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Identify and Run Simple NBA Plays

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NBA offenses can seem extremely complicated and intimidating, but the truth of the matter is that many actions are very basic and are run dozens of times per game by every team in the league. Once you train your eye to know what you’re looking for, it’s fun to try and spot them and they’re easy enough that you can even run them with your friends!

Here are some of the most common X’s and O’s actions that you’ll see in the NBA:


A little bit of history is required on Hammer since it revolutionized the NBA.

Hammer is an action usually designed to get a corner 3. The Spurs popularized it and have used for the last decade. Slowly, as coaches began realizing the value of corner 3’s, other teams started implementing it and it wasn’t long before every single team in the NBA used this action multiple times per game.

Here’s how hammer works. There are 4 steps:

  1. There’s some action on the strong side (the side with the ball)
  2. A big sets a pick for the player on the weak side
  3. The player on the weak side uses the pick to rotate to the corner
  4. The guard hits the wing on the weak side, usually for a corner 3

Let’s use a picture to visualize what is going on with those steps:


  1. There’s some action on the strong side: That’s the blue circle. The guard for the Hawks is driving on the right (strong) side
  2. A big sets a pick on the wing on the weak side: The yellow circle. Al Horford is setting a pick for the guy in the red circle
  3. The wing on the weak side uses the pick to rotate to the corner: The red circle. The wing uses Horford’s pick to go to the corner
  4. The guard hits the wing for a corner 3: The guard, #17 in the blue circle, drives and passes to the wing. The wing is open because of Horford’s pick and gets a corner 3.

That’s it. Once you know that the whole play is just a pick to get a guy in the corner open, you’ll see it happen all the time. Here’s a youtube compilation of the play. You can see that EVERY team uses it almost EVERY game:


Play #2: Elevator

This play is a fun one, although not used nearly as much as hammer. The Warriors and Bulls use it quite a bit to get shooters open for 3’s. It is also used a lot on out of bounds plays.

What I like about Elevator is it’s fun and also easy to spot.


The idea here is that two big men are acting like elevator doors. Let’s break this one into steps too.

  1. Two big men set a screen for a guard (red circle). They stand next to each other with a slight gap between them.
  2. The guard (green circle) runs from the paint to the perimeter, slipping between that gap
  3. Once the guard passes through, the bigs move next to each other to close that gap so that the defender can’t get through.
  4. The guard catches a pass on the perimeter, usually for an open 3.

Pretty clever, and the name of the play gives you a good visualization of what’s going on.

Here are some video examples of the Warriors running this play, which they love to do for Curry and Klay Thompson:

There are a lot of other common plays that teams run. They’re not hard to find or scout out. The key is just knowing what you’re looking for.

What’s great about these plays too is that they are incredibly effective on every level. Next time your friends play basketball, get two of your buddies to run Hammer with you. It will work all the time.

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