The Swing Offense

- By Brian Sass Introduction The Swing Offense is the offense developed by Bo Ryan and used with great success in his stops at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin.  The Swing Offense, as the name implies, is designed to get the ball to literally "swing" from one side of the court to the other and back again, testing the defense.  In his design of the offense, Bo Ryan wanted to implement what he felt were the most difficult actions to defend against.  The Swing Offense is a CONTINUITY offense.  This means that the same actions continue to repeat themselves on each side of the floor.  This can lead to the offense having difficulties when teams learn the pattern, and in order for the offense to be fully effective, you must teach your players the counters to defensive adjustments. Philosophy The offense is designed to get a GREAT shot attempt.  Not a good shot, a GREAT shot.  When you watch a Bo Ryan team play, one of the things that stands out is that his players will pass up on a number of early open looks, in order to find an even better shot.  The offense is designed to create post up opportunities for every player.  During practice, every player works on post moves and every player works on defending the post.  This creates a very versatile offensive attack.  Additionally, many of Bo Ryan's teams feature big me who can shoot from outside as well. Imagine putting 5 players on the floor who can all post up, and all hit open jump shots. Now imagine those players are patient enough to find the best match-up to attack every possession.   If that sounds like a defensive nightmare, it is.  Every year that Bo Ryan has had his system installed, the Wisconsin Badgers have always made more free throws than the other team has attempted.  This is a direct result of a patient approach to offense and an emphasis on individual skill development that focuses on creating a complete basketball player.  The X's and O's The Swing Offense starts with 3 players on the right side of the court and two players on the left side of the court.  A repeating theme for the offense will be to create a 3 person side on the ball side of the court. All actions are designed to create mismatches, scoring opportunities, post-ups and open shots on both the 3 man and 2 man side of the court.  Whichever side of the court the ball is on, there should always be an attempt to use one of the actions to create a 3 man side of the court.  The actions most frequently used are :
  1. The UCLA screen
  2. Down Screen
  3. Fade Screen
Other actions that I have seen utilized are:
  1. Back Cuts
  2. Front cuts
  3. Ball Screens
If there is an action that you feel would benefit your team, I have found there are virtually no actions that are not Swing friendly.   Authors Note:  I had the opportunity to speak with former Bo Ryan assistant Howard Moore recently.  In addition to being a wonderful technical coach, he is also a great person who freely gave some time to me to discuss his philosophy and program.  He talked about how the more recent versions of Bo Ryan's Badgers had actually NOT run the Swing Offense for the last several years.  What Bo did was teach the kids spots, he taught the individual actions, and then allowed the players the freedom to choose their own actions within the offense.  The coaching takeaway I got was this: if you have a young team, and want to run the Swing, you can tighten the controls on your players and give the players a little less freedom (as I'd expect Coach Ryan may do this year, with a much younger, less experienced team).  But if you have an experienced, talented team of kids who can play and are capable of making smart decisions on the court, you can give them freedom and allow them the opportunity to make plays.  
Base Continuity The initial set-up for the offense is with the odd numbered players on the right side of the court, the even numbered players on the left. The ball should come up along the lane lines extended.  The trailer should fill the opposite lane line to the ball.  The 3 should be at the free throw line extended, while 2 should also be at free throw line extended on the opposite side.    
Frame 1
The 3 man should work to get open, making a hard v-cut to the block to get open.  
Frame 2
When 3 receives the ball, if 5 is not open for a pass, the center will then set a UCLA screen or "Up Screen" for the point guard.  The Point will read the screen and cut to the low block for a post up.  
Frame 3
3 can either pass the ball to 1 if he has the advantage, or pass it to 5, stepping out to the perimeter.  
Frame 4
On the weak-side, while 3 has the ball, the 4 and 2 should run an interchange, threatening the basket and the high post with flash cuts, then replacing their positions in the offense. This is done to score, but primarily it is done to occupy helpside defense, making it difficult for the help-side defense to interfere with the posts and cuts on the ball side of the offense.  
Frame 5
When the ball begins to be reversed, 4 will set a flare screen for two who will fade to the wing extended.  5 will throw a skip pass to two.  5 can also throw a pass to 4 if 4's defender helps off the screen.  
Frame 6
If you are a middle school or youth team choosing to run this offense, then you may want to utilize a down-screen instead of a fade screen.  The reason for this is that at younger ages, the skip pass is not a pass that can be thrown accurately or with enough "zip" to get to where it needs to be.
Frame 7
With the ball having moved to the two man side of the court, the need arises to move a third offensive player to the ball side of the court, creating a 3 man side.  This is accomplished by the post player, in this case, the point man, setting a rear-screen or flex-screen for the 3 man, who will cut off that screen to the ball side block. 4 can hit him with a pass if he is clear of his defender and there is no help defense in the passing lane.
