Basketball Offense: Motion Offense vs. Set Play Offense

Motion Basketball Offense or Set Play Basketball Offense?
By Lee DeForest, Basketball Coaches Club

What is the difference between Motion Offense and a Set Play Offense? Motion offense is the most simple offense to run, but it is also the most difficult to teach well. Bobby Knight believes in his ability to teach players how to play the game and therefore during his entire 992 wins, he taught a pure motion offense. This requires a coach that is willing to “let go” in terms of basketball play calling and teach the players the difference between a good or bad shot. By nature motion offense is a disciplined form of offense that involves all five players screening and cutting to get the best shot available. There are NO predetermined reads in a “pure” motion offense. That means that if your teammate is setting a down screen, as a cutter you are to make the read based on what the defense is doing. If he is playing you tight, you make a curl cut into the lane, and if the defender has beat you to the screen, then you make a backdoor cut. Motion offense allows an offensive player to make the correct read based on what the defender is doing. This takes a great understanding of the game of basketball, but it is difficult to scout and improves as the year progresses.

[Related: Playbook Basketball]

On the other hand, coaches such as Tom Izzo and Greg McDermott believe in the value of running basketball set plays. In fact, adhering to his football mentality, Coach Izzo often “scripts” his first 6-7 plays of the game. Set plays allow a coach to determine who is going to shoot and where the shot is going to be taken from. Obviously, this control over the offense is suitable to some coaches. For example, with a talented point guard, a coach would have several basketball ball screen sets designed or with a good post player, a coach would have plays designed to screen them into a good post position. A typical NBA team has over 150 basketball sets to choose from with counters! However, the downside of this type of offense is the limited flexibility and what Gene Smithson calls “playing like robots.” Each player has a designated job to do and there aren’t many basketball reads to be made. This can be simple for the players to learn, but you have to remember that it can be simple for the other coach to learn as well. Set plays are good for inexperienced teams or coaches that want to fine-tune their offense based on the basketball talent they have available.

Basketball Motion Offense Strengths

Difficult to basketball scout

Prepares team for tournament play – half court offense

Shot selection determined by the basketball coach

Assigns each player a basketball role

Focused on basketball execution – how you do it, not what you do

Maximizes basketball practice time – work on offensive/defensive drills at same time

Teaches players how to play the game of basketball (i.e., court spacing, reading screens, shot selection, creating offense for teammates, etc.)

Celebrates individual sacrifice and basketball teamwork

Focused on screening and cutting

Basketball Motion Offense Weaknesses

Difficult to teach well

Reliance on skills of all 5 offensive players

Can be difficult to create shots for best players

Can be difficult to execute in time/score situations

Steep learning curve for basketball players

Basketball Set Play Offense Strengths

Coach determines the basketball action (i.e., down screen, clear out, post up, flare cut, etc.)

Excellent for time/score situations because of control of coach

Allows basketball coach to create opportunities for best options in best areas

Easier to learn for most basketball players

Ability to hide weaker offensive players away from the action

Basketball scouting allows coach to attack how they defend (i.e., low post, cross screens, flare screens, ball screens, wing denial, etc.)

Easier to make game strategy adjustments during the game

Position basketball players where they can most likely succeed

Prepare your basketball team for what the opponent has difficulty defending (i.e., post back screens, slip screens, kick-out 3-point shots, pick and roll action, dribble handoffs, small on big screens, etc.)

Basketball Set Play Offense Weaknesses

Usually easier to basketball scout

Players must execute their basketball position responsibility

Teaches a limited understanding of the game of basketball (i.e., down screen here, inside basket cut there, pick-and-pop now, etc.)

Basketball players can be confused if they play an offensive player position they haven’t practiced

Does not develop basketball player skills as well as other types of read-and-react basketball offenses

Typically not a tournament style basketball offensive system

Which basketball offensive style is better?

This is all based on your coaching philosophy. Are you a motion offense coach like Bobby Knight or are you an NBA coach like Pat Riley? The first thing a coach must do is determine what they feel most comfortable teaching. After that, determine what is the better choice for your team. Do you have a shot clock? If so, then set plays might be the easiest way to go and if not, you can execute until you get the shot you want in your motion offense. Another question to answer would be, how experienced is my team? If you are coaching a basketball youth team then it might be a good idea to run a few basketball sets whereas if you have an experienced group, motion would be an option. Again, this is all dependent on your offensive basketball philosophy, the level you are coaching, and the talent/experience of your players. Choose wisely.

Coach Bobby Knight
"Offensively, my basketball team relies on three things: passing the ball, cutting without the ball, and screening for each other so that we end up with a good shot." -- Coach Bobby Knight
Coach Don Meyer
"True team veterans know that there can only be one state of mind as you approach any profound test: total concentration, a spirit of togetherness, and strength." -- Coach Pat Riley
Championship Basketball Playbook

Championship Basketball PlaybookComplete system needed to Excel as a basketball coach

Transition Offense
Motion Offense
Flex Offense
Zone Offense
Offensive Plays
Inbound Plays
Press Breaker Offense
Full-court Press Defenses
Zone Defenses
Junk Defenses
Man to Man Defense
Game Strategy
Basketball Coaching Manual

"All really successful coaches have a system." - Jim Valvano Playbook

In Search of Excellence