February 11, 2021 •

Integrating “Pistols” Action in Your Offensive Scheme

by John Kimble, contributing writer

This particular action, which is a combination of two different historically and traditionally successful forms of offensive attack is becoming a favorite type of man-to-man offensive action at many different skill levels of play.  

The initial offensive action of the dribble hand-off (DHO) has returned and once again become a very popular type of action again used by all levels of basketball. Another tradition-rich and older form of offensive attack, the ball-screen of a dribbler, that now immediately follows the DHO supplements that initial action to make the combination an even more successful, more productive, more popular, and therefore more frequently utilized as a weapon in itself. 

Add to that fact that there can be all types of players involved in the three main characters or participants, the initial dribbler, the hand-off receiver, and finally the actual ball-Screener, there can be an infinite number of combinations of different position-types of players involved. Just a couple of examples could be:  a) all three participants could be of the perimeter-type of players or b) a small (perimeter-type) dribbler handing off to another small that receives a ball-screen by a big or c) two of the three players could be bigs that could be in any two of the three locations — dribbler, DHO receiver, or ball-screener.

Photo: Wesley Sykes / Great American Media Services

Mixing in bigs with smalls will discourage defenses from switching the hand-off or the actual screen. Since the entire offensive action is more or less located on the offensive perimeter, this action could be considered more of a perimeter kind of offensive action. So any defenders that even begin to guard a player in any of those three positions may not have enough experience, training, and skills to be an adequate defender in this form of offensive attack. Therefore, defensive weaknesses could be uncovered and then capitalized on often.  

Another advantage could be the fact that the initial ball-screener has three kinds of action he could execute after setting the screen for his teammate (whether he is a big or small and regardless of whether the new dribbler attacking the middle of the floor is a big or small.   

There are obviously two sides of the floor that could utilize this action and there are different locations on the court where this action can begin and end. This makes it more difficult for defensive opponents to know when and where this efficient type of action will attack their defense.  

Another advantage is that this offensive action could be initiated from various offensive sets/alignments, but could also follow forms of false motion that will force individual defenders to move and adjust from their beginning locations and stances into different locations and methods of defending their man in a different manner. This can also lead to defensive breakdowns both as individual defender(s) and as an overall defensive team. 

The multiplicity of different offensive sets/alignments will give the offensive team a much greater degree of unpredictability and thereby giving the offense another advantage.  

In addition, having designated plays/entries/quick-hitters from one or multiple offensive alignments every play may or may not include the Pistols action will allow a team to utilize particular strengths of specific players to attack the defense. Those same plays should also prevent a team to avoid individual offensive player’s weaknesses.  

Obviously, every play in the scheme should be a play that is designed to score in various ways by different players. But if the play does not produce a shot, it could then serve as a false motion to reposition players to where the coaching staff wants them to be to then execute the Pistols action. Adding false motion to any of the plays can reposition offensive players into the exact locations of where the desired dribbler starts the pistols action, where the DHO receiver ends up to receive the ball, and where the assigned ball-screener comes from to set that screen at the pre-designated location.  This false motion even more so makes the Pistols action less predictable and more dangerous.

Plays could also almost immediately flow into positions so that the “Pistols” attack can immediately begin.  

Still, when no shots are taken by the offense, this first phase of the Pistols attack, consisting of those plays does not provide a shot, it at least then places personnel into the proper positioning so that all five players can effectively continue and carry on in this final phase — a planned attack on the defense (called a continuity or a motion-type offense). This forces the defensive team to stop two actual waves of a carefully planned offensive attack that the defense must immediately react to and defend.  

Diagram 01

Diagram 1 illustrates a play out of the 3-ACROSS Set with  02 and 03 making Iverson cuts. With both wings filled by the two cutters, 01 could make wing passes or the DHO towards either side; we feel it is better for 01 to dribble towards the cutter that made the ‘low’ Iverson cut (03 in this diagram).  

05 could start on either side of the lane, but should always empty out away from 01’s dribble towards the opposite side’s wing; as that wing (now 02) should lift up to the newly declared weakside slot. As 01 dribbles towards 03, 04 starts drifting slightly away from the ball and slightly towards the basket in the dotted circle area. On his dribble towards 03, 01 could look to make the short lob pass to 04 in the middle of the lane. 03 breaks towards the basket before he is ready to pop out back to the free-throw line extended. If X3 denies 03’s popping out (and if he has either foot cross the arc line, 03 immediately backdoors to the basket. See Diagram 2.

