Conceptual Offense within a Complex System

The concepts of ecological dynamics are not solely confined to the practice environment, but should also shape how coaches design their offensive and defensive schemes. Alex shares more on this in this week’s blog…

Rule Based Offenses 

Many traditional offenses do not align with dynamic systems theory. Dynamic systems theory is the idea that basketball is a complex game with high levels of unpredictability and an infinite number of potential actions and variables. Traditional offenses are rule or pattern based with coaches attempting to control their players through running the same patterns, even though the game cannot be predicted.

This is the total opposite from what actually happens the moment the ball is tipped off. Instead of attempting to control the game, we acknowledge that basketball is a complex system and prepare our players to adapt to the many situations which face them.

Many traditional offenses are set or pattern based, with coaches expecting players to run patterns through to the end. Examples of such included continuities, motion offenses and rigid set plays without room for creativity or going off-script. Many times this does not happen and players are left scrambling as they attempt to create an advantage with the shot clock winding down. 

This extends to the read and react offense which has been hugely popular with youth coaches over the years. As coaches, we likely to simplify things, which can be useful at times. However, this comes with the risk of being too reductionist. The read and react is the prime example of this as we cannot put the game into layers and boxes and expect the same outcomes every time. 

As with other traditional offenses, the main problem with the read and react stems from the fact that it is a rules-based and not a principle-based offensive system. The following comes from Coach Ashley Cookson:

“Rule-based offenses are rigid with a set movement solution based on the position of the ball, other teammates and the spacing alignment eg. pass, cut, replace. It is a ‘you must’ way of playing with no space for what happens if players are in different situations or spacings.”

In-context, this means it can become very predictable. It is essentially a mental model which players are expected to memorise and compute, running patterns as opposed to acting upon the various affordances that present themselves during the course of an offensive possession. These types of offense can limit players as they are effectively over-constrained, with players only being instructed to focus on rigid patterns and actions. Any solutions outside of this scope are not encouraged. This limits player development in the long run, as opposed to developing the ability to act upon all the varied affordances which appear within the game. Players develop tunnel vision as they become so focused on running rules and patterns.

The Alternative 

A conceptual offense aligns with dynamic systems theory. We accept the fact that every outcome will be different because the task constraints during each possession are different: positions, offensive players involved, defensive match-ups, coverages used, timing, and more. Running the same pattern each time on offense is simply impossible.

To play this offense, we have to give ownership and freedom to the players first and foremost. Many coaches are scared to do this, but the results can be incredible. The coach cannot control everything: it is simply impossible given the players are the ones who play the game and make decisions.

A conceptual offense is composed of principles such as spacing templates, trigger scope, and main coverage solutions. But there are an infinite number of possibilities and huge variability in how these are executed. For instance these triggers are done in different locations, with different teammates, applying different coverage solutions and combining certain triggers together. 

The whole aim is to trigger dominoes. At this point, the players are playing with principles. They act upon affordances without being over-constrained by the coach’s system. For instance, they may wish to hold the corner when there is deep help as opposed to acting with a cut and slide if the defense attached. Note however that these are not rigid automatics. 


Within a conceptual framework, we want players to act upon opportunities to go-off script and create an advantage. This is the opposite to running patterns through to the end, and being critiqued by the coach if players do something different. Players become attuned to the many affordances present in the game to punish the defense and create some type of offensive advantage.

A key part of playing conceptual offense is coverage solutions. Players choose what slow or fast triggers are used based upon tempo of the game but have to be deceptive to consistently create advantages by applying various solutions. It is the interacting constraints for that particular moment which shapes the coverage solution used. These are not scripted because each situation depends on the individual and task constraints.

For instance, a player may hold a pick to punish drop coverage (task constraint is the type of defense) to create a numerical advantage instead of slipping out and attempting to get behind the drop defender. This suits the player’s individual constraints because they are not able to accelerate rapidly and thus they aren’t a rim or lob threat.

Teams cannot rely on just one coverage solution vs a particular defense because this is predictable. The aim is to be unpredictable. This is why we also run triggers based on different locations to further distort the defense.

The idea is that the players are developed well enough to have a great knowledge in their environment. This means for slow triggers like Horns, we have one call (the Horns start) but they go into absolutely anything off this. Players are encouraged to be creative when using triggers in any alignment.

