February 9, 2021 •

The Triple Options of ‘Pistols’ Action

by John Kimble, contributing writer

The ‘pistols’ type of offensive action is a fairly new form of an offensive scheme that can attack in various ways as both an inside scoring threat as well as a lethal instrument behind the arc. Various players from their different position as well as many different locations on the floor are the main weapons in this scheme.   

This article will break the ‘Pistols’ action into three different stages in which each of the three stages has three different ways to execute their specific stage. Therefore, it could be said that there are triple stages with triple options in each that can be executed by the same basketball team.

This outline form may make it more clear as to the framework that could possibly be chosen to execute the entire ‘Pistols’ method of attack.

One of the Three Offensive Sets

  • The “3-ACROSS” Set/Alignment (Diagram 1)

The Different Triple ‘Beginning Stages’ Options

  • The “01-03 Dribble Hand-Off” (Diagram 2)
  • The “01-03 Follow Ball-Screen” (Diagram 3)
  • The “01-03 Pass & Fake Hand-Off” (Diagram 4)

The Different Triple Pistols Ball-Screen Stages’ Options

  • The “05-03 Pistols Big-on-Small (Long) Ball-Screen/Rim-Run” (Diag. 5)
  • The “05-03 Pistols Big-on-Small (Long) Ball-Screen/Roll” (Diagram 6)
  • The “05-03 Pistols Big-on-Small (Long) Ball-Screen/Slip with Dive by 01” (Diag.7)

The Different Triple ‘Weakside Attack Stages’Options

  • The “04-02 Big-on-Small Flare-Screen/Slip” (Diagram 8)
  • The “02-04 Small-on-Big Down-Screen/Rim-Run” (Diagram 9)
  • The “04-02 Ghost Flare-Screen/Rim-Run” (Diagram 10)

The Remaining Two Offensive Sets

  • The “1-DOWN” Set/Alignment (Diagram 12)
  • The “HI-LO STAX” Set/Alignment (Diagram 13)
Photo: Wesley Sykes / Great American Media Services

This outline shows the different variations that actually could be utilized and executed. The outline also shows that using this one offensive set/alignment with any of the triple beginning stages, along with any of the triple Pistols ball-screen stages and with all of the triple weakside attack stages, mathematically there could be actual 27 permutations of the different avenues of attack that could be implemented as the designated means of attack in a somewhat simple offensive scheme. That is an extremely huge number of variations that could be broken down into many offensive weapons that could be simple to the offense, but difficult to predict and to defend by opposing team’s defenses. During an actual season, some additions, subtractions, and substitutions might have to be made for the most efficient options to fit into that team’s offensive repertoire.

Obviously, those changes might have to be made in the middle of the season because of an inaccurate or incorrect analysis of the team’s talents in all five categories previously discussed. But often, those changes could be made as a progressive plan periodically throughout the season. 

Diagram 01

Diagram 1 illustrates an example of an offensive set/alignment that is called the “3-ACROSS” set. This alignment itself gives the offense several advantages just by its placement of the offensive personnel. With 05 being the only offensive player that determines which side of the offense is the actual strong side, 05 has the flexibility and the mobility to easily switch from the block above the notch on one side of the lane to the opposite side and thereby changing in at least its appearance. Secondly, with 05 being an obvious and a visual “interior scoring” threat and 04 located at the nail, becoming the second legitimately interior scoring threat; defenses must make a strong effort to deny passes to those two specific players. In addition, there will be three skilled perimeter players perfectly spaced outside of the arc to provide the offense with three legitimate outside and 3-point scoring threats that opponents must also defend.  

With just the spacing and the equal balance of both inside and outside scoring threats, the defense will be stretched vertically from baseline to timeline and horizontally from sideline to sideline. This stretching will weaken the overall defense. In addition, if and when a defense makes more of a 50-50 commitment on either mode of attack, offenses will not only be able to read their adjustment but will also have the means to quickly counter the defensive action and attack the left-right side of the floor and 03 stepping up to set a high ball-screen/slip (or often called pick/pop) and fills the slot position. As 01 dribble-scrapes off of 03’s top (right) shoulder, 05 makes a strong duck-in cut into the dotted circle area. Also at the same time, 04 breaks diagonally up from his nail position to the new weakside slot with 02 remaining and spotting up at the free-throw line extended on the weakside of the floor. This quick and simple action completely isolates 05 and his lone defender with all the other four teammates being evenly spaced outside of the arc and help eliminate extra interior help as well as being outside scoring and driving threats. This actually repositions players to be in the exact locations where the “1-DOWN” Alignment begins. 