Diagram 02

Diagram 3 shows 01 making the DHO with 03 and then flare-cutting to that side’s deep corner, preparing for a possible throw-back pass and a quick catch-and-shoot or catch-and-(inside)-pass to 04. As 03 dribble-scrapes off of 04’s top shoulder, 04 then makes a front pivot off of his lower (left) foot and rim-runs to the basket for an excellent opportunity for a dunk or lay-up. With all four teammates either near or outside of the arc evenly spaced around the basket, 04 has the spacing to completely isolate his interior defender, (either X4 or possibly a more mismatched X3 if the defense has switched the big-on-small ball screen/rim-run.) 

As 03 penetrates the middle or at least dribbles across the top of the key, 05 should step up to flare-screen X2, who is the nearest help-side defender that could possibly stop 03 on his dribble-penetration. 02 would flare-cut off of 05 outside shoulder and as he makes his cut towards the deep corner, he should be preparing for his own offensive opportunities, such as an immediate catch-and-shoot, catch-and-(inside)-pass, or catch-and-create off of 03’s skip pass. With one perimeter player (03) driving the ball in the middle of the floor, with 04 having the opportunities of receiving an inside pass from any of his teammates, with the remaining perimeter players (01 and 02 both flare-cutting to their respective two deep corners) being very legitimate outside scoring threats; this play has numerous scoring avenues.  

Diagram 03

Still, if no shots are taken out of this execution of the Pistols action; all players end up in 4-Out/1-In Spot-Ups so that a designated continuity offense or a motion-type offense can smoothly begin from the end of this entry. See Diagram 3.  

This illustration is the same play with the exact actions by all five players with the exception of 04 changing his footwork and route to the basket after ball-screening for 03 after 03 has received 01’s dribble hand-off — a very slight difference in the true Pistols action. As 03 once again dribble-scrapes off of 04’s top (right) shoulder, on this occasion reverse pivots off of his low (left) foot to open up to 03 and the ball as he rolls through the lane again looking for 03’s inside pass (and another high percentage shot opportunity.) See Diagram 4. 

Diagram 04

This diagram shows another play/entry/quick-hitter out of a different offensive set, called the “3-DOWN” set that first integrates a big-on-small ball screen by 04 for 01. 01 could come off of 04’s top shoulder and dribble towards either side of the floor. As 01 dribbles towards either wing, (in this diagram it is towards 02 on the right side of the floor) 05 breaks up from his low post position (which could be either side of the floor, making the cosmetic appearance different in each possession. 05 then makes a strong duck-in cut into the dotted circle area looking for 01’s quick pass. After 01 dribble-scrapes of 04, 01 continues his dribble towards 02 and 04 then slips his screen and cuts towards 03 to set a big-on-small down-screen for 03 to break up towards the newly declared weakside slot. If 01 does not make the quick pass to 05, he continues towards 02. Again, if 02’s defender has either foot step over the 3-point line to deny his man the ball, 02 reverses direction and makes a hard backdoor cut to the basket. See Diagram 5.

Diagram 05

This next diagram illustrates 01 making the dribble hand-off to 02 and 01 immediately flare-cutting to that side’s deep corner area and preparing for quick catch-and-attack action off of 02’s throwback pass. As the DHO is made, 05 has continued his duck-in cut from the dotted circle area towards 02 and the ball. 05 then quickly sets his “big-on-small ball screen for 02 to shed his initial defender (X2) or to attack his possible new defender (X5) on his dribble penetration towards the middle of the floor.  

05 could either roll or rim-run after setting his ball screen for 02 to use and 02 makes 05 his primary pass receiver. A bounce pass to 05 rolling through the lane or a lob pass to 05 on his rim-run to the basket would be 02’s initial passing choices. If those choices are turned down, as 02 approaches the imaginary center line of the floor, 04 steps back up to set a big-on-small flare-cut for 03 to use to get open in the deep corner on that wide-open weak side of the floor. 02 has driving and shooting possibilities, passing opportunities first to 05 on the interior and perimeter pass receivers of 01, 03, and 04 all spread out behind the arc.  Those players that are symmetrically spaced out behind the arc are also in the 4-Out/1-In spot-ups so that if no shots are produced, the designated 2nd Wave/Phase of attack can fluidly begin. See Diagram 6.

Diagram 06

The next diagram shows a third play out of another offensive set, called the “1-DOWN” set. While 05 can begin on either side of the floor, it could be better than 02 brings the ball across the timeline and 05 reach the low post on 02’s side of the floor. In that manner, 04 cuts down to set a pin-screen for 05 to replace him at the free-throw line extended. 02 then looks to hit 04 after 04 has screened for 05 and then sealed off his defender in the middle of the lane in a completely isolated situation for 04 to attack his defender.

