The North Carolina Motion Offense

Home > Coaching > Basketball Offense > The North Carolina Motion Offense
While it might not be the first, Dean Smith's motion offense, which he ran so effectively for years at North Carolina, is considered the Cadillac of motion offenses. Coach Smith more accurately describes it as a "passing game". It is a free form offense with no pre-determined cuts, no set pattern. Players read the defense and react to what they are given.

The passing game can be run out of any set but eventually works into a 1-3-1 set, preferably with a point guard, 2 shooters and 2 post players. The perimeter players have to be skilled ball handlers, the post players must be good screeners and be able to pass from the high post and score from the low post.

The offense is executed by a set of rules that allows players to make their own decision.

Spacing Rules
  • Players should maintain 15' spacing
Perimeter Rules
  • After passing, the passer can:
    • Screen away
    • Basket cut
    • Replace himself
  • Don't stand for more than 2 seconds
  • If overplayed, go back door
Dribble Rules
  • Dribble is used to:
    • Improve a passing angle
    • Go to the basket
    • Escape trouble
Post Rules
  • The lane is reserved for post players
  • Try to maintain high/low spacing
  • Post players can:
    • Screen for perimeter players
    • Screen for one another
Ball Rules
  • Ball should be reversed as often as possible
  • Every 3rd pass should go to a post
  • Post looks low and then opposite
The trigger for the passing game is usually what is now known as the "North Carolina Break". The passing game is designed to fit in at the end of the break and is used as their transition offense. The break already contains spacing, high and low posts and ball reversals. The positioning and spacing on the break allows for a seamless transition from the primary break to the secondary break and finally into the passing game.

The North Carolina Passing Game has made point guard a celebrity position, beginning with Larry Brown moving on to Phil Ford, John Kuester, Jeff Lebo, Buzz Peterson, etc. It is not a coincidence that these former North Carolina point guards are all considered outstanding coaches.

Related Articles & Products

How To Develop a High-Scoring Motion Offense - Instructional Guide To Building Your Motion Offense.

Motion Offenses, Drills, & Tips

Leave your comments, suggestions, and questions below...


Most Likes First   Oldest First   Newest First

Troy Rayner says:
9/5/2022 at 2:09:31 AM

Brian Sass : I have seen the offense you are talking about and I have a team this year with no true post that could run it. If I am correct you are talking about a 5 man motion where all players play all spots out of a 3 -2 set. I would like to see how you do this.

  1 reply  

Brian says:
9/6/2022 at 10:10:47 PM

A lot of good resources on the 5 out read and react, most of them up free on YouTube.

I loved the open practice session posted e Emmanuel college coach, but keeping the drills age appropriate is the key.


Lt says:
4/14/2019 at 6:31:31 PM

Motion or passing game requires fundamentals. Not only being able to pass, screen and role. You need to know how to run off a screen. Set the defender up. Good foot work. Also being unselfish and looking for the extra pass. Most youth coaches dont teach basic fundamentals. The dribble drive from point guard has hurt the game. If you teaches solid defense and a team fundementals of offense you will win the majority of your games. The old ways still work consistently. i.e. Tony Bennett today.

  1 person liked this.  

Todd says:
8/27/2018 at 8:31:37 AM

I am a 21 year head coach on the varsity. Last season ran primary, secondary into freelance ( just like Roy Williams learned from Dean Smith). Let me say, there's no magic bullet to this game. It's how well you teach and if your kids buy in. You need some talent as well. We went 22-6 and the kids loved it. Honestly, I don't see how I can do anything else. Sure you make subtle adjustments according to what you have. Last but not least, running the passing or freelance game gives you more time to spend on defense in practice. In addition, it improves your defense because you are not running continuity offensively and your players are not going thru the motions on defense.


jay says:
11/14/2015 at 1:48:41 AM

Dean Smith just like my old his coach won a lot of games using this system. You must remember the system faulters when you feed the post to much as Dean did & Roy does. The best offensive system is a system that runs the offense thru the main scorer on the perimeter. Take for example the great upsets of 1983 & 1985 by NCst & nova. The teams of Houston & grown had great hof centers in olajuwan & ewing , but Ncst & Nova won because they utilized their offense thru the perimeter first & played zone boxing the bugs away from the ball.

