Spacing in the Read and React Offense (part 2 of 5)

On March 15, 2011 I posted an article I called The RGB of the Read and React Offense (Part 1 of 5), but in reality I had already written much of all 5 parts at that time. Because the article had grown far too stupendously long for one post, I decided to just post the first part of it, and then I would refine the rest of it, and post it later in 4 parts.

I’m sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to this project, but at least in the meantime I got to see that Rick Torbett’s Better Basketball agrees with me. On Better Basketball’s Read and React Tribe blog they posted a YouTube video, narrated by TJ Rosene, declaring, as I did 7 months previous, that the 3 fundamentals of any half court offense are:

The RGB of Half Court Offense:

1. Spacing
2. Player movement
3. Ball movement


Again, I call these three half court fundamentals “the RGB (red, green blue) of half court offense” because just as everything we see on a computer screen is merely a blend of three colors: red, green and blue, likewise everything we see in half court offense is a blend of spacing, player movement and ball movement.

By the way, if Dick Helm, TJ Rosene, or anyone else says that a half court offense can get by with only 1 or 2 of these 3 fundamentals, then I must respectfully disagree. To the contrary, the better the opposition’s defense, the more important it is to have all 3 RGBs working together for your half court offense. There is no prioritizing them; they are all always needed. The degree to which each is used at any given time, however, is like the varying colors on a television screen: it is what accounts for the variety we see. Hopefully I don’t need to justify that position, but if you think I do, please read through all the RGB articles, (not to mention my upcoming book — oops! I mentioned it!). By then my justification should be apparent, and hopefully convincing.

Spacing in half court offense

At any rate, on to spacing.

Whenever I notice our opponent has poor spacing, and their coach isn’t doing anything about it, I smile. My job as a coach, and the job of my players, just got a lot easier on the defensive side of the floor. In fact, I’m truly reluctant to reveal the importance of spacing here for that very reason.

On May 16, 2008, the Utah Jazz mounted a gutsy 2nd half comeback against the Los Angeles Lakers in game 6 of the 2008 Western Conference Semi-Finals. However, the game ended with the Jazz a mere 3 points away from forcing a game 7. Three points!

Deron WilliamsDeron Williams was 2 of 8 from the arc in that game, including a missed 3-point attempt in the final seconds. During the game, the television announcers said Williams was bothered by the length of the Lakers perimeter defenders Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmonovich and Kobe Bryant. ESPN‘s recap of the game mentioned that the Jazz were “hurrying outside shots.”

Yeah, it could have been the 7 inches Lamar Odom has on Deron Williams, but I say it is the 3 feet the Jazz gave the Lakers with their poor spacing.

With Williams just a half a step off his spot, and his teammates likewise a half step off of theirs, the Jazz made the Lakers a full step quicker on their long-armed closeouts, resulting in rushed, poor-percentage perimeter shooting.

Remarkably, had the Jazz taken care of a very small, seemingly insignificant detail, spacing, they might have altered NBA history.

Spacing could well be the single most underrated aspect of offense. I know the coaches and players I’ve known over the years seem to chronically overlook it, even though spacing is rightfully one of the 3 fundamental “RGBs” of half court offense.

If a player is just a half a step off of his spot, and the ball goes to another player who also is half a step off of his spot, those two half-step mistakes just made any defender closing out, switching or rotating… a full step quicker getting to the ball!

Bad spacing doesn’t just make shooting harder, it closes down passing lanes, and clogs up driving lanes, making it very difficult to move the ball, and extremely difficult to get the ball inside.

Do you know what happens then?

Many if not most coaches get after their players about their “stagnant offense” and tell them to quit “settling for outside shots” and to “get the ball inside.” However, with no clear passing and driving lanes, when the players obediently try to force the ball inside, they then get yelled at again for turning the ball over!

Rather than take their analysis down to the RGB of half court offense, (spacing, player movement and ball movement), many coaches continue to hold to their superficial, faulty analysis and blame the players. “I told them what to do,” the coaches tell themselves and others, “They just couldn’t execute.”

