An Overview of the Spread Offense Basketball
The spread offense has existed for decades, with much of its popularity is attributed to legendary coach Johnny Orr, best known for his four decades at the helm of the Michigan and Iowa State football programs from 1968 to 1980 and 1980 to 1994, respectively.
Although Johnny developed the offense decades ago, it is most closely associated with University of Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. While Oregon's Dana Altman and Oklahoma State's Mike Boynton each run their own unique variations of the spread offense, Brad Underwood has used the offense heavily throughout his coaching career, including with his current program at Illinois.
This article examines the fundamentals of the spread offense, how it is used to generate simple looks, as well as how it can be run as a continuity offense.
How Does the Spread Offense Work?
In the spread offense, five players are put on four spots on the perimeter. The perimeter positions 1-4 are occupied by four interchangeable players. The perimeter players who fill the slots are slightly wider than elbow extended, while the wing players are free-throw line extended.
The Spread begins with an alignment similar to the Princeton, with two players in the slots and two on the wings. Take note of how the high-end close spacing allows for empty corners.
Underwood said in his interview, "spacing is a real big key, 5 players put on the four spots out on the perimeter are all interchangeable, you'll usually see our 4 or 5-man play in the high post. We try to reverse the ball and get it to the wing, which initiates the offense. The one thing we do is always cut to the rim with our first cutter, looking for an easy layup".
The First Cut
The offense begins with a pass to the wing, initiated by the first cutter. There are two main points of emphasis on this cut: pacer speed and cutting full speed to the basket. The cutter has a head start on his defender, so he can use that to their advantage by cutting full speed to the basket.
The other strategy is where the offense can be catered to the strengths and weaknesses of certain players. The emphasis is on the defender's line of vision; if the defender has his head turned away from the passer, Illinois players are told to throw the ball to the rim. This group knows to throw the ball no matter what, and as soon as they turn their heads, they just put it up there.
As this first counter cut, he gets to the rim and passes to the middle man in the corner. The postman then goes to the elbow, giving the second cutter a read. Usually, they take him low and run him to the block. After the first cut, a second cut comes right away from the weak side wing.
The Second Cut
If the first cut does not work and the number one player cuts through to the strong side corner, then the number five player will rotate and set a cross screen for the weak side wing (3).
When 3 comes off the cross-screen from 5, they can make a number of different reads. In Underwood's strategy of the Spread, this player almost always rejects the screen and cuts to the strong side block to look for the ball. If 3 doesn't get the first pass from 4, he can try to post up his defender, especially if he is bigger than his opponent.
This part of the Spread offense is called the "2nd cut," making a strong side triangle between 1 and 3.
In Underwood's offense, the second cutter usually cuts to the fall side block because of the angle of the cut and the overall spacing, the second cut is rarely for an immediate low, but they can use it for a post-up.
The second cutter can also have the option to cut to the top of the key. Underwood's teams usually cut to the block, but Dana Altman at Oregon runs the Spread, and his team's usually cut to the top of the key with the second cutter.
The Pinch Post
Underwood prefers to flow into what is known as a "pinch post." The weak side of the court called the pinch post, naturally leads to a two-man game. The wing (4) has two options when the ball is reversed to the 5 at the weak side elbow: he can skip the ball directly to the 5, or he can swing the ball to the slot (2), who can then swing the ball to the 5.
When 5 receives the pass at the weak side elbow, a 2-man game is initiated. Most of the time, 2 will sprint to receive a handoff from 5 at the elbow before turning the corner and heading downhill. After receiving the ball, 5 would drive down the middle lane to the rim, while the off-ball players rotated to fill in behind 2's drive.
Although the two-man game in the pinch post has won championships, many people think that it's not the easiest action to be efficient with in today's game. The two-man game happens at the elbow, and it leads to a lot of inefficient mid-range jump shots. When you have a player like Coburn, it makes the problem even worse, because a defense will let a 7-foot bruiser like him take 15-foot jump shots all game long.
Jackson used the same pinch post for Michael Jordan. If the first and second cutters aren't open in a spread, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo will get the ball to the pinch post. This can be done directly or by going from station to station.
Denying the wing entry is one strategy that defenses will use in an attempt to disrupt the offense. This denial typically sets off the entire offense. Instead of getting pinned down, the player who is waved through can set a back screen for a lot of things, just like the dribble entry is a pressure release if the defense is denying. Another pressure release is to hit the five-man, which makes the two players in the slots cut to the basket.
Underwood's teams are able to circumvent the wing denial with the help of the dribble entry, which also enables them to start the offense normally.
If the ball handler in the slot (1) cannot get into the paint via the wing entry, they will dribble at 3 on the wing instead, which will cause a cut from 3 all the way through to the dunker spot on the weak side of the court.
During this time, the "first cut" occurs when player number 5 steps up to set a back screen for the player who is currently seated in the weak side slot (2). If the first cut does not open, then 2 continues through to the strong side corner, and the "second cut" then occurs with 5 cross screening for 4. If the "first cut" does not open, then 2 continues through to the strong side corner.
If the second cut is not available, 5 will then turn around and put a pin down for 3, instructing him to sprint to the top of the key in search of a possible catch-and-shoot opportunity.
Elbow Pick and Roll
Out of the spread offense, Brad Underwood's teams will transition into an elbow pick and roll. A call or a read may set off this process.
If, for instance, the ball is reversed to the top of the key after the first cuts, if the player at the top of the key cannot enter it to 5 at the elbow to commence the pinch post action, the teams will automatically flow into the elbow pick and roll action.
This happens when the wing player (4) is unable to reverse the ball to the top of the key or initiate the pinch post by skipping it directly to 5 on the weak side elbow. This occurs when the wing player (4) cannot initiate the pinch post by skipping it directly to 5 on the weak side elbow.
The flare itself is initiated when a player on the wing dribbles the ball toward a player who is located at the top of the key (push). When this occurs, the player who is positioned at the 5 spot on the court will advance from the elbow position on the weak side to create a flare screen for the player who is positioned at the top of the key. The first choice is to make contact with the player who is flaring for an open three-point shot. However, in the event that it is missing, Underwood's teams will flow into the middle ball screen.
This move is controversial because some people think that Underwood's offense is based on the idea that the defense can't stop everything. According to this view, If an opponent chooses to garden the Spread, he or she has a read, a call, or a counter for that coverage, which may be technically correct. It's based on a bad idea of what a defense should be trying to do unless there's a huge difference in talent.
This view believes that a modern defense doesn't have to stop the offense from doing everything. Instead, it should look at all of the offense's moves and figure out which ones lead to the worst results. Then, it should come up with a scheme or coverage that tricks the offense into doing those things.
Spread Offense Continuity
The spread offense can be run in a continuous way, and it works much better when done that way and after 1-2 ball changes. More than any other coach, Underwood loves to run the spread as a way to keep the game going. He also preaches that multiple ball changes are a key part of the offense. Dana Altman of Oregon and Mike Boynton of Oklahoma State, on the other hand, will use the spread as an initial, one-time action before moving into some kind of ball screen action.
Ball screens are absolutely not the answer; offenses that rely solely on ball screens and spacing have their advantages and disadvantages. Our understanding of offensive efficiency has changed, and we should not only challenge our offensive systems, schemes, and actions, but also our understanding of how to play offense.
It is important to innovate, as innovation is evidently occurring throughout the basketball world as the game progresses.