  1 reply  

phil says:
2/18/2018 at 2:02:43 AM

Jay thats interesting. You are comparing teams that were basically one and done teams and not super consistent to coaches like Smith and Williams who consistently have great seasons and deep runs into the tourney. Saying there are better ways to run and offense than have everyone involved and be a scoring threat seems crazy. You run everything through the main offensive player and that player has a bad game and you will struggle winning consistently. I know your comment was a while back but consider what Oklahoma is going through this year with Trae Young. Struggling. Everything goes through him, how do you think his teammates feel about there value to the team. Probably not great. Fortunately he is a great passes which makes it better but still not healthy team concept in my opinion.

  1 reply  

Glen says:
3/22/2018 at 4:27:43 PM

It's amazing how some of you guys have a better way to play than Dean Smith. Man I bet Coach Smith wishes you guys were around when he was still coaching so he could ask your advice. He would now be known as one of the best coaches to ever live. He probably would have won almost 900 games and been to the final four 11 times, and won 2 National Championships.

  1 person liked this.  

Al Addleman says:
7/6/2015 at 1:37:31 AM

A very good aspect about this offense is that, since many teams are going to more of a dribble penetration/kick out offense, as a team you are working on parts of the game that many teams are not practicing against.

We play many teams that are read and and react, or 5 out where players stand and wait for the penetration and kick out. When we start moving and cutting and screening, defensively many of these teams are unprepared. We find it easier to lose the defender, and get many open back cuts and layups because of patient ball movement. We love playing teams that only pass one or two times and then try to go one on five.

The Carolina motion offense teaches so many fundamental aspects of basketball: passing skills, cutting, spacing, screening, as well as individual face up, driving and shooting skills. Plus, all 5 players on the floor feel like they are contributing, which really helps team morale. They know they are going to touch the ball almost every time down the floor.


Ken Sartini says:
10/17/2014 at 9:56:46 AM

I agree Brian, its all about HOW YOU teach the game. There are a lot of good offenses out there... but you have to teach something that you REALLY know.... that way, the longer you teach it, the better you will get at it..... you will be able to tweak it to fit your new players.

Something very simple here, IF they don't understannd what you are teaching they will have slow feet because they will be thinking all the time. JMO


Brian Sass says:
10/16/2014 at 7:43:33 PM

Completely disagree. If the away screens waste movement, then they aren't being taught right.

I'm familiar more with Roy Williams North Carolina motion which runs out if a 3-2 set.

Back screens are always set for the player who just passed the ball. Their defender is easiest to find. Down screens are set on the side opposite the ball. So on a pass from wing to point, you get a back screen for the passer, and a down screen where the ball just came from.

I have no problem with Read and React offense or advocates. But I've seen numerous offenses work. I've seen numerous offenses NOT work (including the Read and React).

The key to successful offense is TEACHING. I suffered my own failures trying to run offenses I didn't fully comprehend how to teach.

I was fortunate to hit on an offense that was simple, effective, and easy to teach. I can't imagine running anything else. What made it effective for me wasnt the X's snd O's, the alignment, the movement, or what it's called. It was my ability to teach it improved with experience.

Take what you know. Have them learn what you are able to teach. If your philosophy matches your talent, if your adaptable, and if you are a good teacher of the game, ANY offense can be successful.

  1 reply  

Lisa Whitman says:
8/1/2018 at 3:53:22 PM

Oh shut up. Dean Smith understands the game far better than your lame buttocks.

  1 reply  

Brian says:
9/6/2022 at 10:04:48 PM

Lisa, not sure if that was aimed at someone else or if you have difficulty with reading comprehension.

I view Dean Smith as the best among college basketball coaches and a role model.

Nowhere was I critical of the NC system as an offense. Or Dean Smith as a coach.

May want to go to your local JC, register for a reading class.


tim says:
10/14/2012 at 7:09:59 PM

The lane is reserved for post players?....after the guard passes and basket cuts? screening away is becoming a total waste of movement. The guards, by basket cutting, offer excellent opportunities to score off the brush screen or shaping up and receiving the pass. I believe the Read and React offers all the basketball needed to score and win.


Anesha says:
7/27/2011 at 3:59:31 PM

this play iz a good play it helkped us win


Ed B says:
1/4/2011 at 9:49:48 PM

I am teaching this offense to a good Middle School team. We have good 3 point shooters. How best to integrate that? Down picks and sliding along perimeter come to mind. Spot up as well. But I am having trouble seeing anything predictable on shaking players loose at the players' sweet spots.


Show More

Leave a Comment
Email (not published)
One plus nine is equal to?  (Prevents Spam)
 Load New Question
Leave this Blank