Basketballogy LogoHey coach, before you assume your players are flawed, check first to see if it’s your analysis that’s flawed. Maybe your players can’t get the ball inside because your spacing is the real problem.

Bad spacing:

  • Causes teams to shoot outside more
  • Decreases free throw attempts (due to the lack of inside play)
  • Lowers shooting percentages
  • Clogs driving lanes
  • Closes passing lanes
  • Creates turnovers
  • Gives opponents a higher shooting percentage due to more transition baskets and layups

If you see these symptoms, your spacing is sick, so treat the root cause, not the symptoms.

Good spacing (together with good ball movement and good player movement):

  • Wears down your opponent more quickly
  • Causes their tired players to reach (instead of moving their feet) and collect more fouls
  • Sometimes puts their better players on the bench for more of the game
  • Makes your opponents’ double teaming of your key players less effective
  • Blunts their quickness advantage, if they have one
  • Gives you more inside shots for bigs
  • Lets guards get to the rim and score, or draw fouls on their bigs
  • Gets you more points from the free throw line
  • Makes passing easier
  • Makes dribble penetration more effective
  • Reduces turnovers and giving up of easy baskets
  • Makes the game more fun for the players which increases their confidence
  • Increased confidence generally causes players to play better in all aspects of their game

As you may have noticed from that list, good spacing doesn’t just give your team an advantage all game long, but it usually puts your team in a better position in the final minutes of the game to close out a close game with a win.

2012 Team USA: Look at that Spacing!

When my players are inattentive or sloppy about their spacing, I tell them, “We are playing 3 on 7 out there!” and they get the message. Trying to run a half court offense with bad spacing is like giving your opponents extra players to defend you with: your inattention to a key principle simply makes your opponents’ defensive jobs that much easier.

Spacing and Read & ReactNow that we’ve established how important spacing is to any half court offense, lets talk about how spacing specifically works in the Read and React Offense.

5-outUnlike most half court offenses, the Read and React Offense can be run from many different formations. This is significant, because I believe that something as simple as the formation your offense takes as it executes can put a certain pressure on the defense.

Each formation has its strengths and weaknesses, and depending on the players you have on the floor and how they match up to your opponent, and each formation introduces new opportunities to put stress on a defense, giving your team an advantage in creating scoring opportunities.

For example, a 2-1-2 zone defense or a 2-3 zone defense is automatically under some stress against a team that forms with 5 players outside the arc (5-out), especially the if the offensive team has multiple legit 3-point threats. For starters, the two defenders on top cannot cover three offensive players on top. Either they run themselves ragged trying, or have to break the formation, leaving the defense out of its comfort zone (and the inside more open). Additionally, 5-out presents a problem for the zone’s inside defenders. If they guard the key, the 3 is open. If the defense allows its bigs to be lured to the arc, cutters and dribble penetration will turn the game into a layup drill.

And against a man defense, the 5-out formation applies a different kind of pressure. Bigs are pulled away from defending the paint, and are often forced to defend pick and rolls rather than the basket, and the floor has wide open driving lanes.

These examples are simplistic on purpose. What you need to do is think it through for yourself, and the unique aspects of your team. What formations make sense for your personnel, and for the match ups you see, and the defenses they throw at you… so that you understand what the varying Read and React formations give your team in certain circumstances. Think through what your team will see with each formation.

What is more, you should probably be switching formations many times as the game progresses to exploit matchups, foul trouble, etc. With Read and React, you can do this without having to teach your players new plays. Players simply need to know what their current goal is, choose a formation that should help them get it, then run the same offensive principles they always run to achieve that goal. It is very cool.


In fact, the flexibility of formations in the Read and React Offense conspires to make spacing even more effective in your half court offense.

So formations is the first and most fundamental drill we do in half court offense.

The DrillMany coaches have their players “run lines” or do “suicide drills.” (By the way, the term “suicide drill” is truly vile, and far beneath the dignity of our sport. We coaches should not be passing on such a horrendous phrase to young players.)

Rather than running lines, I prefer that my players run formations. The idea of formation drills is to have players quickly switch ends of the court and assume a proper offensive formation with precise spacing.

