Anatomy of Cutting to the Basket

Cutting to the basket is one of the simplest offensive techniques a player can perform to create and move into a scoring position.  Cutting to the basket is one of the fundamental movements that most offenses utilise to spread players and create the patterns for an offense. Cutting if performed well is a highly effective offensive skill that can turn any simple movement into a scoring opportunity.


Unfortunately thought because most offenses focus on the execution of a series movements instead of looking to execute each movement individually the cut is often not exploited to its full potential. Cutting to the basket allows offensive players to turn most movements from the perimeter into an attempt to create a scoring advantage, and at the very least increase the chances of being fouled.


The cut can be broken down into the following teaching points:


Create a Lead Away from the Player with the Ball; the lead is created by taking two or three steps away from the direction the pass will be made from. The steps executed in creating the lead should still be moving closer to the basket so the defender is retreating backwards and transferring their weight onto their heels. The purpose of creating the lead is to move the defensive player out of the desire lane to the basket widening the possible passing angle and improving the chances overall of the cut being successful.


When creating the lead players often take the soft option and shuffle their footsteps meaning they do not expend a great deal of energy. This can often be seen in players then trying to execute the cut while almost standing still. This must be avoided at all costs and even if the offensive player must move to the weak side shoulder of the defender this is better than stepping on the spot.


Good Cuts Result in Good Scoring Opportunities (Source: JSmith Photo)
Good Cuts Result in Good Scoring Opportunities (Source: JSmith Photo)

If the defender does not react by moving into the line of the cutter directly to the basket, then this lane becomes the scoring path to the hoop. The defender at some stage if the cut is performed at pace will have to release to re-establish a denial position even if the cut is made on the weak side of the floor.


Change of Direction Results in Change of Pace; after creating the lead the player then plants the foot furthest away from the passer and changes direction back towards the ball. Anytime a player changes direction they should change their pace. In this situation the lead should be at fifty precent while the change of direction and subsequent sprint to the basket is at game pace.


If the change of pace is executed well then the defender will simply keep pace with the offensive player because they are at a constant and predictable speed. The change in direction and pace is focused on creating movement in the defensive player so their momentum can be used against them.


Of all the elements of a cut to the basket, the change of direction and pace is the most poorly executed of all aspects.


Swimmer’s Stroke; as the player changes direction, to help seal the defensive player a “swimmers stroke” is used. The swimmers stroke (similar to a freestyle swimming stoke) is performed to move the defensive player to the offensive players shoulder furthest away from the ball. The arm away from the passer is raised up and over the defensive player sealing them onto the hip and when followed through, onto the back of the cutter. The swimming stroke in addition to helping seal the defensive player also serves to help maintain space between the players which should assist in reducing the risk of the offensive player being held by the defender.


The swimming stroke is a vital segment of the overall technique in cutting to the basket. Offensive players if left unchallenged on this point will develop poor habits like pushing the defensive player which at higher levels of competition will result in an offensive foul.


Leading with Target Hands; as this point the offensive player must become a good target for the passer. This is achieved by the offensive player carrying their hands out in front of their body and providing the ball handler with a target to aim for. This helps the passer know where the ball should be passed to and readies the receiver (cutter) for the pass. The extra couple of milliseconds created by this technique can be the difference between an assist being made and a ball not being caught and a scoring opportunity going begging.


Cut to the Front of the Hoop; this sets the offensive player on the shortest possible direct line to the basket. As a result the defensive player must either be quicker in explosive speed to recover from the lead or foul the offensive player. Cutting to the front of the hoop also sees the offensive player still have an option to score on one side or the other at the basket. This choice alone can make the difference between forcing a poor shot and executing a controlled scoring move.


A common mistake made by offensive players is to curve or arch their run the basket allowing for the defensive player to recover and move between the offensive player and the basket. This in turn sees the offensive player then having to execute the lap-up for example through the line of recovery made by the defensive player. This is always a poor situation to be in for the offensive player and increases the difficulty of the shot significantly.


Cutting to the basket is not a difficult skill. Any player with even a limited amount of exposure can start to perform a cut to the basket without too much challenge. What is dramatically different is the ability to change a non-threatening player movement into a scoring opportunity on a regular basis.


As a coach think of how many cuts to the basket occur in one phase of your offense, now multiple this by the number of possessions you have in an average game. The end number will probably be the largest singly performed scoring movement you utilise. It pays to get this right for the stake of increasing your ability to score more efficiently and effectively.

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Coach Riches has been working within the sport, business and education industries for many years. During this time he has built an extensive number of formal and informal qualifications. A firm believer in training and development designed to help people reach their full potential, relevant o their needs and functional to their industry environment.

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