The Lost Art of Cutting

Posted on Jul 03 2020

The ability to read the defence and make an effective cut is still a key element of individual and team offence and it remains important for coaches at all levels to teach and developing players in this area.

With the advent of more ball screens and dribble hand-offs, the art of cutting has been somewhat lost and is an area that all players need to understand and develop.

Too often young players think the only way to get open or to move the ball is via the pick and roll or screen away from the ball and the dribble hand-off has become a “cure-all” to help players get open or fight pressure.

Here are some ideas on improving your team’s cutting and developing this important area in young players.

Read the defence – “what did you see?”

Effective cutting starts with reading the defence, making a read and executing the cut. But the coach needs to do much more than TELL the players they need to look and read; they need to TEACH the players.

Use of questioning is important in coaching at any levels and is an effective way to teach young players vision and decision making.

Rather than critiquing a decision a young player makes on a cut, unpack the why and ask what they saw to help them arrive at that decision.

Back cut, back cut, back cut –

One of the oldest concepts in offence is to back cut against denial or overt lead pressure. The increased use of dribble hand-off has reduced the number of effective back-cuts, with young players taking the “easy option” of the DHO to receive.

Encourage young players to back-cut at the slightest hint of denial pressure and celebrate/acknowledge when they do. Players will quickly adjust to what you highlight and value as a coach, so place a value on the back cut.

Every back cut doesn’t always lead directly to a score, but it does create space and casts some doubt in the mind of defensive team.

Considering adding a constraint to your small-sided games or scrimmage that any score created off an effective back cut is worth 3 points to show you value the concept.

Revisit the basket cut –

The basket cut or “give and go” is a tried and true cutting action. Elite NBA teams such as the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors use this to great effect to this day.

Similarly, the Australian Boomers are an elite cutting team and use a series of basket cuts to complement their half court action to great effect. Patty Mills is an elite cutter and cuts with genuine intent every time.

One of the reasons the basket cut is often not effective is players simply cut for the sake of cutting and don’t cut to receive and genuinely threaten the defence. The ability to cut with intent is an important teaching point for young players.

Use of a “catch fake” to set up the cut, the ability to create explosion of one step on the set-up and using a target hand are simple yet key elements of adding value to the basket cut.

Creating effective cutting angles is an important element to develop, with players needing to understand how to attack the space created by subtle influence cuts or body language.

If you can curl it, curl it –

The curl cut is a damaging cut, particularly off a down screen or the popular wide pin down action that has become so prevalent in modern offence.

Players will often come off a screen simply to receive the ball. Coaches need to teach and develop cutters to come off every screen with intent to score or create, not simply to receive.

The curl cut puts immediate pressure on the rim and the defence and is effective in creating space and opportunities for both the screener and the cutter. Quite simply, “if you can curl it, curl it.”

Finish what you started –

The ability to finish cuts is as important as the initial action of making a basket, back or curl cut. To ensure appropriate spacing is maintained, the cutter must finish the cut on a different plane and understand the importance of respacing at all times.

All perimeter cuts start and finish at the three-point line and the “finish” of the cut is often the key aspect in creating space for another cut or dribble penetration.

Some other thoughts on cutting –

  • “Basketball is a game of opposites” – if I want to go one way, I have to influence another first
  • Teach change of pace, change direction to young players consistently
  • For the cutter – “see ball, man, space”
  • “Load, look and leave” – play in a stance (load), read the defence (look) and cut on the path of least resistance (leave)

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