What is a Motion Offense in Basketball?

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Offensive schemes abound in basketball, and it’s up to the coaches to implement their system and put their fingerprints all over the team’s offensive identity. One of the most popular and versatile offensive schemes in basketball is the motion offense. What is a motion offense in basketball?

What Does Motion Offense Mean in BasketballWhat Does Motion Offense Mean in Basketball?

You may have a pretty good idea of what motion offense is from its name alone. Motion offense is a general term for any offense where nobody stands around. Running motion offense basketball plays involve using screens, cuts, and movement. 

The best thing about the motion offense, though, is its flexibility. The players must only learn principles and basic movements, limiting the need to call set plays every time down the court. All of the action that follows the basic movements are simply reading of the defense. As the defense adjusts, the motion offense also adapts.

Some of these basic movements are:

  • Setting flare screens. A flare screen is an action where one offensive player sets a screen in the perimeter, usually near the elbow, to a teammate at the top of the key.
  • Setting rip or back screens. As its name suggests, a back screen is where one of the offensive players sets a screen behind one of his teammate’s defenders. The latter then cuts quickly toward the basket or to an open area. The defender is probably unaware of the screen and is now a few steps behind his man.
  • Pass and screen away. The pass and screen away action is a basic basketball play. It starts when the ballhandler passes the ball to a teammate somewhere in the perimeter and looks to sets an off-ball screen to another teammate.

The credited pioneers of the motion offense are coaches Henry Iba and Bloomer Sullivan at Oklahoma State. The legendary Bob Knight took it to different heights at Indiana University. Knight was the first to use screens as part of his motion offense.

What Does Motion Offense Mean in Basketball

Apart from the fact that teams running a motion offense do not often call set plays, it may also be adapted to suit any team. Whether you are a dominant inside team or a perimeter-oriented one, there is always the right type of motion offense for you.

How Does a Motion Offense WorkHow Does a Motion Offense Work?

Motion offense is an offensive system that teaches players not to play like robots. They are virtually free to do whatever they want to after a defensive read.

As mentioned, the three constants in any motion offense are movement, setting screens, and passing. Using these three usually results in good spacing. With adequate spacing, you can get the open shots that you want. 

In a nutshell, a motion offense simply integrates all the fundamental skills of team basketball while trusting the players to decide however they see fit. Perpetual motion, screens, and the right passes make the motion offense difficult to scout. If executed perfectly, motion offenses can beat any type of zone or man-to-man defense.

5 Types of Motion Offenses Basketball5 Types of Motion Offenses Basketball

Running motion offense basketball is a staple in today’s game. It is the bread-and-butter of the Golden State Warriors now and in their past championship runs. While there are many types of motion offenses in basketball, this short list will only include the most basic ones.


The Warriors were mentioned a little earlier, and they often use the 5-out. While the 5-out had found its way to the pinnacle of the sport, it is also the easiest and most basic motion offense for youth basketball that any coach can teach. 

In its most fundamental sense, the 5-out has all five players outside the three-point area. This is primarily suited for a team with no low post players. The goal of the five out is to keep the middle open for cuts, passes, and screens. The ballhandler can initiate the action with a pass and cut or a pass and screen. Players off the ball use different screens to get the other players open. 

Any of the five players on the floor can score or look to set up teammates. With the right players and mindset, the 5-out can be a very devastating motion offense.



Another highly versatile motion offense is the 4-out-1. Unsurprisingly, this action requires four players on the outside and one post player playing inside. The beauty of the 4-out-1 is it can be played with a traditional low post player or a stretch big that can step out and hit the outside shot.

The 4-out-1 produces significant advantages for the offense. It teaches the players to develop basketball IQ, that is, how to play basketball the right way. Many proponents argue that the 4-out-1 incurs the perfect basketball spacing, with each player no more than 18 feet apart. This makes help defense pretty much impossible, so all the players only have one man to beat. On top of that, the spacing allows sharp, direct passes and wide-open driving lanes.


