4-Out 1-In Motion Offense – Basics, Advanced Strategies and Playbook

The 4-Out offense is one of the most popular and versatile offenses in basketball and can be used at all levels of play - from youth basketball to the professional ranks.

Coaches use variations of this offense to run motion, set up their zone offense, and run some of the most popular offenses like Princeton and Dribble Drive.

In the 4-out 1-in offense, 4 players are positioned outside of the three-point line and one player is in the low or high post area.

The 4 players on the outside are typically positioned in the slots and wings, but you can also have players in the corners as well as flexibility with the inside player.

Here are a few things that make the 4-Out offense a great offense to implement for your team:

  • It encourages great spacing around the perimeter and provides the offense with opportunities to dribble penetrate, use screens, and get backdoor cuts at the rim.
  • It also provides post up opportunities (unlike 5-Out) for a player inside AND allows your team to run their offense through a playmaker at the high post or elbow area.
  • You can run this offense on ANY level of coaching.  You can teach the basics to youth / elementary players and teach the more advanced concepts to more seasoned players.
  • The offense will feature lots of cutting, ball movement, player movement, and even screening.
  • The 4-Out offense can be run as your core offense, but it can also be used to run set plays, quick hitters, and continuity-based actions.
  • You can use it against man or zone defenses.

The Basics of the 4 Out Offense

Before we check out the concepts of the offense in more depth, here are a few concepts to consider. You’ll notice that a lot of these are like the 5-Out Offense - which is nice if you’d like to switch offenses based on personnel or matchups.

  • On every catch, players should face the rim to look for open cutters, opportunities to pass it into the post, or chances to drive themselves.
  • After every pass, players should cut hard to the rim like they are trying to score.
  • Every cut must be to the rim - no backwards cuts! Once a player cuts to the rim, they must finish their cut instead of coming back to the ball.
  • There is freedom within structure. Yes, we want to follow the “rules” of the offense, but it’s okay to make an offensive read based on what the defense gives you as well. Be difficult to guard!
  • Follow these basic rules! One player doing their own thing or forgetting what they are supposed to do can interfere with the entire flow of the offense.

Alignment Options

There are several alignment options available to coaches when running the 4-Out Offense as well. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages.

Wings and Slots

1 and 4 are in the slots.

2 and 3 are on the wings.

Corners Filled

In this alignment, the corners are filled by 2 and 3.

1 and 4 are in the slots.

High Post

In this alignment, 5 is positioned high to be used as a screener or facilitator. This also opens up driving and cutting opportunities with a player removed from the rim.

Post Opposite

In this 4-Out alignment, 5 always stays on the opposite block (depending on the side the ball is on).

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The Rules of the 4-Out Offense

1. Pass, Cut & Fill

  • When you pass, you must basket cut. The first and most basic rule of the 4-Out Offense is that when you pass, you must basket cut - every single time! As players develop, a coach may want to add rules or give more options. In the beginning, this rule must be followed to the letter.
  • Cut to score! An important teaching point here is that players should be “cutting to score”. Players must cut every time as if they might get the ball back for a layup (and sometimes they will). This puts more pressure on the defense and the rim. It will also open up the floor for better spacing.
  • Fill the empty spots. Once a player cuts to the rim, the other players fill the empty spots. This movement becomes a habit pretty quickly because it makes sense. Just cut to the open spot next to you. The original cutter simply fills the open spot.

You could literally run this as your entire offense, especially on a youth level!

  • 1 passes to 2
  • 1 basket cuts all the way to the rim
  • Players fill into the next spots
  • 2 to the wing, 4 to the slot, 1 to the wing

The motion now continues based on what 3 does

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2. If You Are Overplayed, Go Backdoor

  • Go backdoor if denied. If a player is cutting towards the ball but finds themselves denied by the defense, they must go backdoor. A good rule of thumb is that if the defensive player is above the 3 point line, just go backdoor every time.
  • Fill empty spots. This cut is now just like the cut a player would make after passing to a teammate. The cutter cuts all the way to the rim, the other players fill, and the cutter goes to the open spot.
  • Make decisive cuts! Once a player decides to cut backdoor, they must finish their cut. No backward cuts or coming back to the ball are allowed. Once you cut, you cut!
Phase 1
  • 1 passes to 2
  • 2 cuts to the rim
Phase 2
  • 1, 4, and 2 fill the open spots
Phase 3
  • x2 denies the reversal pass to 2, so 2 goes backdoor for layup
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3. If Your Teammate Dribbles At You, Go Backdoor

