Concepts and Trends FIBA Champions League

The 2021 FIBA Champions League playoffs have recently concluded with San Pablos Burgos being crowned champion. As with many international basketball competitions, there are a number of interesting takeaways that coaches can adapt and apply. In this article, we are going to examine concepts and trends from FIBA Champions League playoffs.  

Defensive ATOs from FIBA Champions League

Throughout the playoffs, teams often had a defensive adjustment for after timeouts (ATO). This was to disrupt whatever the offense drew up in the huddle. This included both offensive inbounds in the back court and in the front court. Some examples included using zone or man pressure if the ball was inbounded in the back court or switching to a zone for inbounds in the front court. 

This concept is something that may not be used enough in North American coaching. By having a changeup for ATOs, it can have two potential impacts. First, if the offense is not prepared for it, it can disrupt the ATO play they drew up. Second, if the offense is prepared for it, it will more than likely result in either drawing up two plays or forcing the offense to draw something up that would work against your man to man defense and change up defense.

Taking it a Step Further

One particular tactic of interest was Karisiyaka’s 2-2-1 press. One concept of the press is the use of the delayed trap. As seen in the film, the two top players of the press will soft trap the opposing point guard. This forces the point guard to move it and have someone else initiate the offense. If offense chooses to get the ball back to their point guard, it results in less time to run their play. 

Peel Switching

Another defensive trend from FIBA Champions League playoffs was Peel Switching. Peel Switching occurs when the on-ball defender is beat on dribble penetration. Then, the closest help defender switches onto the ball while the defender beaten peels off and switches onto another player. The biggest advantage of peel switching is the avoidance of having two players guarding the ball. Through Peel Switching, you are able to keep a body on body at all times. Thus, helping your defense stay out of disadvantage situations.

A decision cue used for peel switching is that when the ball handler’s shoulders are ahead of his defender’s shoulders, they should Peel Switch. When there is zero chance of a full chest to chest recovery for the on-ball defender, the Peel Switch philosophy is that there is no reason to try to recover, and instead should just keep everyone matched up. As well, it is important for the perimeter player to sink in to switch and not switch up. By sinking in, it will result in less of an opportunity for the off-ball player to back cut during the peel switch. This is especially important during two player Peel Switches.

The three keys for the Peel Switch defense are:

  1. Coaches’ willingness to switch  – > importance of having players who can guard multiple positions
  2. Great decision making for when to actually switch
  3. High level communication

One potential disadvantage is you put into the mind of the person guarding the ball that they always have help. For this reason, pairing Peel Switching with a very aggressive, on-ball defensive philosophy might make the most sense.

Taking it a Step Further

Although we did not see full-on Peel Switch rotations during the FIBA Champions League playoffs, there were a lot of two player Peel Switches. One example of this was in drop or ice ball screen coverage: the on-ball defender will make a rearview contest effort to get back to chest to chest, but once they recognize there is no chance to recover back, they will just peel onto the big rolling/popping.

Another two player Peel Switch tactic was after a ball screen switch. The offense would dive their big to the dunker to create a double gap to attack the perimeter mismatch. After a threatening drive off the mismatch attack, this provided the opportunity to switch back to their initial checks. At the same time it avoids putting two players on the ball.

Strasbourg Switching Defense

One team in particular that surprised many during the FIBA Champions League playoffs was Strasbourg. A major reason for this was their disruptive switching defense. What coaches can specifically take away from the style of defense that Strasbourg played was their ability to scram switch (switch off the ball) once they end up in mismatch situations. This helped avoid the offense being able to exploit mismatches to attack and usually occurred as the ball went away from the mismatch. If the defense ended up in a situation where the offense was exploiting an interior mismatch, they would look to trap the post from the baseline side and rotate out of it. 

Taking it a Step Further

One possible way to work on switching out of poor match ups is through a 4-on-4 small-sided game in which the coach scripts a switch and a pass away from the action. On the air time of the pass ahead, the defense can scram switch the matchup. An important teaching point is for the guard to switch-over the screen, meaning to not get under the switch. By staying on top of the mismatch, it allows the defense to front the mismatch more easily and also to scram switch without being buried behind the bigger player. If the defender gets buried, it could result in a skip pass to the corner and advantage for the offense.

FIBA Champions League

Possible loads can include not scripting the pass ahead and eventually not scripting the switch to make the situation more random. As well, the spacing and location of players can be randomized as well to make it even more game-like once the players understand the concept.

Pop to Punish Drop

Popping the screener was another common ball screen concept used by teams in the FIBA Champions League playoffs. Pick and pop was used against forms of aggressive coverage, but was particularly effective against the drop. The big advantage of popping versus the drop is that it puts more stress on a less mobile big. This leads to a very difficult and long closeout. Many teams  “Cut the Pop” which can be defined as when player one pass away cuts to prevent a stunt. If there is no cut, this allows the defender one pass away to guard both his man and the screener popping. 

