3 side actions in the Australian (.... And Lithuania.... umm Duke too) flow offence
Updated: Apr 13
Call it what you will “flow”, 3 side/2 side actions, Euro ball screen continuity offense it has become a standard across our national junior and senior teams and filtered down to many programs. In a previous blog called "Pick and Roll Basketball" I broke down ball screen actions on the “2 side” and now I want to provide ideas on the 3 side options.
The concepts of flow make up all or parts of standard motion offenses all over the world. For example here is Lithuania running it, almost identically to the Australians. Lithuania in this footage tend to be more repetitious than the Aussies but very sharp with their ball movement and screening actions:
VIDEO 1: Lithuania, like a range of Euro teams, executing the European ball screen continuity offense, or flow. The ball movement and player movement is purposeful, at a controlled place with most players being able to knock down open shots to stretch the defense. Constantly looking to get great shots by seeing and evaluating all scoring options on the floor.
VIDEO 2: Duke running flow. They run it almost robotically with very few reads, wrinkles or decision making. All back cuts into hand-offs, or ball screens for corner man, but execute and move the ball to perfection. They also start the same way every time with horns set and UCLA screen.
Note that in both videos on back cuts the back cutting middle man on the 3 side often rubs/bumps the defender in the dead corner as he runs through. A neat little detail to help move the defense and create space for team mates.
Why should you run flow?
When I was Director of Coaching at Central Districts Lions basketball club we wanted to become the “Sturt of the North” (Sturt being a club based on the other side of the city and the most dominant junior club in South Australia) and one of the keys to achieving this was making sure we had an understanding concepts for the x’s and o’s of South Australian State teams. Like Sturt had been doing, we wanted to engage and embrace high performance pathways and ensure our kids had the best chance possible of making, and succeeding in, state teams. Prior to us starting this philosophy the club had a kid every 5 or so years make a state team. Soon after implementing our new philosophy of embracing high performance pathways the club had unprecedented success in players making metro and country State representative teams on a significant scale. Suddenly when that happened the best players in the region wanted to play for the club, for the first time.
Back then it was dribble drive motion that teams at the next level were running. Prior to that when I was at Norwood it was 5 out motion and soon after that it became 4 out 1 in motion. Of course there were many derivations, variations and wrinkles to all these offenses that you could implement for your team, but the idea is that when your players make state or national teams they have a basic understanding of the x’s and o’s to ensure their selection. More broadly, by having a consistent approach to our x’s and o’s at those clubs also helped our coaches focus on teaching players HOW to play because they are spending less time teaching WHAT to play.
I’m currently in my second rotation cycle (IE you coach Div 2 one year in an age group then Div 1 the year after in that age group, an idea better explained for another blog) since moving to Sturt myself. At Sturt, we implemented flow in our club team because that is what we knew would help prepare the kids for state and national teams. In the first cycle, coaching U18s, we had 5 kids from my club team play for Australia and 7 play for the state of South Australia that year or the year after, 4 of them went on to dominate for our State U20 team that won the Australian Championships in February 2017. I’m not sure 5 kids from a single club team have ever played for Australia before. The kids in this team were great, their work ethic, coachability, team values, skills and love for the game made for an amazing environment. Our trainings were just amazing, super competitive and intense but a lot of fun for all. So, ALL credit goes to them for them for their success. The point I am making is that I hope for my small part in their development that I provided a blueprint for them to follow and I feel that is one of jobs of a junior coach. It is up to the players to get it done but we have to show them how to succeed at the next level and if we are going to do this it makes sense to teach concepts and x’s and o’s they’re teaching at the next level. Well, that is simple really these days because the National program has provided lots of education and information dissemination on our national style of play and this has been passed on at coach educations sessions (easily accessible via online video), handouts and online information.