Frame 8
If 3 is not open on the flex-cut, then 4 looks to get the ball to 2 on the wing.  2 should v-cut to get open. Often times, 2's man will play back on the flex-cut and then close out, negating the need to v-cut to get open.  2 then has the option to throw it to 3 for the post up.  
Frame 9
The actions that occurred on the initial side of the floor now occur on the opposite side of the floor.  The post (3) will set a screen for the point (4) on his side of the floor.  5 and 1 on the backside of the floor run the same interchange, making threatening cuts and then replace each other. Again, while done to score, this is done primarily to occupy the help-side defense.  
Frame 10
2 can either hit the low post (4) or the high post (3) as his two options.  
Frame 11
3 can then step out of the high post to receive the pass from two and start the process of swinging the ball to the other side of the floor.  
Frame 12
5 can then set a fade screen for 1.  3 would throw a skip pass over the top. 1 would have an opportunity for a jump shot on this play.   As previously stated, with a youth team, this may be more effective as a down screen set by 1 for 5, because of the difficulty certain ages would have throwing a skip pass.
Frame 13
Teach players to face cut off screens if the defender tries to go underneath the screener.  Rear cut screens if the defender positions high over the top.  On the step out after setting the fade screen, 5 should be open to receive the return pass from 3.   Now there is a two man side with the ball that needs a third man in the post.   To get there, 4 would set a rear-screen or flex-screen for 2.  The 2 man would cut off that screen to the ball side post.  If there is no help given from the wing and 2 has beat his man, 5 has the option of feeding 2 in the post cutting off that screen for the lay-up.
Frame 14
One would now look to v-cut to get open.  If his man helps off on 2’s Flex-Cut, then he may already be open and not need to cut. 
Frame 15
Now we are ready to start the same continuity action again, with 2 setting a UCLA or up-screen for 5. 
Frame 16
Special Actions and Offensive Details Let’s discuss several special actions and details for the Swing Offense. Down Screen Occasionally a v-cut will not get wing players open against good perimeter defenders.  When that happens, 3 and 5 can work in what Bo Ryan calls “Tandem Partners” to help each other to get open.  3 sets a down screen for 5, which would place 5 in the position for a perimeter catch and 3 in the post position. 
Frame 17
In our end of season tournament game, we used this specific action to isolate our strong 3-man against an inferior post defender for 3 straight lay-ups to seal up a win.
Frame 18
Dribble Entry To protect the offense from becoming predictable, a dribble entry option exists to the opposite side.  The effect of this is to essentially “push” each offensive player to a new position.  1 would dribble to 4’s position.  4, would replace 2, and 2 would cut to the low post to assume position down low. 
Frame 19
On the back side, 5 would abandon the post to take the opposite wing position and 3 would rotate to fill the spot that 1 dribbled out of.  Now all of the actions are available to initiate out of the same formation on the opposite side.
Frame 20
Back Cut Read Overactive help defenders can stifle the play-side actions of the Swing Offense.  It is necessary to keep help-side defenders occupied with decisive and dangerous actions that attack the basket.  In this diagram, the 2 man backside has cut backdoor to the rim.  A defender who is too occupied watching ball side actions can be beat for a lay-up.  I had a small two guard who would score two baskets a game by making this exact cut, beating a defender that was pre-occupied.  
Frame 21
As part of the interchanges previously discussed, each cut needs to threaten the basket in order to truly occupy the help-side defender.  Here, the 4, as part of his interchange, sees his defender is watching the ball-side movements and makes a straight line cut attacking the basket.  3 hits him on the backdoor lob for the lay-up.  With youth players, a step-through and hard bounce pass may also get the ball there.   
Frame 22
Screen and Roll Some coaches may wish to take advantage of the side pick and roll game.  The Swing has utilized this from time to time with good ball handlers.   The initial UCLA screen begins the initiation of this process.  After 5 steps out and doesn’t receive the pass, the 3 would bring the ball down and to the side to signal for the ball screen.
Frame 23
The 5 man would then step to the ball handler and set a ball screen and roll towards the basket.   The post man would clear out the post for the rolling 5.  If the opportunity presented itself, 1 could even set a back screen, and a pick the picker action would spring 5 wide open for a lay-up.
Frame 24
Spacing Just as significant to the success of the Swing Offense as passing, movement, and screening, is space.  When any player catches in the post, it is necessary to rotate through or away from the post player, to give that player space to operate.  Rotating to the positions shown allows for the post player to read for double teams and gives several very good options to pass the ball to for open jump shots.