Basketball Movement Tactics to Outsmart Your Opponent

Basketball is like photography, if you don’t focus, all you have is the negative. – Dan Frisby

The Importance of Movement on the Court

Basketball is fundamentally a game of effective spacing and movement that requires precision passing, communication and team chemistry that helps synchronize the movement of the player with the ball and his/her teammates without the ball. In fact, when it comes to pure efficiency and effectiveness on the basketball court, it is equally — if not more — important to move well without the ball when compared to moving with the ball. And it is these dynamics that separate the great players from the rest.

This IQ Matrix map will specifically focus on the dynamics of moving without the ball on the perimeter while setting screens and within a variety of other critical basketball scenarios.

This article post is part of a Basketball Success Series of IQ Matrix map. Topics within this series include:

Part 1: Basketball Shooting Skills
Part 2: Basketball Defensive Skills
Part 3: Basketball Dribbling Skills
Part 4: Basketball Passing Skills
Part 5: Basketball Offensive Skills
Part 6: Basketball Rebounding Skills
Part 7: Basketball Movement Tactics
Part 8: Basketball Post Play Skills
Part 9: Basketball Mindset Strategies

Playing and Moving on the Perimeter

The 1st Branch of this IQ Matrix Mind Map breaks down the fundamentals of playing on the perimeter in relation to the position of your Opponent. We specifically discuss how you must move depending on the spacing that your Defender allows you to have on the perimeter.

Receiving Pass on the Perimeter

In this scenario, you are standing outside the 3-point line on either the left or right Wing position facing your basket. Your Teammate has the ball on top of the 3-point line (middle of the Key area extended) and is in the process of passing the ball to you.

Defender Gives You Space to Move

In this scenario, your direct Opponent who is guarding you on the Wing allows you space to move freely and receive the pass on the Wing perimeter outside the 3-point line.

Observe Defender’s Foot and Hand Position

Before you receive the ball from your Teammate, you must first take note of your direct Opponent’s foot and hand position. This will determine whether you should cut to the basket or take the pass from your Teammate on the perimeter.

You would immediately cut to the basket attacking your Opponent’s “Back” if their elbow is positioned in a direct line between you and your Teammate who is about to pass you the ball.

Reading your Opponent’s lead-foot will give you a good indication of where to make your cut towards the basket. You would cut left if their lead-foot is their right foot. Conversely, you would cut right if their lead-foot is their left foot. However, at all times remember to stay as unpredictable as possible. You can do this by initially cutting one way and then moving in the opposite direction moving directly to the basket.

Also if you do make a cut, be sure to stick your lead-hand out in order to display a target for your Teammate to pass to.

Defender is Standing Inside 3-Point Line

Here your defender is standing inside of the 3-point line. This should tell you that they are in a good defensive position to prevent your Cut towards the basket and to potentially deny you the pass on the perimeter.

In this instance, you should use a V-Cut moving into the path of your Defender in order to open yourself up to receive the pass from your teammate.

1. Force your Defender closer to the basket with your body by taking a couple of steps inside the 3-point line.

2. Suddenly and immediately release your Defender and move to receive the pass behind the 3-point line in a “V” formation.

Defender is Standing Outside 3-Point Line

Here your Defender is positioned outside of the 3-point line. This should tell you that they are out of position. You must, therefore, take advantage of this and Immediately attack your Defender’s “Back” and cut towards the basket with your lead-hand outstretched and ready to receive the pass from your teammate.

Defender Gives You Little Space to Move

In this scenario, your direct Opponent who is guarding you on the Wing gives you very little space or freedom to move or receive the pass from your Teammate. In this situation, you will need to get open first before receiving the pass.

Defender Does Not Move to Deny the Pass

Here your Defender has not moved to deny the pass on the perimeter from your teammate. In such instances do the following:

1. Your first step must move towards your Defender forcing you to body up with them.

2. Your second step is a “hop back” (you are hopping back with your feet towards the perimeter) which must come out and across your Defender back towards the outside perimeter area. You are essentially hopping back in order to create space between yourself and your Defender to receive the safe pass from your teammate on the perimeter.

