Comparing Read and React to West Point’s Principles

Coaches are generally more familiar with read and react than Noah LaRoche’s principles because the offense has been around longer. I asked West Point assistant women’s coach Benjamin Chase what he thought about moving from a read and react to principles. He told me that read and react is similar to their principles. At their core, both offenses feature the players as decision makers and coaches as facilitators. When West Point installed the offense this year, they struggled at first because the team used sets in the past.

There are four notable differences between read and react and the offense that West Point ran. From my perspective, if the principles are executed with fidelity, West Point’s offense is superior to read and react for a perimeter oriented team. I am anticipating that the team I coach will use principles this upcoming season after using read and react the last two seasons.

No Consecutive Drives

As far as I know, read and react guru Rick Torbett never said anything one way or the other about consecutive drives. I think any coach can pull up film in which a consecutive drive generated a positive outcome. Analytically though I think these plays bring more harm than good. Coach Chase’s point is that the help contracts and never gets a chance to expand again. Since hearing about this concept, I looked at film of my team’s games. I am kicking myself for never emphasizing it before because consecutive drives happen a lot.

Once the initial drive and kick happens, players need to know their decision tree contains only two options. Option 1 is shoot. Option 2 is immediately pass. Our team borrowed the term “click” from Dick DeVenzio for these passes that take an eighth of a second. In the situation above, if number four in red passes immediately to number five, the defense will be unable to rotate. Instead we choose a third option to dribble and drive after a teammate already drove. I am not blaming the player. The decision must be corrected in practice by a coach.

Delayed Basket Cuts

If the benefits of the principles ends at no consecutive drives, it makes sense to just add that principle to read and react. The delayed basket cut is the crucial difference between the two offenses. And I think you can make the argument for both offenses in terms of how the basket cut is executed. Knowing my team, I believe principles is best for us right now.

My team has run read and react for two seasons. I can count on my hand the number of times that we have generated a pass and cut lay-up. Again, I will admit this is much more coaching than the X’s and O’s. The reason that we struggle to score off pass and cuts is that players are slow to cut after getting rid of the ball. We tried to instill a sense of urgency with the players, but the habit is hard to learn. Additionally, threading the needle on this pass when players do time cuts well is not a guarantee. There are at least two defenders in the way plus extra defenders sinking to help. Since we are slow to cut anyway, if we make delaying the cut the requirement players will adjust.

There are some coaches that teach players to cut immediately in principles regardless. Newton South coach Steve Matthews told me recently that he wants players cutting hard every time. The difference though in their case to read and react is that sometimes the cut is with no intention to score. In read and react, the intention with the cut is to score.

Skip Passes

Any time players throw a pass one player away in read and react it is an automatic basket cut. Defenses are taught to sag further off two passes away, so often a skip pass is a good option. When skip passes are thrown, the obvious option to shoot is there. If the closeout comes hard though it is nice to have a drive option too. In read and react, the drive off of skip passes is tough because of the position of help. Take this five out diagram as an example.

The typical play for 2 here is to drive back toward the middle. Driving in this direction will take the x2 defender in the exact opposite direction of the momentum of her closeout. It also typically means a player is moving toward their dominant hand. The trouble with this type of drive though is that x3 is in excellent position in that gap. The image below shows how West Point and the Principles offense corrects for the help coming back on skip passes.

As 4 clears out, so too does x4. Coach Chase concisely summarized the principle by stating that if you are skipped, you cut. That cut gives 1 a much bigger gap to exploit x1 on a drive.

No Holding the Ball

I just like that no holding the ball is spelled out in principles. In read and react, there is secondary emphasis around holding the ball. In general, players are making reads on cutters and when to cut, so it is fair to say that there is movement. The faster the movement occurred, the harder it was for the defense. That is not exactly rocket science, but if the ball is sped up so are the decisions for defense and decision-making is compromised as a result. It keeps all players engaged on offense.

Similarities to Read and React

I did find that there will be some teaching points that are continuous between the two offenses. First, players will still need to cut backdoor if they are overplayed. The read and react system uses the three-point arch as a guide for players to automatically go backdoor. Rick Torbett calls it the read line. Coach Chase said the cue for players to go backdoor at West Point is if a hand is in the passing lane, which is a little more ambiguous and complex. Assuming we put in principles, I will continue to preach to players to cut if their player is over the read line because we already built this in.

Dribble Right, Move Right

A second similarity is that if a player dribbles right, every other player on the offense is expected to move right. This general motion also implies that there are no dribble hand offs. I do not think dribble hand offs are good or bad. What I do think is bad is if one player thinks a teammate is coming for a handoff and the other player believes she needs to go away from the ball. Consistency in this principle will reduce turnovers, so I like telling the team to never use dribble hand off.

4 out 1 in

A third similarity is that read and react allows for 4 out and 1 in. The read and react does not specifically use the language a dunker spot. It also resembles a wing and slot position instead of a slot and corner spot. Nonetheless, the cutting motion and spacing is similar to principles.

Rip and Go Opposite

The most successful action our team gets for getting to the rim is filling followed by an immediate rip and go opposite. This action is still featured in principles.

When West Point Runs Sets

One of the coaches asked Coach Chase what they did in close and late scenarios. Coach Chase said if there is under ten seconds to go, they found it difficult to incorporate the Principles offense. If there were more than ten seconds, they found that Principles got them the same shots they wanted at any other point in the game.

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