  • If a player with the ball dribbles at you, you must go backdoor.
  • The same rules for a normal basket cut apply here: cut all the way through and fill the next spot, other players rotate to open spot.
  • Players must understand the difference between their teammates driving and attacking the rim and dribbling at them
    • A north and south dribble to the rim is a drive.
    • An east and west dribble to the side is a dribble at.
  • As a rule of thumb, when a player dribbles directly at you and they are above the 3-point line, go backdoor.
  • The spacing of the inside player is key. If they see a backdoor cut happening, they need to open up space for the pass by filling up and leaving the rim open.
  • 2 is being denied by x2
  • 1 dribbles at 2
  • 2 goes backdoor for layup
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4. If a Teammate Drives, the Other Players Rotate the Direction of the Drive

  • On a drive inside the 3 point line and towards the rim (not a “dribble at”), the players will rotate in the direction the ball was driven.
  • For instance, if the ball is dribbled right, players all move one spot to their right. If the ball is dribbled left, players all move one spot to their left.
  • If you are in the corner and the ball is dribbled right, you are cutting to the rim. Some coaches elect to have the wing player fill to the corner instead of go to the rim on this type of drive since there is space to cut to (instead of in 5-out). It’s all about your personal preference as a coach.
  • On a kickout, the passer basket cuts after their pass - just like they would do with any other pass.
  • The other players now rotate and fill the empty spots
  • 1 penetrates into the lane
  • This triggers "circle movement" - players rotating in the direction of the drive
  • In this diagram, we see what it looks like when 4 goes to the corner
  • 1 penetrates into the lane
  • This triggers "circle movement" - players rotating in the direction of the drive
  • In this diagram, we see what it looks like when 4 cuts to the rim instead of fills the corner

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Summary of the Basics

With those 4 basic “rules”, you can teach this offense to any level of basketball player or team. As a coach, you’ll want to make sure your players have mastered the previous rule before advancing to the next one.

Do not overload them with the entire offense at once! Teach it it in progressions, master each step, and then add on as you see fit. This will vary based on the experience level, age, and talent of your team.

If your team has these basic rules down (and you want to), you can progress to more advanced rules, concepts, and strategies.

Advanced Rules, Concepts, and Strategies

Off Ball Screens

  • You can add a rule that states: once the ball is passed, the passer must set a screen away from the ball.
  • The cutter who uses the screen now becomes the cutter to the rim and the same basic rules apply.
  • When first installing this, it might be wise for the coach to instruct the player who is receiving the screen to always curl tight to the rim. Once this is mastered, the coach can give more freedom to the players to make their own reads and reactions (popping, flaring, rejecting the screen, slips, etc.)
  • Also, for the screener, coaches should emphasize popping back out following the screen. Oftentimes the screener defender will help on the cut to the rim. This allows the screener to pop out and be open for a shot - and sometimes a drive to the rim against a recovering defender closing out.
  • 1 passes to 2
  • Instead of cutting to the rim, 1 screens away for 2
  • 2 tight curls to the rim
  • Everyone else fills the next open spot
  • 1 comes back to the ball, 4 replaces 1, 2 replaces 4
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Ball Screens / Pick & Rolls

  • Another rule you could add involves ball screens. A coach could instruct their players to follow their pass and go set a ball screen. This could be an option within the offense or a specific automatic action for certain players on the roster (post players, for example).
  • A roll to the rim would act just like any other basket cut in the aforementioned rules
  • Being able to use the post player in the high post is very effective with ball screens - especially if they are random and not expected by the defense.
  • 1 passes to 3
  • Players all fill the open spots
  • 5 sets a ball screen for 3 (5 rolls in this diagram but could also pop to the corner)
  • 4, 2, and 1 all rotate in the direction of the ball
  • 3 looks for 5 on the roll to the rim but also has kickout options in 1, 2, and 4
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Post-Up Opportunities

  • This is one of the benefits that the 4-Out Offnese has over the 5-Out. It’s much easier to get post touches for a post player inside.
  • There are a few options when it comes to posting up AND placement of this player:
Post Player Positioning

One of the biggest advantages to running 4-Out is being able to utilize a player in the post. But where should you put this player? What should you have them do in the offense

1. Opposite Block

  • If you’re using this option, the post player is always moving block to block depending on where the ball is located. This is a good option if you don’t have a super skilled post presence or a player who is more skilled at going and grabbing offensive rebounds than being thrown to in the post.
  • The main roles of this player is to:
    1. Be on the opposite side of the ball so if his defender helps, penetrating guards can pass to him for a layup
    2. Clean up all offensive rebounds on the weakside
  • This player can also be a screener, but will mostly be positioned near the block opposite the ball.
  • If the ball is dribble or passed from one side to the other, this player will simply cut behind the rim with their butt to the baseline to the other side.
  • This also makes cutting and screening on the ballside more effective since there is more space without a player standing on the block.