Defender Moves to Deny the Pass

Here your defender steps out to deny the pass to you on the perimeter. In such instances, simply take a step towards the ball allowing your Defender to follow you. Your next step must immediately “backdoor” your defender (attacking their back) and cutting towards the basket while flashing your lead-hand to receive a pass from your teammate for a potential layup.

Defender Makes Contact with You

Here your Defender is pretty much body-to-body with you in a “pass denial” position. In such instances, you must move your Defender into position by spinning and sealing them off behind you.

Defender Gives You Space Behind

Here the Defender is standing in the passing lane, however, you cannot cut effectively towards the basket because there are other Defenders positioned within the key area. At the same time, you realize that there is space behind you towards the baseline where you can receive a pass safely from your teammate.

In such instances, you must seal your Defender with your arm-bar while reaching for the overhead pass from your Teammate. Keep in mind that you must keep your Defender sealed with your arm-bar up until the moment the ball passes over your head. If you do not follow this rule and release your Defender too early with your arm-bar then this will increase the chances of your Opponent deflecting or stealing the basketball.

Attacking the Basket Off the Pass

Once you receive the ball on the perimeter you must immediately pressure your Defender and attack their “Back” off the dribble. This can be achieved through rear/back or front cutting by your Defender to the basket. When you receive the ball on the perimeter your Defender will most likely move and react to the pass, and may, therefore, be in a vulnerable position leaning on their back or front foot. You must notice this and take immediate advantage by attacking their weak-side (this is the foot they are not leaning on).

As a general rule, the more “TIME” you allow your Defender to settle down into a defensive position, the more effective they will be in guarding your position on the court. The bottom line is to not allow them anytime at all to get into defensive positioning in the first place.

How to Play Basketball on the Perimeter and Wing

The Fundamentals of Effective Screening

The 2nd Branch of this IQ Matrix Mind Map delves into the intricacies of setting effective basketball Screens. We specifically discuss the movement of the Screener and Dribbler within a Ball Screen scenario and briefly touch upon the mechanics of setting an Away Screen, Back Screen, and Down Screen.

The Ball Screen

The Ball Screen is a very effective basketball offensive strategy that will free up your Teammates and create better scoring opportunities. It involves two players working together in conjunction (one with the ball and the other without the ball) moving in a way that will effectively stop a Defender in their tracks. It is especially useful against man-to-man defensive sets.

Screener Guidelines

When coming off a screen, the Screener is always the most dangerous threat to score a basket.

If you are playing as the “Screener” keep in mind the following principles:

Setting Up the Screen

The following presents you with some general guidelines on how to set up the screen:

1. Sprint to set up the screen while the Dribbler’s Defender is out of position and cannot see you coming.

2. Approach the Defender from the side. Keep in mind that your Teammate who is dribbling the ball may do the work for you and move their Defender into position straight into your screen. In this situation, you will just need to stand and prepare yourself for impact when the Defender unknowingly walks into you.

3. Land in a hop, straddling the legs of the Defender you are setting a screen on. Make sure to control your arms and hips to avoid fouling your Opponent.

4. Point your “Back” towards where the Dribbler will be cutting.

Your Scoring Options

The following presents you with some general guidelines on how to score off a screen:

Option 1: Break or cut in the opposite direction of your Dribbler.

Option 2: Slip the screen by making a front or reverse pivot move rolling towards the basket while raising your lead-hand to receive a pass from the Dribbler. This is known as a Pick & Roll.

Option 3: Flare Away from the Defender and Dribbler and create space for yourself on the perimeter to receive the pass.

Option 4: If after having set the screen an opportunity to score does not open up, then simply set another screen on the opposite shoulder of your Teammate’s Defender.

Dribbler Guidelines

The Dribbler is a very important component of the Ball Screen, as it is their decision making and passing awareness that could potentially set the Screener up for a great scoring opportunity.

If you are playing as the Dribbler keep in mind the following principles:

Setting Up the Screen

The following presents you with some general guidelines on how to set up the screen:

1. Take your Defender below the vertical line of the screen (that is being set by the Screener discussed above) making sure to control the spacing accordingly.

