The SABA Offensive Philosophy

SABA is more of a philosophy of offensive basketball than it is a specific system. Consequently, the philosophy can be applied to any system, although it may change the system’s precise goals and execution. To learn more about the specifics of SABA, please see SABA: The Antifragile Offense, available as a Kindle or a paperback.

SABA is based on the idea that an offensive possession has four possible states: Disadvantage (defensive advantage), neutral, small advantage and big advantage.

A disadvantage is when the defense aggressively pursues a steal; the basic principles of attack do not change if this attempt is a full-court diamond press, a half-court 1-3-3 or trapping a high on-ball screen. Consequently, we do not have numerous full-court and half-court press breaks. In fact, we do not have a press break; we just have proper spacing in the full-court and half-court, and proper spacing when a teammate is trapped.

Our offensive objective is to create a big advantage; for us, a big advantage is an open layup or a catch-and-shoot three-pointer for one of our 37+% shooters. When we face a disadvantage, our goal is to create the big advantage immediately, as beating a trap immediately takes out two defenders, creating a numerical advantage.

In transition, the offense has a small advantage because the defense is not set; depending on the numbered advantage, the offense may start with a big advantage (2v1, 4v2), but at minimum, it has a small advantage. Our objective is to maintain and extend this advantage rather than allowing the defense to recover and set up.

When the defense is set, and the position starts from neutral, the offense uses an action to create its advantage. Occasionally, the action works perfectly, and the team moves directly from neutral to a big advantage. In a traditional view, this is the “play” working.

The action always creates an advantage, even when the big advantage is not available immediately. If the defense switches to prevent a layup, now the offense has created two mismatches, which is a small advantage. When a player catches without sufficient room to shoot, but with a defender closing out, she has a small advantage; we want to keep the defense in rotations until we create the big advantage (desired shot).

Occasionally, whether due to the defense or the shot clock, the offense does not extend the advantage and instead uses the small advantage to create its shot. Not every possession ends with an open layup or a wide open catch and shoot three-pointer.

Basic high-school basketball offensive set

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Coaching a European Club – Week 10

This week started off roughly. As we gathered to start practice, I had everyone huddle together, as I planned to ask about their impressions of the game from the weekend. As we walked together, our team leader joked, “Are we canceling practice?” I jumped on him, as it was the third or fourth time that he’s joked about not wanting to practice, and he already skips one practice per week every week. He said he was trying to be funny, and I said that nobody laughed. If practice is the drudgery that he makes it out to be, I don’t think complaining about it makes it any better.  Read more

Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Week 12

Short week. Took of Monday because of the holiday, and players other commitments. Practiced Tuesday, played Wednesday, practiced Thursday, and that’s it for the week.  Read more

Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Week 11

What an awful start to a week! We played again on Monday night, fell behind early, and were never really in the game. Our start against their zone was good, and we had some good possessions and good shots early. Our post hit a couple nice shots and a really nice hook. For some reason, after a couple possessions, we started to throw away the ball against a three-quarter court press. Most of the time, we made the right decision, we just threw a pass 20-feet over a teammate’s head or bounced the ball at his feet. We threw over the top to create a 2v1 and then threw away the pass rather than finishing. Once we got down, we started to hurry a little more and things devolved from there.  Read more

Coaching Frosh Basketball 2.0 – Week 10

Our game schedule for the rest of the season is Monday and Wednesday due to the schedules of the other teams. It is far from an ideal schedule, but it is what it is. We do not have a league, but we play three other schools three times each, so it is like a mini-league. Monday was the first of the games in this mini-league.  Read more

Attacking Zones through Small Combinations

In Coach, edited by Andrew Blauner, John McPhee’s chapter “VBK” centers on Butch van Breda Kolff and his relationship with Bill Bradley at Princeton.

Van Breda Kolff simply tells his boys to spread out and keep the ball moving. “Just go fast, stay out of one another’s way, pass, move, come off guys, look for one-on-ones, two-on-ones, two-on-twos, three-on-threes. That’s about the extent,” he says. That is, in fact, about the substance of basketball, which is almost never played as a five-man game anymore, but is, rather, a constant search, conducted semi-independently by five players, for smaller combinations that will produce a score.

Van Breda Kolff’s philosophy is perfect, especially at the developmental level. The coach gives the players some ideas to use to create these smaller combinations, and then the players use the spacing to create a shot. Too many teams and players are hamstrung trying to run a play or set up a play rather than understanding or learning to understand how to play basketball.

Here is an example of a Princeton University women’s basketball set used to find smaller combinations and create a shot through some basic tactical skills (I saw this in November, so it may not be exactly what Princeton runs, but my version based on my recollection of a frequent set of theirs).

The concepts are simple. First, get the ball to the corner and force the baseline defender to defend the ball in the corner (any zone defense becomes a 2-3 when the ball goes to the corner). Second, dribble out of the corner and fill behind the ball. If the baseline defender (O3) does not stay with the ball, she drives to the basket or shoots the open shot; a defender cannot leave the ball. If O1 leaves the high post area too quickly to push O3 off the ball, the offensive player in the high post is open for a shot or drive.

When X3 passes to X4 in the corner, O5 has to move to the ball or give up the open three-pointer. As she closes out, nobody is there to defend X5 cutting to the basket.

If O4 or O2 commit to X5, X2 or X1 is wide open for a three-pointer because the defense would be committing four players to three offensive players on the strong side.

This is simply a matter of using one basic tactical skill (dribble and fill) to create an advantageous smaller combination to get the ball inside against a zone defense.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching,
Playmakers Basketball Development League

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