Whilst a very few of us in Australia are a trusted source for US College Coaches it is much easier to get players I coach recruited if they have succeeded in Australian pathways. Despite the misinformation in some quarters it is currently an unavoidable fact that playing well at national championships and winning, making national teams, world championships, FIBA qualifiers, the CoE etc greatly enhance athlete’s chance at securing division 1 scholarships. I’ve seen and heard this time and time again directly from those that recruit our talent. Therefore, it makes total sense to give the athletes the answers to the “exams”, metaphorically speaking, before they sit the “test” (IE trials and camps). To add weight to this the 5 kids mentioned above that played for Australia will also play Division 1 NCAA basketball and have an impact on the entire American basketball system in my opinion.
I don't claim to have done anything special in all of the above other than listen, learn and apply what I learned from those at higher levels. For me it is logical that if you want your players to succeed you teach them how to succeed at the next level. Don’t rob them of that to put “your system” in because you are too ego driven or closed minded to put a system in place that will help them make and succeed in the very pathway that will get them to where they want to get to.
Having said that, I guess you need to make your own judgement, it has worked pretty well for me and my guys though – we’ve won a “bit” and we’ve had a “few” players succeed ;)
Why read this blog if you can get the information on flow from other sources?
Over the 4 years I’ve been heavily teaching flow I’ve been the Head Coach of 2xU18 National Championship sides using flow concepts and also been heavily using them at club level. I’ve also been heavily involved at NITP, both in running the sessions from time to time, and also seeing and being guided on flow and trends in it by current U17 National Assistant Coach, David Ingham (South Australia's High Performance Manager).
Sturt is a club where coaches actively debate, discuss and consider how to teach and implement concepts and Sturt has some of the best coaches in our state to debate with. I’ve seen it run by a lot of teams in the many hours of taped I’ve watched at U18 and U20 National Championships (yes, when cutting all these highlights clips you DO see a LOT of basketball).
Amongst all of this experience, coaches courses, trials and errors, observations and heated discussion I have really developed some concepts, cues and options/modules that I hope you can use too. I guess I also have a second agenda for South Australia club coaches in that if I did coach a state team for South Australia again it would be very beneficial for our athletes to have been taught these concepts, so I hope coaches here locally read this and it helps their kids get ready for national championships and beyond.
Flow is just like motion offense
I feel that there is a lot of misconceptions of the flow offense. It is often misinterpreted as being an offense but it is not necessarily. It can be but I use it as a series of concepts to teach the game and develop talent. It is particularly good at teaching good spacing out of ball screens. I plug flow in where I’d plug motion offenses in, in the past. What flow does give my teams is the ability to spread the floor better creating more space for pick and roll guys to play in as well as great receiving spots out of pick and roll situations.
I teach flow as a series of concepts but after a number of years under my belt I have begun to pick up on the visual cues and key decision points that players need to look at for making good reads.
Previously, I blogged on ball screens in the blog called Pick and Roll basketball and today I am blogging on the 3 side actions.
Getting to the 3 side
There are 3 ways in normal flow to initially get to 3 side; kick ahead to the 2 man, Drag screen and punch screen.
Kick ahead to the 2 man
From a defensive rebound or steal rip the ball up the floor ahead to a lane runner (2 man). First big up the floor get a deep seal on the rim for a hopeful kick ahead pass and if not 2 can rip, if defensive help is slow to get back, or wait up for a ball screen from the trailing big (4 man).
1 Dribbles out to wing and the trailing big man (4) sets a ball screen for 1 man. 5 and 4 work in opposites so as 4 moves to set ballscreen 5 lifts.
Whenever there is a ball screen on the seam or closest sideline side of the seam I always like to clear out the dead corner guy. The exception to this is when a team is packing in tight off the deadcorner I may leave him there or if they are too slow clearing out in a punch screen situation I tell them to stay so as not to clog up the driving lane.
You can also reverse the ball to the 2 side but that is for the “Pick and Roll basketball” blog.