2. Move your Defender immediately into the path of the screen. Make sure to brush the Screener’s hip and shoulder with your hip and shoulder in order to minimize the chances of your Defender coming over the top of the screen that is being set. Also, by staying low and explosive will give you an advantage if a “basket cut” opens up.

Your Scoring Options

The following presents you with some general guidelines on how to score off a screen:

Scenario 1: The Defense Hedges… Solution: Keep your dribble alive.

Scenario 2: The Defense Double Teams You… Solution: Keep your dribble alive.

Scenario 3: The Defense Slides Behind the Screen… Solution: Take your shot from behind the Screener’s Back.

Scenario 4: The Defense Switches… Solution: Pass to the Screener or signal the Screener to provide you with a Re-Screen in the opposite direction.

The Down Screen

The Down Screen is a screen set by players moving towards the baseline or from the Perimeter into the Post area.

The Back Screen

The Back Screen is a screen set by players who specifically target the Defender’s blind-spot by setting the screen on the Opponent’s “Back”. This type of screen is usually accomplished moving from the Post up to the Perimeter.

The Away Screen

The Away Screen is a screen set on players who do not have the ball. These types of screens usually occur off passes and are set in the opposite direction to where the ball is on the court. This is a very effective screening method that allows teammates to get open cuts moving towards the basket.

Basketball Setting Ball Screens

Intelligent Basketball Movement

The 3rd Branch of this IQ Matrix Mind Map discusses the fundamentals of intelligent movement on the basketball court. It specifically outlines how to move without the basketball as an individual player, in pairs and as a team within the Motion Offense.

Individual Movement Tactics

Because basketball is a team sport, it is easy to forget the importance of individual movement tactics that will enable you to get open for a scoring opportunity, or simply to receive the ball from a Teammate. Here are some principles you should keep in mind when moving independently on the basketball court:


The primary purpose of a V-Cut is to enable you to get better position to receive a pass from your Teammate. You would utilize a V-Cut whenever you need to create space between you and your Defender.

For instance, your Opponent is playing you very tight high on the Wing perimeter. In order to get open you would first walk them body-to-body towards the basket (this is the 1st line of the “V”), then you would immediately break away moving back towards the perimeter to receive the pass from your teammate in a “V” formation (this is the 2nd line of the “V”). Notice that you are not cutting back towards the ball into the exact same position from where you began moving your Opponent to the basket, but rather a little off to the side, which is what forms the “V”.


The primary purpose of an L-Cut is to penetrate immediately towards the basket after passing the ball off to a Teammate on the perimeter (this is the 1st line of the “L”). If you do not receive the ball back from your Teammate than you would simply make a 90° degree turn and cut off to the far outside Wing area in an L-Cut formation (this is the 2nd line of the “L”).

Rear and Front Cut

Whenever you are being overplayed by your Defender, this is the moment you would choose to either Rear-Cut or Front-Cut them. Whenever an Opponent “overplays”you, this simply means that they are guarding you too closely, and you can use this to your advantage by immediately cutting in a straight line to the basket with your lead-hand outstretched ready to receive the pass from your Teammate.

A Rear-Cut involves cutting behind your Opponent’s Back. On the other hand, a Front-Cut involves cutting in front of your Opponent’s face directly towards the basket.

No matter which Cut you use, it is important to make sure that you are not too predictable in your movements, otherwise, your Opponent will read you like a book and will deny your penetration towards the basket. It is therefore critical that you fake your Opponent first by taking a single step in one direction and then immediately cutting in the opposite direction in a straight line towards the basket.

Another important factor to keep an eye on is to identify where your Opponent’s “Back” is facing. You will always have a better chance cutting towards the basket by penetrating in the direction that your Opponent’s “Back” is facing. The only reason you would not do this would be if your Opponent was overplaying you towards their Backside. In this instance, you would utilize a Front-Cut and charge towards the basket with your lead-hand extended ready to receive the pass from your Teammate.

