The following is an excerpt from an article written on BBALL BREAKDOWN discussing the defensive strategy of X-ing out. With several videos and examples of when and how it is put into placed, the goal of such an article is to illustrate complex and high-level basketball skills in a digestible manner. To read the article in its entirety, please click here.
In looking at some of the most important actions and details NBA teams run, we often forget about the depth, breadth and importance of a defensive playbook. Teams have names for their schemes, the levels of their pressure and all the tricks they can throw at an opponent. One of those tricks is called “X-Out,” where defenders cross assignments off the ball as a way of aiding the man who gives help at the rim.
Why is it called an X-Out, you might ask. When the coverage is drawn on a whiteboard to show players their designed paths, it looks like an X. The two defenders on the weak side cross each other’s path, switching men while working in unison.
Conquering and mastering this skill is difficult. It takes communication, timing and a ton of practice repetitions to get it right. Add moving pieces (i.e. players), multiple other bodies on the court and the added dimension of trying to decipher which personnel will do the most damage and you can see how complex the mental game of the NBA really is. None of this is simple, despite attempts to boil it down to a few digestible tasks in an article such as this.
A great video from Basketball Immersion illustrates and explains the concept:
X-ing out can accompany a variety of defensive strategies and situations. Almost every team at a high level practices this. Whether it is a routine baseline drive that causes a scramble or built into help on a pick-and-roll, these styles of play happen at almost any time.
Think of basketball as being four-on-four for a moment. Two offensive players in a pick-and-roll, and two on the opposite side of the court. The more aggressive the screener’s defender is on the perimeter at hedging to trying to force the ball away from a scoring area, the more open the screener could be in the lane. In turn, that causes the weak side defenders to be on their toes, ready to help in the lane and in front of the rim before the roller gets a wide open layup.
We call that “bumping the roller.” But as the screener’s defender (usually a big man) slowly prods back to the paint to recover to his assignment, there’s a moment where one offensive player is wide open, and that’s where the X-out begins. Instead of recovering to the man he left to bump the roller, the helper gets support from his other teammate on the weak side. They will switch the assignment, hoping the flight of the ball across the court gives all parties involved enough time to scramble to a man, settle the ball and disallow a score on the pick-and-roll.
Here’s what a good X-out looks like:
All this action follows a simple story arc: a pick-and-roll near the sideline occurs, someone bumps the roller and the ball handler rifles a pass off to the open man in the corner. But what happens when the offense stays one step ahead of the defense and anticipates that coverage, instead sending the ball to the wing?
The coverage is no longer an x-out as the players will stay on their original assignment. The lowest guy, who provides help at the rim, then scrambles out to his man in the corner while his teammate splitting the back two takes the ball.
Communication can break these actions down, where a miscommunication on a recovery leads to two defenders running at the same player.
Even the best defensive units can have a breakdown now and then. This stuff isn’t simple and it relies on offensive players being in predicted spots and behaving a certain way.
Some teams are incredibly effective at using this strategy and finding precision and crispness in their rotations. Three of them stand out among the rest at drilling, repping and executing against various types of offenses.
To finish reading the article and find out more, please click here.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).