Attack the paint to score in the first 8 seconds of the offense. I won’t repeat the whole blog on ball screens again, but out of ball screens I want guys to look to make plays. To wrinkle and disrupt the defense and this can’t be done coming off the ball screen purely with the mindset to pass, unless it is a pass to create a better passing angle for the roller such as a high/low action (see below). This is covered off in the “Pick and Roll basketball” blog but it is important because the ball should only be passed to the 3 side out of a “split” (split being when you draw 2 defenders whilst in the paint), or to create a better passing angle to the screener, diving onto the rim (see high/low action, below). I think too many coaches over-encourage ball movement rather aggressive scoring first. These days defenders are too long, mobile and versatile to use ball movement, just through perimeter passing, to cause wrinkles in the defense. You need to be willing to SCORE the ball in order to shift defenders enough to move the ball. Debatable? Think about it.
Teaching rapid decision making
I strongly want players to speed up their decision processing capabilities. Research shows that over time speeding up decision processes leads to improved accuracy, at speed. I always encourage athletes to sacrifice accuracy for speed in a training environment. Note that when I say "speed" it alludes more to decision making than movement, albeit it normally includes faster movement as well.
So with flow I tend to try to teach the visual cues athletes should evaluate and then limit them to some decisions they can quickly make based on what they see. Then practice this in small group games in controlled game settings so they get used to seeing, making reads and decisions in game environments.
I think speed of decisions is a learned skill, science has found even physical changes to the parts of the brain used in rapid decision making, anticipation and perception with the right kind of training.
So this blog will look at some flow options, decision points for each player, what they need to be able to see and what options and reactions they need to make to what they see. It is not exhaustive, I'm sure there are more options, reads and modules and I would be interested to hear from any one with more.
For more information on developing rapid, expert decision making check out this blog: Developing phenomenal, elite decision makers.
3 side positioning
Normally, when the big on the other side of the floor is at, below the free throw line the big on the 3 side should be lifting to the seam. I think too many coaches mandatorily have their stretch big (4 in diagram below) run to the middle. I think this kills spacing because the guy with the ball on the 2 side needs room to make a play out of the ball screen. There are some scenarios where the seam big should shorten the pass and I will go through that further down.
Diagram 2: 3 side positioning. The 3 side has 3 players (2, 3, 4 in this case) there and the 2 side has 2 (1 and 5 in this case). Make sure you are familiar with the terms in this diagram because I refer to them constantly throughout this article.
VIDEO 3: From U18 National Championships. Here you see a "smash" screen in the backcourt, followed up by excellent movement and spacing into our offense.
Some key concepts
Before we start I want to highlight a concept called “inverts”. This was a way to teach flow that helps guys rapidly make decisions. It is predicated on the fact that whenever a guard or wing gets the ball on the seam, the opposite big should diagonally sprint up ball screen and dive whilst the other big clears out to “short” the ball screen.
This concept has been a key adjustment I’ve added in by watching our victorious U20s South Australian State team, the over achieving Sturt Sabres Premier League men’s team coached by Paul Rigoni and talking to guys like Isaac White (2017 Stanford Commit) , Jacob Rigoni (2017 Quinnipiac Commit) and Alex Mudronja (6'5'' PG, Class of 2018 Prospect) , who are also featured athletes, that played in those systems, and in our Australian national program.
VIDEO 4: U16s Melbourne Classics Champions. We introduced "inversions" this year. This is an option for whenever a guard or wing has the ball on a seam. The opposite big will sprint up and set a ball screen. Here you will see a flare screen into an inversion. We have now added in the idea of shorting where the other big will get to the side the player with the ball is dribbling towards on, the block.
Here is some more info on the concept of “shorting” ball screens from an external website.
Shorting on balls creates a better passing angle into the diving big man:
VIDEO 5: An externally hosted video on shorting ball screens.
2. Bigs in opposites
If one big is moving towards, or gets below, the free throw line on one side of the floor the other big should lift to the seam (IE stretch big in diagram 2: 3 side positioning).
Conversely if a big pops on a ball screen then the other big should seal on the rim.
If a big changes sides of the floor, crossing the splitline, then the other big should change to the opposite side too.
VIDEO 6: Bigs should work in opposites along the x and y axis of the court. That is, as a big on the seam (spot above the 3 pt line and around the end of the free throw line) begins to move down to screen or make a hand off the other big should begin moving in tandem towards the seam, arriving at the seam once the other big is on the rim. Likewise, if a big ball screens and pops then the other big would stay on the rim, getting to a receiver spot on any drive. You can see it here in the video above.
