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Why NBA Teams Don’t Run Motion Offense

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There might not be a more overused term in the entire game of basketball than "motion offense." Not only is it overused but it is also grossly misunderstood by many fans, players, and even coaches. Part of the confusion lies in the fact that a simple internet search of "motion offense" will return links featuring 5 Out Motion, 4 Out 1 In Motion, 3 Out 2 In Motion, and 2 Out 3 In Motion.

There are also sub categories of motion offense. For example, when it comes to running a 5 Out motion offense I have specific notes that I've collected from other coaches on a pass and cut motion, a screening away motion, and a double screen away motion. Now throw in the Dribble Drive, the Princeton, the React and React, and the Passing Game - all considered to be motion offenses - and it's easy to see why many are at least a little confused. Ironically, true motion is actually none of those things. Instead of resembling an offensive pattern, true motion consists of several fundamental options that can be used as needed depending on how the offensive player wants to attack or react to the defense.

However, regardless of which motion offense or philosophy is being used, if you ask the coach "Why?" he is teaching and using motion the answers are almost always exactly the same:

1. It's simple and easy to teach.
2. It teaches players how to play the game.
3. It is fun to play.
4. It is difficult to scout.
5. It can be used against any defense.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Yes it does! But ask yourself this - if motion offense is really all of things listed above, then why isn't it used by every team in the NBA? To answer that let's look at each concept one by one.

It's simple and easy to teach. No it isn't. True motion requires that each offensive player be able to effectively read the defense, and not only his defender but his teammates' defenders as well. He must also be able to read and understand his own teammates - who is always going to drive, who is never going to pass, who can only use his strong hand, etc. That's a lot of thinking and decision making on each and every possession.

It teaches players how to play the game. Granted it is a great teaching tool because when run properly it forces everyone to play every position but a lot of great players have learned how to play the game without ever running motion. Besides that, the NBA isn't that concerned about teaching players how to play the game nor is it concerned with helping them become better overall players. The NBA is a league of specialists and doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

It is fun to play. To many players, especially younger ones, "fun" is synonymous with shooting and scoring. In theory, motion offense gives each offensive player an equal opportunity to shoot the ball. NBA coaches (and fans) don't really care about that. They want their best shooters and scorers getting the most shots - and in positions where they can make them; and they know that when running motion the guy who can't shoot is always open!

It's difficult to scout. Again, on paper that may be true but not in reality. Each player has a tendency to gravitate towards his own personal skill set which means he essentially does the same thing no matter which offense you are running. Some players almost always drive; others only shoot 3's off the catch; still others can only go towards their dominant hands, etc. NBA defenses are more concerned with trying to stop individuals than specific offenses.

It can be used against any defense. Any and all offenses can be used against any defense - just not effectively! Most defenses (and defenders) have at least one specific and unique weakness to them. Running the exact same offense against every defense - man, zone, junk, etc. - is not going to expose those specific weaknesses. If you voluntarily run your man offense against my zone or your zone offense against my man to man then I'm going to have a tremendous advantage.

There is one more reason why NBA teams don't run a true motion offense and that is the shot clock. Motion offense is best when several passes can be made in succession which gives the defense more opportunities to break down. NBA teams don't have that luxury of making pass after pass after pass and need to get the ball in the hands of their best scorers right away.

There are many benefits of running motion offense as it does help players learn all positions, improves perimeter skill sets, and promotes teamwork and morale since every player feels like he has a chance to be a major contributor. However, NBA teams aren't directly concerned with most of those things which makes a true motion offense a poor fit for them.

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