In the half-court offence players must have choices on what options to use. If a pass from guard to guard is not available, or if there is a different priority the first cutter, 3, may choose to initiate a ‘first option’.
Diagram 1: 3 passes to 4 and in this case 5 will pivot on his right foot to face the basket and create a post screen for 3’s cut to the basket. Note: as in a third option cut, it is the responsibility of the cutter to work his man off the screen rather than the post player moving to set the screen.
If there is no defensive help from the post defender then 4 may be able to pass to 3 for a shot close to the basket. If there is defensive help then 5 sets an inside screen on 4 who drives hard to the middle of the free throw line (or at least to the middle area of the court) for a possible jump shot, or roll off pass to 5.
If neither the shot nor the pass is available 4 passes to 3 who cuts round a double screen set by 2 and 1. 3 may have a shot or a hard penetrating drive to the basket. If no shot or drive is available 3 looks to feed 5 who works off a screen set by 2. The timing of 2’s screen is made when the pass is in motion to 3. 5 must wait for the screen to be set on the left side of the basket before he makes his cut, otherwise the defence is better able to switch or crowd the area under the basket. 1 makes a short lead along the baseline to keep his defence honest. If his defender stays close to the basket to help defend 5 then 1 will be available for a short jump shot after a pass from 3.
The defence will usually try a number of variations to combat the screens and the cuts and I will describe these next, but it must be emphasised that the sound execution of the fundamentals of passing, screening, dribbling and shooting will be vital for the successful conclusion of the play, as well as good judgement on shot selection.
If no scoring options are available the players are able to fluently balance to the regular shuffle positions on the right side with 5 moving up to the post, 1 moving to the four spot, 4 stepping up to the point and 2 moving to the feeder spot. Another first option could be run on the right side or a third option to the left.
First Option Variations
First - Early roll
Sometimes the defensive post man is able to provide help to the cutter and still move up to his man and then prepare to help, or jump switch on the 4 man when he tries to drive over the screen set by 5. The 4 man must be prepared for this tactic and when he sees 5’s defender over playing in preparation for the switch 4 should make eye communication with 5 and tell him to make an “early roll” to the basket. This will often provide a shot close to the basket for 5, or at least relieve the pressure on 4 who will make his drive to the free throw line one on one if the early pass to 5 is not available. All the normal options will follow if no early shot is taken.
First - Curl Cut
The defender on 3 has a major task considering the screens he must negotiate and sometimes he will try to take short cuts, or overplay. This means all players must be aware of what options may be available. If 3s defensive player “trails” him around the double screen 3 may choose to curl around the screens set be 2 and 1 and continue all the way into the keyway instead of popping out toward the side-line for a jump shot or pass. He could then be available for a pass from 4, but if not he would continue to set a screen for 5.
In this case 1 would be the player to step out for a pass from 4 and 2 would make the short lead along the baseline. Communication between all players is important and recognition of what the defence is trying to do determine which option might be the best.
First - Pick or pop
At the conclusion of the first option when 5 has made use of the screen and no shot is available 4 may set a down screen for 2 (or 1 if it had been a curl cut) who is often available for a short jump shot after a pass from 3. Alternatively 2 may step up to set a back screen for 4 who cuts to the left side of the basket for a pass from 3. This can provide an excellent “alley oop” opportunity for very athletic players.
In the above diagram the 4 has gone down to set the screen for the 2 who will ‘pop’ to the foul line area for the shot or the possible pass to 4, who will post up once the 2 has received the ball. It is possible for players to read the defence and decide during the course of play if it will be the 2 down screening for the 4 or the 4 up screening for the 4. However, it is easier and sometimes more effective to predetermine what action will take place when getting to this phase of the offence.