Of course there is a time to run set plays. This is when the game slows down and the ball goes out of bounds. An extensive number of set plays is not necessary. Rather than having many different sets, we play with two sets but the players are empowered to go off-script the moment they sense an opportunity to trigger dominoes within the set. This could be during the very first sequence within the set! If we have to get to the end of the set to trigger an advantage, we most likely have not been deceptive enough during the previous sequences.

Players Learn How to Play vs What to Play

 During this blog, we have embedded some feedback and comments from BDT Offense coaches from around the world who have transitioned to a conceptual offense:

“I have found that, as coaches during a game, we can make simpler and more direct adjustments to attack any defense. Instead of calling sets to hopefully get an advantage a couple of passes into the play, we use triggers and sometimes focus these in a particular space on the floor or against a specific matchup. Every player is very aware of their role and ability to impact the play thanks to BDT Offense principles.”

– Jon Ellsworth, North Davis Junior High, Clearfield, Utah

One of the main messages from coaches using the BDT this year was how it transformed the ability for their players to be adaptive and play out of a variety of different offensive actions. 

“Excellent resource you put together. It helped immensely to have a vocabulary and concepts to refer to for practice and game purposes. I benefitted from being able to utilize the information provided in our game plans. Specifically, being able to come up with a plan and A,B,C contingencies that were linked to what we practiced. The triggers that we primarily used were Gets, Pick and Roll, and Screen Aways. I was surprised how quickly some of the varsity players picked up “twisting” the screen. Gets were a staple for us as keeps and handoffs were particularly helpful.” 

– Marcus Wilson, Kentlake HS in Washington

Basketball is a complex system so creating a play style that aligns with the ideas of dynamic systems theory means players can better adapt to what they see in the game. Many motion offenses lead to players attempting to execute patterns which means they become dialled out of the ability to act upon affordances and create advantages.

The goal of all coaches at the youth and collegiate levels should be to develop their players to reach their true potential. The bottom line is that many rigid sets and continuities only develop players for that particular environment. When players graduate to another program, it takes years for them to adapt to the new situation because they’ve been confined to such a specific offense.

A conceptual offense includes all the triggers that players would expect to see in any playbook when they become older. This prepares them to immediately be able to fit in with new teams because they know how to play, not just what to play.

Player Development

“I am so thankful to have been part of the BDT Offense community. It has really supported my coaching practice and also the learning and development of my athletes.”

– Brandyn Were, New Zealand

Within conceptual offense teams, player and team development are intertwined. It is impossible to separate both approaches. Everything that players do is linked to the overall game model as to what phrase of the game they are in, and how they are creating and using advantages. 

Additionally by developing the offense through adopting an ecological dynamics framework, it has huge benefits not just in terms of player development, but also in creating a robust game model. This is because the offense is incredibly unpredictable, fun, accelerates player development, and is impossible for other teams to prepare for or scout.

“I bought the BDT Offense a couple of weeks ago and already incorporated a lot of the ideas and concepts into my training. I am still amazed by the depth and detail it offers! I like to give my players more freedom and make them read the situation better vs relying on strict set plays.” 

– Alexander Hanowski, Kronshagen, Germany

With the BDT Offense, coverage solutions form a key part of the development of both individuals and the team. For instance, when playing against switching in a Pick and Roll, a conceptual offense team may have seven solutions that they use in practices (Reject, Slip, Ghost, Flip, Veer, Pass Ahead & Relay, Skip Pass). Critically, the idea is that any one of these could be used by players based on the interaction of constraints, as opposed to coaches attempting to script the solutions.

For instance, one player may be particularly well-versed at rejecting and have a slower defender defending them. Meanwhile, a team may have a sharpshooter in a Shake Pick and Roll located on the back-side, so the picker decides to veer off to screen their defender (Veer PNR) after seeing their defender prepare the switch.

While players execute these coverage solutions, the way they do this technically completely depends again on individual and task constraints. For instance, a defender with long arms, positioned close to the handler, may mean the ball handler chooses to wrap the ball behind their back as they reject. They act on this based on the information in their environment and the fact they perceive the close positioning of the defensive player.

