There are four game flow phases: offense, offensive loose balls, defense and defensive loose balls.
What then are the subphases of offense? And correspondingly of defense?
The idea presented here is to base the subphases on whether the “inter-couplings of the playing dyads” are established. (For a discussion on dyads, see Bourbousson et al 2010: Space–time coordination dynamics in basketball. Part 1. Intra- and inter-couplings among player dyads.)
Advantage and even
Given this, one of the two subphases is advantage. It means that at least one of the critical dyads is not properly coupled.
In other words, at least one of the offensive players is an immediate threat to score. A player can be an immediate threat in two ways.
- She has the ball in a position where she probably may shortly take a shot with an expected eFG% high enough to enhance the probability that her team should win the game. E.g. She is driving for a wide open lay-up.
- She is in a position where she probably may shortly receive a pass and take a shot with an expected eFG% high enough to enhance the probability that her team should win the game. E.g. a 6–4 center has cut to the front rim and is being guarded by a 5–0 guard.
The other offensive subphase is even. There all critical dyads are properly coupled, or the defense is properly covering all offensive players. Not one of them is an immediate threat to score.
The current goal of the offense depends on the subphase
So, the subphases even and advantage describe the current state of the possession.
If the phase is even, the goal of the offense is to attack the dyads in order to create an advantage. This may mean for example continuing to run a set play.
Once an advantage is created, it becomes the goal of the offense to utilise the advantage. This can mean for example immediately discontinuing a set play and flowing into a drive-and-kick.
After a score, the next possession typically starts with an even phase.
That is, while the offense is inbounding the ball, the defense is coupling the dyads. Thus the possession starts with the offense trying to first create advantage and only then to exploit it.
Conversely, if there’s a loose ball phase – for example a rebound situation – the next possession typically starts with advantage.
That’s because before the offense gains possession, the defensive team doesn’t have the time to properly couple the dyads. This is true regarding both defensive and offensive rebounds. In this case the offense often first tries to utilise the advantage for example by running a fast break or by scoring off a put-back.
Defining the subphases helps to enhance coaching
In every possession, at least one subphase takes place. On the other hand, the two subphases may alternate multiple times.
Say, after a made 3P by the Barracudas, the Alligators initiate their offensive possession in an even subphase. Off a pick-and-roll they create an advantage and get a shooter open in the corner. But the pass to her is too low, and she can’t get the shot off before the defender closes out on her. Then it’s back to the even subphase, and the Alligators must try to create another advantage before the shot clock expires.
Explicitly defining and discussing the two subphases helps the coach to assess how to train in order to enhance the game performance of her team.
For example, the Alligators may have a hard time utilising the advantages. To improve this aspect, their training may focus on:
- Passing the ball to immediate threats.
- Spacing the floor wide to keep the defense from helping on the immediate threat.
- Attacking close-outs.
- And so on.
Conversely, if Alligators focus their training on creating advantages – e.g. off a pick-and-roll – it may not do much good for their offense. That is because the current bottleneck is utilising advantages.
Performance analysis can’t tell what an advantage is
Often, it is not possible to make an objective distinction between even and advantage. This is an inevitable consequence of the essence of basketball.
A basketball game is a conflict between two teams, two complex systems. They function unpredictably, as complex systems always do.
The parts of the systems – the players – are constantly perceiving and manipulating the conflict. Whether there is an advantage – or whether all critical dyads are properly coupled at a given moment – is partly a matter of perception. A potential advantage only becomes an advantage once someone realises it.
For this and a lot of other reasons, player tracking and performance analysis can’t tell the difference between even and advantage.
This is true about a lot of basketball phenomena that get quantified and analysed anyhow. This can be very misleading.
For example, the amount of defensive pressure on the shooter can’t be measured objectively because it is affected by the shooter’s perception.