Intelligent Penetration Tactics

Efficient, consistent and persistent penetration towards the basket is the best way to wear down your Opponent’s defensive strategy. The more movement you essentially create and the faster the ball is passed between each of your Teammates than the more gaps will begin opening up allowing you more freedom and good scoring opportunities. Here are 3 guidelines you must keep in mind in relation to this:

Penetrate into open spaces consistently and persistently.

Penetrate into gaps that open up within Zone and Man-2-Man formations.

Penetrate by constantly moving without the ball. This means that if you don’t have the ball, you should be moving and getting into a position to receive the pass no matter where the ball is on the basketball court. Always ask yourself:

“Am currently in a position to receive the pass from my Teammate?” – If NOT than move immediately into position.

Moving the Ball in Pairs

Another important and fundamental skill that we must all master as basketball players is the process of moving the ball effectively and efficiently between pairs of players. Here are a couple of tactics you should consider absorbing into your game, and a few general guidelines that will assist you further in developing your court awareness in this area:

The Give and Go

The Give & Go is one of the most fundamental skills of basketball that can potentially create an infinite amount of scoring opportunities if run correctly. In its most basic form, it involves passing to a Teammate and then immediately cutting towards the basket with an expectation that you will receive the pass back from your Teammate if you are open. When utilizing this tactic be sure to extend your lead-hand out and in front of you the moment you begin cutting towards the basket in order to provide your Teammate with a target to pass to. Speed and precision is the key.

Pick and Roll

This was discussed in detail in the Ball Screen section of this article post. Within this section, we touched upon the specifics of how the Screener and Dribbler must move leading up to the Screen and when coming off the Screen. Please reread this section for further details.

General Guidelines

Under most circumstances, when you are receiving the pass from your Teammate, it is important to step into this pass in order to minimize a defender sneaking up from behind you and deflecting the ball away. Make sure to do this aggressively, decisively, with purpose, and ALWAYS extend your lead-hand out so that your Teammate knows where you would like to receive the ball.

How to Move on the Basketball Court

Team Movement within Motion Offense

Many teams these days run a Motion Offense that requires a great deal of movement, understanding and effective communication. When playing a basketball game you may very well be instructed to run a set-play by your Coach. This is all well and good. However, if you are ever in doubt and do not know what to do, then the following guidelines will help to keep you moving and playing effectively on the basketball court while minimizing the impact of your movement on the set-play your Coach has drawn up:

Balance the Court

Making sure that you and your Teammates do not crowd one side of the court is of primary importance. Crowding can lead to silly turnovers and ineffective decision making. In order to avoid overcrowding one side of the court, make it a habit to always be aware of the position of your Teammates in relation to your position on the court. Your team must always be spread and balanced far enough in order to open up good passing lanes and scoring opportunities.

Keep the Defense Spread

By balancing the court you are also keeping the defense spread. This can only help open up gaps, passing lanes and potential scoring opportunities.

Pass and Screen, or Pass and Move

Whenever you pass the ball off to one of your Teammates, you MUST move immediately into open space using any of the Cutting tactics we discussed above. Another option after a pass is to set a Screen for your Teammate utilizing the screens we discussed in an earlier section.

Dribble Under these Conditions…

Within the motion offense, dribbling must be minimized at all costs in order to improve the speed, movement, and efficiency of the team. You should therefore ONLY dribble the ball under the following conditions:

  • When attacking the basket.
  • When improving your passing angles.
  • When switching positions with a teammate.
  • When overcoming double-teams or tight situations (only when passing lanes have been closed down).
  • When penetrating into gaps.


Concluding Thoughts

Knowing how to move effectively on the basketball court without the ball is a fundamental aspect of the game. It is all about understanding where to move in relation to the ball, and how to take advantage of defensive lapses that can open up avenues to the basket. To become a proficient “mover without the ball” requires discipline, focus, and concentration, which can be learned through patience, repetition, and practice. And finally, it also takes knowledge and insight to realize and understand that great teams are built on effective movement principles and not on superstar athletes.

Time to Integrate these Concepts

Basketball Movement Tactics

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