Attacking the Middle Third

Place the maximum amount of pressure on a transition defense by attacking the middle third of the court.

The Concept of Attacking the Middle Third

Transition is the aspect of the game where offensive efficiency reaches its peak, and there is no shot in basketball that yields a greater PPP than a lay up. With that being said it should be a no-brainer that we should place a larger focus on that moment when defense turns to offense.

The key concept of this blog post will be on "Attacking the Middle Third". When an outlet pass is made (or a guard rebounds) they are immediately searching for pitch ahead opportunities. If those opportunities are not available then the basketball should Attack the Middle Third. The logic behind this is centered on collapsing the defense. If the defense has taken away pitch ahead opportunities then it is committing defenders to the perimeter. In theory this leaves the middle of the floor open for a ball handler to attack.

The mindset of the ball handler should be on getting all the way to the basket. The basketball can then either be scored or it will collapse defenders on it. If the ball handler meets help defense then he makes the appropriate dribble stop or pass. Hopefully, this action creates enough of an advantage for the basketball to get an open shot or a closeout to attack.

Advancing the Ball

The first 3-4 seconds of a possession are crucial if you are going to create a transition opportunity for your team. In four seconds a good team can get their entire defense back and in position to see the ball. So to avoid this we need to advance the basketball into the half court as quickly as possible. The two methods that can be consistently drilled in practice are the Bust Out Dribble and the High Outlet Pass. Coaches can create a number of scenarios where they force the offense to use either method in quickly advancing the basketball and attacking the middle third of the court.

Bust Out Dribble - Any perimeter player that can handle the basketball immediately turns to the sideline and within 1-2 dribbles has cleared traffic and is prepared to attack the middle third.

High Outlet Pass - Any post player that is not comfortable with the ball in their hands can outlet the basketball immediately after a rebound or recovery. This pass needs to be "above the basketball".

Decision Making in the Middle Third

Attacking the middle third of the court is really only half of the battle. Decision making and finishing once you get there is what can really separate the efficiency of your offense. We don't always get to choose how the defense plays us, but we can consistently make the correct reads off what they present. The player with the basketball in their hands has to first answer:

Can I get all the way to the rim?

We want layups out of the middle third attack so the most important decision that needs to be made is, "Can I get all the way to the rim?" The basketball needs to force the a second help defender to commit to him in order for him to give it up. Certainly, we are not encouraging players to drive into crowded paints, but we want players to have an attack mindset with the ball.

If the ball handler can not get all the way to the basket they must read the help defense and make the appropriate pass. The attack to the middle third can be wasted if help defense arrives and the basketball is neutralized. Keeping the advantage alive needs to be a skill that is worked on consistently in practice. For the player with the basketball the next question is:

Where is the help coming from?

The two most common passes that tend to present themselves in this moment of the game are the drop pass and the quick pitch. The drop pass usually presents itself when the center slides over to stop the basketball, leaving his man open under the rim. The quick pitch will present itself when help comes from the corner. This opens up the player "holding the corner" for a catch and shoot opportunity.

Concluding Thoughts

The ultimate goal in transition is to create an early advantage that we can then turn into a score. Since the option to pitch the ball ahead did not present itself the next best option is to continue putting pressure on the defense by attacking the rim. As coaches, it is now on us to teach the decision making process that will determine whether or not we can turn these transition opportunities into points.

If you have questions or want to continue the discussion on Attacking the Middle Third you can email me at or find me out on Twitter at @LeicBasketball.

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