3. 4 and 5 make screens, hand offs. Guards and wings come off them etc.
4 and 5 should normally make screens and hand offs and point guards and wings (note: I only have 3 main positions 1xPG, 1xBall screener, all the rest are versatile wings and maybe 1 utility defender in my teams. We will save this for another blog) should come off those actions.
This will hopefully cause a big to guard the ball and a small to guard the big or some kind of similar wrinkle in the defense.
4. In any action, guy setting and guy coming off works in opposites
In a non-ball screen, the player coming off the screen will either be cutting on the rim or away from the rim. The screener or hand off guy will work in the opposite way to either pop or dive/roll to the rim.
5. On a kick out shoot, pass, or make an action, don't re-drive (mostly)
The key words here are split, kick, extra pass.
A pass out to the 3 side should only occur when defenders are split on the other side (2-side), therefore the shot should be open or a defender will be rotating onto the receiver in which case an extra pass is the best option.
VIDEO 7: U18 National Championships. Good example of a kick out to a stretch big on the seam and rather than the stretch big driving again into defense he quickly makes the extra pass to the next open guy.
The exception is when the rotating defender anticipates the extra pass (so many teams are running this extra pass on a kick out principal now this does happen) and run out to the extra pass receiver before it is even passed, then you should attack the gap and keep defense guessing.
Evaluation, reads, options and modules
To help structure this section I've included a decision tree on 3 side actions. It was difficult to determine the detail to go into in the diagram. Keep in mind that sticking to the above principals will help teach your players how to read defense and make the appropriate decisions. The principles, along with the decisions, options and modules in this next section teach your players HOW to play and make them unguardable by learning reads and counters. These skillsets and knowledge are transferable to any modern system or offense:
DIAGRAM: This diagram is the decision tree for 3 side actions. It is much more simple than it looks and needs to be because these decisions have to happen in milliseconds. The decisions are if you are open 1. shoot, if the other big is open as he dives on the rim then 2. high/low action, if the 3. middle pass is denied then he should 3.1 middle down screen or 3.2 middle back cut etc. This is not exhaustive, just the main options and wrinkles I teach at the moment.
When teaching the flow offense I try to teach players to recognise what they see, then limit their decisions based on what they see.
The following options are focused on kick outs to the stretch big on the 3 side but the same ideas work regardless on who the ball is kicked out to. IE if the kick out is to the diagonal (middle man) then you could just continue from 4 .Middle pass open, Pass to middle in the diagram above.
I love skilled big men. I’ve been lucky over the past few years to coach quite a few including featured athletes on this site like Jarryd Hoppo (6’9’’ Wing/PF, Class of 2019 Prospect), Ben Carter (6’10’’ PF, Class of 2018 Prospect) and Owen Hulland (6’11’’ Stretch 4, Class of 2018 Prospect) among others. I want these guys to shoot without consciousness if they are open. What this does is stretch the bigs away from helping out on the pick and roll that has taken place on the otherside.
VIDEO 8: This shows the stretch 4's defender digging in to help, creating space for him to shoot the open 3 pt shot on the kick out.
2. Look for the high/low
When the big ball screener on the 2 side side is diving to the rim, often the passing angle back to the diving big is difficult for the ball handler, also difficult for the diving big to catch, and also hard to pass over the defenders. High/low actions creates a great angle for the diving big screener, diving on the rim to catch on the run, whilst facing the rim, plus it avoids deflections by the defenders doubling the ball OR chasing to back onto their man (the diving big) etc.
VIDEO 9: Wake Forrest does a poor job at guarding the ball screen on the 2 side so the guard carrying the ball reverses it to the stretch big, in doing so reducing the chance of a turnover by passing around defense to the big diving screener. This also creates a great passing angle for the diving screener who can catch and layup as he runs on the rim.