Diagram 2

Diagrams 2 through 4 illustrate the three different beginning stage possibilities that could be utilized in this offensive attack scheme. Option A is simply and accurately called the 01-03 dribble hand-off, with the diagram showing 01 dribbling directly at 03 and his defender. 03 v-cuts and then rubs off of 01’s outside shoulder and receives the ball on the actual hand-off and starts his drive towards the top and the middle of the floor. Another set of triple options could be discussed more thoroughly with what 01 then does after making the actual hand-off.  

Briefly, 01 could hand the ball off and immediately and diagonally make a strong rim-run to the basket and look for 03’s lob pass. 01 could also simply continue in the same direction and continue down towards that side’s deep corner on a flare-cut (almost exactly the way he would set a screen and slip it with a flare-cut. Or 01 could simply and easily hand-off the ball to 03 and remain in that location (similar to a ball screen/slip.)

From there, 05 could continue cutting up to execute his pistols long ball screen and utilize any of his own triple options.

Diagram 3

Diagram 3 is an example of the second of 01’s three choices, called the 01-03 follow ball screen option. In this instance, 01 makes the wing pass to 03 and then follows his pass to set an immediate ball screen on 03’s defender, X3. 03 then dribble-scrapes off of 01’s outside (left) shoulder and continues towards the upper middle area of the floor, just as in the first option or the upcoming third option. 01 could then execute any of his own three options: a) rim-run b) flare-cut or c) slip and stay.  

Diagram 4

Diagram 4 illustrates the third option that is accurately called the “01-03 pass fake hand-off” option. 01 makes the same type of wing pass to 03 and sprints towards 03 and the ball as if to receive the hand-off back from 03. After cutting past 03 without the ball, 01 looks for 03’s pass as he continues cutting towards the basket. If no pass is made, 01 reverses direction and then fills 03’s wing spot-up location.   

After the exchange between 01 and 03 has been made, using any of the triple options, 03 will always have possession of the ball and his dribble alive. In addition, 05 will have finished his duck-in cut in the middle of the lane. 05 would then continue his cut towards the 03 with the ball being dribbled out towards the middle of the floor and step out of the lane near the ball-side elbow area to set a pistols long (big-on-small) ball screen to allow 03 to shed his defender and attack the middle of the floor. Diagrams 5, 6, and 7 will now illustrate 05’s triple options of what 05 can then elect to do based on how X5 and X3 try to defend 03 and 05’s two-man game.

Diagram 5

05’s first option shown in Diagram 5 is the pistols long ball screen/rim-run. 05 has read that X5 steps higher than his actual screen to hedge, or even hard hedge or to actually switch the ball-screen on X3. 05 would then make a front pivot off of his lower (right) foot and possibly make a swim move with his left arm over X3 to diagonally cut to the basket and look for 03’s lob pass. This action allows 05 to apply the concept, obtain and maintain a position advantage over your defender with various types of footwork and pivots. 03 could even continue his dribble higher to stretch out one or both defenders higher (further from 05) before actually making the pass to 05. If 03 turns down the pass to 05, he still could make a throw-back pass to 01 somewhere between the baseline and the free-throw line extended. In addition, 03 still has the middle he can attack to create shots for either himself, for teammates in the lane, or teammates out behind the arc on the weakside of the floor. 

Diagram 6

Diagram 6 illustrates the action when 05 sets the same pistols long ball screen but reads that X5 is playing either behind him or on the low side of him. In this instance, 05 should reverse pivot off of his lower (right) foot and swing his left leg around to open up to the ball and to 03 on his dribble towards the middle. The same concept of obtaining and maintaining position advantage over your defender is accomplished with a different set of techniques, pivots, and footwork. This time, on his roll through the lane to the basket, 05 can expect a bounce pass in the lane with X5 sealed behind 05 for an excellent shot opportunity.  

Diagram 7

Diagram 7 illustrates both 05 and 01 reading X1 overplaying of his man by being on the top side to help X3 with 03 and the ball. In concert with 01, when 01 realizes he is the player then has obtained his position advantage over his defender, 01 diagonally races to the rim to become the recipient of 03’s lob pass to the basket. To stay out of 01’s way, 05 simply slips his screen and steps further out to the vacant wing area where both 03 and 01 had just occupied.  

