NBA Spotlight: After Timeout Scenarios

NBA Spotlight: After Timeout Scenarios

As coaches, we have often heard that our season is more like a marathon, as opposed to a sprint. Though this also applies from the start of a game to its finale. Every possession that passes is another opportunity to learn about the opponent and brainstorm concepts that could work later on as the contest progresses. What we will look at is the After Timeout play, also known as the A.T.O. These are plays designed by a coach that are saved for a special situation, as well as using a set that could be created on the fly.

Before we look at several actions, we need to understand what makes a great ATO, which can turn the tide of a game at a moments notice. For this articles purpose, we will focus on Sideline inbounds situations. At the NBA level, teams may advance the ball to the sideline following a defensive rebound provided that a dribble is not taken. There are several other rules to get it to the sideline but this is the most important for our topic today.

Consider that a timeout in the NBA is 60 seconds long. A coach has to consider and anticipate the following:
Which defender will make a mistake and where?
• How have they defended various screening actions?
• Who has the “hot hand”?
• What matchups favor our team?
• Did any of our early ATOs have a positive impact on the court?

All of this is taken into consideration while attempting to get solid five man movement, misdirection, and possibly using a counter to an early play. It could be a downscreen, instead of a flare screen. Sometimes it is changing to a diamond alignment, instead of a box set. Think of ATOs as a game of chess played on the basketball court.

Here are examples of what I call the Triangle series:

This is the basic form of the play in which we have a staggered screen for a shooter followed by a downscreen to the corner. It is essentially a variation on the screen the screener play that is common at all levels of basketball. The shooter also has the option to reject the stagger and sprint straight to the corner off of the single screen. This also works against a 23 zone by screening the outside of the zone a slipping to the middle to play the high-low or overload game.

—–Triangle Portland
Here we have Coach Terry Stotts of the Portland Trailblazers to thank for this set. After the initial action takes place, the down screener flashes to the high post to receive a pass from the inbounder. Afterwards, the shooter top sprints to set a flare screen on the inbounder looking for a 3 point shot.


—–Triangle Brooklyn Invert
A useful variation from coach Kenny Atkinson that is designed to get to your post player a jumpshot. They use it to get brook Lopez a corner three. Invert essentially means that guards will screen for posts after first receiving a screen themselves.


—–Triangle Slide
This example is misdirection that’s designed to get attention away from your best shooter. By using them as a screener it forces the defense to focus on that shooters teammates before the action goes back towards them.

—–Triangle Post Double Split
Our final play involves playing through our post player who has the ability to make passes to shooters and cutters. Following the initial action and post entry, the corner shooter sets a flare for the inbounder. This will be our first read to either hit the corner or hit the screener on the wing. At the same time, our second read is the flare screen for our shooter at the top of the key. Depending on how the defense is guarding us, that shooter can go to the rim or step out for a shot. This prevents any help on the post player who is one step away from the basket while the other defenders are occupied.


I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to have reliable ATOs in your back pocket. Just think about how 10-15 minutes of practice time can go a long way when you really need a crucial basket.

That does it for NBA Spotlight: After Timeout Scenarios! Feel free to contact me via twitter @KJ_the_scout, or via email at and see how this concept can benefit your program!

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