The formations drills have two phases: reactive and proactive.

The reactive drill works like this.

Start simple by first teaching players where they should be along the arc for a 5-out formation.

Then, using both ends of the gym, have 10 players get in 5-out formations, and place any remaining players under each basket to be judges. It is important to have the non-practicing players mentally involved in the drill to accelerate the team’s learning.

Standing out of bounds at half court, blow the whistle (or yell, “Go!”) and have the players race to switch ends.

When a formation is set, the players under the baskets yell, “Done!” (or blow a whistle) and everyone freezes.

With the players, look at the “winning” side to make sure their spacing is precise. If it is, they get a point; if not, then the the other team is awarded the point. The first side to 7 points wins.

It’s important to mix in players throughout, and have everyone learn to space formations with all kinds of teammates.

Formation drills teach players to care about their spacing, because if a player is sloppy about his spacing, he lets down his team. The drill makes him accountable, makes him care, and it makes spacing a habit.

4-out Formations

Depending on the ages of your players, it will not take long for them to get 5-out right, so you usually can quickly teach them a 4-out formation. Of course, there are 3 different ways to form 4-out on the perimeter, and 7 different spots for the post player, and we teach them all and drill them all. In fact for us, 4-out is a favorite teaching formation because it is simpler than 3-out, yet everything is there.

Then we do the same with the 3-out formations.

When the formations become second nature to the players, the drill becomes a better conditioning drill, and good spacing becomes a rock solid habit that isn’t likely to wilt under the pressure and fatigue of a real game.

When the formations become second nature to the players… good spacing becomes a rock solid habit that isn’t likely to wilt under the pressure and fatigue of a real game.

The proactive drill works like the reactive drill, except that I want to teach the players to think for themselves. I want them to read the defense, and read the game flow, and react with appropriate formations. I want to grow their basketball IQs.

First we talk about a hypothetical (or scouted) opponent: given our personnel, what advantages and disadvantages would each formation have against them? We keep it simple and build complexity over many practices.

Then, rather than call out a formation, I call out a situation.

“They are playing a 2-3 zone and we want a layup if we can. Go!”

Now the players switch ends and decide for themselves which formation to take to achieve the goal. When both sides are done we look at each other and often talk about why they made the choices we made.

Like running lines, formation drills are a good way to get the players legs and conditioning going, however formations are more fun, and they ingrain a habit of good spacing deep into a player’s DNA, a habit that then becomes a natural part of how they play.

A habit that just might have let the Utah Jazz extend their 2008 playoff run another game, and perhaps more.

(See part 3: Dribbling and the Read and React Offense)

RGB: Spacing

  1. Will FoxWill Fox10-23-2011


    I really like your insight into the Read and React. I like how you have modified drills to be about the offense than purely running for the sake of running. I hope you get to the next 3 parts soon… I am very interested in seeing how you will teach (or at least introduce) the rest of the Read and React. I have studied the R&R very carefully for the past year and I feel comfortable that I can do a good job teaching it to my kids. But I am always interested in seeing other ideas into the teaching as well. I like the spacing of the offense and how we are going to get many cutters going towards the basket .. hopefully this will cause some confusion among the defense. I can see your point on how the drills could over simplify things… make the kids maybe forget about playing the game… I hope you get some more articles out soon.. THANKS! 🙂

  2. TimoTimo10-28-2011

    I really enjoyed the first two parts of the series and I think teaching R&R this way makes a ton of sense. I would really love to see the rest of the series. You mentioned that you had essentially written the entire 5 parts already. Any chance you would be willing to email the entire series to me? I’d really love to read the entire thing (even if it’s rough). I know that finding the time to post something can be difficult. Keep up the great work!

  3. Tom7Tom710-29-2011

    @Will Fox

    Thank you. I’ve been trying to clear my plate to get the rest of the articles out in a more timely manner. After doing some honey-dos and before a Halloween party, hopefully I’ll have enough time to get part 3 done today.

    Even if coaches elect to teach R&R the conventional way, I do think the formations drills are still worthwhile.