3. Middle pass denied
The defender on the player in the middle is in tight denial. There are 2 options I like players to focus on if this is the case. Middle man back cut or Middle man down screen.
3.1 Middle man downscreen
If the pass to the middle man is denied one of the options I get my teams to use is the middle man of the 3 side down screening for the dead corner man. I like the middle man to set the screen angling their back roughly to the opposite elbow or lower. I want the dead corner man coming off the screen to make an appropriate read but I have a big preference for them to make a basket cut.
There are a range of reads the dead corner man can make
VIDEO 10: From 2017 U18 National Championships. This shows the South Australia team I coach getting into flow and on the 3 side a middle man down screens for the dead corner man.
VIDEO 11: In this one Patty Mills sets a great down screen from the middle of the 3 side for the dead corner man (looks like Ryan Broekhoff???) who curls on the rim. In any action, guy setting screen and guy coming off the screen works in opposites and so Patty rolls the opposite way, away from the rim, for a handoff from the stretch big (looks like David Anderson???).
3.2 Middle Back Cut
Many teams run this option too much, making their 3 side actions very predictable. Generally if the middle/diagonal man's defender is tight in the lanes then a back cut is fine but I find the diagonal middle man is not denied too much especially with defenses wanting to play a packline defense and clog the driving lanes.
After he back cuts there are a couple of options I generally have my teams run. He can cut to the other side or shallow cut.
VIDEO 12: Here you see Duke playing a 2 side ball screen into the 3 side. The middle man backcuts to the other side but there was no need to, he was open and the stretch big could have just passed him the ball. This is predictable and robotic flow motion offense because it did not adjust to the defense.
3.2.1 Shallow cut into an invert
Instead of back cutting all the way to the other side I also like the guy back cutting to shallow cut back up the to the top sometimes too. When he does this he gets the ball back from the stretch big who had dribbled to the diagonal/middle spot where he cut from.
3.2.2 Middle man backcut to other side
When back cutting the middle/diagonal man on the 3 side can cut to the other side OR make a shallow cut.
The stretch big can make a hand off to the corner guy (220.127.116.11), run a pindown (18.104.22.168) option, or kick back to the middle/diagonal man who decided to shallow cut.
22.214.171.124 Hand off to corner guy
When making the hand off the stretch big should dribble as close to the elbow (end of the free throw line) as possible because this sets the hand off receiver up for a great angle to get on the rim.
126.96.36.199 No hand off, then pindown
As the big dribbles to the extended free throw line to make a hand off to the corner man the opposite big lifts. On this occasion the opposite big should move from the seam more to the middle to shorten the pass. The big passes to the opposite big and then makes a pindown screen. Again the guy coming off must make a read (back cut, circle around the screen, straight cut to dead corner, curl to elbow) and both the screener and cutter work in opposites.
Video 13: Baynes goes to make handoff to Ingles but it is denied so Ingles back cuts and Baynes pivots and reverses the ball to the other big (Anderson?) lifting to the seam. Baynes then sets a pindown screen for Ingles who circles back on the rim. Baynes pops, working in opposites to Ingles (see Some Key Concepts above. 4. In any action, guy setting and guy coming off works in opposites) and Ingles receives the pass into himself, but kicks back to Baynes for a layup.
4. Middle pass open then pass to middle man
If the middle man is open then pass the ball.
An option I like to run is the UCLA option. For my guys we say when the stretch big on the 3 side has passed the ball to the wing/diagonal guy if he puts his hands up he is signalling for an elbow screen from the dead corner man.
VIDEO 14: The Boomers run their UCLA cut option. Baynes (stretch big) lifts to seam and reverses the ball to Ingles, Mills (Guard) sets UCLA screen for Baynes who cuts to block (small screening for big, potentially creating a mismatch on a switch) MIlls pops and then we see an inversion screen with Baynes shorting (see Video 5 above) the ball screen.
