Basketball Inbound Plays
The Sideline Inbounds Play

Basketball inbound plays should be designed almost always for one purpose - to score. There are times, granted, when you want to keep the ball alive for as long as you can - in the last few seconds of a close basketball game, for example, when you are up by only a few points - and so you won't want to push to score quickly. But in most inbounding situations in your own end, the basketball play you choose should help you put points on the scoreboard.

Coaching high school basketball for so many years now, I too often see coaches worried about getting the ball in play, but not about scoring - they approach the inbound play from a defensive point of view, seeing the defense as having the upper hand since the inbounder only has a few seconds to pass the ball and the defense has had time to arrange itself. But your offense has also had time to prepare and set up, and so this should be a good opportunity to push the ball inside for a scoring opportunity.

Strong basketball inbound plays like the one detailed here are designed to be used during a sidelines inbounding situation. This play works best when the defense is playing man to man defense - if the defense is set up in a zone and packing the key, the driving opportunities will likely be closed off, but the shooting opportunities should still open up.

Note that there are several screens in this play - it may be a good idea to revisit The Fundamentals of Setting Good Screens with your players before introducing this play.

Basketball Inbound Plays - Sideline
Play Setup and Break

  • Players set up as indicated in diagram 1 - point guard (#1), guard (#2), forward (#3), and two post men (#4 and #5) on the low post blocks.

  • The forward inbounding the ball (#3) needs to be a good passer, preferably tall enough to see over the defense, but also needs to have a good drive, as this will be one of the scoring options

Setup and Break Movement

  • #3 calls Break! and two screens happen simultaneously:
  • #1 sets a back screen for #2; #2 cuts hard off the screen straight through the key to the hoop
  • #5 sprints across the key to set a screen for #4; #4 cuts baseline to ball side

Basketball Inbound Plays - Sideline
Initial Scoring Options

Scoring Option #1

  • The first scoring opportunity goes to the #2 guard, as he is driving through the key.
  • If the back screen is executed well, there is a good chance that the #2 guard is able to flash through the key alone, as his man is tied up with the point guard (#1)

Scoring Options #2 and #3

  • The second pass option goes to the post man (#4) cutting along the baseline, off the screen set by #5
  • If this pass can be made, two scoring opportunities open up: 
  • #4 can shoot or drive, if either option is there
  • #3, immediately upon passing the ball, cuts hard to the hoop. #4 can pass the ball to #3, who can drive

If none of those options appear, the safety pass is to the point guard (#1)

A couple of things to note here:

  • The first two cuts happen at the same time, and need to be quick - thus, the inbounder (#3) must decide almost immediately whether to inbound to #2 or #4. But this decision - and the cuts - will only take a second or two
  • If #1 sets a good back screen for #2, then either #2 will be open, cutting through the key (Scoring Option #1) or #1 will be left with #2's defensive man held on the outside - giving #1 a clear path to the key and #3 a good passing opportunity to #1

Basketball Inbound Plays - Sideline
Movement off Pass to Safety

  • When #1 receives the inbounds pass, he dribbles the ball quickly to the top of the key
  • At the same time, #2 should be finishing his cut through the key and completes the cut by setting a screen for #5, who flashes up to the foul line elbow

  • #3 immediately steps in and flashes to the wing position

Note here that often, when #3 makes that inbounds pass, the man guarding him will look away for a moment to where the ball went - a good opportunity for #3 to cut hard and ditch his man!

Basketball Inbound Plays - Sideline
Secondary Scoring Options

  • #1 passes to #5 at the foul line - #5 shoots the short jumper to score
  • #1 passes low to #2, who has rolled out of his screen and is now open to the basket - #2 quickly scores 
  • #1 passes low to #4, who has flashed in to the hoop - #4 executes a power lay-up to score
  • #1 passes to #3 at the wing - #3 takes the short jumper or drives hard to the hoop to score
  • #1 continues his drive if it is there, or pulls up for a jump shot from the top of the key

It isn't a difficult or complex play, but with good screens set and quick cuts, it can be very effective.

Quickness is important here, and everyone needs to know where they are going and what to expect. Above all, your inbounder needs to be a strong passer and to have a good head on his shoulders, to see the floor well and the opportunities as they open up. Everyone needs to aggressively push to score.

I have tried several basketball inbound plays from the sidelines; this is the only one that I've used that I can say consistently works, but a lot of the benefits of this play come from the mind-set of the players - constantly drill into them that the objective is not just to get the ball inbounds, but to put points on the scoreboard.

Good luck developing a killer sideline inbound play, and happy coaching!

"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity."

- John F. Kennedy