If 02 turns down the inside pass to 04, he should swing the ball over to 01. A possible secondary option would be for 01 to set a down screen for 03 to break out to 01’s initial slot position. Against hard denial pressure, 01 could even make a short version of a basket cut, but only halfway to the basket. If 01 doesn’t receive 02 pass on the cut, he quickly breaks back to replace 03 at his initial wing at the free-throw line extended. As 01 makes either of his two optional and possible moves, 03 breaks up to replace 01 at his initial slot position.  

With those options discussed, this diagram shows 01 instead remaining at his slot location and receiving 02’s reversal pass. 01 then squares up to the basket, before making a hard dribble directly towards 03 at the free-throw line extended. See Diagram 7.

Diagram 07

As the DHO is made to 03 with 01 continuing towards the deep corner, 04 cuts across the lane to set a big-on-small long ball screen for 03 to use.  As 03 again dribble-scrapes off of 04’s top shoulder to start his dribble penetration towards the middle, 04 could either rim-run to the basket and look for 03’s lob pass or roll through the lane and look for 03’s bounce pass. (In the diagram, 04 has elected to reverse pass off of his lower foot to open up to the ball as he cuts through the lane and looks for inside passes from 03, 05 or from 02.) At the same time, 05 steps up to set his big-on-small flare-screen for 02 to flare-cut to the wide-open expanses of the weakside perimeter. This action opens up 03’s punch and pull-up jump shot possibilities, drive-and-dump chances (to 04 rolling to the basket), and penetrate-and-pitch opportunities (to 02 on his flare-cut to the deep corner.) If no shots are taken out of the many options for 03, the symmetrically balanced and spread out spot-ups of the 4-Out/1-In spot-ups are filled for the next wave/phase of the attack to seamlessly begin. See Diagram 8.

Diagram 08

This next entry can be executed either out of the “2-Up” set shown in this diagram, but could also be run out of the “1-Down” set. 05 would simply have to break from either low post diagonally through the lane to the nail location as the ball is dribbled across the timeline. Keep in mind that this could be executed towards either side of the floor, depending on which player is to start the play. This gives the offense another degree of unpredictability for still another advantage over the opposition’s defense.

Diagram 09

Diagram 9 shows that 01 brings the ball across the timeline and immediately dribbles towards 02 to initiate the first DHO. After the hand-off, 01 continues towards the free-throw line extended on his new side of the floor. 02 takes the hand-off and dribbles directly towards 03. Again the rule should be that if X3 is in an extreme denial stance and steps outside of the arc to deny the hand-off (or any pass), 03 should make a hard backdoor cut to the basket. With both bigs (05 and 04) above the free-throw line and 05 ram-screening for 04 cutting towards the ball and with 01 having flare-cut to the new weakside wing, there should be no help-side defense to take away 03’s cut, catch, and lay-up at the basket. 

» ALSO SEE: The Triple Options of Pistols Action

Diagram 10

But if somehow 02’s pass to 03 cannot be made, 02 simply retains his dribble and spins back out towards the middle for 04 to use 05’s ram screen to cut across the nail to then ball-screen for 02. After 02 breaks contact with 04’s top shoulder, 04 could either rim-run to the basket or roll through the lane looking for passes from either 02, 01, or 05 (now in the deep Corner.) See Diagram 10.

Diagram 11 shows the same play but with no pressure by X3 to deny the 02-03 DHO. So the same action off of the ball takes place. 05 goes over to again ram-screen for 04 so that 04 could continue cutting across to ball-screen for 03 (after 02’s DHO to 03).  

Diagram 11

This diagram shows 04 then making the read on his defender and making a front pivot off of his lower (right) foot and immediately making his rim-run/lob cut to the hoop. To occupy off-ball defenders and to provide another outside scoring option, 05 has screened 01’s defender and continued towards the deep corner, with 01 becoming a valid scoring threat at the weakside slot position. 03 would now be the player driving to the middle with the same options he and other Pistols action dribblers have had in previous diagrams and plays. 03 could punch his dribble further into the middle and pull up for mid-range jump shots. 03 could make either the lob pass to 04 on his rim-run or a bounce pass to 04 on his roll through the lane. 03 could also make a throwback skip pass to 02 in the deep corner or a reverse pass to 01 spotted up at the slot. 05 could be a recipient of 03’s skip pass, possibly not for a perimeter shot because he should have a better passing angle to deliver the ball to 04 posting up. See Diagram 12.  

This diagram should also give coaches an idea that 05 could have opportunities to also ghost down-screen for 01 and slip immediately towards the basket to counter some defensive actions.  

Diagram 12

This Pistols action can be a devastating offensive weapon that can attack defenses in a variety of ways with numerous players using their offensive skills as dribblers, drivers, perimeter scorers, and interior scorers and yet still having the action become a conduit into the next phase or layer of the overall offensive attack.