May 21, 2021 •

Integrating “Pistols” Action in Your Offensive Scheme

by John Kimble, contributing writer

Photo: Wesley Sykes / Great American Media Services

Diagram 1 explains a play out of the “HORNS Set”—an offensive alignment that is symmetrically balanced. This option could be described and named the (big-on-small) “ball-screen and rim-run or roll” (by 05) and 04’s (big-on-small) “ghost down-screen.” 

This means that 01 could dictate the execution of this first play/entry from either side of the floor with no hesitation. In this scenario, 01 dribbles from the middle ‘alley’ of the floor towards the offense’s left side with 05 stepping up to set a big-on-small ball-screen near the elbow area on his side of the floor. After screening X1, 05 remains near his initial location so as to not draw his defender into the lane and to be immediately ready to set a possible second ball-screen (for 01).  

Diagram 01.

At the same time, 03 first starts to walk his defender up towards the free-throw line extended on his side of the floor, before then reversing direction and exploding towards the basket, looking for 01’s quick bounce pass for a lay-up. On the opposite side of the floor, 04 starts to break down to set a big-on-small down-screen for 02 to also break partially up to the free-throw line extended on his side of the floor. This action between 04 and 02 should occupy their defenders and keep both of their defenders away from being help-side defenders’ that could help out on the offensive action on the actual ball-side of the floor. Diagram 1.

If 01 cannot deliver the ball to 03 on his backdoor cut, 01 retains his dribble and reverses his direction by then dribbling back out towards the middle of the floor. 03 also reverses the direction of his cut towards the basket, pops out towards his side’s deep corner area, and thereby stretches the defense both vertically (along the baseline) and horizontally (towards the sideline).

Diagram 2 shows 05 stepping out to set a form of a pistols ball-screen near the elbow area for 01 to continue dribbling out towards the middle of the floor. As 01 breaks contact with 05’s top shoulder, 05 reads how X1 and X5 are defending the screen and reacts to attack the defense. 03 has spotted up in his deep corner, which not only makes him a potential perimeter offensive threat; but also diminishes possible help that should be needed to stop 05’s cutting towards the basket (with his rim-run or his roll).  

Diagram 02.

On the opposite side of the floor, 04 appears to start a second down-screen on 02’s defender. After having already set a similar screen at the very beginning of the play may give the offense an advantage when 04 changes his action and instead, 04 quickly and immediately cuts towards the basket; making his action an actual ghost down-screen. Without the help of 04’s screen, 02 continues breaking up towards the vacant slot position. This gives 01 the option of making inside passes to either 05 on his cut towards the basket or on 04’s cut to the basket. 01 still has penetrating opportunities as well as passes to his two remaining perimeter players on both sides of the floor. Somehow if no shots are taken, all of the “4-Out/1-In Spot-Ups” are filled so that the final phase of the offensive attack can immediately and fluidly begin. Diagram 2.

Diagram 3 illustrates an option that could be executed out of either the “1-DOWN” or the “2-UP” Sets (with the former being shown in the diagram.) 02 or 01 could bring the ball across the timeline with 05 making his usual duck-in cut into the dotted circle area and again isolating his defender in a high percentage shot area. As the 01-03 win pass is being made, 05 continues cutting towards the newly declared ball-side elbow area. 01 should immediately make a hard cut through the ball-side elbow area down the lane line to the ball-side block for a quick return pass from 03.  

Diagram 03.

With 05 in the dotted circle flashing to the ball and 04 outside the weakside slot, 01 has not only surprised his defender with a much different type of action; but he has inverted and isolated his perimeter-type defender (X1) into an area that should be very uncomfortable for that defender. Diagram 3.

If 03 turns down the pass to 01, 01 should then pop out to the deep corner, 03 then immediately looks to hit 05 on his high post flash towards the ball. If 03 turns down that pass, 03 then looks to attack his defender by using 05’s big-on-small long ball-screen on X3. As 03 dribble-scrapes off of 05’s top shoulder, 05 should choose between a quick front pivot and rim-run to the basket or a reverse pivot and roll through the lane to the basket.  

Diagram 04.

03 continues his dribble penetration and looks for 05 on his way to the basket as well as looking for 02’s opening at the opposite side’s slot via 04’s down-screen. 03 would also have penetrated and pitch (to 02 or 04), or drive and dump (to 05) or his own pull-up jump shots. It should not be forgotten that 03 could make a throwback pass to 01 who could have been forgotten as he spotted up in the deep corner. 01 could also follow the direction of 03’s dribble and lift up towards the area that 03 just vacated. If shots are not taken, the “4-Out/1-In Spot-Ups” are again filled for the next layer of the offense to smoothly begin. Diagram 4.  

Diagram 5 illustrates another option that could be integrated within the offensive scheme and could be called the “fake pass hand-off with a long ball-screen/rim-run or roll.” 

» ALSO SEE: Four-Minute Coaching Sessions

Out of the “1-DOWN” or the “2-UP” Set, the play could attack either side of the floor with either 01 or 02 crossing the timeline with the ball. This diagram shows 02 making the first pass to 01.  04 immediately steps up to set a “big-on-small flare-screen” for 02 to “flare-cut to the new weak-side of the floor. This simple two-man game not only stretches the defense horizontally and vertically, but the action also inverts the defense’s presumably ‘defensive big’ (X4). During 02’s dribble towards the slot, 05 again makes the simple duck-in cut again into the lane and completely isolates his defender.  

Diagram 05.

In the early progression of this play, everything so far appears to be the first play previously discussed. This appearance continues until after 01 makes the same pass to the same teammate, 03, in the same location. This is where this option stops being the same as the first option discussed. As 05 is passing through the dotted circle and 01 has made the wing pass to 03, 01 follows his pass to 03 and 03 then fakes the PHO (pass hand-off) with 01 cutting off of 03’s outside shoulder. If 03 feels 01 is open, he can give the ball up to 01 so that 01 could drive to the basket with three of his teammates outside of the arc and the remaining teammate running away from the basket. This gives 01 an excellent opportunity to attack his defender in an isolated scenario. Diagram 5. 

Diagram 06.

This diagram shows 03 actually not handing off or making a flip pass to 01, causing 01 to then curl out to the deep corner on the same side of the floor.  By this time, 01 has cut past 03, 05 should be in a position to set his usual pistols-type long ball-screen for 03 to then dribble-scrape off of 05’s top shoulder. This action has now reverted back to the same action and with all five players relocating to the exact locations they finished in the previous play. Therefore, when 03 penetrates the middle and into the lane (after turning down either type of pass he could make to 05), he could again drive and dump to 05 or now penetrate and pitch to either 04 or 02. Regardless, when all shots are turned down, the five players again are in the proper “4-Out/1-In” Spot-Ups for the designated continuity (or motion-type) offense to seamlessly and effortlessly maintain the attack on the opposition’s defense. Diagram 6. 

These three plays, or so-called options, could be executed out of the following offensive sets/alignments: the “HORNS” Set, the “1-DOWN” and the “2-UP” Set. Each play will attack defenses in somewhat different ways before then reverting back to the basic pistols-type long ball-screening action. In addition, if any of these plays do not produce the desired shot they want, they all move offensive personnel into specific pre-designated spots on the floor that will allow an instant, effortless and smooth conversion into the designated final phase or wave of the offensive attack.