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Delay Games

This is an excerpt from Basketball Offenses & Plays by Kenneth Atkins.

A stall can be a useful tool. Even if the offense is operating under the restrictions of a shot clock, a delay game can be an effective offensive weapon. It slows the tempo of a game, decreases the number of possessions, helps a club protect a lead late in a game when time is the enemy, and may cause a defense to extend outward farther than it likes and thus become more vulnerable.

When the game does not use a shot clock, stalling actually becomes an offense. Spreading the floor after gaining the lead is sometimes the preferred strategy. Coaches can choose to use a delay game regardless of the exact time on the game clock. Perhaps the offense is overmatched. To achieve the upset, the team needs to turn the game into a low-scoring affair. A club that is a serious underdog may want to shorten the game, running time off the clock to keep the game close until the final few minutes. A stall slows the rhythm of the game dramatically. Each offensive possession increases in value.

The five delay games in this chapter are designed to keep the ball away from the defense. Whatever the motive for using the delay, the five delay plays reviewed here will furnish the coach with enough variety to find one to match his or her needs.


Rules for defending a ball handler have changed frequently over the years, ranging from no restrictions whatsoever to regulations based on where the dribbler is in relation to a sideline hash mark in the forecourt. When college basketball instituted the shot clock in the 1980s, the five-second closely guarded rule was soon eliminated, mostly because game officials did not want to count. With no threat of a five-second violation, a team could hand the ball to a player who would dribble for as long as he or she wanted. The delay offense was born.

Coaches use the delay offense any time they want to run time off the clock. A coach might use it early in a game to create a slower tempo or at the end of a game to protect a lead. The play is ideal if the five-second closely guarded rule is not in play. If the rule is in force, the ball should be in the hands of an excellent ball handler who is quick. If a shot clock is active, teams should use additional motion to manufacture shots at the 10- to 12-second mark. The coach must be confident that one of the players can dominate the ball to take advantage of the play.


Ideally, the ball handler out front is the point guard. He or she must have the ability to dribble penetrate, handle the ball confidently, and be quick. The ball handler should be an excellent foul shooter if the play is used when protecting a lead late in a game against an opponent who is forced to foul. Two post players need insidescoring capabilities, and two perimeter players must be able to shoot the ball convincingly from distance. Any player can be isolated up top if he or she has the required attributes.


The ball handler creates all shots by passing and scoring off the dribble. Another section in this chapter, beginning on page 195, reviews the actual movements designed to produce scoring chances.


In the initial set, G, the point guard, has possession of the ball (figure 11.1). The other four players are stretched along the baseline. Two shooters (S1 and S2) occupy positions on each block along the foul lane. Post players (B1 and B2) are set in each corner.

The point guard (G) dribbles to keep control of the ball as the shot clock or game clock runs down. He or she may need to lose the defender periodically if a closely guarded violation is possible. The squad must be ready to handle any attempt to double-team the dribbler. If the defense double-teams the ball handler, one offensive player will be free of a defender. The player whose defender leaves to trap hooks up in front of the ball. As defenders rotate, the unguarded player fills a vacant spot in front of the ball. The ball handler reacts calmly to any defensive pressure.


The delay game is practical only if the five second closely guarded rule is not in play or if the ball handler has exceptional quickness that would make it hard for a defender to guard him or her closely. Coaches use the offense any time they want to run time off the clock. They inform the ball handler precisely how much time is to disappear.

The ball handler out front dominates the ball as the shot or game clock winds down. He or she holds the ball until fouled or instructed to initiate a scoring movement. Scoring action commences at the 10- to 12-second mark on the shot clock. The coach decides whether to allow the ball handler to shoot before the designated time if he or she is able to lose the defender.

When protecting a lead, the best foul shooter should be out top with the ball, especially if the defense is likely to foul. This player should be at the foul line during crunch time.

The coach's confidence in the offense goes a long way in resolving when the team will execute it. Players must also be confident in the effectiveness of the play. Confidence is infectious. The higher the level of confidence, the earlier in the game a team can use the play.

Coaches should drill players on handling double-team pressure. Players hook up in open areas in front of the ball. The coach tells the team whether to attack and try to score or to continue to play keep-away. He or she instructs players concerning the types of shots permitted. Can they shoot layups or other shots under specific circumstances? If the squad does a good job of countering pressure, they are likely to see scoring chances.

This is an excerpt from Basketball Offenses & Plays.

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