This is another reason why the traditional approach of drills in an on-air practice (information processing) is futile because instead of creating adaptability, it promotes inflexibility as players build up a mental model in their head of the ‘correct way’ of using a technique which is de-contexualised. 

In conceptual offense teams, players become so attuned to all the possibilities because the same affordances are re-recreated in the practice environment. Trying to continuously run a pattern without any room for creativity is essentially like Taylorism and Henry Ford!

Check out some conceptual offense ideas here:

Build a Vocabulary 

Conceptual Offense

TQ Senkungu and his team

“The offense and concepts for language and a curriculum have been great. It gives me and the players a plan for the season. It is a great tool for us.”

– TQ Senkungu, Plano, Texas

“The course was amazing. I learned a lot about the BDT Offense and how to coach players in new concepts. I will definitely use many pieces of the course.”

– Nastassia Taels, Belgium

One of the key benefits of the conceptual offensive framework is how it develops the players’ knowledge in and of their environment. Knowledge in the environment is more important and this means players can demonstrate an understanding of how to be adaptive and act upon the relevant affordances. Knowledge of the environment is the ability for players to describe some of these actions with particular terminologies, coverage solutions with particular terminologies, and more.

Knowledge of is not as important as knowledge in because a player may be able to describe something but then not be able to act upon this within a practice or game. However, using a glossary can be critical to help players place attention on the right things at the right time. As long as there is a healthy balance and coaches prioritize players participating in task representative activities at practice, having a common language can only accelerate the players’ development and ability to connect within games.

Same Offense vs Zone and Man

“I have more success vs. Zone with BDT than any other offense I have run. We relentlessly attack and then move the ball – my teams have often gotten stuck in perimeter passing from stationary spots. So BDT has been successful in teaching better play. Triggers I use include Blast Cuts, Gets, Ball Screen and some Screen Away. I will be making Flare Screens a priority next year. Coverage solutions are definitely useful – I use simple solutions with U12 kids and they have begun to play with eyes up a lot more and I see a lot more rim attacks with confidence. It is conceptual, not comprehensive. I adapt it to U15 Boys and Girls and U12 boys differently. I have had to identify spacing strategies and roles for each team, but in general, it is flexible enough to transfer to each level, and structured enough to guide offense effectively.

– Jon Ellsworth, North Davis Junior High, Clearfield, Utah

Many coaches have completely different offensive systems when the task constraints change, most notably the adjustment of the defense from man-to-man to zone. This is because their pattern-based offenses are not compatible against the zone.

Again, this is another one of the main advantages for the conceptual offense. Nothing changes. Players keep playing with the same concepts, just adapting to the task constraints at-hand to create an advantage. Easy! 

Wins Games

Many coaches are scared to try new things due to job preservation. This is not a concern with a conceptual offense. Not only does it develop players, but the uniqueness of the framework and contrast to the majority of offenses that basketball coaches use means it puts teams in a great position to win more games.

Coach Ryan Josephson in Oregon experienced great results this year using the BDT Offense:

“This year we went 20-4 and set school records in numerous offensive categories such as:

  • Most Team Points in a Game (105).  Also had the 3rd highest all-time with (95).
  • Largest Victory Margin in a Game (58).  Largest Victory Margin in a Season (18.4).
  • Most FGM in a game.  Most 3FGM in a game.  Highest 2FG% in a game.  Most assists in a game (30 – set it twice).
  • 2nd most wins in a season (20-4) in 100+ years of school history
  • 2nd longest win streak in school history with 10 in a row
  • Most points in a season (1826) and most PPG in a season (76.1).
  • Most FGM, 2FGM, 3FGM in a season.  Highest eFG%, 2FG% in a season, 2nd highest 3FG% in a season.  Most assists in a season.

We had a few players go and accomplish similar individual records.  One player was selected to the All-State team.”

– Ryan Josephson, Oregon, USA

Fulfilling the complete potential of your players while giving your team the best chance to win games is the goal for all coaches. This is why the BDT Offense is such a valuable solution for coaches at all levels of the game.

Receive life-time access to the BDT Offense at There is also a special promo with $100 off for BI Members. Contact for your discount code. A free webinar is included below which Alex conducted on this topic for a group of NCAA WBB coaches.




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