    In games, all fundamentals including spacing can get sloppy with a defense constantly trying to make it so. To have the kids extremely used to switching ends and forming properly without a moment’s thought about it, so that 100% of their concentration is on the game, that’s helpful and should make formation drilling worthwhile.

  4. Tom7Tom710-29-2011


    I thought awhile about sending the rough I have written, but instead I’m just going to try harder to get it refined and posted here more quickly. I’m sorry.

    One of the reasons is I’ve modified the approach yet again from when I wrote part 1. This year I’m trying dribble penetration (formerly step 4) as step 2. I don’t like that because I want my teams trained to be pass first, but I have a hunch the revised order will let them learn the offense more quickly, so we will be able to do more of it with less practices.

    In other words, what I wrote in March isn’t just rough, but outdated and irrelevant now.

    I’ll make more time to finish this project.

  5. TimoTimo10-29-2011

    Understood. Looking forward to the next installment!

  6. Tom7Tom711-01-2011

    Timo and Will,

    I just posted the third part. Sorry again for the delay, but I decided it was too wordy and made graphics to better say some of what I was trying to say.

  7. I love your postings and … I would at least like to teach all the concepts of “Read and React” especially the 90%. I am somewhat limited with practice time. Could you please respond with some drills or an order of things you would recommend teaching first and so on.


  8. TJ RoseneTJ Rosene03-20-2012

    Interesting article. Well written.

    • Tom7Tom703-21-2012

      Thanks, TJ! BTW, I was VERY excited to see your comment; I’m learning so much from you. Thanks again.

  9. BShoreBShore05-03-2012

    Great article! We are going to definitely do the formations drill first practice this summer. I think that I will also add the Read and React fastbreak basket cuts to the drill–should be an easier way to teach fastbreak as well. Have them basket cut first, then get out to the spots and see which group wins.

    I would be interested in hearing more about your ideas of what formations to use based on the situation.

  10. Richard CassellaRichard Cassella08-04-2012

    by Scott Ginn

    On Monday night (August 6) at 8 pm Eastern time, the Tribe will have it’s first official Twitter chat.

    Hopefully this will be the first of many Twitter chats to come. This Monday’s topic will be pre-season prep with the Read & React Offense so get your questions, comments, and resources ready (as long as they’re under 140 characters) and join us.

    By the way, the #rrtribe hashtag is alive so go ahead and use it in any Read & React related tweets to help us get the word out. And, if you have any questions, tweet us @BtrBasketball or leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

    What’s a Twitter chat? Read below and watch the short video to find out.

    Why #rrtibe?

    #rrtribe will be a real-time, 24/7 discussion available to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Read & React Offense. You may share resources, ask and answer questions, or simply connect with other interesting people that have a passion for the Read & React.

    The best part about #rrtribe? Whether you are a college coach or a youth coach, whether you’ve run the Read & React since the beginning or you’re looking to put it in for the first time, you’ll have an outlet to connect, collaborate, and discuss ways to improve your knowledge of the Read & React anywhere, anytime.

    How can I participate?

    Participating is simple – all you need to do is use #rrtibe anywhere in your tweet. Whether you mention, reply, or have your own thoughts on a subject relating to Read & React, all you need to do is use #rrtribe and your tweet will show in our stream!

    How do I find #rrtribe?

    To view every tweet having to do with #rrtribe, all you have to do is search for #rrtribe. From there you may reply, retweet, or favorite anyone who has posted to the #rrtibe stream.

    Thanks to @Cassella_ for the idea, for the video, and really for making this happen.

  11. Coaching & LearningCoaching & Learning02-23-2015

    Just what I needed coach. Have been banging my head against the wall trying to fully teach spacing and moving without the ball.

  12. Justin gudmunsonJustin gudmunson11-21-2016

    what is the purpose for switching perimeter from five to six then back to five when switching from 5-out, to 4-out, then 3-out? Why not keep the same five perimeter spots all the time?

    • Tom7Tom711-21-2016

      I’m not sure if I understand your question, but if you are asking why not keep the same spacing regardless how many players are outside the arc, you certainly can. Just know that you’ll get different things from the spacing you choose.

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