Diagram 8

The next three stages of the possible offensive action take place after the exchange between the guard (01 in these instances, while it could be any of his teammates actually handling the ball and initiating the beginning action) and the forward (03 in these diagrams). After 03 has started his middle dribble penetration (with the help of 05’s pistols ball screens), Diagram 8 shows 02 spotting up on the weakside slot spot-up. X2 may try to deny all reverse passes as some defensive plans may demand or he may sink in to help whoever has the task of keeping 03 and the ball out of the land and the middle. Regardless of how X2 is playing 02, 04 would step up from the so-called weakside forward position and set a head-hunting flare screen for 02 to scrape off of and make his flare cut to the wide expanses of the weakside perimeter. Upon receiving 02’s skip pass, 02 would have his own series of triple options;  a) catch-and-shoot off the skip- ass b) catch-and-create with the dribble or shot-fake and dribble or c) catch and make a pass to an open teammate on the perimeter of the interior. If no shots are produced, the action has placed all players in the proper “4-Out/1-In” spot-ups for the continuation of the offense’s perpetual attack.  

Diagram 9

Diagram 9 illustrates the same results of the exchange between 01 and 03 (whichever of the triple options was selected to place the ball in 03’s hands) and after 05’s pistols ball screen and the choice of the triple options was executed.  Again, as 03 attacks the middle of the floor, 02 could decide to set a small-on-big down screen for 04 to use to fill the vacant weakside slot. After setting the screen for his teammate (or possibly prematurely) 02 could ghost it or slip it and rim-run to the basket invert his defender and to obtain and maintain a personnel (and position) advantage on his perimeter-type defender and to look for 03’s pass. If shots are still not taken, the “4-Out/1-In” spot-ups are once again filled to flow into the next wave or phase of the attack.

Diagram 10

Diagram 10 again shows the last attack option on the weakside of the floor. Particularly after 04 has set some flare screens for 02 to use to get wide-open shots that he has successfully buried, 04 could then elect to step up in the same direction as he usually does to screen for 02. But instead of finishing his route, he breaks it off and converts his predictable down screen into a ghost down screen/rim-run, where he is the player that makes the hard rim-run to the basket for an open lay-up. 

Diagram 11

If 04 does not receive 03’s pass, 04 can simply pop back out to the free-throw line extended with 02 returning to his initial slot position. There, all five spot-ups are filled for the “4-Out/1-In” motion-type or specific continuity offense can seamlessly now begin with absolutely no delay in maintaining the offensive pressure on the opposition’s defense.

To make things more multiple and to ‘triple’ the number of offensive sets/alignments in this overall offensive scheme, Diagrams 12 and 13 show two more alignments.

Diagram 12

Diagram 12 is one of the alignment called the “1-DOWN” offensive set. As in the previous alignment discussed, this alignment is symmetrically balanced with only 05 having the freedom and the flexibility of determining which side is the actual strong side. 05 could align at the notch above the block on either side of the lane. With the alignment being an even front, both 01 and 02 also have the freedom and the flexibility of either player being able to bring the ball across the timeline and with either player then being able to start the actual option that has been chosen. There are four perimeter locations outside of the 3-point line, again stretching the defense from sideline to sideline. With 05 the lone interior player, 05 has a wide area to operate in the entire lane on his own and then capable of isolating his post defender anywhere and everywhere.

Diagram 13

Diagram 13 illustrates another offensive set/alignment called the “HI-LO STAX” set. As on odd front alignment, this also is a symmetrically-balanced alignment with 01 in the center lane, two players stacked high on the left side, and the other two players stacked low on the right side of the floor. This offensive set can attack the interior on either side as well as on the perimeter on both sides of the floor. 

As the triple options in the beginning stages are learned, understood, and able to be executed, the second group of triple options can be mastered and can move on to the entire triple option in the weakside action.

This number of permutations will make it extremely difficult for defenses to be able to predict, to learn, to prepare to defend, and to be successful. Therefore, tripling the triple options and then also tripling the number of offensive sets/alignments could mathematically move the number to 81 possible methods and means of attack.  

Besides the obvious advantages, every team can adjust and modify the extent of their offensive attack.