he may pivot to the middle, still trying to make his outlet pass to the same side as the rebound came off.

The pass must be made aggressively. It should not be a lob pass, since that pass gives the defense time to move in and steal or deflect it. When a player turns outside or inside to get the ball to the outlet man on the same side, he must be aware of the defensive alignment. If the outlet man is under excessive pressure, the player with the ball may give him a backdoor pass; however, the outlet man must be able to adjust for this maneuver.

The primary responsibility of the rebounder is to start the fast break without throwing the ball away. If he is going to sacrifice safety for the sake of starting the break a little more quickly, he is better off not to start the break at all.

The fast break can also be started from interceptions of one kind or another and from violations. In the case of a violation, the official handles the ball, which may slow down the start of the break; however, there is still an advantage to be gained. The new offensive team may get over to the sidelines or jump on the ball so that they can get it into the hands of the official, get it back as quickly as possible, and take advantage of the fast break before the defense sets up. Knowing that the official must handle the ball, the opponents may not get back on defense as quickly as they should.

Another way to start a fast break is after the opponent scores. The coach may assign the closest man or specific men to take the ball out-of-bounds as quickly as possible. Occasionally, a coach will prefer not to have certain men take the ball out-of-bounds. It is preferred that the player grab the ball as it comes through the net. If the ball hits the floor, he is not doing his job.

After a made foul shot is a fourth time a fast break can be started. It is much like the previous paragraph; except, it is more advantageous since the players can be placed in strategic positions.

A fast break can also start from a fumbled ball, a bad pass, a loose ball, or a missed free-throw.

Passes Used

The length of the pass and the type of pass that will be used to clear the rebound to the outlet man will depend on the defensive pressure on the rebounder and the outlet man. If the pressure on the rebounder is negligible, he can use either the two-hand-over-the-head snap pass or the one hand baseball pass. The first is the safest and quickest pass since the outlet man are usually no more than fifteen to eighteen feet away from the rebounder at the time of the rebound. As the player gets the rebound, the ball is almost always over his head, since his arms are completely extended. As he comes down, he simply pivots and snaps the ball.

There are but few players who can accurately throw the baseball pass; however, when a player does have good control of it he can throw the ball harder and farther. The farther he can throw it the quicker he can start the fast break. He can throw the "touchdown" should a teammate get down court ahead of the defense, or throw to the outlet man down court, perhaps at the half-court line. If the passer must rely on the two-hand-overhead pass, the outlet man will have to retreat and come much closer.

To make a good baseball pass, the player should make a catcher's throw, that is from back of the ear. It should leave his hands with a backward spin.

Continued on next page

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