When Basketball Advantage Becomes Disadvantage

Too Much Offensive Advantage 

Playing with an advantage is a foundational component of any offense. If players are not effective playing with an advantage, the chances of having an efficient offense are greatly reduced. However, too much of something is rarely a good thing. And this applies to the continuum of playing with advantage in practice as well. With advantage starts being all the rage, is too much of this a disadvantage?

The three main issues exist from this trend:

  • Spending too much time playing with advantage
  • Developing an over-reliance on static starts which are unrealistic 
  • Not encouraging players to create their own advantages in full-court activities 

Spending too much time playing with advantage

Younger players and beginners need an advantage. Without an advantage,  the level of challenge can be too high to consistently create against neutral. This doesn’t necessarily mean using an advantage for the whole practice. However, a good amount of time can be spent giving players permanent or temporary advantages (e.g. 3-on-2+1 with a defender recovering). SSGs with temporary advantages are more representative or actual game scenarios. This is because the offense has an incentive to use and convert the advantage under time pressure before the extra defender can recover and the advantage is lost (neutralized). 

The problem exists when players from the ages of 16 and upwards spend considerable amounts of time in their work-outs or team practices with an advantage already created for them. Certainly when introducing dominoes habits and penetration reaction systems at the start of the season this will typically mean giving the advantage, but coaches should quickly move to neutral situations where players must create the advantage.

Over-reliance on static starts which are unrealistic

Too much time spent playing with an artificial offensive advantage was one of my biggest learnings as I evaluated my season back in 2019. I remember that season well: my players could whip the ball around beautifully and were dominoes wizards but in games consistently froze and struggled to create. This was because we didn’t spend enough time playing against “neutral” in practice. Not even the worst opponents will provide instant advantages. Players must create them. If they do not do this consistently in practice, they will not be prepared to do it in the game.

Traditional individual player development is often done in isolation of any principles of play. Players will never be as fully prepared or skilled as they could be if the individual skills are developed without being linked to team principles. So much time is dedicated to giving players an advantage as they begin finishes, but this isn’t what happens in the game. How do players get into a position to self-organize into a functional finishing solution? This often occurs through triggers or actions within a set play.

The need for balance

As with anything there needs to be a balance: particularly if players struggle to finish consistently. But once players can exhibit functional variability within finishing, it makes little sense to always begin SSG’s with static advantages. Creating an advantage out of neutral starts takes a small amount of time away from finishing, but this is the price to pay for increased representativeness.

Static starts often lack high representativeness as players start in ideal spacing locations. With dynamic starts, players have to explore solutions to exploit space to obtain advantageous positions from odd or irregular starting locations, before seeing if they can successfully convert the advantage. 

Alternative Ways to Start SSG’s

Some of the static starts commonly used are very unrealistic. In transition, when would a player dribble around a cone in the direction facing their own basket, before then turning around again to pass towards a teammate running ahead to the opposite basket? Likewise when would a player score a lay-up and then transition to also playing offense the other end? This is where coaches have to become more creative using realistic starts. Ideally, any starts should be linked to one of the four phrases of the game: transition offense to half-court offense to transition defense to half-court defense. 

One solution is for coaches to assess their offense and  the actions or triggers being used by their team. Once this self-assessment is done, take the triggers and coverage solutions needing the most improvement or where some poor decisions have been made playing against certain defenses. This may lead to a short number of focus areas:

  • Ability to reject on a Pick and Roll
  • Exploring solutions out of a get when over-played
  • Ball handler keeping the ball on a DHO by splitting the defense vs the switch
  • Flipping the pick to prevent a switch

These scenarios could be used as dynamic starts, even if scripted, where the defense is still allowed to steal and disrupt the ball.

Not encouraging players to create their own advantages in full-court activities 

The last focus point is self-explanatory: the game is played full-court 5-on-5. Players have to be able to create advantages in this setting. U16’s and U18’s playing endless half-court 3-on-3 is not realistic or beneficial. This is far too easy for the offense because they have so much more space and time than they would in a 5-on-5 setting. 

Starting a SSG with an advantage and then allowing players to play for multiple trips (e.g. x3 or x4 times up and down) is a great way to enhance the representativeness of any activity. Can the players create optimal spacing over the trips, rather than the first rep when they begin in ideal locations? Many teams spend too much time playing in the half-court with an activity that is over-constrained. This leads to players being unable to replicate productive spacing tendencies when the activity becomes more open and chaotic.

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