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Basketball: Offensive Plays

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Professional basketball teams run complex offenses with numerous plays and options. Below are some basic offensive plays that are used all the way from youth basketball to the pros.


The basic pick-and-roll play involves two players. One player has the ball and begins to dribble towards the other player. The second player sets a pick, or screen, on the defender guarding the player with the ball. As the player with the ball goes by the pick, the player setting the pick turns and "rolls" to the basket.

The defenders must choose what to do. They can "switch" who they are guarding or stay with the player they were originally on, fighting through or around the pick. If they switch, then the player rolling to the basket is often open for a pass because he has position on the player he picked. If they don't switch the player with the ball often has a wide open shot.

Player dribbling on offense
Source: US Navy
Give and Go

A great play to run in youth basketball, the give-and-go can be easy to master, but very effective. To run this play the player with the ball passes the ball to another then runs to the basket or an open space with a burst of speed. The player catching the pass then passes it back quickly to the open player.

The defender is often watching the pass or not ready for the burst of speed leaving the player wide open for a layup or open shot.


The isolation play is popular in the NBA when a team has a superstar like Michael Jordan. When teams play man-to-man defense all four players move to one side of the floor leaving the player with the ball in a one-on-one situation.

If other defenders move over to help, offensive players can slash to the basket to catch an open pass.

Posting Up

Posting up is generally done by the big guys down low. Forwards or centers establish position with their backs to the basket. The ball is passed to them and they then make a move such as a turnaround jump shot, up and under move, or hook shot.

Moving Without the Ball

Good offensive players often learn how to move without the ball. Teams need to maintain spacing on the offensive end of the court and not get all bunched up in one place. By constantly moving you can wear out the defense as well as keep them from helping out on the ball. Also, learning to move without the ball, rub off of picks, and get open will get you the ball more and lead to more scoring opportunities.

Fast Break

One of the easiest ways to score in basketball is the fast break. This is where you beat the other team down the court and shoot a layup. Fast breaks are generally started by a steal or by a strong outlet pass.

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