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

Some final words

As I mentioned on Twitter in the lead-up to this piece, this was the toughest post to write thus far. This is because of three key reasons:

  1. There’s a ton of different ways to run an out-of-bounds or after-timeout play. Belmont assistant Brian Ayers told me that Rick Byrd often changed a BLOB or ATO action just by adding a word to the call and shifting the alignment or one player’s role in the play. By that alone, that opens a wormhole of different alignments or ideas all based on one play. Theoretically, Belmont could run 40 different versions of a play designed for Dylan Windler to hit a backdoor cut for a layup. So could your team. That’s the beauty, and the frightening side, of all of this.
  2. For some teams, these actions are just extensions of their half-court offense. Largely, this applies to Nova Southeastern, who has awesome OOB/ATO actions because their half-court offense is full of fun motion actions. However, a healthy amount of sideline plays are just half-court sets, though Belmont is a joyful exception. I think it’s more entertaining and more thoughtful to seek the optimistic read of things, which is that your half-court offense is the most important part of a quality OOB/ATO action in the first place. If you don’t have the guys and you don’t have the offense, you better be a genius with a marker and a dry-erase board.
  3. I could’ve written 5,500+ words on Belmont alone. Other than John Beilein’s Michigan teams, it is the single most impactful offense on my personal philosophy. Restricting myself to ~1,500 words was brutal.

All that said, I hope you’ve gleaned some useful information here. I especially think the importance of a sideline out-of-bounds play is understated. Often, fans only think about these in the context of a late-clock or late-game scenario, when your team needs a shot to tie or win the game. However, Belmont and Rick Byrd showed how great the sideline can be for getting quick points out of backdoor actions, especially when inbounding below the three-point line. At that point, what’s the purpose of tossing it 40 feet away from the basket?

Plus, all three teams emphasize the importance of post players, which I love. Considering that the newest NBA champion was led by a “small” forward and every single member of its eight-man rotation shot threes, you may think the post player’s demise is near. That’s not entirely true; four of the top five players in the 2018-19 NBA regular season by Value Over Replacement Player were frontcourt players, and the biggest trade of the offseason was for a 25-year-old center. In college basketball, size still matters, and this year’s champion owned its opponents at the rim and on the boards. At lower levels, this can be emphasized even further; it is incredibly rare for a 6’11” center with range to be playing in the NAIA, like Marian’s Reggie Kissoonlal.

I loved a quote from Rick Byrd that Ayers relayed to me: “the first 39 minutes are more important than the last minute, but you have to always be prepared for the last minute.” I think that’s as true as it gets. Plays for special situations, like BLOBs, SLOBs, and ATOs, are important, but they’re outweighed by the importance of the rest of your possessions. That said: better have something good for those special situations.

Thanks for reading the third installment of Building a Better Basketball Offense. At the end of each post, there will be a link to extra notes or statistics I didn’t use, plus links to all GIFs and game videos used in the making of the post. Also, there’s transcripts of the interviews I did with each coach, with full audio files available upon request. Here’s this post’s edition.

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