Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 4: ATOs and OOB Plays

It’s been said for as long as I’ve watched basketball that the plays a coach has the most control over come out of timeouts. It makes sense: that’s the only time of the game where you can draw up a play on the fly or tell the entire huddle at once what to run. Sure, coaches can call sets from the sideline, but they don’t get to draw up the set while the shot clock bleeds away.

In terms of in-game control, this is indeed where the coach has the most influence. Of course, that’s only part of the equation: a coach is made better by his out-of-game control more than anything else. Quality practices, a smart system, informed recruiting, and creativity/innovation help a coach stand out more than anything they can do in a game. That said, being able to draw up a good set for a quick two or three points out of a timeout or an out-of-bounds situation can be the final piece in a coach’s arsenal.

As with the rest of this series, ATOs and OOB plays are meant to be part of your better basketball offense, not the entirety of it. Rare is it that a team is great at both, but not at least good at the rest of their offense. Per Synergy, of the top 15 ATO offenses this year, just one ranked below the 85th-percentile in overall offensive efficiency nationally, and 13 of the 15 were in the 91st-percentile or higher. (Holy Family University in Philadelphia either has the greatest ATO coach or the worst non-ATO coach in the nation, with a 36th-percentile offense.) Generally, the plays are going to work better than most others if you have the players to execute them.

However, this doesn’t discount the necessity of the aforementioned creativity and innovation. If you’re only running a couple ATO sets and haven’t changed things up in a while, an opposing coaching staff can snuff it out pretty quickly. Continuous tweaks and new ideas can allow you to spring a player for a wide-open three or an easy cut off of a screen to the rim. Considering I am not a coach and know next-to-nothing about what makes ATOs work, I figured I should discuss this with experts.

The three teams in this portion of the series are either very well-known for their ATO prowess or should be. Any coach or fan of the game reading this knows that the Belmont Bruins have possessed insanely good ATO sets for as long as Rick Byrd coached there. You know Jim Crutchfield from his work at West Liberty; now you’ll get to see what he’s doing at Nova Southeastern. Lastly, Scott Heady isn’t a household name, but the Marian Knights had the fourth-best offense in all of college basketball this year and his ATO/OOB sets were a big part of it. Exploration is good, just like innovating is.

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