Taking it a Step Further

The timing of when to cut the pop is also an important consideration. If the cut is prior to the pop, it creates an early double gap, but results in no opportunity to score off the cut itself. If the cut is just as the ball is being delivered and the stunt is occurring, it can result in more opportunities to score off the cut itself.

In order to allow the defender one pass away to stunt without getting punished, defensively teams have used the box switch, which is where the low man takes the cutter and the stunt defender switches onto the low man’s matchup. However, one offensive counter to the box switch is to hold the corner in order to make the closeout that much farther for the stunt defender.

Use of the Reject

One concept that stood out from a player development perspective is the use of the reject by players on all teams. A number of key teaching points stood out. First many players were able to set up the reject by using their eyes to sell that they were going to come off the ball screen. Ryan Pannone refers to this as “selling lies with your eyes”. Second, players had a wide variety of ways to change directions when rejecting and used change of speed to create an advantage. Lastly, players were effective at using the late reject.  The read to use this was when the on-ball defender would cheat and get over the screen prior to the offense, creating an advantage for the ball handler in the other direction.  

Taking it a Step Further

One way to work on this is in a 2-on-2 ball screen small-sided game

FIBA champions league

When emphasizing the reject, Alex Sarama will add additional points if the offense scores when rejecting the ball screen. This also should result in the defense emphasizing taking away whatever is higher value to the offense.

Additional scoring system modifications could include: 

  • The winner is whichever team has the ball handler reject and leads to scoring in three different spots.
  • Only receive additional points if the ball handler rejects in a different way each time.

Some additional loads to this can include adding additional players, changing the spot of the ball screen so that it is in a random spot each possession, changing the defensive coverage, or adding a dynamic start. 

Check out more ways to work on ball screen decisions against aggressive coverages here:

Post Dominoes

Another concept is the use of the post as a means to not just score but to create an advantage. The goal of dominoes applies here. Dominoes can be defined as the moment an advantage is created. The aim of offense is to create some type of positional or numerical advantage to get the dominoes falling. Then use first touch decisions and spacing principles in order to turn that advantage into a great shot. 

Throughout the FIBA Champions league playoffs, the post was used as a trigger to create that advantage. This was highly effective due to three main reasons: 

  • Skilled players that often forced double teams.
  • Defensive naturally tendency to shrink the floor against the post.
  • The game slows down in the post. Often decisions are easier to make out of the post versus off a drive as it is slower.

Taking it a Step Further

Here are some very simple ways that teams during the FIBA Champions League Playoffs created a post touch: 

  • Cross screen action
  • Set a screen for a teammate and duck-in
  • Barkley: dribble into a post up from the perimeter

When the ball is entered, some teams like to have the opposite dunker filled either with a big or a cutter from the 45 or corner. This allows a potential easy dump off pass for a lay-up or an easy skip read if the defense covers down. Using the post as a means to just pound it in and try to muscle and overpower you to score is outdated. However, using it as a means to put two players on the ball can be extremely effective if your team knows how to play with advantage.  

FIBA Champions League: Best Sets and Actions

Horns Sets

Horns sets were among the most prominent in FIBA Champions League playoffs. All teams had multiple different variations. A key takeaway is teams had different counters out of the same actions. This meant they almost always have an answer to the defense.  

Zipper Sets

Zipper sets were often used to set up the ball screen. However, teams still found ways to use misdirection with these actions. This often involved the ball going back the same way it came instead of flowing into a step up ball screen in the opposite direction.  

Spanoulis Sets

Spanoulis actions were among the most common seen during the FIBA Champions League playoffs. The screener must be prepared to rescreen if the defender goes under the first time. This is the most common coverage so the counter is important in the action.  

Euro Ball Screen Actions

Euro Ball Screen was the most common secondary break run during the FIBA Champions League playoffs. The majority of teams tried to find different actions that could be run on the 2nd or 3rd side to be random and more difficult to guard. The majority of teams defensively tried to plug the nail with a gap defender to not allow the ball handler much space to operate, stressing the importance of the offense having a counter to this.  

Burgos Stagger Action

One of the main series that San Pablos Burgos ran throughout the FIBA Champions League playoffs was a simple stagger away. Although the action is simple, they ran different variations of the action to keep the defense guessing and depending on what personnel is involved in the action.  

Strasbourg Spain Action

Although Strasbourg was simply running common Spain action, they looked to use Get action to set up the action with an automatic rescreen. This alleviated some of the pressure on the ball handler and allowed him to get a better angle when attacking off the screen.  

For further details on European Basketball check out observations of European championships:

Observations from the European Basketball Championships


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