When Dr. Naismith invented basketball, the entire floor was divided into three distinct parts: the guard section (the third of the floor closest to the opponent’s basket), the center section (the middle third of the floor), and the forward section (the third of the floor where players could score). Lines were drawn that players were not allowed to cross. As a result, players’ roles were strictly defined by their location on the court.
Even after those lines were erased, players continued to have specific roles. Half-court offenses usually ran all plays through a player in the middle. That player received the basketball either at the high post or the mid post. After the pass, depending on the coach’s system, perimeter players made backdoor cuts, placed screens, or interchanged through weaving. Those weaves were designed to create a defensive error, resulting in a cut to the basket for the layup or an outside shot.
Whatever the offensive pattern, early players were still confined to roles. The center was a passer and made an occasional move to score. The center never went out to the perimeter. Perimeter players remained on the outside and worked for basket cuts or jump shots. One guard was the point, and the other was the floor guard, or shooter.
In the 1970s, motion offense was introduced, primarily as a necessity. Title IX mandated that girls’ and boys’ basketball programs have equal gymnasium time. With limited hours of practice, teaching traditional offenses was nearly impossible. Those offensive systems were complex, and they required much more time and repetition for players to grasp and master them to a point where the players could execute them in games.
Motion offense, on the other hand, was much easier to teach and learn. It is a system that involves five players moving, screening, and cutting, leaving the middle open for backdoors and drives to the basket. This effectively eliminated the need for back-to-the-basket post players. The player who was prized in a motion offense (and on the defensive end against such an offense) was the jack-of-all-trades, the player who could handle the ball in space on the perimeter yet also maneuver successfully in traffic in the lane. The tall player who needed developing-with limited mobility and weak ballhandling skills-had a difficult time making the team, much less getting playing time. And coaches had little time to develop these big kids.
The absence of true back-to-the-basket players has led to what is called "dish and dunk" basketball. Teams run offenses that spread the floor, allowing for dribble penetration. When the dribble is stopped, the dish is made to a player on the perimeter, most often for a three-point shot. At the college and pro levels, those dribblers are looking to dunk when they penetrate.
But good coaches know that this type of offensive approach-if used exclusively-cannot consistently produce wins. As long as the game of basketball is played on the same-size court and with five players on each team, the team that controls the paint will almost always control the game. It is the balance of inside to outside basketball that produces scoring opportunities at multiple positions. When a team focuses on working the ball inside for the layup or easy inside move, this opens up the outside.
John Wooden says coaches and players would do well to remember the importance of getting the ball inside. Coach Wooden has made the following observation: "In today’s game, it seems that players either want to shoot the three-point shot or dunk the basketball. The inside game has virtually vanished. What coaches may not know is that offensive basketball, in order to be consistently effective, must have an inside-out approach. By that I mean, generally speaking, the outside shot should come as a result of a defense dropping down to prevent the inside score. When a team has the opposite approach, working for an outside shot first, it is more difficult to get a high-percentage outside shot. I prefer to work off a player who has received the ball inside by cutting and moving. This frees outside shooters who may be able to get two or three feet (.6 or .9 meter) closer to the basket for the shot."
This is an excerpt from Pete Newell’s Playing Big.