Demystifying The Motion Offense

One of the most misunderstood concepts in college basketball is the motion offense. To many fans, the words ‘motion offense' indicates a lack of offense. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Friar Insider recently spoke to two local and highly successful high school coaches about the motion offense. Both coaches use the offense, at least part of the time at their schools, and both watch a lot of Providence College basketball. Both also wished to remain anonymous. Any remarks in this article that are in quotations come from the two coaches.

First, a little background. Providence has run the motion offense since Tim Welsh became coach nine years ago. The Friars have consistently ranked among the leaders in scoring in the Big East under Welsh over the past five years, and last year's 18-13 campaign was no different. PC averaged 76.0 points per game, and shot .484 as a team from the floor – the highest team field goal percentage at the school since 1988-89.

There are basic premises involved with the motion offense. "The offense is very free-flowing – but only to an extent. Players have to constantly move, constantly cut and screen, and spacing is very important. It's organized without always looking organized."

The motion offense can be effective against man to man or zone defenses. Because of its flexibility, players are expected to move to open spaces on the court and attack gaps. Once players understand the precepts of the offense, specific sets and plays can be run out of it.

"Providence used a lot of what we call the 3-out, 2-in set within the motion offense. That means that they kept three players on the perimeter and two guys down low, which they were able to do because they had a strong post presence. If you didn't have good inside players, you could run a 4-out, 1-in set… or if you had weak perimeter players, you might run a 1-out, 4-in set."

The point guard is key in the motion offense. The ball should be in his hands to start the offense and he must stay back to prevent run outs by the opponent when a shot goes up. "Providence is pretty good at this. You don't usually see a lot of fast break baskets against them off of misses."

Spacing is another key. When players are on top of each other, its an invitation for double-teams and turnovers. "This is one area where Providence, like a lot of teams that run motion, sometimes has a problem. If guys aren't moving, things get bunched up and you could see Providence turning the ball over quite a bit."

Perimeter players must exercise patience. When receiving the ball, many coaches will teach their players to hold the ball for a second to allow cuts and screens to develop. The perimeter players look to the low post, execute a dribble-drive or look for the opportunity to shoot. Moving the ball by passing is the preferred method – players should dribble only to avoid a five count, attack a gap, open a passing lane or exchange position with another player.

"We don't want our players standing around. They should always move with a purpose. After passing the ball, a player has several options… they can cut to the hoop for a return pass, they can set a screen, they can go backdoor. V-cutting is a big part of our offense. A player on the perimeter passes the ball, cuts sharply towards the basket, then reverses back to the arc. Often they'll be open for a return pass and an open look."

"The goal is always to get the ball down low. Providence did a pretty good job of getting the ball to (Herbert) Hill, but not a good enough job when defenses were determined to take him away. There are a lot of high-low options in the motion where you can use your two post guys to free up the one you want. Screening is so important in this situation. For example, in an overplay, the ball side post can set a screen for the weak side post who heads towards the ball for the pass and layup."

Because the motion offense is so free-flowing, many fans assume that there are no plays and everything that occurs, happens by chance. "Not true at all. Tim calls sets or plays on every possession. Then it becomes a matter of executing the call or recognizing if the defense is doing something to take that call away. The motion offense is designed to spread the ball around and get open shots for everyone. Providence does a pretty good job of accomplishing that. A lot of times they may come up empty, but the guy had a wide open look."

So, the basics of the motion offense include a lot of player movement, set cuts with a purpose, good spacing, screens to open cutters and shooters and players who are capable of burying the open three pointer or finishing the give and go inside. The offense includes sets and specific plays that are designed to attack any defense, and should spread the ball around enough to keep everyone happy.

"It's my offense of choice. I can play half court or run with it, and my players all get their shots. The key is to teach the fundamentals so players can react on the fly with it, because its hard to predict what the defense is going to do on a given possession. But the beauty of the motion is that its very adaptive, and if the players have been taught well, the offense can react to anything."

There's more to the motion offense than meets the eye… and Providence has the offensive numbers to prove it. "One other factor to keep in mind about the motion offense… the more experience that you have, the better you'll run it. It definitely takes time to learn it and a young team will struggle with it. It's more intricate than you might expect because of all the options. So I expect Providence to be pretty good this year on offense. Pretty good indeed."

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