“Motion! Motion! Motion!” There was a time when you could hear those words coming from the bench of just about every college team in the country. You remember those days don’t you? You know, back when the shot-clocks used to start with the number 45 on them.
Motion offense was the fad in college basketball. It focused on teamwork, screening and wearing down the defense. Proponents sang its praises by lauding the fact that it was difficult to scout because it was something different each time down the floor. They also said that it made your players better. “Which would you rather have at the end of the year, better plays or better players?” was a phrase that coaches everywhere have heard at one time or another.
But alas, times change, defenses change, rules change and yes, even coaches change.
Not that motion has gone away. There are still coaches out there running motion the same way they used to run motion (Bobby Knight, Steve Alford) but those coaches are becoming as rare as a good mid-range jumper. Most coaches have adopted a different version and philosophy than the old 3-out 2-in or 4-out 1-in philosophy where a screener screens with his butt to the ball and/or butt to the basket only. In the traditional style, players used the dribble on a limited basis, usually only to move the ball to the action of other players screening.
For the coaches still running motion, most have developed some sort of hybrid. When he doesn’t have a dominant post player like Kenyon Martin or Danny Fortson, Coach Bob Huggins at Cincinnati likes to use an open post format that spreads the floor and utilizes the dribble. Even with quality post players, the Bearcats use very little screening in their motion. Like other coaches, Coach Huggins likes to take advantage of his players’ abilities with the dribble. Coach Mike Krzyzewiski of Duke likes to do the same. One of the toughest things to do defensively is to defend against dribble penetration. This type of change to motion allows teams to take advantage of just that.
So, why the move away from the motion offense?
First and foremost, the change in the shot-clock had a big effect on motion offenses. A good motion offense usually takes some time to develop. With the shot-clock at 35 seconds instead of 45, it doesn’t leave much time to run motion, especially if a team has pressured you in the backcourt, forcing your team to spend 7 or 8 seconds just to advance the ball to the timeline. With less time on the shot-clock, coaches have a tendency to want to run set plays. Just check out the pros. Rarely do you see motion run in the NBA. With the shot-clock at 24, coaches want to get into a set. In fact, that may be one of the biggest misconceptions about the NBA. Ask the average Joe on the street and they will tell you that the NBA is all about players going one-on-one with very few set plays being run. The truth is that NBA teams run a set play almost every time down the floor, with the obvious exception of fastbreak opportunities. Coaches like to get their teams into a set play as quickly as possible. Which brings up reason number 2.
Control. Like it or not, most college coaches are control freaks. That fact alone probably makes them a pretty good coach but it also drives them crazy when they are trying to teach motion. Motion requires players to freelance their cuts and screens. During the early part of the season it can be quite ugly. Most coaches can’t stand watching their teams run around like chickens with their heads cut off. One of the greatest lines I’ve heard from a coach has been “run something I know.” Coaches put in set plays so they can control where players will be at every point during the offense. This also enables coaches to hide weaknesses of certain players and to take advantage of other players’ strengths. With most types of motion, players on the floor need to be complete players. They need to be able to handle, pass and shoot the basketball. If a coach has a great rebounder that can do very little besides rebounding, he probably doesn’t want him at the top of the key trying to make passes to guys coming off of screens for shots.
Another reason for the change away from motion is that screening has become more difficult. Defenses are making it tougher for screeners to get into to position to set quality screens. Defenders are now bumping screeners off of their screening line, which allows defenders to get through screens easier. That’s why a team like Princeton, that has quality ball-handlers and shooters at just about every position, runs a continuity offense that is based more on cutting than screening. Their not big enough and strong enough to get into position to set tough screens. They make up for it by running their complex offense that involves constant cutting and moving.
There are many reasons why the motion offense has changed and been less prominent in recent years. Coaches are constantly working and striving for ways to improve their teams. Offenses will come and go with new innovations. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when everyone was running Flex. Defenses adapted, coaches learned how to stop it and now very few people run it anymore. It doesn’t work, so you have to move on. Right? Did I tell you that I saw a camp game this summer where one team scored 6 straight times in one half while running Flex? I guess some things never change.