“Baseline Drift” (aka “Baseline Drive, Baseline Drift”)


Term: Baseline Drift

Definition: an automatic cut from the weakside wing to the weakside corner when the ballhandler drives towards the baseline

How It Works:

In the diagram above, 1 has the ball on the right in a 4-out look. Because most defenses use a no-middle philosophy, 1’s best option is to drive towards the baseline. As he does that, his teammate on the far side drifts to the far corner — “baseline drive, baseline drift,” the adage goes.

Meanwhile, 5 in the weakside box cuts to the top of the charge circle, which opens up a passing angle to both himself and to the baseline drifter behind him, and 4 “fills behind” (cf. “crackback”) the ballhandler to give him a passing outlet/safety valve. (Note: Some coaches prefer to have 4 stay in the weakside wing for the “one more” pass from 3, or to have 4 make a 45 cut to the basket.)

In this example, Cleveland’s Brandon Goodwin drives baseline and finds Kevin Love on the baseline drift for a 3:

Notice that the pass is a bounce pass to Love. Some coaches teach their ballhandlers to use a bounce pass because that can be tougher for the high I defender to intercept as he sinks down.

The purpose of a baseline drift is not to arrive at a specific point, but to be in the ballhandler’s line of vision. Some coaches tell their baseline drifters to move to where you can see the eyes of the ballhandler (and thus he can see you).

Here’s another example of a baseline drift (blue) coinciding with a baseline drive (green). Also notice that the big at the weakside Elbow crashes to the hoop but stops at the top of the charge circle to give the ballhandler a dump off angle and to leave room for the pass to the baseline drifter:

Why It Works:

The primary purpose of the baseline drift is to give the ballhandler a passing out and spread out the help defenders, but it’s also a terrific counter to the standard defensive schemes:

  1. No Middle: x1 denies the middle and funnels 1 towards the baseline
  2. Trap the Box: the low man, x5, rotates over to trap 1 (with x1’s help)
  3. Sink/Help the Helper: because x5 has to leave 5, x3 “helps the helper” by sinking inside 5 to stop the lob or dump off
  4. Fill/Help the Helper’s Helper: because x3 leaves 3 to take 5, x4 now has to zone up 3 and 4, which is much harder to do if 3 drifts to the corner:
x1 and x5 trap the box; x3 sinks; x4 fills

Defenses force the ball baseline in order to restrict passing angles, but drifting to the baseline creates a new one. If x4 commits to 3’s baseline drift but can’t intercept the pass, it’s a simple “one more” or “extra” pass to 4 on the wing. Ideally, x3 can X=out or x2 can rotate to 4 in time, but 2’s “fill behind” cut has taken x2 farther from action:

The previous examples are why many NBA teams ask for their defenders to zone up the weakside wing and corner layers instead of committing to one or the other. In this next play, Chris Paul (x1) zones up both players and steals the kickout pass:

Of course, there are counters to the counter, especially a 45 cut to prevent one defender from zoning up two players:

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