The 3-out-2 motion offense works best if your two best players are tremendous forces at the post. There are three players positioned at the top of the key and the wings, while the two post players form some sort of a double post.

The goal of the 3-out-2 is to get the ball inside. The two post players work with each other, screening, passing, and reading the defense. Like any type of motion offense, the post player can also fill one of the perimeter spots if needed. Overall, the 3-out-2 creates a perfect inside-out game that is so hard to stop.


The 2-out-3 motion offense is best for teams that like to play the power game. The job of the two perimeter players is to stay out of the inside players’ way. They only operate up and down the sidelines while the three post players work together for scoring opportunities. The only challenge here is the spacing inside, and it may not work if the perimeter players don’t have a decent jump shot.

Dribble Drive

Among the types of motion offense, the dribble drive works best if a team has quick guards with little to no post players. The team should also have capable shooters to keep the defense honest on the ball-handling guards.

In general, players like running dribble-drive because they have complete freedom to make decisions. This motion offense aims to create high percentage shots through layups and wide-open kick-out opportunities.

How to Improve Your Motion OffenseHow to Improve Your Motion Offense

Since the motion offense is all about fundamental basketball, you need to improve basic basketball skills. Be a better ballhandler, passer, and shooter. Strive to understand spacing better and train yourself to instantly read and react with the correct play. All of that comes with repetition.

Most importantly, you need to be disciplined. Many teams know their motion offense inside-out, but as soon as the defense forces them to be in uncomfortable situations, the players deviate from the system. Fight that tendency at all costs! If you start to doubt the system, that’s the time things will fall apart.

3 Best Motion Offense Basketball Plays3 Best Motion Offense Basketball Plays 

1. Pass and Screen Away

There is no motion offense without the pass and screen away. It is also the most basic motion offense for youth basketball. For instance, in a 5-out set, one player passes the ball to a teammate and simply screens another teammate the opposite to where he passed the ball. An option in this play is when the screener slips the screen and cuts to the wide-open lane for a possible layup.


2. Triangle Motion Offense

This play is a sequence to a 4-out-1 set and quickly transforms into a triangle motion. The basic idea is the ball handler passes the ball to the wing on the side, which has one inside player. The ballhandler then cuts through to the corner, forming a triangle with the post and wing players. If they can’t do anything in this initial action, they could do a screen and roll or a ball reversal.

3. Cut and off-ball screen

This play is wonderful, especially for beginners, because it will give them the idea of how to run motion offense basketball. The beauty of this play is that there are two almost simultaneous actions, one happening on the strong side and the other on the weak side. 

The strong side play is a simple pass to the wing and a quick cut to the basket using a back screen from the post player. When the cutter is not open, the two players on the weak side are now in on the action. One player sets a screen as the other fills the spot previously occupied by the cutter. 

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Motion Offense in Basketball?

A motion offense in basketball is an offensive system that requires constant movement, screening, and passing. This results in wide-open driving lanes and open shots for everyone involved. The motion offense works best with players who can read the defense and quickly make the right play.

What are the basic types of motion offense? Some of them are the 5-out, 4-out-1, 3-out-2, 2-out-3, and the dribble-drive. The 5-out is a basic motion offense for youth basketball, although the 4-out-1 and dribble-drive are also potent.

One of the advantages of running a motion offense is the freedom it gives to the players. Everybody may create or look to score. If implemented at the youth level, it will teach the youngsters how to play basketball the right way and develop their basketball IQ in the process. It will take a little while before they can adequately run motion offense basketball plays, but it will be worth it in the end.

After reading the in-depth explanation in this article, can you now answer the question, “What is a motion offense in basketball?”

Did you enjoy this post? Then you’ll love the other basketball FAQ posts. Check them out below:

> How to Learn Basketball Strategy

> What are the Different Types of Basketball Offenses?

> How to Get Better at Basketball: Tips & Drills

> What is the “Kick Ball” Rule in Basketball?

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