Duke running the motion offense is nothing new.
Duke running the 5-out motion offense is new, however, and something that will become the norm for the rest of Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching career at Duke.
“It’s been fun,” Krzyzewski, 71, said. “It’s a high-scoring offense. It’s been exciting. I love it. For as long as I’m coaching here, we’re going to teach that motion.”
Unlike other versions of the motion which leave a player in the post area, the five-out motion spaces all five players on the perimeter in constant movement.
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It requires players who can dribble, pass and shoot. The passing is the key. And the players need to be in constant motion.
“We’ve run motion for a long time,” Krzyzewski said. “You’ve heard the term positionless. The five-out motion is positionless basketball. Every guy out there has to be a basketball player and learn the game.”
This season’s Blue Devils feature three freshmen -- Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish -- who all stand between 6-6 and 6-8 with the ability to play on the perimeter. Freshman point guard Tre Jones will orchestrate things. Junior Javin DeLaurier, a 6-10 forward, has the perimeter skills to be the fifth starter once he’s recovered from a stress reaction in his foot that has sidelined him this month.
The idea is to rely less on jump shooting and more on finding driving lanes to the basket for higher-percentage shots. At the same time, the spacing creates opportunities for strong shooters to get open shots from behind the 3-point line.
Krzyzewski and his staff have been installing the five-out motion offense and the process, he said, is going well.
“Basically, it’s to give spacing on the court,” Krzyzewski said. “The concept is to use the whole half-court and make sure the middle has an opportunity to drive it.”
An NBA offense
The five-out version of the motion offense was popularized by the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. More teams at that level, including the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, have adopted it.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr told ESPN last year one of the reasons he implemented the offense was because he deplored “iso basketball.”
“Iso basketball, where one guy is going one-on-one and everybody is standing around, I don’t like that,” Kerr told ESPN. “I don’t like that at all.”
For Krzyzewski and his staff, part of the challenge of coaching is changing his players’ habits. For players like Williamson, Reddish and Barrett, it can be tough because they’ve always been the best players on whatever team they’ve played on. Thus, the kind of isolation basketball Kerr dislikes was the norm in high school and summer-league play.
“Teaching them how to get open and to get in a more opportunistic spot when they don’t have the ball, you’d think that would be easy,” Krzyzewski said. “But it’s not because you spent your whole life -- even if it’s not a long life yet -- doing that thing. You are trying to break these habits. That’s what we’re doing with our offense.”
The five-out motion will have players passing and, most importantly, moving without the ball. They’ll set screens. They’ll cut to the basket.
Do that enough, the plan goes, and the defense will make a crucial error.
“The main goal,” Warriors guard Steph Curry told ESPN, “is to just make the defense make as many decisions as you can so that they’re going to mess up at some point with all that ball movement and body movement and whatnot.”
‘We want to prepare them for their futures’
At Duke, like with the dominant Warriors, the Blue Devils aren’t changing because the offense needs a boost. According to KenPom.com, Duke has placed among the nation’s top 10 in offensive efficiency each of the last 10 seasons.
A year ago, while going 29-8, Duke was third in the country in the category, producing 122.4 points for every 100 possessions.
But, these days, Krzyzewski deals with a new roster every season. Having fallen into a cycle where the team’s top players only stay for one season, he believes the five-out motion will be successful at producing points while also being attractive to top recruits.
“We have a lot of guys who are going to be pros,” Krzyzewski said. “We not only want to be a good team. We want to prepare them for their futures, especially the big guys.”
Another positive aspect, Krzyzewski said, is better team-building. All that movement means Duke will need to use reserve players to keep everyone fresh.
Players like juniors Jack White and Marques Bolden and sophomore Alex O’Connell must feel like they are important even though they are coming off the bench. The same goes for deeper reserve players like senior Antonio Vrankovic, junior Justin Robinson and sophomore Jordan Goldwire, who figure to see even fewer regular minutes.
“We have tremendous chemistry on our team,” Krzyzewski said. “The upperclassmen that we have are secure in what they are,” Krzyzewski said. “A really good team becomes a special team if the talent on the team is secure. What that means is they try to make everyone better.”
Kerr sees a similar thing even at the NBA level, according to the ESPN report.
“It wasn’t just play your five best guys to death,” Kerr told ESPN. “It was play everybody. You go deep in your rotation, even if it means losing a couple of games in the regular season, just to empower everybody. It’s kind of the beauty of basketball, the old cliche’ about the total being more than the sum of the parts. I believe in all of that. Five guys have to operate together, but the other seven, or nine, however many, they’ve got to feel part of it.”
Duke practiced in August and played three exhibition games against Canadian university teams as part of a foreign tour. The Blue Devils resumed practicing on Sept. 25 and are three weeks into their preparation for the regular season.
So far, Krzyzewski has seen enough to have the highest of hopes for this year’s Blue Devils.
“If we stay healthy,” Krzyzewski said, “I think we have a chance to be really, really good.”