Play Design Lessons from Steve Kerr

Head Coach Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors execute some of the most unique actions as ATOs in the NBA. Much of this is due to their roster composition and having elite catch and shoot threats as stars. Like much of the NBA, most of their ATO actions are organized into various series. In this article, we are going to examine their Weak series and how Coach Steve Kerr tweaks the ending action to create variety and unpredictability while also maintaining simplicity.

Weak was popularized by the San Antonio Spurs and is now seen at all levels of basketball. The action is initiated with a wing entry and shallow cut. The weak side wing cuts through and sets a cross screen for the player waiting in the weak side dunker spot. After the initial entry, the play can end in a number of different actions. Here is an example:

The key to how Head Coach Steve Kerr creates unpredictability in Weak is in the ending action. After the initial entry and cross-screen, there are a number of different actions that the offense can possibly flow into. It is important to teach players what cues the defense can give and how to react to them. By reacting to how the defense is guarding the cross screen, the offense can create larger advantages by punishing their defensive decision rather than running the same scripted end action each time.


We are going to examine three clips from the Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors. Each of the three clips has a different ending action that is cued by how the defense guards the cross-screen. The goal of the offense is to create the largest advantage possible. In order to do so, coaches need to give players freedom within the structure to make decisions to punish the defense. If the action is the same each time, the offense cannot punish how the defense is guarding them. As well, coaches need to guide players to see the cues the defense gives.

In the first clip above, the offensive player goes over the cross screen while the defender goes under. By sprinting into the ball screen toward the middle, the screener is able to arrive alone due to the separation created by the cross screen. This causes the defender to be late getting to proper positioning in the drop coverage and opens up the pocket pass to the roller.

In the second clip, the offensive player goes under the screen due to the defender on the cross screener being on the high side ready to bump the cutter. The screener sprints into an open ball screen this time, again creating separation from their defender. Both this and the last clip are great examples of how to prevent both Ice and various aggressive coverages, like a hard hedge, by creating separation for the screener.

In the last clip, the offensive player again goes under the screen due to the defender on the cross screen being on the high side. The defender on the cutter ends up getting caught in the screen which causes a switch. Instead of sprinting into a ball screen, the cutter posts up. The player who sets the cross screen receives a down screen. A key teaching point would be to try and slow down to create a deeper sealer if the switch is recognized early enough.

Decision Cues

The key to creating variety in any action is introducing the reads or cues that players need to look for. In this action, the key read is made by the player receiving the cross-screen. As seen in these clips, the cutter must read to determine what is the path of least resistance. The initial read is the positioning of their own defender. As the screen is arriving, the cutter must also read where the screener’s defender is. If the defender is in position to bump on either side, the offensive player should try to get to the opposite side. Lastly, if the defense switches, the cutter can post up to punish the mismatch. 

To summarize, here are the three decisions: 

Steve Kerr

Teaching the Action

By making the action random, it allows players to read the cues presented by the defense to create the largest advantage possible. In order to learn the decisions, players must experience the game context through small sided games and live 5-on-5 play. Coaches can help offensive decision making by helping train the players eyes to recognize the necessary cues in order to punish the defense.

The action can be taught using a 3-on-3 small sided game. In this example, the action begins with the ball already on the wing. The team on offense stays for three possessions in a row. The defense can be instructed to give a different read each possession in order to train the offense to recognize the cues of how the defense is guarding. By doing so, it allows the offense to see the differences between the possibilities of how the defense can guard the cross screen.

Steve Kerr

As can be seen, variety and unpredictability can be added by simply allowing the offense to make decisions based upon how the defense is guarding the action. By reading the cues the defense provides, the offense can make the defense always wrong. Check out more ATO ideas from Wes Unseld Jr. here:


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