There are an infinite level of details we can go to as coaches, but there is a finite amount of time we have to teach those details. I asked Connecticut Sun assistant coach Brandi Poole for the three transition rules that she values most on offense. The Sun led or were near the top in most transition categories in the WNBA last season. It will be interesting to see if they target a player that helps that system in tonight’s WNBA draft. Regardless, I think her three principles carry a lot of weight given the team’s reputation at the highest level of basketball. The three most essential principles were the speed of the first three steps, the player’s spacing, and possessing an attack mentality.
Transition Rules #1: Speed of the First Three Steps
Everything starts with a defensive rebound of course. And this point was not something that Coach Poole wanted to gloss over. Almost any basketball player loves the excitement of offensive transition. The freedom to display their creativity and skill to make a play is often what drives hours of skill work. Yet even these players need to recognize how critical the rebound is.
Once that rebound is secure, Coach Poole is watching for a player’s first three steps. If they see on film or at practice a player was jogging, they call them out for it. If a player does not have the responsibility to take the outlet pass, their responsibility is to go. In terms of the outlet pass, Coach Poole did say at the WNBA level they increasingly use a point forward who can just rebound herself and go. That has not always been the case and there are still players they prefer to bring it up. One key teaching point before coaches consider telling forwards that their job is rebound and outlet is that they can take a dribble. If they are in trouble with regard to the defense or balancing, rebounders can look to advance the ball for a dribble before finding the point guard.
Transition Rules #2: Spacing in Offensive Transition
Coach Poole holds a self-proclaimed old school mentality to transition offense. She wants the wings to be wide, the first post to get to the rim, and the second post (likely rebounder) to trail. Their second post is a player that they want to be ready to shoot. The point guard needs to be in a position where the butt is to the sideline. I asked Coach Poole if the point guard’s position was ever disrupted. She said that generally it is too difficult for teams to face guard in transition.
Transition Rules #3: Attack Mentality for Point Guards
The point guard must push the tempo. Like any team that thrives in transition, the coaching staff is willing to live with the occasional turnover in transition. They want players to have an aggressive mindset, but what drives them mad is half-court indecisiveness or mental errors.
The player that brings the ball up ultimately needs to be a good decision-maker. They need to recognize numbers advantages from different angles of the floor and how to exploit them. The sun often go right into a drag ball screen action when the defense is still trying to get organized. The point guard needs to know how to read the defense coming off these actions.
The phrase that Coach Poole kept coming back to was attack mode. In my own mind I think the most important part of attack mode is giving players freedom. They need to make aggressive decisions and you need to live with the consequences. Otherwise players will be getting conflicting messages about attack mode versus playing conservative.