4.2 Kick, kick, flare
This option is something that has emerged in my teams in the past 12 months. It is a good option and works well because it quickly shifts the ball out of the deep corner and creates an invert situation. Watch how well it works here with my U16 Championship team (there's also another example above in Video 4):
VIDEO 15: Here is a kick, kick flare into a 3 pt shot. Love that this U16 kid shoots the ball with so much confidence. Next time he will be able to attack the rim because the defender will close out much harder and longer. Guys need to be unguardable, that is what I teach.
VIDEO 16: Here is a great play by my u16s. They go Kick, kick, flare then making an extra pass to the opposite big man for a great high low pass into the diving big.
4.3 Middle ball screen
If the middle man is open kick it to him then set a ball screen for him. The big will often dive on this into the low post and the dead corner man lifts off the corner. Now there should be a great passing angle into the diving post either by the man with the ball or by shifting the ball to the lifiting dead corner man or to the opposite big for a high low. I always say there is no excuse for not feeding the post if you have good spacing, a good target and happy to move the ball for a great passing angle inside. Unless the post is being doubled in which case someone will be open for an easy shot.
VIDEO 17: Baynes passes to the diagonal/middle man then ball screens. He then dives to the post with all men on the perimeter moving to create a post feed passing angle but Anderson takes the midrange shot despite having a great angle to feed Baynes for the easy 2.
4.4 Handoff into ball screen
I could not find any footage of this one but it can be very effective. Basically the diagonal/middle man hands off to the dead corner guy whilst 4 sets a ball screen, for the dead corner man coming off the handoff. I always prefer one of the guys in this action to drive on the rim and one of the guards/wings to dive out to the side.
Middle/diagonal man cross screen and screen the screener: I've seen this used regularly. The diagonal/wing cuts through and back screens the opposite big then you can have the ball side big screen the screener, effectively inverting the bigs.
Hand off to middle man - similar to the ball screen option or handoff to the dead corner man.
Flare - as the big man working in opposites to the other big lifts to the seam he can set a flare/hammer screen for a guard/wing that has come off a ball screen and reversed the ball, as he big man lifts to the seam.
Turnouts - as a player is clearing out to there other side the other guard sets a screen at the block for them.
Sets - we run many sets that terminate into flow. Our sets often have counters and if any guys execute a counter the set terminates and we move straight into flow, that is if the counter did not create a score straight away.
Drills small sided games
There are 2 ways I work on flow. In our team trainings whenever we do competitive shooting drills without defense it will include some kind of flow element. Normally I give the players 3 options to run and because the cutter and screener must always work in opposites there are even more permutations. This keeps players working through options, getting used to the guy setting and coming off the screen working (see section above, "Some Key Concepts") in opposites and makes these drills without defense competitive and more interesting.
For example a shooting drill may be to score 15. Middle man must downscreen or shallow cut. The guy coming off the screen may make any read he likes and the screener must work in opposite. 3s are worth 3 and 2s are worth 2 and each shot must be alternated between a 3 and a 2 for example.
We also often play small side games with extra rules to work on specifics eg play 4 on 4 with following rules:
Only allowed to dribble the ball if it is one side of the seam, otherwise MUST shoot the ball.
Defense must be in packline, defense must be full denial when 1 pass away from the ball or
+2 bonus points for an assistant point or
5 pts for a made 3 pt shot, 1 pt for an inside shot or vice versa
Question for readers and followers
WHAT HAVE YOU GOT???
There are many wrinkles, reads and modules in flow I have not covered here. Very keen to hear thoughts of other ones from any readers. Just send 'em through!
PICTURED: Melbourne Classics champions. This team (my current junior team at Sturt, consisting of 2020/21 college prospects) recently dominated the National Club tournament, the Melbourne Classics, emerging as the best U16 club team in the country. All our plays are heavily focussed on flow concepts. We don't run it like an offense we have a range of sets that all move into flow concepts and principles. Great players, incredibly hard workers, coachable, talented that have given a blueprint for success at higher levels and taught a skillset for significant success in future years because we mostly teach them HOW to play not WHAT to play.
PICTURED: Flow is the style of play advocated for from the top down in Australia. Youth coaches should be mindful that it is not an offense however, it is a style of play. A set of modules or building blocks that can be applied to your own system.